ON THE OTHER HAND: Youth, sex, sin
Okay, teens, here’s everything you always wanted to know about sex and sin but were afraid to ask.
First, what is sin?
Sin is less the acts we do, than falling short of loving relationships: with God, other people and ourselves.
Because we’re weak, we fall short all the time. But don’t beat up on yourself: God’s not a vindictive tyrant; she’s infinite love and compassion. Just resolve to try harder and do better.
Don’t think of sin as a long list of things you shouldn’t do with penalties attached. Jesus, constantly accused of breaking the religious rules, reminded his accusers that their obsession with outward observance often blinded them to the spirit behind the rules: love God and love your neighbour.
Religions have lots of rules about sin. Regrettably they sometimes forget the purpose behind the rules, which is to serve God, rather than the institution; and they may cling to a rule that no longer makes sense.
Sex is important: it procreates God’s most precious gift – life.
But human sexuality goes far beyond the biological. It has psychological, social and spiritual dimensions. Unfortunately, the early church had a limited understanding of, and negative attitude to, human sexuality. It believed procreation was the only legitimate purpose of sex, and that sexual desire and pleasure, even within marriage, were sinful.
This would not change until the 20th century when, first the Anglican, and much later, the Catholic Church, acknowledged that our sexual instinct was a gift of God, and that while procreation was the primary purpose of marriage, sexual love between spouses was also central.
Even so, while the Catholic Church today embraces a much broader view of human sexuality, it still formally teaches that any sexual act that is not open to procreation is “unnatural” and intrinsically sinful. Accordingly, genital sex between spouses accompanied by male orgasm is seen as the only “natural” form of sex.
Many people think this is a crudely biological view of human sexuality that mechanistically splits up the total bodily and spiritual union that is sex. Moreover the inordinate stress on “procreation” tends to downplay the ethically more important task of nurturing children.
So let’s consider some sexual acts.
Because it cannot lead to procreation, some religions consider masturbation a sin. Most people, including doctors, think it’s a normal healthy part of growing up.
Underage sex can have seriously adverse consequences: a baby for which you’re not prepared emotionally or financially; trapped in an exploitative relationship; life-threatening diseases; emotional damage and disrupting your education. Wait till you grow up.
When you’re an adult you may wish to have a responsible sexual relationship with someone you love, without the commitment of getting married. That’s fine. This relationship might be considered sinful only in that it falls short of the sacrament of marriage by which God’s grace and the community’s blessing are conferred on those who’re ready to make lifelong commitment.
Because contraception avoids procreation, some religions consider it sinful. Many religions and most people believe, however, that contraception can be an ethical and responsible practice. Breeding children is easy; raising them is hard.
Most religions consider homosexuality sinful, either because they believe the Bible condemns it, or because it’s considered a violation of God’s “natural” law, but there are strongly reasoned arguments against these traditional interpretations.
The scientific evidence suggests that homosexuality is an involuntary condition. If so, then it’d be unreasonable to deny homosexuals sexual expression, since this is an essential part of being human.
Finally, remember three things:
See sin in the light of the big picture: your relationship to God and other people. How you treat others is more important than anything else. Your mission is to help God create a world of love, peace and justice.
Don’t stop going to church just because you disagree with what the church teaches. The church changes. Slowly.
Never stop asking questions.