A Word to Generation X about Sexuality

If you are a Christian with adult children, or close to it, you are likely lamenting the sexual habits of young people these days. Cohabitation, premarital sex, loose standards, serial monogamy - this bothers many mature Christians. But I have a challenge for you. I want to challenge you to embrace the next generation of adults, sex problems and all.

Below are four thoughts for you to mull over.

#1. Appreciate what cohabitation adults still value - marriage, commitment, family, financial responsibility.

Contrary to popular opinion, emerging adults are not opposed to marriage. In fact 93-96% of them WANT to marry someday.[1] They just are in no hurry.

Young adults view marriage as the highest commitment. They've read the statistics on divorce and they want nothing to do with that kind of hypocrisy.[2] They have seen the poor relationship their parents have, and they want no part. This is why young people are delaying marriage - they want to be all in, fully committed, and sure that their partner is one they can promise "till death do us part". In a way this is very good. Young people are hesitant to marry, but it's because they actually think saying "I do" means something. Gen X, affirm that!

On the other hand, they may need guidance to see how noncommittal sex really effects them. Emerging adults value “flexibility, autonomy, change, and the potential for upgrading” to a better partner.[3] Many believe that living in serial monogamy (jumping from one monogamous relationship to another) will reveal that one person they are looking for who meets their needs and is sexually compatible. But you and I know it doesn't work that way. "The one" doesn't exist, and sleeping around will not help you find him or her. As long as someone straddles the fence, being committed and monogamous while keeping options open for a new and better partner, true intimacy will not happen.

Make sure young people know that marriage and minivans do not go hand-in-hand. They are scared that entering marriage will be too expensive, restrictive for their dreams, keep them from experiencing travel or higher education, and ruin their sex life. But that just isn't true; and they may need help seeing that (182-194).[4]

#2. Don’t buy into the cultural script for sex.

All of us have assumptions (or "scripts") concerning what is normal or abnormal sexual practice. We all are learning about sex from stories we’ve heard about other people’s sexual experiences. Stories from a buddy, a movie scene, a porno, the radio, etc. These scripts are powerful because we believe them; even though most of our assumptions are false.

We assume that everyone else is having more sex than we are, but in most cases that isn’t true. We assume that introducing sex into a relationship early will bring deeper connection, but the sooner sex enters the relationship, the greater the chance of the relationship failing. We assume that cohabitation is a logical step towards a stable marriage, but that actually increases the chance of divorce, dramatically. We assume that getting married young keeps a young person from completing their education or having opportunities to travel, but the opposite is true. We assume that marrying young shortchanges someone’s career path and earns them less money later in life, but the opposite is true.

As you see and hear about sex in our culture, do not assume that everyone lives that way. And if conversations about sex come up with young adults you can let them in on this little-known secret. Just because all the movies and rap artists portray sex a certain way does not mean the other 99% of the world feels that way. (After all, when's the last time you saw a movie about a sexually fulfilled, middle-aged married couple?) There are millions of Millennials and Gen-Zers out there who think something is wrong with them because they don't fit in with the hook up culture. Show them that the cultural script does not match reality. Show them that having strings "attached" is the best kind of sex, whether drama television says so or not.

#3. Don’t make promises to young unmarrieds that cannot be kept.

“Wait to have sex and your marriage will rock someday!” Well-intentioned parents, teachers, and counselors have told Christian young people lines like this one. In his book Divine Sex, Jonathan Grant , a pastor of a church with a high percentage of single adults, writes about conversations he and his wife had with attenders. Half of them were frustrated that they had “obeyed all the rules” yet entered their late thirties unmarried and still a virgin. The other half set aside their Christian faith in the sex and dating arena, only to feel guilty after each encounter. The frustration came about because youth pastors had sold their youth on a deal (that God will give them a sexually and emotionally fulfilling mate if they don’t "sow their oats") rather than a savior.[5]

Young, unmarried Christians need to be reminded that following Jesus never comes with promises of an easy life. In fact Jesus said the opposite. Yes, God's guidelines for sex are in place to protect us and promote a more positive society, but sexual gratification doesn't always come to his followers. If I am choosing to follow Jesus with my whole heart, then I also have to follow him with my whole mind and my whole body… whether that results in a dynamite sex life or not.

#4. Don’t turn young people away from Jesus because they aren’t following the Christian rules on sex.

So a cohabitating couple walks into your church this Sunday for worship, really enjoys the service, and begins attending regularly. You can relate to them in three ways: (1) Reinterpret the Bible so that it appears God has nothing to say about our sexual life. This will make many friends, but few converts. (2) Take a hard stance against sin. Tell them they are unwelcome to become integrated into the church until they correct their sex life with Biblical principles. This will make many enemies, but few converts. (3) Address them with both grace and truth. Find middle ground in which they can understand a Christian view of marriage, but still have space to wrestle with the competing cultural script. I encourage you to consider option three.

Listen to young adults. Recognize that sexual practice is changing dramatically in our society. Every Christian has things they are working through as they follow Jesus, and sexuality can be one. Because of their sexuality, many emerging adults are turning away from the church, but fewer are turning away from Jesus. Allow enough space for your church to be an exception.[6]

[1] Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011), 169.
[2] Helen Fisher, Technology Hasn’t Changed Love. Here’s Why, accessed October 19, 2018, https://www.ted.com/talks/helen_fisher_technology_hasn_t_changed_love_here_s_why.
[3] Regnerus and Uecker, Premarital Sex in America, 171.
[4] Regnerus shows data that disproves these myths about marriage. Regnerus and Uecker, 182–94.
[5] Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015), 17, 138–42.
[6] Irma Fast Dueck, “Without Rings or Strings: Engaging Cohabitation in the Church,” Direction 45, no. 2 (2016): 180–91 Irma gives compelling reasons why the church ought to care for cohabitating adults rather than turn them away. She argues that cohabitation is a form of honoring the sanctity of marriage; many young people fear divorce and do not want to enter marriage lightly. She writes, “How will the church care for those who are living together without diminishing a Christian understanding of marriage? ... It has much to gain if it faces [this challenge] soon.”