Friday, February 12, 2010

Talking sex and celibacy in church (or, why I enjoy I Corinthians)

Things weren't nearly as awkward as they could have been when I lead the small group discussion about sex a couple weeks ago.  I thanked God for that.

We're studying I Corinthians at church, and I'm having a wonderful time, since I love me some Corinthians.  Some of the best celibacy stuff is in I Corinthians (not that it convinces my mom I'm not a deviant).  I love the fact that my pastor is addressing things most Christians don't even know are in the Bible.  Maybe next week here, I'll talk more about my concerns with the group/church reaction to the celibacy idea.  For now, back to sex.

Then the closing pray-er earnestly thanked God that a single woman would be brave enough to lead a small group in a talk about sex and lust.  I almost hurt myself not laughing out loud.  Bravery?  Seriously?

I mean, I suppose if I were a "normal" single Christian desperately longing for a spouse and praying that I hadn't been given the gift of celibacy if it was nonreturnable, maybe it would have been more awkward.  Or maybe if I were younger.  Or if I didn't live in a culture that tries to sell sex to anyone who is not blind, deaf, or sequestered in a far-out nunnery.

But, come on, they know by now who I am: an observant, thoughtful 30-year-old, informed and willing to choose something else. 

Sure, we were all a tad embarrassed: newly-marrieds, older-marrieds, and dating couple, along with single woman.  (I think it was a good thing the new guy didn't come this week, either.)  We're embarrassed partly because none of us have much experience talking sex with other people in the church.  It still has that slightly tainted status as a topic incapable of being included in godly conversation, which is silly.  God invented sex.  It's part of who most people are, and it's wrapped up in a lot of current cultural baggage.

Sex and sexual identity are a big part of who people are in America and possibly even more important in more conservative church culture.  We need to know how to talk about it biblically, compassionately, honestly, and rightly.

But with all this great biblical teaching about the benefits and goodness of celibacy, I can't understand why the church is so marriage- and baby-crazy.  It's absolutely ingrained, to the point where no one ever questions it.  When I asked if they ever considered not getting married, I got seriously blank looks.  They never thought about it as an option even when it was presented last week.  I'll bet other groups discussing this, groups that don't have a thrilled, celibacy-gifted member like me never really even went so far as to entertain the idea that some people actually choose it. 

Celibacy is not an embarrassment.  Let me rephrase that: a life style of celibacy should not be an embarrassment, especially not in the church.  But it is. 

Talking about celibacy with someone who is, in fact, celibate for one reason or another makes Christians uncomfortable, possibly more uncomfortable than talking about sex.  Truly it does. 

I've often thought that the only thing that would have traumatized my mom more about my sexuality would have been if I had told her I was homosexual.  My celibacy seems like a similar blow to her; she simply doesn't know how to react, how to process this ersatz sexual non-orientation.

It seems so unnatural to most people.  At least the folks in my MFA program were curious.  They asked questions.  Lots of detailed questions.  Their obvious befuddlement was refreshing.  They didn't understand, really, but they didn't pity me; they wanted to understand me as much as they could.  Believers seem to just feel sorry for celibate people.  I find the situation sad.  And, to be honest, pretty irritating.

For now, I'm just glad that we got through our discussions the last few weeks without anyone being too ashamed to meet anyone's eyes or flipping out too much.  The donuts probably helped.  Maybe the sugar low mellowed us out?

Have you ever talked sex and celibacy in your church or small group?  How'd that go for you?


  1. Yeah, people tend to assume unique smart single women are lesbians.
    I hate that - they just assume. I was at a superbowl party talking to a guy & doing drinks & he said "but you don't like guys do you?" Why does he assume? Why do I have to defend that I think men are sexy? Maybe because I'm not like any woman he has ever met. Maybe it's because I have shortish hair or maybe it's because I'm a strong nordic woman...just call me Olga. Maybe if I were thin, had long hair & big boobs...
    I saw a documentary on Louisa May Alcott a few weeks ago & thought if I lived in her era people would never think I'm a lesbian - just a bit eccentric & independent.
    People find it comforting when a person can be fit into a sterotype. I'm just glad I can't.

  2. "To fight a bear when you are not scared is nothing. To NOT fight a bear when you are scared is nothing. But to FIGHT a bear when you are SCARED, that is something."

    In short Celibacy when every nerve in your body is screaming is something. Celibacy when you don't feel the desire isn't the accomplishment. Perhaps the honor might be in embracing love, 'being fruitful and multiplying,' and fulfillng the physical and emotional needs of another person.

    Especially if that isn't the way you are 'wired.'
    Just playing me some devil's advocate. You know me, I'll always give you the perspective you don't expect.

  3. Also, Corinthians must be tempered by later letters where Paul compares Marriage and the physical union to Christ's love for the believers.

    Also, 'baby-crazy?' The nonproduction of children violates both evolutionary programming and the first command of God. "Be fruitful etc..."

    But who am I to talk, I'm still baby-free. At least as far as I know... hehehe

  4. Hey, Betsy (Or should I call you Olga?), I'm glad you defy stereotypes, too. :) A professor told me in England that some other countries have a higher tolerance for eccentrics, and I realized he's right. Even more than in Japan, where society's requirements are pretty socially rigid, in America, we seem to view "eccentricity" as a mental illness instead of the variety spicing up life that it is.

  5. Austin 1 -

    I'd just like to say that fighting a bear is always something, in my opinion. :) Also, I do know you and expect some devilish advocacy as a result. Bring it on! (Just also keep backing it up. :)

    I'm curious: do you believe that God gives believers gifts through the Holy Spirit that are to be used in His service to His church and the world? If so, do you acknowledge celibacy as one of those gifts? If so, what would be the point of refusing to use the gift?

  6. Austin 2 -

    The particular parts in Corinthians that deal with why celibacy is as equally acceptable a choice as marriage indicate that Paul is in favor of celibacy because of the hassle it saves people. However, he says that everyone has their own gifts, and it's better to marry than to burn. Either choice is good, meaning that childlessness is not a sin.

    As for baby-crazy, I guess I'm thinking about how so many Christian women feel they aren't really successful unless they are married and have children. I think it's unhealthy and unbiblical for the church to keep fostering that thinking. Or something.

    It's true there are numerous biblical parallels made between the marriage relationship and the relationship between Christ and the church. I think that's even mentioned in Corinthians. I'm not sure what you mean by it, though. Could you clarify?