The sacred and the dirty

Note: I should not have to do this, but I will because I need to stem the inevitable tide of people coming over here to argue with me (the person) rather than what I’ve said.  So here goes:  I am not picking on Pete Rollins here.  I’m actually not even picking on what he says in the video clip I’ve linked, because I believe this is (possibly) taken out of context and edited so that it sounds the way the editor wants it to sound.  I am troubled, however, by the idea that it represents, so I’m going to address that.

A friend messaged me to ask my thoughts on this video.  I’ve already replied directly, but I thought about it some more and I wanted to post it here.  (I didn’t ask permission to quote those private messages, but the video is on YouTube and I’m sharing only my own thoughts here.)

At first, I couldn’t quite place what bothered me.  I think it’s perfectly fair for Pete Rollins to have made peace with this particular teaching of the church–his journey is his own, after all, and I don’t think these words were meant for other people to take to heart and apply it to their lives somehow.  That’s an expectation many churches have about things, but this isn’t a pastor preaching to a congregation.  The problem is that the idea expressed herein is not all that far from the way pastors like Mark Driscoll talk about sex: It’s “dirty,” but within marriage, one can enjoy that dirtiness.  (That’s why I have some issues with the way this was edited; I don’t think it’s a fair representation of what Pete’s trying to say, actually, and that kind of pisses me off.)

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that because the church considers sex–or some forms/situations of sex–“dirty,” it is therefore “fun.”  There are several important things that occurred to me about that as I watched the clip:

1. It’s not true for many women in the church.

In many ways, church has taught women to entwine their sexual purity and their value so tightly that it’s not possible to unravel one without the other.  It isn’t sex that’s dirty, it’s we who are dirty for having had it.  That doesn’t go away just because we get married, either.  It’s not really about the specialness of sex; it’s about the specialness of having a Star Trek-worthy vagina (where no man has gone before).  I don’t recall being told that sex was “dirty” before marriage or that some forms were dirty afterward; I recall being told that my future husband wouldn’t want me or respect me unless I was pure.  That’s not the same thing.

2. It’s not true for many men in the church.

Although men may not be taught that they are worthless if they’ve had sex, there’s plenty of shaming for them, too.  I remember applying for a job back in college and talking to one of my potential employers about the application because I thought some of the questions were invasive.  She told me that a former employee in the same organization had been sexually active and therefore the people doing the hiring wanted to know that information because we were working with children.  (I believe that was my very first “WTF?” moment in the church.)  It occurred to me even then that there was something wrong with the idea that any sexually active man was a potential predator.  I’m not convinced that men who have been damaged and shamed by these teachings can so easily decide that dirty = fun.

3. It’s not true for many people in the church who aren’t gender-conforming or who aren’t straight.

I don’t have experience being a person who was taught that my gender identity or sexual orientation are inherently sinful.  I do, however, know what those teachings sound like.  They don’t sound anything like sex being holy or sacred or blessed within marriage.  They sound like condemnation.  Pastors who promote the idea of dirty sex being redeemed by marriage are the same people who believe that the only healthy option is to either remain celibate and alone or to conform to the “correct” kind of relationship and/or identity (being the one assigned at birth, of course).  The layers of shame in those teachings won’t be remedied by viewing sex as fun rather than sacred.

4. It’s not true for many people who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

Conservative Christianity likes to blame victims.  It also likes to tell people they’re going to be healed by having a right relationship with God and a good marriage.  A view of sex as dirty but fun isn’t any more helpful than a view that says it’s sacred and beautiful.  For some, it’s not really about what the church has or hasn’t forbidden but about drawing a clear line between “sex practices the church doesn’t like” and “things no one should ever do to another person against that person’s will.”  Neither of those extremes about sex–the sacred and the dirty–speak to issues of consent.

5. The meaning ascribed to sex is not an ethic.

Whether sex is holy or filthy is not the real issue anyway.  The church–liberal and conservative arms alike–is having a hard time developing a healthy ethic around sexuality.  Purity rules, metaphors about Jesus and the Church, and the realness of actual sex are not ethics.  It doesn’t matter whether sex is one thing or another when there are so many other facets to explore.  We’re badly in need of some conversations about consent, gender norms, communication, respect, health and safety, and so on.  Whether we view sex as sacred and mystical or down and dirty isn’t the biggest question on the table, and answering it won’t speak to the deeper problems.

