Last year, at the online Q Christian Fellowship Conference in January of 2022, I was involved in a lively discussion about sex positivity. As a person who considers himself sex positive, I listened with some discomfort as various individuals painted pictures of sex positivity which ranged from the blandly vague to the specifically horrific. I was particularly disturbed by one person’s assertion that sex positivity was nothing but a license for predation and abuse. That had been that person’s experience, and I honor it as such. However, their experience certainly did not reflect my understanding of what sex positivity was about. It got me wondering whether there were some common ground we could find as Queer Christians as to what sex positivity means, one that can help shape our community sexual ethic and present a positive witness to the liberating Gospel of Christ in the world.
What Sex Positivity Is… and Isn’t
Much like the word “Christian,” the term “sex positivity” is open to a wide range of interpretations and manifestations. According to Queer life-coach Michael DiIorio, the term “sex positive” arose as early as the 1960s during the second American sexual revolution. Since that time, however, some have come to understand the sex positivity to be a license for sexual chaos if not destructive violence. Others hold a vague sense that sex positivity is about whether one personally likes sex or not. For the past two years I have been following the writings, lectures, and social media posts of sex researchers and theologians, sex and intimacy coaches and pastors, and I feel there is a definite need to offer a set of principles that can guide discussion about how the Body of Christ relates to human sexuality in all its vast diversity.
Six Principles for a Sex Positive Christianity
Although the likelihood of all Christians—or any group of people—coming to agreement on a common definition of anything, I invite your consideration of the following six principles which might define a sex positive Christianity. These principles are adapted from an Instagram post by Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy. I propose:
- We can see sexuality as a healthy and positive gift from God.
- We can rely on scientifically accurate information about sex.
- We can respect all sexual orientations and gender identities.
- We can respect other people’s informed, consensual decisions about their own bodies.
- We can take a non-judgmental attitude towards other people’s consensual behavior.
- We can respect different relationship structures.
1. We can see sexuality as a healthy and positive gift from God.
Although any good thing can be used to harm oneself or others, sex was created by God as a blessing for humanity which individuals and partners should be able to freely choose (or not). We can refuse to believe that sex is something to be ashamed of, while at the same time understanding and having compassion on the many people who carry sexual shame. Because the Christian church has so greatly contributed to imposing shame on both individuals and our society as a whole, I believe that adopting this stance and the following five principles prevent further harm, and vastly reduce the amount of shaming that occurs in the first place.
2. We can rely on scientifically accurate information about sex.
Our attitudes about sex and the information we present should be based on the most accurate, scientific information to the fullest extent possible. To this day, much of Christianity’s real and perceived negativity towards sex and specific sexual practices comes from a misunderstanding of (or a deliberate misrepresentation of) the science and our culture’s lived experience of human sexuality. To establish a firm, credible foundation on which to provide a truthful witness to the world around sexuality requires educating our communities and ourselves. Thus, a sex positive stance might include advocacy or support for efforts to provide comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education wherever possible.
3. We can respect all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Not only do I believe that all persons should have access to the same basic human rights, regardless of orientation or gender, we can celebrate these differences and support the right of people’s own self-determination in how they understand themselves, their desires, and their affections. I believe that the God who created an abundant Universe in all its diversity also created a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities, many of which do not conform to the binaries our cultures tend to impose. Some may worry about a slippery slope towards the embracing of disturbing or even illegal expressions of sexuality, but I feel it is important to state that each person’s sexual orientation is to be considered, respected, and understood apart from whatever behaviors that might imply. This does not mean condoning every and all sexual behavior, but establishes a stance of compassionate understanding on which to base our ethical decisions.
4. We can respect other people’s informed, consensual decisions about their own bodies.
To the extent that all individuals are informed and enthusiastically consenting (and able to consent), I believe we should respect and support people’s decisions with regard to their sexuality and sexually related issues. This respect extends to the choices of people to consensually engage or not engage in sexual behavior, as well as the frequency with which they choose to or choose not to engage.
5. We can take a non-judgmental attitude towards other people’s consensual behavior.
As we respect people’s informed, consensual decisions about what to do with their bodies, I believe we should mostly refrain from judging what consensual behaviors people do with their bodies together. But I’d place a caveat on this principle. Even as consenting individuals, we are each involved in a web of relationships, and those relationships deserve to be respected and considered. Therefore, this principle, I believe. should be ethically tempered by an acknowledgment that where other people are intimately involved, and other relationships, those people and relationships also need to be treated with dignity and respect.
6. We can respect different relationship structures.
Because not all healthy relationships fall into a one-size-fits-all model, I believe we should respect and even celebrate the wide diversity of relationship structures and models, so long as they are consensual and honoring of all the parties involved. This can release us as Christians of the burden of promoting any particular relationship structure as inherently better than another for everybody. AS there is great diversity among individuals in sexual, romantic, and relational orientations, I feel decisions about the relationship structures people choose to pursue should lie primarily with the people involved in those relationships.
What Do You Think?
Thanks for reading these six suggestions for how Christians might define and live out a sex positive witness in the world. Please let me know what you think in the comments below, or email your reflections, questions and concerns to email@example.com. If you’d like to talk with me about what comes up for you one-on-one, please schedule an appointment using the link, below.
Fogel Mersy, Lauren. @drlaurenfogelmersy. Instagram post, 10 Nov 2020. instagram.com/p/CHag80wBiui/, accessed 28 Aug 2022 (21:30).