I was recently speaking with a couple young adults, trying to understand their relationship. They had been out together on what I would generally term “dates” a handful of times. They seemed to like each other, and so I asked them, “what’s going on in your relationship? Are you two dating?” With a look I would peg somewhere between sheepishness and horror, the guy emphatically told me that no, they were not dating, and that what they were was complicated and not easily defined!
Once upon a time in our society, sex was reserved for committed, monogamous relationships. The progression went something like this: Talk->Date->Commit->Sex. Sex certainly transpired outside of marriage, but only in committed relationships. Dating was casual, and sex was serious. For emerging generations, the progression is nearly inverted: Sex->Talk->Commit->Date. Sex is casual; dating is serious, and indicates that the relationship is heading somewhere. Earlier when I had asked the two young adults if they were dating, they heard me asking a very different question! To them I might as well have been asking if the caterers were hired and the tuxes ordered!
Sex has become so casual, that there is an app for that. Tinder and Grinder, available on multiple mobile platforms, are designed to make hooking up for casual sex as quick and easy as possible. Sexting – the practice of sending nude photos of oneself to others through text message - has its own app: Snapchat. It really does seem like our attitudes toward sex increasingly resemble those of the Corinthians from the first century, when Paul wrote his letters.
While the millennial generation is again redefining social attitudes toward sex, and even our language, they remain on a path set in motion long before by their parents and grandparents. Yet even as emerging generations continue to push off marriage and family commitments (only 20% of 18-29 year olds are married today, as opposed to 59% in 1960), the landing point for these attitudes is still in flux. Although a majority of adults now indicate that sex beyond marriage is acceptable, millennials appear to have fewer sexual partners than did their parents.
When we in the church encounter this kind of information, we have the tendency to throw our hands up in the air and lament our quickly changing world. “Kids these days” don’t treat sex with the respect that it deserves, and we can’t even talk to them about it because they are changing the language too! Yet maybe a better approach for us would be to understand every conversation with a young adult to be a missional conversation. We don’t speak their language, and they don’t necessarily share our values. They probably don’t even share the framework of our worldview. When I speak to high school students, I am always sensitive to the fact that they don’t often have a firm grasp on Biblical events or theological language.
Sex is good! God created it, and he has embedded it with both purpose and pleasure. Our world continues to warp the act of sex, and where we might eventually land as a society is not entirely certain. Yet as Christian, we know that our scriptures and our faith have a lot to say on the topic of sex. Young people in the church need to hear the hope of the Christian sex ethic. Will you be a translator?