6. Holy vs. Dirty is a false dichotomy anyway.

Who cares if some people want to view sex as some sacred, beautiful experience?  No, really.  If that’s part of some people’s relationships, what’s wrong with that?  There might be a problem with that being the only view of sex, but as one of many, it’s not a problem.  Also, why can’t sex be both holy (isn’t love itself holy?) and messy, complicated, and enjoyable?  Those aren’t truly opposites.  For example, one can view the actual moments and acts as naughty, yet still see the underlying connection created as special.  In fact, separating those from each other is exactly the problem with Mark Driscoll’s view of “biblical” sex.  It’s fixated on the acts themselves and deciding which ones are okay and which are not.  That’s obsessive and controlling, not empowering and freeing.

I’m going to emphasize again the desperate need for the church to have this conversation.  We need to stop creating lists of rules.  As I said before, the problem here is not Pete’s words in the video I linked, nor is it whether I personally find them meaningful.  The problem is that we don’t have a better way to talk about these things because we’re busy grinding our gears on what rules to apply.    We’ve so convinced ourselves that we can somehow use out-of-context Bible verses to solve our every problem that we’ve effectively shut down communication on the topic.

Obviously, I don’t believe the words in the video are an end point.  They can’t be.  I do hope, though, that they are another place to start talking.  If what Pete Rollins says isn’t strictly true or useful, then what else can we come up with that could be?  Where can we take this conversation that we haven’t tried before?


13 thoughts on “The sacred and the dirty

  1. Amy,
    I love your post about this – it is a much broader conversation about sex than the church gives us. Even thought Peter Rollins is just presented in a soundbite, I do like what Pete had to say and wish there was more. I’ve noticed that Peter Rollins is more of a philosopher and less of a theologian over the many years I have listen to him speak.

    I love your article and I’m sharing it right now.

    Love, Ryan

    • Thanks. I didn’t like the video the first time I watched it, but I watched it a few more times because I felt like I was missing something. I realized that it seemed to be edited to create a specific kind of soundbite. Not that Pete Rollins wouldn’t/didn’t approve of it, but it just seemed like there was context we don’t get from that 2-minute segment. It is indeed a much bigger conversation than just this one little snippet.

      • After a deeper look, it is a part of an unfinished documentary about sex. The video you have is linked to a youtube account (GiveMeSexJesus) with 20 plus different people from various walks of life and different topics about sex. As I am listening to the rest of the videos, they have gay people like myself, pastors, virgins, abstinence education interview and so on. Looks like the film maker is trying to get the word out and get funding to finished his documentary. Looks like an interesting project – hope they get the funding to finish.

  2. Amy

    I think it’s perfectly fair for Pete Rollins to have made peace with this particular teaching of the church–his journey is his own, after all, and I don’t think these words were meant for other people to take to heart and apply it to their lives somehow.

    Pete Rollins states that he is a big fan of the church’s teaching on sex. (0:43-0:44 of video) He hasn’t made peace. There is no need to make peace because he never struggled with the teaching.

    I’m uncomfortable with the idea that because the church considers sex–or some forms/situations of sex–”dirty,” it is therefore “fun.”

    Pete Rollins never states that he was taught the church considers some forms/situations of sex -“dirty.” What he was taught is that sex outside of marriage (is this a situation?) is wrong or forbidden. The church creates a kind of dichotomy which Pete Rollins then concludes that sex outside of marriage is dirty, raw and bad (his words and not the church’s)

    • Um, no. Did you even watch the video? He talked about the church viewing sex as sacred and holy, and he never referred to sex as “bad” (so don’t quote that as “his” words). He specifically mentioned that the church has issues with both sex outside of marriage and certain types of sex, which he did not elaborate on. Also, I think you’re playing semantics over my use of “making peace.”

      Please engage with my actual points, not playing word games over what’s in the video. You’ve come on here to antagonize me before without speaking to my points. Do it again and you’re relegated to spam.

      • and he never referred to sex as “bad” (so don’t quote that as “his” words).

