Jovan Belcher: Do We Men Really Want to Talk About This Though?

As I read the incoming tweets and Facebook chatter, I realized this was going to be bad. A pro ball player killing his girlfriend and then taking his life; to add to the multifaceted problem, he goes to his place of work to commit suicide. I have to admit, I was not that surprised at the events. Appalled? Yes. Saddened? Of course; at least two sets of families have lost their loved ones. Angered? Yes, of the continued culture of silence that we as men—particularly Black and Brown men—live in on a daily basis. While I am not a minimalist and do not want to abate the sequence of events that led to this tragic killing, men who live in silence and do not talk about and deal with their problems are volcanic time bombs waiting to erupt; it is just a matter of time upon whom they will erupt on and how large that eruption will be.
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I've Got Mono: The Challenges and Beauty of Monogamy

The New Times published an article recently positing that infidelity was, for some marriages, just the right ingredient needed to keep a marriage strong.  The advocate for this lifestyle is none other than Seattle's own Dan Savage, of "Savage Love",  Stranger fame.  At first blush (pun intended), the article appears not to be worth the time to read.  Who cares about some guy's theory that married couples would be happier in some cases if infidelity was an accepted part of the marriage package?  But a real reading revealed both the thoughtfulness behind his argument, and the subtleties of deception that run terribly deep in waters of our culture.

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It Is for Freedom

From Roe v. Wade to lesbianism to birth control, women’s liberation movements have made it their platform to give women a right over their own bodies.

Some good and some not so good have come out if it. But fast forward to today, and we see that women are once again in a fight for liberation.

But this time, it is a personal fight and one that is more often fought all alone. In the last ten years especially, our culture of sexually provocative advertising and media have aided in the trans- formation of women from sexually submissive into sexually aggressive...and sexually obsessed.

As such, this is resulting in a rapidly growing addiction to pornography and sexual promiscuity among women today.

In the New York Times last year an article was written about me, groups I lead, Dirty Girls Ministries, and this whole issue of women’s addiction to pornography.

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Sexual Anarchy & Sexual Freedom

The church, over the years, hasn't done a very good job, in my opinion, of addressing sexual ethics.  We invoke "you'll feel guilty" (but sex feels good as often guilty, for lots of reasons I won't address here), or "you'll get a disease, or get pregnant" (but there are ways of dealing with both of those things), or "because God says so" as if we should just blow our brains out, not caring for God's rationale, becoming mindless servants in spite of the fact that we're to love God with all our minds.  Here's my take on God's sexual ethic, prompted by recent events in the news.

Whether it's MTV's newest show exploring the seemingly endless sexual appetites of some American teens, or the now famous Karen Owen F*** List powerpoint, her tale of bedding various Duke athletes, offered in sordid detail with ratings for each (based on anatomical size, lovemaking skills, attractiveness), the reality is that an increasingly large percentage of our youth culture are floating on the stormy seas of awakening sexuality and adulthood with neither an anchor, nor a compass.

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Please Stop Talking

"What gives you hope?" It was the question that started it all. Last Thursday I spoke at a venue to women and men who had a passion for working with young adults. I talked about the retreats and workshops I lead, but mainly about creating safe spaces for women to heal from a culture of unrealistic expectations of perfection. By introducing different self-care and contemplative tools, women have awakened to the grace and hope inside of them.  Fueled by the Holy Spirit a revolution is beginning in their souls.

 The gentleman who asked the question sincerely continued, "I mean this problem is so epidemic. If you talk to any woman you meet -- it's everywhere." As I weighed this question in my heart, I began to tear up.  Very slowly I started to talk about how it would be so much easier for me to stop talking about the disease of perfection, have a kid, go on a diet and meet the culture's and church's expectations of me as a married woman of four and a half years. My hope is not in the fact that I could live a "nice" life. (Not saying that people who choose that life are bad, that is just not what I am called to). I wanted to explain my story so I was careful to choose my words about my husband's and my choice to question whether or not we want kids. That's our life. I don't force or project this agenda on anyone. So it caught me off guard when a 50-something white male raised his hand in my pausing after I had just started explaining where my hope lies and said, "I have a thought."

