I was interested to see an article this week on the Age website reporting on a conference in Melbourne. The conference was on 'Religion in the Public Square' - an opportunity to consider issues that impact on our wider society.
In some ways it was not surprising that the issue the writer (Barney Zwartz) picked up on was sex. But it was encouraging to see the way that he reported positively on what two of the presenters said.
Barney reported on the presentations made by Melinda Tankard Reist and by mother and son team Patricia and Kamal Werakoon. Melinda Tankard Reist (picture above) is a prolific writer and social commentator with a particular interest in women's issues and bioethics. Among her published works is Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls. Patricia Weerakoon is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, and the Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Sexual Health. She is a sexuality educator, researcher and therapist, and has developed a media profile as a sexologist. Kamal Weerakoon is the minister of St Mary's Presbyterian church and a Presbyterian chaplain at the University of Western Sydney (Parramatta Campus). Kamal had an adaptation of his presentation published this week in the Age & SMH (The good book's guide to great sex).
This article is great for a number of reasons. It promotes a positive Christian attitude to sex - something which many people think is impossible. It tells us that we are likely to be happier and healtier when we follow God's plan - which is a great apologetic argument! It also highlights some of the more disturbing consequences of moving away from the Christian standard – namely, the increasing sexualisation of girls - and draws attention to the campaign against this damaging trend.
This is such an important issue because of the damage that can be done when the 'community expectation' of unrestricted sexual expression is carried to a younger and younger audience. Unfortunately the media is not often interested in talking about this serious issue, so it was encouraging to see Zwartz write it up.
Melinda Tankard Reist is one of the few figures speaking out about this issue, although thankfully she is being heard by more and more people, including many larger Christian ministries. For her troubles Melinda has been attacked by many 'feminist' and atheist groups (see, eg., this article on unbelief.org). I want to encourage anyone who is concerned for the wellbeing of our society, whether or not you are a Christian, to check out and support her work.
For Christian parents this is an important issue, but we can't protect our daughters from these pressures by retreating into our ghettoes. This is another reminder of how important it is for parents to be aware of the issues confronting our children. We also need to be prayerful, to be wise in protecting them from the worst examples, and above all to be talking with them about what they are seeing and hearing, so that they will have the wisdom to be critical and to know when the world and the devil are at work leading them from God's way.
Here is the Barney Zwartz article in full:
WOMEN'S and girls' magazines are full of advice on better sex, from how to catch and hold your man down to detailed instructions on sexual techniques. Now it seems the oldest written recipe, the Bible's, might be the best.
Neuroscientific studies suggest that ''life-long heterosexual monogamy'' is most likely to provide both sexual satisfaction and excitement, a Melbourne conference heard at the weekend.
While women's activist Melinda Tankard Reist complained that Dolly magazine, aimed at 10 to 13-year-old girls, provided instructions on oral and anal sex without any context or warnings, Sydney University sexologist Patricia Weerakoon said biblical sexual ethics were healthy and life-affirming.
In a joint paper with her son, Sydney Presbyterian minister Kamal Weerakoon, she said non-religious people expected the church to be fearful, ignorant, defensive, repressed and hypocritical with only one message about sex: don't do it.
But a biblical understanding of sex was deeply positive - ''do it, God made us for it'' - while also being honest about human imperfections and limitations.
Mr Weerakoon told the national conference on religion in the public square that neuroscientists working in sexology - which studies gender and sexuality - showed that sexual activity had three stages: lust, love and bonding.
Each stage had its own particular hormones, including ''feel-good'' at the second stage, and ''cuddle'' hormones at the third.
In the lust or desire stage, the dominant hormone was testosterone. In the second stage, involving attraction to a specific person, the ''feel-good'' hormones of dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin came into play.
In the third stage, of long-term bonding, the ''cuddle hormones'' or oxytocin and vasopressin, played a bigger role.
''Biologically, we are wired to desire sex, to fall in love with the person we desire sex with, and for that love to develop into deep attachment. Our bodies are wired to operate best with one sexual partner for life,'' he said. ''Both academia and pop culture assume that biblical, Christian sexual ethics are at best outdated and irrelevant, and at worst repressive and harmful. We are seen as legalist, repressed, hypocritical killjoys who spend all our time trying to stop everyone from having a good time.''
But a biblical sexual anthropology and ethic was the church's gift to the world, he said. ''Christians should be out and proud.''
Ms Tankard Reist told the conference that despite talk of ''girl power'', girls lived in a pornified world, bombarded with sexual imagery before they were psychologically ready. Parents had to object when they saw T-shirts for pre-teens proclaiming ''It's not rape if you shout 'surprise''' or ''Save a virgin. Do me instead''.
''The standard you walk past is the standard you set,'' she said.