        He certainly does use the word “bad.” He uses it twice – at 0:38 and again at 0:52 of the video. He uses it in the context of having sex outside of marriage and with multiple partners, which he says is bad. The reference is to the video you embedded.

        • I don’t think that Amy’s point is disparage Pete’s point of view in the video clip, but to have a starting point to her more board discussion about sex, the church, and societies views on her own points. When I watch Pete’s video (and after having chatted with him), I see the video as a playful take on his ideas.

          And to me, Amy is trying to get people to take a look at a bigger picture view and sets out her article with a set of points. Call this video her inspiration for writing on the topic and less about her feelings about the video. Those feeling were just a preface to the real message.

          What I love about myself or my point of view of both the video and Amy’s blog post, Is I love them both. I see no tension, except that spark that cause her to have the creativity to write the meat of her post. Pete has a playful video interview from a third party and Amy has a powerful and diverse range of issues that she covers. I see beauty in the process that motivated her to write.

          Anyways, Joe, take a re-read of the article Amy wrote… and edit out any references to Pete. You’ll enjoy the post with out worry over splitting hairs over specific uses of words.



  3. It’s so weird how the church claims itself to be all prude and caste as a matter of its teachings.

    Hogwash! Church is where I heard the most smut of my life. Sex sex sex marriage marriage marriage (one implies the other yes it does!) incest incest incest. The Bible and the Church, ALL they think about is SEX. And then they wrap the especially smutty sermons up pretending like they just- *whew!* – went there! lol.

    • YES! (Sorry for the shouty caps). It’s ironic that in the more liberal churches I’ve attended, the subject rarely comes up, and when it does, it’s generally pretty casual. In the more conservative ones, it’s heavily emphasized as though it’s the only thing anyone ever thinks about. You’re right, too, that it’s always sex + marriage, again, as though that describes every person’s experience.

  4. Sorry to comment twice but yanno…what if men just started applying the Golden Rule? If you wouldn’t want someone sticking their penis inside *your* body, then don’t do it to someone else.

    It’s that simple. Rememeber, women and girls, when we were little and someone had to TELL us what sex was? I mean, *I* didn’t just guess it. If we weren’t told to do that, then we women could go about our lives keeping our dignity, not being seen as fuckholes starting at birth.

    Maybe men jamming their body parts into another as some kind of “way of life” gives men a complex. Just MAYbe.

    • You’re totally entitled to comment twice! 🙂 (Plus, I really like your user name.)

      I’m trained as a health educator, so you’re speaking my language here–it would make me over-the-moon happy if everyone just learned actual facts. It’s kinda like the 80s GI Joe cartoon: “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” (The other half is actually paying attention, of course. LOL!)

      • As I was growing up in church, more so in my teen & twenties, I didn’t hear much about sex from the pulpit. But listening to the comments, it reminds me of one time a girl in our youth group got pregnant – the number or teenagers was pretty small on average I’d say 10-20 at any given time. But, when that happened and the girl got pregnant, shortly after we had a youth lock-in at a local hotel that hat a pool and such. The real reason was to have a sex talk. Now granted I’m 44 now and this was more than 20 years ago. And during the talk a friend’s dad, a doctor, came and gave realistic sex info, safe sex, how to use a condom — all of it – medically accurate info too, not just practical stuff. It really shocked me that they let someone come and be very honest.

        Maybe the reason for the honest talk was it was one of those “spiritual” type of churches, I guess you’d call it non-denominational faith church. Not your typical church affiliated a lager organization like with most Baptist or even Episcopal organizations.

        And I too love Truthful Nacho’s name, very cool.

        – Ryan

        • You got more than I got in public high school health class. At church, the extent of “the talk” was “Don’t do it because God says not to.” At school, I got teachers (very embarrassed) showing us videos of childbirth or explaining how birth control works, but not how to use it. I was fortunate that my parents told me most stuff and I have 2 older sisters to fill in the gaps. In nursing school (at a Christian college), my classmates and I shocked everyone with our presentation on how to use condoms. I was 21 at the time and had never learned that information. Out of the 5 of us in our group, only one actually knew how to use a condom properly–she had to teach the rest of us before we could present! I think in most churches, no one bothers because the assumption is that if they say often enough to wait until marriage, that’s just what everyone will do–and if they don’t, they can just reap the consequences.

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