Where did the Church Get Sex Wrong?

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Did you know that back in the early years of modern Spain, churchmen would warn women — particularly powerful, spiritual women — to think of their bodies as corpses rotting with worms so as not to be tempted into “carnal acts?” Yeah, seriously.

Even though our views are not as drastic today, the church has never really been able to handle the topic of sex. Kristyn Komarnicki, editor of Prism magazine, recognized this issue during her talk on sexual justice a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t the typical gender equality/anti-human trafficking speech I was expecting. Instead, she spoke zealously about the beauty of sex and the ways it is perverted in society. Her words circled around my mind for that entire weekend, and I just kept wondering: how did the church get sex so wrong?

If you talk to most Christian young people about sex, within a few minutes you’ll come to realize that it’s a taboo topic. Abstinence, modesty and “wait until marriage” have turned what was meant to be a glorious act into a dirty subject.

Women especially are damaged by this sort of outlook. They are taught to cover their body because it is a temptation to men (yes, the gendered terms are almost always a part of this particular education). Catch phrases like “modest is hottest” are meant to sugarcoat an otherwise brutal message: the body is something shameful and causes only sinful, lustful thoughts, so cover it up and don’t wear anything that will bring attention to its beauty. So much for being “God’s temple” and all that, right?

We’re faced with the paradox of seeing our bodies as God’s temple while also being pressed to keep them under lock and key until marriage. The idea of keeping one’s body sacred is valid, but not at the expense of training the mind to view it as dirty and something of taboo.

It’s funny, really. We always complain about how our society objectifies the body, but in a crazy, perverted way, the church does it, too. Komarnicki used a poignant  quote from Christopher West: “The problem with our sex-saturated culture … is not that it over-values the body and sex. The problem is that it has failed to see just how valuable that body and sex really are.” I would argue that the church often does the same thing. It can’t make up its mind about how to view the body, and so it can never really handle the topic of sex.

So, how do we try to fix this? It starts with a mindset change. Our bodies are not just about sex, and sex isn’t just about two bodies moving together. It’s about intimacy, connection and commitment. It’s not something that can be the epitome of evil when you’re single and then suddenly be beautiful once you’re married. It just doesn’t work that way.

“We were not made for the fall,” said Komarnicki. Our bodies, our relationships and our desires were not created as the broken things we view them as now. Sex is not evil. Our bodies are not vessels of temptation. Even in our broken state, we are still beautiful. We are still made in the image of God, and believe it or not, that includes our sexuality. Is that scandalous? No. It’s glorious.