Faith and Sex: An Interview
I recently interviewed John on his views about faith and sex. He is an 18 year old white male. He is straight and currently single. He grew up in Orange County and comes from a very conservative Christian family.
How would you describe your sexual values and attitudes today? He said, “To avoid sin I am planning on waiting till marriage to have sexual intercourse.” (I asked him to explain further about his values and attitude) He continued, “I believe it is a sin to have sex before marriage because that is not how God intended us to be. I don’t think we should go around sleeping with people just because it feels good, or it might feel good, I wouldn’t know. I don’t care what other people do as long as I don’t feel pressured. Some of the girls as school are very promiscuous and they seem very out of control and sad… I feel like if I wait it will be more meaningful for me and to my commitment to God.” I then asked why he thought marriage was important as part of this questions and he responded, “to have babies, be in love, and to receive help and friendship-it is our purpose to God to have a meaningful existence and help others. Having a good family shows God you are making a commitment to him.” I am not religious and learning about John’s very religious perspective opened up my eyes to his perceptions and world view. I think his morals and values about love and marriage were sincere and I was happy to hear that he upholds values that embrace equality for men and women. I began having sex when I was sixteen because I believed I was in love and could spend the rest of my life with that person. However, as I have grown up and mature I have discovered I was immature and ignorant to most of the real world issues: money, status, self-esteem, education, culture, etc.
How did you come to develop these views? Who were the most significant influences? “God.” John describes his faith as leading him to believe very rigidly about sexual experience and marriage. He described how his youth group leader has used examples of the media, history, and real life examples that show the teens why sex before marriage should be avoided. Sexual experiences shouldn’t be taken for granted. He firmly believes sex before marriage is a sin, and has repeated this idea many times. He says his parents have been married for twenty years and they also believe that following God’s decree is the most important part of life and being happy in the long run. Religion, God, youth group, and his family have been most influential in this decision. John’s perspective is very refreshing to me because it reminds me how much I value my family. Although my parents are divorced, John’s beliefs allowed me to see the importance of love and respect in relationships. Although I am not religious, the morals and values about family and respect are what I would like to incorporate into my future.
In what ways did the various influences conflict with each other, and how did you deal with this conflict? In the last question John only responded the most influential part on his views, so I followed up by asking if there were any conflicting messages he had received. He agreed that his best friend was sexually active and that he seemed VERY happy. (He was somewhat shy and nervous about his emphasis on very happy.) He said that his friend Pat really enjoyed sex and told John about some of the details. John was conflicted if it was appropriate to listen to Pat’s stories. John did become curious about sex, more than curious even, during these conversations. However he does not want to jeopardize his relationship with God and tries to change the subject when Pat talks about going past first base. I think John has a an understanding of what sex is and what it means to him. He seems very grounded. However his friends are experimenting and causing John to be curious. I think this is helpful for John to solidify his own beliefs. Pat reminds me of many typical high school boys who are trying to discover and assert their man-hood by having sex with women.
How do you think your sexual views and life style compare with others of similar age, etc? John thinks his views may seem a little more conservative than most other 18 year old boys. He then retracted and said a lot more. However in his youth group they are very supportive of each other and there are quite a few people who have pledged abstinence. He is a senior in high school and on the baseball team. Many of his friends joke with him in the locker room about being a virgin, and comparing it to the home run in baseball. He says the derogatory remarks make him uncomfortable, and he is glad he is a jock or he thinks the teasing would be worse. I think a person should be able to decide when they are ready to have sex; however, it was great to hear John’s perspective. I really value his opinion on why someone is having sex and his own personal pledge. When I had sex I do not think I was ready, but I loved my boyfriend and I wanted to make him happy, so I thought I was ready. I think self esteem and insecurities plays a large role in young teens having sex. John’s sense of self comes from his religious convictions and morals. I am glad he feels secure with his decisions.
What guidelines or principles have you established for yourself that govern your sexual expression? Did they evolve over time and how? “Well in the 5th grade they start showing you movies about the life cycle and sexual reproduction.” John further discussed how that was his first understanding of sexual intercourse and how this view really bothered him. He didn’t understand why his mom and would be so “gross.” But after he got older and started attending youth group and began to more deeply understand what the Bible was saying about family and love and procreation he didn’t feel it was as “weird or gross.” He said he was happy he had a different way to understand that it was just not a weird biological process, but something that God encouraged at the right time-meaning after marriage. This may lead to difficulties later in life when discussing sexual issues with a partner; many couples may be uncomfortable talking about sexuality and emotions because sex is seen as a sin (Lieblum, 417).
Do you believe there is any minimum age or stage in life below which a person should never become sexually active in a way that includes intercourse? When do you believe that people can have sexual intercourse as a positive experience? “Well like I said I think it should only happen after marriage. And marriage should happen after you are an adult and can support your family and be a member of the community. I think if you are in love and you get married at 18 it is okay, but I think the other stuff should be there too, ya know.” After I asked him the minimum age part of the question he became tangential and talked about child molesters and how they were going to hell. I think John seemed to be getting slightly irritated with this question since marriage seemed to be the obvious answer.
What kinds of sexual attitudes, values or lifestyles do you think pose problems in our culture today? He said that his youth group addressed this same question. They thought that baby shows on MTV take away from the importance of love and family. Most of these moms are portrayed as having a rough life, but still they are glorified by being on television. It takes away the fear of getting pregnant because you can go on a TV show. He talked about how the media and videos, especially music videos characterize love by sex. And that is usually captured in 3 minutes of pg-13/r rated explicit scenes or clothing. He said marriage and family is degraded to just sex and that is why people’s marriages are failing. Marriage and sex should be based on more than just sexual attraction. I agree with him completely. I feel that exploiting teen mothers and fathers and the octo-mom are disillusioning young teens and adults about the importance of love, commitment, and how much time and money is needed to raise a baby.
What is the most positive aspect of the views you hold or lifestyle you lead? He believes that the most positive aspect is that he feels he understands the importance of other people and respects women. He wants to have an equal relationship with love like his parents, and that sex would be a great addition. He is happy he has God and his family. He thinks his views keep him stable and free of the “drama” his other friends have. “More than any other institution, religion has had a tremendous impact on the shaping of culturally based sexual norms, practices, and beliefs,” (Lieblum, 419).
What poses the most difficultly regarding the sexual views you hold or lifestyle you lead? He is going to college next year on the east coast and is worried that being so far away from his family will make him lonely. He fears this loneliness may cause him to want to experiment. However, this is a topic they have covered in youth group and he feels confident he will be able to keep his pledge of abstinence. Many Western Christian faiths have a traditionally rigid view of sex as a sin and marriage is the only way for sex to be a “permissible sin,” (Lieblum, 419). It will probably be unlikely that John will experiment with sexual experiences due to his significant belief system.
What other comments would you like to make regarding your sexual views or lifestyle? He wanted to add that he believed bestiality and sodomy to be Biblically “unnatural”. The unnaturalness of these relations is seen in the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this story God destroys these cities because of the “unnatural sex” and fornication. He also added that it was cool to talk to someone else outside of church and youth group. I thought it was interesting he added this anecdote; it seemed to be his way of showing me an example of why he believes what he does.
Leiblum, Sandra (2007). Principles and practices of sex therapy. Guilford Press. New York, NY.