Urban Myths

Urban Myths

Forrest Chambers

Forrest Chambers explores the myths promulgated by Sex and the City.Young people are losing the concept of non-sexual relationship.For example, a doctor who works with adolescents has recently noted that young people will say to each other, ‘Do you want to be my boy/girlfriend,’ (sexually involved), instead of ‘Do you want to be my friend?’ When asked about intimacy, many young people will say, ‘What’s that?’ to which another will reply, ‘Sex’.

Throughout our society everything is being reduced to the sexual. At the same time, sexual behaviour has become separated from consequence. We’re forgetting the positive consequences, such as relationship and procreation, as well as the negative consequences such as unwanted pregnancy, disease and emotional hurt. The physical consequences can be avoided by ‘protection’, clinics, and if necessary abortion. The emotional consequences can be avoided by separating sex from emotions.

The modern notion that sexual behaviour is just the pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfilment cannot moderate or guide sexual behaviour apart from, ‘Do it safely’ and ‘Don’t hurt anyone else’. In the absence of any reason not to, young people are having sex at younger ages. A study of South Island teenagers found that around half the females had had sex by age 16. Another study, in Hawkes Bay, found that approximately one in ten children have had sex by the age of 12.

Despite universal ‘safe sex’ messages, young people in New Zealand have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (at least one in five of the sexually active), pregnancy, and abortion.

The stock solution for New Zealand’s sexual dilemma is ‘more education’. This begs the question, ‘Education about what?’ Most understand it to mean education on risks, consequences and protective measures, framed within the presupposed idea of our innate sexuality that must be explored and expressed for our personal wholeness.

I believe that young people do need education, but they need to be introduced to the concepts that we are relational first and sexual second. Our wholeness is not a function of our sexual experiences.

When working with young people I make a point of creating a vision of an ideal relationship, which we can all work towards. This includes considering the importance of sexual expression. Often in discussion, young people come to see that there are many other, more important ingredients than the sexual.

The ‘ideal relationship’ can take several forms: friendship, boyfriend/girlfriend, marriage, family relationship. Sexual expression is the main variable in these relationships, while the ‘essentials’ are common ∆ love, trust, support, intimacy, fun together.

The presentation of a positive vision of relationships fills a void in the present education system. Through ‘health’ education young people learn that they cannot trust anyone ∆ ‘always use a condom’. Through real life they have seen numerous examples of failed and abusive relationships. Through the media they’ve seen more negative than positive visions of relationships ∆ and the ‘positive’ examples are often unrealistic fantasy.

Young people have absorbed the idea that the sexual, not the relational, is the key to the ignition of life. Without any avenue of relating to others deeply and trustingly, sex is pursued by young people as the last remaining avenue of intimacy with another person.

This view of the self has replaced the central Christian concept that we are primarily relational beings.

We are created male and female, and so gender is a primary feature of our identity. It does not follow, however, that we are therefore primarily sexual beings.

As created in the image of God the Trinity, three elements in perfect relationship, we also are relational. We find ourselves and express ourselves via relationship with God and with others. Our primary need is relationship or communion, not sexual expression. Of course, being relational and being sexual are not mutually exclusive. In the Christian understanding, they coincide in marriage.

Our task, then, is both practical and conceptual.

Practically, we must provide opportunities for young people to learn about positive relationships. Education should be frank and open on the relevant issues of sexual behaviour and health.
Conceptually, we should be helping young people question their received ideas that ‘sexuality equals life’. This is a psychological, theoretical and political fiction, which continuously misguides people’s behaviour.

Ideas have consequences. Big ideas have big consequences.