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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.