An older woman looks at sex and a changing world

Sex. The subject excites us; it scares us.

Sex is everywhere. Turn on the TV, and you see people casually sleeping with a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger even. Ads for Viagra promise meaningful relationships, not necessarily with a spouse. Crime shows deal with rape and sexual abuse. Sex sells cars, shampoo—you name it.

Homosexuality is no longer whispered about. People actually let it be known that they are gay. And they’re asking for equal rights under the law, even the right to marry.

Those of us who grew up in earlier eras feel out of sync with a culture so different from the one of our youth. Parents and church taught a moral code of restraint. Sex was not treated casually. Meanwhile, we forget that young people were made to feel guilty for their sexual urges (the harm eloquently portrayed in the old movie Splendor in the Grass). We also now see that homosexuals were forced to live a lie.

How do we deal with this disconnect between the values of our youth and the cultural climate of today? I’ve seen two alternatives at work.

1)     We can try to bring back the values of the past by teaching chastity and quoting the Bible. We can apply scare tactics, like condemning people to hell, warning about pregnancy, pronouncing doom for the American family (in truth, not always the harmonious, healthy environment for raising children we imagine it to be).

2)     Or we can open our hearts and minds to a morality that makes us uncomfortable. We can listen to young people talk about the sexual pressures on them. To single adults speak of their wishes for intimacy. To gays and lesbians witness to their experiences of coming to terms with their sexual orientation.

I’m reminded of the late Virginia Davidson, of Rochester, NY. In 1976, the year she turned 60, she was asked to chair the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Task Force on Homosexuality and the Church. As she listened to gay and lesbian Christians, she recognized the injustice of exclusion and worked for the rest of her life to bring them into full participation in the church.

Yes, my sentiments gravitate toward the second alternative. Which doesn’t mean I condone all that goes on today. But life will not return to the way it was when I was growing up—not that I really want it to.



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