Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sex is icky, right?

It's that time in a single man's life where he finds it increasingly difficult to be grateful for another wedding invitation. You see, as chance would have it, many of my friends in their early twenties are preparing to get married in the next six months. It's not that I dislike weddings, but I dislike a lot of the fuss that goes on around them

Like most young Australians, they dream of one day owning their own house and raising a family in it, but this is certainly not cheap – trying to follow this dream will leave a young couple working with little disposable income for 15 or 20 years to pay off a hefty mortgage (it's hard to get a house around here for less than eight times the average annual pre-tax salary).

I plan to talk more about newlywed culture in upcoming posts, but for now I just wanted to mention a discussion that my friends and I had recently. I can't remember exactly how it started, but I think one of my friends was complaining about the cost of the house they had just bought, and I suggested something along the lines of

“Why not find a housemate or something to help pay the bills?”
To which my friends immediately objected
“No way! You've got to have a few years on your own first to get to know each other.”

I understand that this is the standard way of thinking in a nuclear family culture, but I've really started to question the wisdom behind this. Leaving aside my other musings (especially about the selfishness of this assumption) until a later post, I thought it was fascinating that the primary reason my friends gave for their objection was:

“But, if you had a housemate, they might hear you... you know...” *laughs nervously*

What? You mean someone might realise that you, a married couple, have sex sometimes? Lord forbid it. I couldn't believe I was hearing this from a couple that was going to be married in little more than two months at the time. There are two inherent issues with their objection. One is that, at some level, they are uncomfortable enough about the idea of sex that they can't speak about it directly – I understand that Christians are not usually brought up discussing these things over breakfast, but by the time people are in their early twenties (and especially when they are about to be married) they should at least be able to say the word ‘sex’ without looking really awkward.

The second issue here is that my friends apparently seem to find the idea of sex “icky”. On an intellectual level, they know that sex was created by God and that it's normal for married couples and all that, but on another level, they seem uncomfortable about it. Certainly, sex is not meant to be a public affair, but I would think that any housemate living with a married couple would reasonably assume that the couple are going to have sex regularly and if they had a problem with that then it's their own fault.

What do you think causes this attitude? Do we shelter adolescents too much in the church? It's not as though they won't hear about sex from any other sources (they certainly will). If this is a tactic to somehow curb the rate of premarital sex, then the statistics indicate it really doesn't work. Some churches run mens meetings and womens meetings, but these are typically for older people who are already married, so it doesn't help the teenagers to develop more healthy attitudes themselves. I know that my pastor spends a lot of time talking about sex in pre-marriage counselling of young couples, but I wonder if even waiting for them to be engaged is too late.

Is this something you see as an issue too? If you are married, do you remember whether you felt squeamish about sex as a newlywed? How did that affect your early marriage and how long did it take before you could discuss it comfortably?


  1. Coming from a person
    who was taken to church only a few times as a child and raised in a secular,
    slightly liberal family, I can safely say the church likely had nothing to do
    with it. Some people are just squeamish about sex. In fact, I am called a “prude”
    for my shying away from the topic. We all know that married people ‘do it’, no
    surprise there, but they do not want to think other people think they are doing
    it. Ever watch the show King of the Hill? That is a perfect representation of
    married couple’s squeamishness.

  2. Interesting – so are you married now and still find yourself shying away from the topic? Or unmarried?

    I think I saw one or two episodes of KotH but I must have missed that dynamic at the time.

  3. I am an unmarried, and uninterested, Catholic. Also, I quite like your blog. It will be added to my blogroll.

  4. I don't think it's a squeamishness thing --- at least not as far as I'm concerned. There are some things which are simply not for public consumption. You (presumably) wouldn't be happy were your house mates to watch you conjugating with your wife. Why would you be happy were they to hear you conjugating with your wife? Unwillingness to have an audience doesn't imply squeamishness about sex itself --- it may merely be a recognition of the privacy proper to the act.

  5. That's a good point, but I think it's important to make a distinction between someone watching/listening deliberately (voyeurism), and someone seeing/hearing accidentally. It really depends on the intention of the third party. You are right that I wouldn't want a housemate who had voyeuristic intentions and tried to spy on me, but if they hear something in passing or even accidentally walk in on something (and apologise) then it's not a big deal to me.

    Another example would be that someone wanting to hear specific details about your sexual practices might be rightly avoided, but again it depends on their intentions. If they are a urologist and you are seeing them about a sexual health matter, they may need to know those details.

    In the ancient near east there was a common practice of newlyweds going into a tent to officiate their relationship while the celebrations were ongoing. It was expected that they would finish and then the sheets would be presented as evidence of the bride's virginity and the consummation. Those who were waiting outside the tent didn't have bad intentions; they wanted to protect the couple, ensuring that the bride had not lied about her past (and hence, no other man could have claim to her children) and that the groom had not lied about her virginity.