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Sex, the city, and shame... and more

There's an issue floating around in the Christian single sub-culture, sometimes near the surface, sometimes deeply subterranean. The issue is the vast disconnect that appears between practice and profession when it comes to our sexual ethics. A recent survey indicated that over 90% of engaged young people who professed to know Christ and follow His taeachings agree that sexual intimacy is to be confined to the bounds of covenant relationship, i.e.: marriage. In spite of this clear sense of conviction, however, roughly 2 out of 3 reported that they'd violated this principle, and roughly 1 out of 2 reported that they're presently violating this ethic, as they sleep with their fiance.
The sample from this survey was arguably too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, but it does represent a reality we ought to address: when it comes to sexuality, there's a chasm between what we say we believe, and what we actually do. What factors contribute to this chasm?
 
1. Our culture's attitude towards sexuality. Whether it's a local indie paper,reruns of "Sex in the City", advertisements for beer, cars, deodorant, or the text of a recent hip-hop song, let's not kid ourselves into believing that we're immune from the sexualized nature of it all. We're trying to hold our sexuality according to God's redemptive plan, but God's ethic requires some serious swimming against the overwhelming tide of our culture. At every turn the message to "touch me", "taste me", "do me" is present, either directly or subliminally, declaring through it's presence that our sexuality is an appetite, like food - and we all know what to do when we're hungry.
I'll note before moving on, that this isn't some sort of 21st century phenomena. 1st century Rome shared these values, as have countless cultures scattered across time and geography through the ages. To think differently than the prevailing culture is, of course, one of our primary challenges, and primary means of transformation. So, it helps to be aware of the ocean in which we're swimming.
 
2. Shame - The Christian community elevates virginity as a virtue. This, of course, is appropriate, because this is what Scripture teaches. However, there's something inherent in how we talk about virginity that makes its maintenance tantamount to the free climb of a rock face: fall once, and you die. Thus have many shared, in the confidentiality of pastoral work, or with friends or counselors, that "it's over. In a moment of weakness I took off my purity ring, and then, well you know what happened." Dejected, and feeling a sense of shame never intended by Christ, he or she decides that, since they've already lost it, there's no point in battling. Purity is now unattainable. Why bother? Of course, most wouldn't say it that way, but that's the way it actually plays out.
 
I suppose there are 30 more reasons for the battle, but I got a late start today, so I'm going to limit my comments to these two, offering some thoughts about how we might best navigate the waters of our sexuality, in light of these realities.
 
1. The culture piece is gigantic, but of course, we knew that from Romans 12. If there's a current pulling me in one direction, and it's not the direction I want to go, I need to find a way to travel against the current. The answer isn't withdrawal from culture, because there are other factors at work besides culture (just ask the monks who wrote this poetry). Instead of trying to be a fish out of water (which is what it would be like to try and be a non-sexual being in a sexual world), I simply need to flood myself with right thinking, which will help me understand my identity, sexuality, and calling, from God's perspective.
You might try this, or this, or this, to get you started. The reality is that if I read the Stranger and watch Friends or Sex in the City, more than I read my Bible or listen to my pastor's podcasts, I'm failing to swim upstream. Thus I shouldn't be surprised when I land downstream, my boat having been dashed to bits by the rocky realities of sex without covenant, realities that exist for certain, but which aren't addressed by "Friends" or in "The Stranger"
 
2. It's this shame thing that really enrages me, because it comes from the damned accuser, AND it comes from the church. We need to talk about the incredible restorative power of God's grace and the reality that His mercies are new every morning, that yesterday's failures are gone, gone, gone. We need to speak of the reality that all of us are fallen, and thus stop throwing rocks and begin blessing and healing.
There is o so much more to say about this important subject, because I know that people are living with confusion, shame, guilt, and anger - having been abused, or hardened, disillusioned, and shamed. Let's start the dialogue.
What else contributes to our sexual struggles and confusion?
What other things have people found helpful?

Do Christian Women Watch Porn?

It’s a disarming question, to be sure.

I’ll give you the easy answer—right up front with no waiting. My first answer is an unequivocal Yes—Did you really need to ask?  My second answer is a much slower No—and I’m glad you asked.

First of all, the reason you clicked on this piece has everything to do with your own self-assessment. You wanted to either 1) Make sure that you’re not alone in your own behavior, 2) See if your holiness level is a lot higher than other women’s, 3) Determine if being a Christian makes any difference in the way people live their lives, or 4) Succumb to the deep curiosity that men and women have when it comes to private sexuality.

