Chapter 2: Competing Stories of Human Sexuality

This is post three in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read more: Intro / Chapter 1

Also, this post got a bit long. I promise the rest of them are shorter!

In this chapter, Boone presents a pair of oversimplified narratives of sexuality—one “bad,” one “good.” He then goes on to challenge what he finds to be the four main assumptions of the “bad” or “worldly” narrative: that “sex is good”; that “sex is a private matter between two persons”; that “sex is just sex and nothing more”; and that “nobody is getting hurt.”

In challenging the first assumption, Boone agrees that sex is good, “wholeheartedly without reservation.” But, he points out, “it is not the end goal of life” (27). He then talks about the difference between sex and intimacy, saying that the latter is more what we should consider as a “need” than the former. It’s a good point, one that I’d hoped would set us up for a good discussion of singleness and celibacy. Alas, I’m still waiting for such a discussion.

In challenging the second assumption, Boone asserts that “the distinction between a private life and a public life does not exist” (29). Again, I think he’s onto something here, but I’m not so sure of the conclusion he draws. He suggests that “our private lives have public consequences,” and argues is that somehow this belief should convince us not to have sex outside of marriage. I fail to see how this result necessarily follows. In my mind, affirming that our personal choices, including sexual ones, have rippling consequences in our relationships and communities does not lead to a simple desire to follow the rules, but rather it makes us think critically about our actions and consider how they affect those around us and react accordingly. And because people and relationships are unique, real consideration and engagement with them will have unique results. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s never truly as easy as simply following the rules.

Boone challenges the third assumption by arguing for an aggrandization of sex, saying that sex isn’t “just sex,” but is something singular and profound in which “each [person] gives something that cannot be taken back” and “leaves an indelible imprint on the soul” of the other (33). Weighty words so few pages after he argues against the primacy of sex in human life! Additionally, these words smack of the typically harmful purity culture talk of a person’s (usually a girl’s) sexual experience as a wad of gum chewed by multiple people, or a strip of duct tape stuck to too many people’s shirts. This view of sex as some kind of scarce commodity to be guarded assumes and fosters immature relationships and idealizes the impossible—or at least very rare—occurrence of a person finding a lifelong partner on their first try. All people experience comings and goings of relationships in their lives, be they romantic or otherwise, and learning how to deal with such transitions is a mark of maturity. I’ll talk about this more below. Finally, Boone’s anecdote of his coworker Jerry who was sleeping with hotel guests every night presented the problem to be that Jerry was unhappy because he had no real connection or commitment to these women. However, the real problem is that he was treating these women as objects—as prizes to be conquered. He had no conception of these women as fully human and didn’t respect theme enough to treat them as such. To overlook this objectification—despite the fact that Boone identifies the women as “conquests”—and to make the issue about the amount of sex or the number of partners is an irresponsible oversimplification and misses something that is hugely problematic, even among monogamous people.

Boone addresses the fourth assumption by discussing various kinds of hurts caused by what he calls “bonding and breaking” (35). The implication of his poorly constructed argument is that people who wait until marriage to have sex don’t get hurt or don’t hurt others. However, all the hurts he lists are caused not by sex itself but by objectification and disrespect. Things like unplanned pregnancies, abortions, disease, and rape, are all problems that can absolutely occur within the bonds of marriage, which he holds up as the solution to these things. The problem is not sex, but a misunderstanding of personhood and intimacy. The fact that a person can’t talk to their partner about their previous sexual encounters is a bigger red flag about their communication skills and honesty than their sexual conduct. The privatization of people’s sex lives—that privatization that Boone is supposedly working against—may actually be caused and bolstered by the shame-inducing culture of evangelicalism that turns a deaf ear to any experience that does not conform to its sanitized, whitewashed, hegemonic narrative of sexuality.

One quick additional point: Boone says that he’s never heard someone say they regretted waiting until marriage to have sex (35-36).  A quick Google search might enlighten him on this point. Many good Christian people have expressed exactly that regret. Here’s one such story.

Lastly, Boone’s suggestion that we not attach ourselves “to someone to whom we do not intend to stay bound” (33) goes against the entire premise of love. Love is always risky. Love is making yourself open and vulnerable to someone despite the possible letdown. With sex or with any relational intimacy, to avoid attachment because of a fear of abandonment is to avoid love altogether. We very rarely “stay bound” to people we are close to. Life has its seasons of relationships. And that’s OK. Better to learn to navigate departures with grace and love than to pretend like they will never or should never happen. Boone’s thinking here is the same kind of thinking that leads people to stay in unhealthy relationships for the sole reason that they’ve had sex, because sex is this idolized, irrevocable action that holds so much meaning. He is correct that sex attaches us to another person. All manner of interaction and intimacy does. A smile or an intimate conversation can have the same binding effect. To get personal, there are dozens of people who have been imprinted on my life in intimate, though non-sexual, ways, and they are still a part of me even though our paths have diverged. It is the way of life. And processing these kinds of transitions is part of being human.