The Atlantic

When 'Do Unto Others' Meets Hookup Culture

How Christians could talk to America about sex
Source: Reuters

Traditionalists in the United States have seen their influence over sexual norms wane greatly in the postwar decades. If you believe that birth-control pills represent a historic advance to be celebrated, or that neither homosexuality nor premarital sex nor masturbation should be stigmatized, much of this change is salutary. Observers who support modern social norms surrounding sex should nevertheless ask themselves if any wisdom is being lost as mores shift rapidly and more people react against, dismiss, malign, or simply ignore traditionalist perspectives.

For all my disagreements with Christian norms–the most influential and widely held traditionalist perspective in America—I'm convinced that the religion offers some core truths that would improve America's sexual culture if we only applied them. But you'd never know about what I consider Christianity's most valuable insights from the way prominent Christians in the public square talk about sex, or the ways that Christians are portrayed by nonbelievers in media, politics, and popular culture. When talking about sex, even to general audiences, many prominent Christians emphasize arguments and faith-based frameworks that couldn't possibly resonate with nonbelievers. Meanwhile, critics of traditionalist Christians, including some from within the religion, tend to object to their priorities, arguing that unlike Jesus Christ, they focus too much on sex and too little on social justice. That critique treats the substance of their beliefs on sex as immaterial.

There is, I think, a better way.

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Damon Linker recently observed that while Christianity's outlook on sex has changed some over two millennia, "from the fourth century, down to roughly my grandparents' generation, the vast majority of people in the Western world believed without question that masturbation, pre-marital sex, and promiscuity were wrong, that out-of-wedlock pregnancy was shameful, that adultery was a serious sin, that divorce should either be banned or allowed only in the rarest of situations, and that homosexual desires were gravely disordered and worthy of severe punishment."

Today, sex before marriage is the norm; promiscuity is much less stigmatized; masturbation is a matter of moral indifference; birth control is everywhere; out-of-wedlock pregnancy is increasingly

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