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How would you briefly describe your viewpoint(s) related to sexual ethics?
I believe that sex ultimately is about connection and pleasure. It’s one of the most powerful means we have to connect with other people, physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Yet, it can also be used as a means of disconnection: a way to avoid vulnerability, difficult feelings, heartbreak, and any number of things. My guiding questions are: what am I avoiding by jumping into bed? Will this be life-giving for me and the person/people I am with? Once the initial pleasure has disappeared, will I still consider this a good experience? Or will I regret it? I think we often know the answers to those questions immediately. Whether we listen to our own wisdom is another story.
Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers
Our personal sexual ethic, I believe, is something that we each need to ponder and define for ourselves out of our values and beliefs. My sexual ethic flows out of my desire to be a force for love and justice in the world – something that is very much inspired by my faith. With this in mind, I believe my sexuality (behavior and thoughts) needs to honor me as a beloved child of God, an other (if an other is involved) as a beloved child of God, and honor my faith-based values of love, justice, and grace. This means that I want to hold myself accountable - that as I practice my sexuality I want it to serve love, justice and grace – for myself and for the other.
Many of us come from rule-based Christian backgrounds, and so I think we tend to want clear instruction on how to live out a healthy, God-honoring sexuality. Although it would be easier if we knew exactly what we can and can't do, this approach will eventually devolve into the kind of legalism our faith has meant to free us from. Instead, it's important for us to search earnestly and honestly to discern and develop our own sexual ethics. When seeking answers about a specific action or choice, it may be helpful to ask questions such as: "Is this something that shows healthy, respectful love to both me and another person?" "Is this something that is contributing toward a world integrated by divine love?"
An old euphemism for sex is "conversation." I believe that's insightful, as I believe sex is ultimately a means of communication. We use sex to say a number of things—from "I'm lonely" to "I love you," from "I'm yours" to "I have power over you." In my opinion, a sound sexual ethic is one that examines what one wishes to convey through sex—one that asks, "What am I saying when I have sex? Is it a message of self-integration, or of disintegration?"
My sexual ethic is rooted in the understanding that sexuality is a gift from God and that so much of the physically and emotionally sensing ways we exist in the world are a part of our sexuality. Thus, all the ways that we express our sexuality everyday are also a gift. My sexual ethic is also informed by a belief that idolatry and inhumanity are the twin evils toward which human beings gravitate. The profound existential question that Cain asks God in Genesis 4:9 – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – provides a lens through which I believe we should engage all ethics including sexual ethics. I believe the intended response to that question for humanity to be a resounding “yes” and a strong antidote to the pull toward inhumanity. Because I believe that we are to be the keepers of our siblings in the human family -- a concept remixed in the Bible as neighbor love – I believe that in all our sexual relationships Christians should strive for a justice inclusive of consent, mutuality, equality, commitment, and fruitfulness. In my view, a Christian sexual ethic should also be framed within the context of covenant which demands something more layered than a simple commitment. Although I waited until I was married to engage in sexual activity in the way many people conceive of it, I believe that such an ethic can be met outside of marriage. Whether it is more difficult to meet such an ethic apart from marriage is a question with which I am still wrestling. Finally, I strongly believe that a Christian sexual ethic should be countercultural in ways that witness to the kingdom of God. What is countercultural will vary depending on the context and requires personal and communal discernment in concert with the Holy Spirit.
Ethics for me start with, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” I want to do what’s pleasing to God, and I wouldn’t want to be judged or have assumptions made about me, so I try not to do so to others. After that, specifically sexual ethics derive from what I believe the purposes of human sexual behavior are, based on Scripture: to create life, to unify a husband and wife; to express joy in creation, as seen in the beloved other; and to provide a concrete metaphor for God’s love for us.
I want to have sexual relationships that are grounded in consent, communication, honesty, trust, care, and consideration. I judge the “tree” of sexual ethics by the “fruit” that it bears (Matthew 7).
I’m concerned about the impact of ethics and not so much the structure of the interaction (important reminder: married, monogamous sex can still be coercive, violent, or abusive).
There’s of course space for gentle sex with your monogamously married spouse. And there’s also space for anonymous one-night stands, friends with benefits, kinky sex, and polyamorous relationships. Some of my deepest friendships started off as hookups.
I don’t find “Do this, don’t this” or “Wait until X for Y” to be helpful. Instead, I ask, Do we see each other, are we present with each other, are we taking care of each other, do we leave the other fulfilled and respected?
My understanding of sex is that it has emotional, physical and spiritual significance and so it makes sense to me to preserve this level of vulnerability for relationships that are loving, committed, and ideally covenential. Covenant should be modeled off of God’s commitment to love and care for us and to never leave or forsake us. I believe that it is wise, though not a mandate, to preserve sex for marriage. I do not consider my views on sex to be set in stone in any way and I consider evolution on these issues to signify growth.
I believe that sex creates a bond between people and so to honour the connective power of sex we should seek to have sex in a context that will support the bond that is created. This is the idea of “one flesh” that appears in Genesis, the words of Jesus and the teachings of Paul. My husband and I personally chose to wait until marriage to have sex.
Just because sex connects people I don’t think that everyone who has sex should get married. Jesus’s teaching on “one flesh” highlights that there are reasons why the bond created in sex should be broken. However, he also highlights that we should not be cavalier in breaking this bond and so by extension I believe we should not be cavalier in creating the bond.
My husband and I are monogamous and plan to stay that way. I am still working out my thoughts on polyamory but so far I don’t see any conflict between my understanding of sex and polyamorous relationships that also seek to honour the connective power of sex.
Recognizing that Jesus says little about sexual ethics, it is left to individuals and voluntary faith (and other) communities to define this for themselves. For me, universal requirements are consent (including age) and physical/mental safety. Otherwise, consenting adults should be left to freely covenant with other consenting adults whatever parameters they desire for themselves, recognizing it as a personal choice and not as prescriptive for an entire community. This is why I think Q’s centered set of sexual ethics is so helpful - people can disagree in practice but agree in principle.
I like to follow the mantra: Is my sexual behavior creating union (with myself and my partner) or separateness? Before finding my partner, I considered it highly necessary to have a completely honest and transparent communication style with my sexual partner(s). Joe and I are a monogamous couple, both of us holding to my mantra, seeking newness to keep things fresh and exciting, and practicing verbal vulnerability to keep the sex-improving communication flowing. I do not believe that premarital sex is unethical. Although monogamy is what we have determined works best for us, I do not think it is unethical to be in an open relationship or polyamorous. I would, however, encourage all people to consider or identify if shame is somehow efficacious in their sexual and/or relational decision-making. I believe we can make what feels like good sexual decisions out of shame.
At the heart of my sexual ethic is liberation–inherent to love, reciprocity, justice, consent, and all guiding virtues fundamental to a healthy expression of sexuality is liberation. This is an individual and collective reality, as sex is similarly an issue of justice. Historically, sex has been used as a tool of oppression by patriarchal systems bent on subjugating women and suppressing minority identities. I believe authentically embracing my sexuality as a queer individual is an act of resistance to cycles of injustice. In practice, I believe liberation looks like healthy, consensual sex between adults even if not married. I believe it looks like LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education in schools (and even churches). If the sex is just, equitable, reciprocal, and consensual, I believe it is a holy encounter grounded in our liberation.