In the book The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, Kenda Creasy Dean has a chapter entitled “Holding on to our Kisses: The Hormonal Theology of Adolescence”. Sexuality is deeply entrenched within our culture and seems at times very explicit in western adolescence. What intrigued me was how she relates sexuality to spirituality.

Her premise (as I understand it) is that sexuality and spirituality emerge from a theology of desire. Dean brings the definition of intercourse back to its Latin roots “to run between” like a current that connects between two points (p.158). Thus, intercourse isn’t automatically about a genital connection (though the way it’s portrayed in this culture, that’s our automatic assumption). Instead, it is a communion of sorts that can be sexual in nature (i.e. within a marriage) but can also be used in defining a relationship with God himself. (Even Dean admits that to use “intercourse with God”, due to the way our culture has distorted the definition of intercourse, makes that phrase sound dirty.) She suggests, “our society has confused genital intercourse with sacred desire”. That seems to suggest that when we have sexual desires (especially in the early stages of adolescence), we forget that its origins actually come from this sacred desire for God. Dean elaborates how the church’s separation (or de facto withdrawing) from sexuality has caused a chasm that really isn’t necessary. She states, “Far from a sign of apostasy, the sensual spirituality of postmodern youth is a sign of their irrepressible longing for the God who loves them.” (I also find it interesting how many of the Old Testament religions quickly associated sexuality with spirituality though in a very distorted way.)

Grant it, for me personally, it gives me another perspective to why pornography was such an addiction in my earlier years and why, to some extent, it still can be a struggle. It is the continued distortion of what the desire within me is actually trying to be quenched. Too many times, the “fulfillment” of pornography comes as a cheap alternative from the fulfillment that comes from God. And this isn’t just another way of “trying harder” to be a better Christian. Rather, it assists me to refocus on what is the object of that desire and to live accordingly. Dean states, “These early theologians [e.g. Augustine, Gregory and Bernard] taught that we cannot live without desire (in fact, our human growth is stunted without it), but that the object of our desire determines our moral character. As human beings, we are differentiated according to what we seek. Desire becomes spiritual when directed toward God.” (p.166)

So what does this mean for youth ministry today? Indeed, when we look at our programs relating to the topic of sexuality, we tend to miss the mark when we focus exclusively on the notion of “abstinence until marriage”. Although that is an important practice, the emphasis isn’t just “don’t do it or else” but rather relating it back to what that original desire is in the first place i.e. an intrinsic desire for God and how to reclaim that desire in its appropriate forms of worship. With this re-defined focus in addressing sexuality, we provide an alternative (a God-given direction) in understanding what exactly they are feeling/experiencing and thus recognizing that the true fulfillment of that desire is in the search for God, beyond sexual actions.