Several books have shaped my understanding of sex. The first was in the late 90s: The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler. Vagina Monologues unapologetically told the stories of women and our often-unhealthy experiences with sex and our bodies. The book provided us with a place to enter conversations about our own stories.
In 2010, I saw the Tyler Perry movie For Colored Girls and read poems of Ntozake Shange. The movie and poems helped me gain a new perspective on my identity as a black woman and the roles I and women like me play due to the harm done to us. The movie and the poems are powerful, and I think every woman of color would be able to find themselves in one or more of the characters.
I was recently offered another life-shifting resource, a new book titled Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Reading Shameless has catapulted me into new awareness and ways of talking about sex.
Shameless is a theological storytelling of how the church and our theologies have shaped grave misunderstandings about God’s word. The author touches on important issues that have caused many women to question, hide, and hate their own bodies and personhood. She walks us through how the things we hear, see, and feel influence our lives as sexual beings. When shameful words and beliefs dominate, they cause lifelong damage.
Nadia Bolz-Weber’s work will shock and produce some level of anxiety for any reader—and for some, probably more than they want to deal with. I say this to warn people with fragile sensibilities. If this is true of you, then you may not be able to read this book. You may also want to stop reading this blog post because the story I am going to tell could very well touch on your sensibilities.
Many years ago, my husband and I ran a weekly teen ministry at our home church in Elkhart, Indiana. Each week, some 40 teens would gather to discuss all manner of life and how God is in the details. Most of the children were not churchgoers, and many had negative feelings about the church, yet they came every week to talk. One week, our conversation had something to do with sex. A 16-year-old girl told us that her mother would say, “don’t let no boy trick you out your panties.” Any conversation about sex, teen pregnancy, dating, or relationships led to that standing line. This, she said, was her mother’s version of “the sex talk.” She hated it.
The young lady went on to tell us that she lost her virginity to a boy, and her mother found out. Her mother chastised: “Didn’t I tell you not to let no boy trick you out your panties!” She calmly responded, “He didn’t; I gave them to him.” Her mother’s inability to offer her daughter a healthy way of understanding her body and its value caused her daughter to reject her message and what was likely deep concern.
It’s not just what you say but how you say it. Parents would do well to learn how to have positive and honest conversations with our children about sex and sexuality. We need to leave behind talk laced with commands and distressing scenarios.
Shameless: A Sexual Reformation helps us to think through the religious and commercial origins of our fear of sexuality. Nadia brilliantly tells the biblical story without the harsh interpretations many of us grew up with, inviting us to hear it with new ears. This reading has awakened me to a new perspective and pushed me to read the familiar stories again.
I recommend Shameless: A Sexual Reformation for those who seek to find a new love for the church and those who hope or need to talk about sex with their children, youth group, women’s groups, or church leaders.