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Let's Not Talk About Sex

This may come as a shock to those who know me well, but I can’t help saying it: I’m sick of talking about sex.

I was at the Vanilla Bean a few weeks ago, breakfasting alone, highlighter in hand, probably reading something about Christian fundamentalism in a book the size of The Riverside Shakespeare. I’m sure my Post-It notes were hard by my cup of coffee.

At the table across from me, three kids were filling out the Metroland Sex Survey. Two girls and a guy. They were laughing off and on, munching toast, writing answers, giggling, sipping coffee.

I wasn’t sure what I felt looking at them.

Old crossed my mind. But I really don’t feel old. And I’m convinced that unless there is some continental divide I haven’t yet crossed, sex gets better with age.

Harried crossed my mind. I don’t usually like the Metroland Sex Surveys (hey, sorry, guys) because I think the questions are generally a little sophomoric, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have time to linger over breakfast, giggling over the Sex Survey.

But mostly what I felt as I looked at the trio bent over the newspaper, their Bics in their hands, was a kind of sadness.

Sadness because the way I see it, sex talk in our culture has become predictable and dull, even as it seeks to shock.

Savage Love, the Sex Survey and the ubiquity of cheesy sexual jokes on FM radio—all designed to be daring, I guess—have the net effect of taming and domesticating sex. Reducing its power. Edgy sex is just one more thing on our to-do lists: Change the cat litter, go to the grocery store, lace up the leather corset.

For teenagers beginning to explore what it means to be sexual beings, I think it must be a pressure cooker: Do it all, do it well, do it often and do it without too much forethought.

I know this sounds retrograde, but how can anything be special that way?

At the other extreme from popular culture, sexuality and, in particular, sexual orientation is the new human-rights struggle that many American faith traditions are actively dealing with.

Because of that, I end up talking about sex a lot. A real lot. In the three years that I have been at Grace Lutheran Church in Niskayuna, we have had two series of adult classes on sexuality. Our recent

Sunday-morning series dealt specifically with the questions of whether or not to endorse the blessing of same-sex unions and to ordain openly gay pastors.

And then, just two weeks ago, I attended a conference with a group of colleagues from across the state, dealing with exactly the same issue.

Throughout our time together, the presenter, an ethicist and prominent figure in the national Lutheran church, kept referring to what “gays and lesbians” (or, in his convenient shorthand, “they”) sought from the church.

I thought it was a telling verbal demarcation. In the room of 20 or so pastors, it was pretty much assumed that we were all heterosexuals, trying to adjust our gaze to peer through the scrim of homosexuality.

I was discomforted by this. I was saddened by this.

Sad for two reasons.

The first reason is that, only 31 years ago, when the Lutheran church was grappling with the question of whether or not to ordain women, I’m sure there were rooms full of pastors discussing what “women” (or, in convenient shorthand, “they”) wanted.

Since then, the church decided that “they” could be ordained and God wouldn’t blanch at the sight of a woman behind the communion table.

So our discussion on homosexuality now included a handful of women. And since we were there, discussing “them,” we were members in the club.

But I have not been so long a member in this club that my ears could miss the simple pronoun, “they.”

How could the Lutheran tradition, with its insistence on the free grace of God, ever be reconciled with so exclusionary a term as “they”?

And wasn’t the tenor of our discussion not unlike the Metroland Sex Survey? Conducted in less hip language to be sure, but still reducing its power, taming its fierce grasp on the human experience.

It’s probably true that if we reduce sex to a series of mechanistic manipulations, we can all have “satisfying sex lives.” I mean, folks, let face it, it’s not rocket science. A tweak here, a tweak there, a willing heart or hand and all will be well.

But for crying out loud, sex is so much more than that. No matter how much we try to moralize about it or no matter how much we try to amoralize it, sex confounds either end of the spectrum.

Sex is pretty damn good. And neither the peregrinations of the churches nor the voyeurism inherent in sex surveys conveys that goodness. Or that complexity. Or that mystery. Or that elementality.

And that’s why I’m so sick of talking about sex. Because so much of it simply misses the point.

What am I going to do about my tiredness of sex talk?

Well, as long as I’m the pastor in a church that’s grappling with something this important, I’ll keep talking. I’ll keep challenging those oft-quoted passages in the Bible that used to demonize homosexuality.

I’ll keep declaring my faith in a God of compassion whose goal is not to judge us, but to love us.

I’ll keep pointing out that the very least of the worlds’ problems is who loves whom, and how.

But I will also hope that somewhere along the way, someone wise will point out that all this alternately anguished or titillating talk has nothing to do with the heat and the power of sex.

I hope that somewhere along the way someone will find a way to verbally light the candles and draw the shades and turn back the sheets so that in the whispering shadows of things left unsaid, mystery and privacy can join into one.

—Jo Page

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