Human beings are often critically aware of their own DNA-encoded predisposition to everything God-dishonoring, and that includes sexual perversion (If you don’t believe that pornography is a form of sexual perversion, then stop reading because we won’t agree on much from here on out). I’m not one of those editorialists who believe that all your hang-ups come from society’s misguided Victorian ideals or mother-imposed guilt trips. I’m a believer in the Fall, a writer who accepts both the evidence from my culture and the Bible’s words in Genesis 8 that “every inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood” and in Romans 3 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

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For Play: Sexuality Part 4

I bought a hula hoop today.  Inspired by my massage therapist, who just bought one, I drove to Toys-R-Us and found the sparkly hoops.  They now come with water inside instead of the little beads that used to help it go round and round.  I kept shaking it in the store expecting a rattle, but a woman finally pointed out to me that there was water, which makes it go much smoother now.  After I had made a new friend and we talked about what a great workout we were going to get, I found myself wandering around the giant toy store.  I usually dash in and out to quickly snag a Christmas or birthday present for my nieces and nephews, so I haven’t had time to peruse as I was hunting for the Death Star Galatica Lego Extravaganza whose-it-whats-it.  

I wandered back to the bikes and through the doll aisle.  The Barbie bride has come a long way switching out her Princess Di veil and layers of lace to a strapless glittering number with an ultra modern hairdo.  I couldn’t help but also notice that Toys-R-Us used to seem so much bigger as a kid, and it always held such wonder.  It was torture to go in there with no allowance money or to shop for someone else with my mom!  But now the dusty stock shelves and the vinyl floors have lost a little magic – toys don’t hold the key to happiness anymore.  I clutched my hula hoop and drove home. (After paying of course.)

I thought about sexuality on the way home and how toy stores for adults promise similar magic, but their products are quite a bit different.  It’s confusing all of this talk of “toys” so in turn sexuality loses its lackluster too.  Should we go in there?  Am I evil if I actually like it?  Who cares?  Are all questions thrown around when discussing this particular toy store.  So where do we go for play?  For some it is the bedroom, for others the toy store revolves around clothing or electronics or kitchen stuff.  There are still places we go to play, but in a lot of ways the passion of play was lost in our youth.  I think that is why so many people don’t want to lose it.

When you get older, passion for others, non-profits, or even churches is supposed to grow.  Passion for yourself means, well what does it mean?  If it’s talked about in the media it means botox, surgery, and the latest workout, diet, or piece of clothing – you deserve it.  Like the CRV CRaVe campaign – shopping, nails, chocolate dipped strawberries… you’re passionate about all of that right?  So why not buy a car that lives up to that standard too?  For some it is the simpler things, as my friend recently discovered, it can mean going to the grocery store without your 7-month-old in tow.  But to find passion if the romance and drama section is taken out? What does that mean?  Passion for our “self”?  It’s interesting too that the dramas showing the life and death of Jesus are called Passion plays.  Passion here, passion there – what is passion when it’s everywhere? 

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Vampires, Disneyland, and Pain Disorders: Sexuality Part 3

Edward Cullen.  As you read that name one of three things happens: 1. You think, “Who the heck is that?”  2. You swoon, or 3. You say, “Thanks, but no thanks.  I prefer Jacob Black.”  Edward Cullen has captivated the audience of hundreds of thousands of women (and men) worldwide as the lead character in the Twilight series.  He is also the face of sexuality for a generation.  He is immortally stuck at age 17.  He is handsome beyond all reason, chivalrous, and has been waiting nearly 100 years for his soul mate.  Oh and he’s a vampire.  

After seeing a ton of “Cullen” paraphernalia on Facebook and pestering my students about what the heck this movement was, one of them finally just went out and got me the first book. “We can talk about Twilight after you’ve finished reading it” she told me.  So I proceeded to read the first one, then second, third and finally the fourth one, oh and the Edward version online as well.  It is a great story, a little weird, but addicting. There is something to be said about a young, well-mannered man who has self-control and eyes for only one girl.

