Expert explores Christian views on modern sexuality
While sitting with University students last night, Kathryn Ott, assistant professor of Christian social ethics at Drew University, discussed the dynamic relationship between sex and Christianity.
Over tea and cookies in the dining room at the Trinity house on the College Avenue campus, Ott framed the talk around two so-called “myths” of sexuality, including “hook-up culture” and planned abstinence.
Campus Minister Rev. Barbara Heck, who invited Ott to host the discussion, said she wanted to create a forum for students to talk about these subjects.
“I don’t think students get to talk enough about quality of relationships and intimacy,” she said. “I wanted to create a good place to do that.”
Ott said most couples have sex before getting married, with men having more sexual partners than women in a lifetime.
People wait longer to get married in today’s culture than they did 60 years ago, which makes it difficult to abstain from sex before marriage, she said.
The first “myth” is traditional abstinence: A boy meets a girl and her family, goes on a first date, which escalates into dozens more, and finally gets married — all before having sex.
“One response to this from the church is to say, ‘We’ll just clamp down harder, and make people get married earlier and have sex later and that will all work,’” Ott said.
Despite the admitted out-datedness of this model, some saw potential benefits of this traditional approach, including Douglas Shepler, pastor of the Second Reformed Church in New Brunswick.
“When I asked my father-in-law permission to marry my wife, it was not so much, ‘Do I have permission to take property from you?’” Shepler said. “It was more of, ‘Do I have permission to join your family?’”
But some thought this denied women the agency of decision, as planning the next stage of the relationship is left entirely up to men.
Julianne Gerdes, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, pointed out that relationships — rather than being a gateway to more meaningful, long-term experiences — are predicated on immediate gratification, making abstinence more difficult in this culture.
“In the hook-up culture, relationships aren’t about conversation. They are about sex,” she said.
Ott said these two myths are both flawed in that they lack conversation and mutuality regarding sex and the progression of the relationship. She does not think these offer a foundation for a healthy sexual ethic for Christians, so she suggested those participating in the discussion to think of another way.
“There has to be a third option, a shared idea of what your values mean to you, and they need to be prioritized right,” Ott said. “So if honesty is one person’s highest value, and mutual pleasure is the other person’s, then it might not work out.”
But the pressure from the church to prioritize certain values over others could be discouraging, said Jordan Bucey, a Sunday school teacher at the Second Reformed Church.
“My biggest issue with the church is I have to sit there with my friends who are guilty about having sex,” Bucey said. “This is where the church has gone wrong. We need to get over the idea that we have done something wrong.”
Bucey said one of the most profound memories she had was at a church youth group, when members were asked if they were sexually active. When three girls raised their hands, Bucey said they were shunned from the group.
“I work with the most amazing group of high school kids at my church,” she said. “My biggest fear is that this is something they are too afraid to talk about.”