Thursday, April 20, 2017

Just Stop, Please

So, this guy, Reggie Osborne, poured his well-intentioned heart out on his personal blog more than a year ago and, for some reason, it's found its way to viral now. I see lots of my Christian friends sharing and praising this post. I'm going to savage it - I think it's deluded, misguided, and dangerous - but I don't want this to be some attack or rebuke on Reggie himself. He's coming from the right place - in fact, I think I agree with what might be his most important sentence, in reference to today's youth, "They’ve heard the message and believed it: 'Sex is no big deal'." That's the point in this thing, he just surrounds it with so much outrageous bunk, I'm enraged.

Yes, I recognize that he wrote a follow up to clarify some of the more egregious inferences, but that doesn't remove them from the piece. The impetus for the article was a California law requiring affirmative consent training in high school sex ed. To quote from the piece,

"Do you want to kiss her? Ask for consent. Do you want to touch her breasts? Ask for consent again. Do you want to take her clothes off? Ask for consent again. Do you want to penetrate? Ask for consent again."

I get that he's outraged this is something that would have to be taught in school, but there's nothing in the piece supportive or affirmative of this idea at all. I think it comes from a naivte about the past that we evangelicals like to nurture, that there was a time when conservative Christian morality was the societal norm and people "behaved" themselves. This just isn't true.

Sexual assault on college campuses is not a new phenomenon, it's just now become an issue for people in power. Women being taken advantage of is not a new phenomenon; it's just become culturally unacceptable. To think that affirmative consent is the kind of thing we have to do to stem some rising tide of sexual dysfunction is to have your head in the sand. This is the kind of training that's been needed for all of human history. Yes, I, too, am upset that it's needed - and that outrage is justified - but it's not a new need.

He beings the piece with a story about his wedding - how because of the (right and good and agreeable) chastity he and his wife practiced, along with their commitment to life-long marriage, his wife "only said yes once." I understand the meaning; it's about commitment, but that's not how the words read. They're irresponsible in a world (especially a conservative Christian world) where often the man is empowered as dictator in a relationship. The evil of complementarianism is alive and well - and many women are committed to the idea that what their husband says, goes.

I'm not accusing Osborne of this - (well, maybe he's into complementarianism, I don't know - but he makes a strong denouncement of spousal rape in the follow up piece) - but it is real and prevalent still. Sometimes it does apply to sex. I've heard more than one committed Christian address what's appropriate in the bedroom by saying, "once you're married, anything goes," which is fine, if there's real affirmative consent, where one partner actually feels free to say no (I'll try to use partner as often as possible, but sexual pressure in a relationship can come from either partner, and it certainly applies to same-sex relationships, too).

I don't know how it works for other people, but I've pretty much found in my 12 years of marriage that affirmative consent works really well for everything, not just physical intimacy. The majority of Osborne's post seems to be denigrating or marginalizing its importance. As the dad of a daughter, I think it's just about the greatest thing to come along in society in recent years. I am overjoyed knowing that when I empower my daughter to take control of her body there's a whole culture out there supporting that notion. It's not a luxury that women in previous generations enjoyed.

When I read the list of things Osbourne cited he gets to do because his wife said 'yes once,' at their wedding, I just feel sad for her.

"Yes, I could kiss her. Yes, I could sleep with her. Yes, I could steal glances of her in the shower because I think she looks great even after 5 kids. She said, “Yes,” to me, forever."

I'm sure they've got a great relationship (or as good as any of us) and this was maybe poorly worded, but they're still there, for people to read. None of those things are implied by a wedding. Kissing and sex might be expected (although, again, with real affirmative consent), but I can't imagine too many people (male or female) enjoy being bothered in the shower. It was a real shock early in my marriage when I was told some of the things I did with good intentions to be cute or flirtatious just made my wife uncomfortable and angry (and it took some time of quiet suffering before she told me).

Lack of communication is the easiest way to kill a relationship and, frankly, Christians have done more to make talking about sex and intimacy difficult for couples than anything else. Yes, culture and media have exposed kids to sex more often, earlier, and in unhealthy ways than in past generations. That's absolutely true. Yes, pornography and media portrayals present a distorted view of sex that leads to real relationship problems for people when they have unfair expectations of a partner.

But that doesn't make it the cause of anything. What it's done is force us to talk about things previous generations could've gone their whole lives never bringing up. How many Christian kids heard simply that sex was bad until they're married, then its great, with no other instruction whatsoever? It's a lot. What that leads to is just as much dysfunction, misery, and fear, albeit different from the kinds prevalent today.
The difference now, in this oversexed world, is we have to talk about it or someone else will.

Beyond the way many of these other peripheral issues were poorly addressed, what drives me most nuts about "She Only Said Yes Once," is its blame shifting. Yes, sex has been casualized and devalued and misrepresented in society, but if my child grows up with a messed up perception of sex and its related issues, that's not anyone's fault but mine.

We're afraid of oversexualizing our own kids if we talk about the natural, biological processes of reproduction before they hit puberty. We think we're just going to drive our kids to experimentation and danger if we empower them to make their own decisions about sex after puberty. We want to tell them what to do, but we're afraid they won't listen, so we say nothing at all.

That is when culture and experience and outside voices enter the fray. If you don't want your kids listening to a culture that glorifies selfishness and hedonism through sex, then give them another voice. I won't go into great detail on what I might say, because I've written it a couple times, at least - this one still holds up.

I think the big issue, especially as it relates to Osborne's piece and the way evangelicals have handled sex, is the approach. If you start with "Don't have sex," and follow it with a discussion of the very real and important realities surrounding sex, it just seems like justification for the demand. If you start with, "It's your body and you can use it however you want," the rest becomes honest and caring support as they wrestle with a massive responsibility.

I am positive my daughter will make choices with which I disagree (and not just about sex, either) - when I think about it even now I tear up little - but it's much more important to me that she makes those choices with the broadest reserve of knowledge, the deepest well of thought,
and my unwavering support.

The sexualized world around us is not evidence of its own depravity - we're naive if we think this is anything new - rather it is evidence of our abdication of responsibility to speak life into it.

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