I attended a private, small, conservative-leaning boarding school. It gave me the incredible gifts of community, an excellent scholarly education, and it jumpstarted my vocation as a theologian. But as an adult I also have a visceral reaction to having lived in this bubble, because now I have other realities to compare my experiences to.
What I was told: Don’t have sex before you’re married. If you have sex, the consequences is that your morality is flawed, you will regret it immensely, and ladies if you get pregnant that is your fault because you should have known better. The Bible and God show that they want you to save sex for marriage.
What I was NOT told: There are people who choose to have sex before marriage. There are people that have had sex or inappropriate touch forced on on them. “Consent” means verbal permission expressed from all parties about to engage in intimacy. There are folks who do not identify as heteresexual- there are lesbian women, gay men, bisexual people, transgender individuals, queer people and the acronym to encompass these terms is LGBTQ. Some people use the term “partner” in reference to their spouse, significant other, or lover because it is a term that is inclusive of non-heterosexual relationships and helps break the assumption of heteronormativity (a term that means that a culture functions on the understanding that an individual assumes the gender that is associated with the sex they were assigned at birth and that they are straight…a man being interested in women and a woman being interested in men). When people want to engage in intercourse, an important piece to consider is sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so honest communication, openness to getting tested, and using appropriate protection are critical to safety if individuals chose to move forward with sex. An “open” relationship, or “polyamory”, means a couple chooses to give and receive affection, emotional or physical depending on the couple, to individuals who are not a part of the original couple. “Cohabitation” means a couple is living together, that they are usually engaging in sexual activity, and that they are not married (with the possibility of not ever wanting to marry each other). Physical compatibility is one of many important factors when pursuing a long-term relationship: some partners are not sexually satisfied after marrying a virgin because said virgin does not know how to mutually give or receive the vulnerable practice of intimacy, which can lead to fractured relationship dynamics, potential sexual repression or frustration, and awkward realizations of what you need versus what you have (since the marriage or commitment has already been made).
What now? Engaging in sex is an individual’s choice- do your research and ask tough questions because regardless of what background you’re coming from, sexuality is a piece of you (a God-given piece, I would argue) and what you get to do with it affects not only your safety but also your self-identity and future in relationships. Because my high school ascribed to the mainstream evangelical and non-denominational culture, that affected their perspective. I think they have the right to believe what they do, and even to teach their students what they believe. My problem is that the perspective they taught me was an isolated incident that did not accurately reflect the rest of the world that I would live in after high school- it was MY responsibility to grow up then, but having a warning about the vast difference between expectations and reality would have been appreciated. Not every person we meet will be a Christian. Not every person we meet will hold our same views. So what would have been helpful is if my high school had expressed “These are OUR views that we are imparting to you; it is not the only view out there. We care about you and this (version of) sex education is our way of keeping you safe. Please consult with your parents about what you may see or have questions about in ‘secular’ culture as it relates to sex.” I think that there are absolutely grounds for not choosing to engage in sexual activity until you’re ready (whether that’s marriage or not), but I honestly think that to come to your conclusion, it requires balance of sources (not just the Bible), street smarts, and a lot of self-digging so your actions are in line with your values and not the other way around.