But I couldn’t help but grimace and wriggle in my chair * NOTE: spoiler ahead if you haven’t read the books * at this undying (literally) pressure for Edward and his human girlfriend, Bella who is 18, to get married.  I’m not saying that getting married young is bad or wrong, but after talking to a handful of my girlfriends, it would seem to us that for Bella, other than her desire to become a vampire out of this love for Edward, the other huge factor driving the wedding decision appears to be sex.  And sure enough, the wedding takes place and they quickly set off for the family’s private island for their honeymoon.  When they get there, it turns out that sex is the one “human” activity vampires still enjoy, but it is heightened to the umpteenth power.  There isn’t a lot written about the actual escapade, but Bella is left on cloud nine come the morning despite the major body bruising due to her now husband trying to refrain himself from killing her – oh the romance of it all.  

It is a lot women’s fantasies – rich husband or at least financially secure, fancy cars, private islands, lovely stable family, moral and upright, spending eternity with the one you love. But the issue is when the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred.  Fantasy is all well and good – trust me I love Disneyland, but we don’t live there.  And this strange deception has crept into bedrooms across the world.  There is a reason why Matthew McConaughey gets a paycheck and books like Twilight sell millions.  

In the perfectionist realm sexuality is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, even in the church it is not a healthy discussion.  In the past 2 years, I’ve heard of one church doing a 30-day sex famine and another doing a 30-day sex-periment.  Both brain childs of 40 something white males who did press junkets after their announcements.  I understand that at their inception, these ideas are not evil things.  But the good intention goes to waste if there is not education and safety around these issues.  According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) in America 1 out of every 6 women will be raped in their lifetime as well as 1 out of every 33 males.  In 2007, there were a quarter of a million women raped who reported it.  Approximately 60% of rapes go unreported.  It is true that reported rapes have gone down in the last 15 years, but that doesn’t mean the problems go away.  Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the US and 73% of the victims know their assailant. It was estimated 15 years ago that 10% of all rapes were martial rapes where the perpetrator was her husband (Patricia Easteal). Ten years ago nearly one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives (Commonwealth Fund Survey, 1998).  And 40% of women report some kind of sexual dysfunctional that may or may not even have to do with abuse or assault. The church is oftentimes not a place you will hear these statistics, but this is a community problem.  The church has bought into the marital fairytale too. To preach a sermon on sex and not include the dark side is naïve and dangerous. We need to know both sides of the matter and not just the prince charming with roses.  This isn’t a scare tactic; it’s facts from the US Department of Justice.  It’s the reality of a fallen world and the lives of our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.  

The pressure is there for marriage and sex, but at what cost?  What about the women in the audience who are hurting either from abuse or a pain disorder?  What about when all the people hoop and holler at the minister when he says “get it on for 30 days” and there is someone desperately needing to leave her abusive husband?  What if there is a couple needing to work on their intimacy and sex is part of that and minister tells them to stop having sex for 30 days?   There are women in congregations and in your neighborhoods that are victims of these disgusting crimes and have disorders, but yet the church for the most part has been silent, leaving the work up to non-profits, therapists and medical facilities while leaving plenty of women with a huge burden of shame and guilt.  

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Cycle of life: Sexuality Part 2

It starts and ends with our bodies.  What’s “it”? Everything. Life. We will never know anything outside of our bodies yet we have been taught to fight against them, to numb pain, and look for the fountain of youth.  It’s hard to think of another thing we have tried to push so far outside of our bodies than sexuality.  In reading up on this topic and exploring cultural dialogue, it is almost impossible to consider sexuality without sex, but what I’m advocating for is that yes, sex is part of if, but not the whole and not a starting place either.  So often it is sex that makes us consider sexuality, but what if it was reversed?  What if we thought about sexuality outside of sex?

Rewind to junior high.  Boys' voices start cracking, girls breasts start developing, and hair grows in places one only sees in text books or the dictionary.  It has become a stage of life in Western culture labeled as “awkward,” “ugly,” “annoying,” “difficult,” and my personal fave, “survival of the fittest.” It is an incredibly random person that I meet that enthusiastically says, “I loved junior high!” In this developmental phase many kids’ parents are caught off guard: “It happened so fast.”  “She’s still my little girl.”  When I got my period, my dad and I had a totally awkward conversation and he told me 15 years later he, being the father of 3 boys and 1 girl (me), decided that my mom would just “take care of it.” And so it begins, this weird separation that can lead to suppression, exploration, or exploitation.

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