Earlier this week, I answered some questions from the Gospel Coalition for Christians who believe that the Bible affirms Same Sex Marriage. I thought the questions were significant, reflecting wider confusion in the Christian world regarding homosexuality, so I thought I would offer my answers. As I already said in my post last week, though, I am not a theologian, scholar, or pastor. I have no formal education in theology or the Bible. Instead, my answers come from my own journey of struggling and studying as a Gay Christian.
If you haven’t already, be sure to read Part One.
Question Number Three: Are you Prepared to Say Moms and Dads are interchangeable?
The simple answer: absolutely not.
Kevin DeYoung further asks,
It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up without a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?
At this point, I need to acknowledge my bias: I have never been a father, and because of that, I speak from a level of ignorance. I do hope to someday have children, though, and I have thought a great deal about the implications of being a gay father, raising a child with another man. I relate to Kevin DeYoung’s concern for children raised by same-sex parents – I have had it myself.
I do not believe that gender is insignificant, and I do not believe that men and women are the same. Consequently, I do not believe that mothers and fathers are the same. I absolutely believe that children need both male and female mentors and caring influences in their lives.
As I have struggled through my own questions regarding this issue, here is what I have, for now, concluded: there is simply no evidence that shows that children who are raised in healthy gay homes are any different from children raised in healthy heterosexual homes. The largest study that tries to refute that claim (The Rengarus study) was highly questionable in its methods and has been debunked.
The truth is, the notion of the nuclear family – a mother and a father both being in the home, caring for their children – is a product of modern prosperity. Historically speaking, it’s five seconds old. The vast majority of the human race (and Western Civilization) knew no such model. Many mothers died in child birth. Most children worked, or were apprenticed, or, in the upper classes, were mostly raised by people other than their parents. Nor is the nuclear family prescribed in Scripture. Western Civilization has known many models and configurations of raising family throughout the centuries. The notion that mothers and fathers must be in the home, caring for their children, is just the latest and newest of many. Having both a father and a mother raising their children is wonderful and beautiful, but I see no evidence that it is the only model that ensures children’s health and well being.
It takes far more than simply parents to raise a healthy child. There need to be mentors, teachers, coaches, pastors, grandmothers, and grandfathers as well. I believe the healthiest children are those raised not just by their parents, but by a community. This notion has largely been lost in our churches and wider American culture, and I believe that we have suffered tremendously because of that. In some ways, gay parenting inherently encourages reverting to older and healthier notions of raising a child – the parent alone is not enough. They will need outside mentors. That’s the way it should be. If I have children, I will ensure that the child has close male and female mentors, because just my spouse (regardless of his or her sex) and I are not enough to raise another human being.
Also, even if we believe that gay parenting is “less ideal” than heterosexual parenting, are we truly going to say it’s worse than the foster care system? Are we truly going to say that being raised by abusive, neglectful, straight parents is better than being raised by two loving, supportive and nurturing gay parents? Are we really going to say that being an orphan is better than having two dads or two moms? There are many, many children in this world who have no fathers or mothers – who need a home, who need to be fed, who need to be held and cared for. Are we really going to block two fathers, or two mothers, from caring for those children, because it is somehow less ideal? Am I truly not allowed to care with another man for a child in need because that is somehow so broken it is worse than that child having no parents at all?
What does hurt children in gay families is when the society at large does not allow the support and recognition that creates sustainable families. What hurts the children of gay people is the lack of support for such families.
Question Number Four: What Will You Say About Anal Sex?
Kevin DeYoung goes on,
The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate effects on the homosexual community.
Actually, I would be delighted to talk about anal sex, and I am glad that Kevin asked this question. It’s a question that hovers in the minds of many straight Christians, but one that is too touchy for them to ever verbalize. It’s a complicated issue, and I want to address it in much greater depth later on this blog, but we can at least begin the discussion here.
In response to this questions, there are a few points I would like to make.
The study Kevin quotes is woefully flawed. As Graeham Codrington puts it in his own response to DeYoung’s questions,
With regard to the specific points that Kevin makes about health and safety concerns, he references a much quoted study by J. R. Daling et.al, “Correlates of Homosexual Behavior and the Incidence of Anal Cancer,” which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association 247, no.14, 9 April 1982. This study is quoted in many conservative statements on this issue, especially the statistic of a 4000% increase in likelihood to contract anal cancer. The original study is available here (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=370939), and it is interesting to note that it is based on the study of just 47 men in western Washington between 1974 and 1979. Not entirely normative. I think this study has entered the realms of urban legend, to be honest. More recent research has conclusively linked anal cancer to HPV (human papillomavirus – see for example http://www.uptodate.com/contents/classification-and-epidemiology-of-anal-cancer and http://f1000.com/prime/reports/m/2/85/). People who are unhygienic are at higher risk of HPV, and anal intercourse that is done without due hygiene or care is a higher risk factor (but between 20% and 50% higher, not the ridiculous 4000% quoted by Kevin and many others). These issues are fairly well known in the homosexual community, and can easily be taught, and damage prevented.
I know many gay couples who have been married for decades, and have regularly practiced anal sex safely, hygienically and lovingly, and they have had no adverse health effects, even as they enter their 50’s and 60’s. Being clean, being safe, being gentle, respecting your partner’s boundaries – those are what protect people from harm, and that is true as much in gay relationships as it is in straight relationships, which leads me to my next point.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases Are Primarily a Promiscuity Problem, Not a Gay Problem or an Anal Sex Problem. DeYoung mentions a host of sexually transmitted diseases in his question. While it is true that anal sex does pose a greater risk of contracting an STD, that is only true if one is recklessly having sex, or having sex with people who are carrying that STD. If two men are monogamous, gentle, and clean in having anal sex, there is very little threat of contracting an STD. (And, as I mentioned in my previous post, gay couples are just as capable of being monogamous as straight couples.)
While this is not directly brought up in DeYoung’s article, I will go ahead and address it: many people object to anal sex because they believe it is damaging to the body. Anal sex is only damaging to the body if it is done roughly or without care. The key is to be gentle and kind in the expression of our bodies. Anal sex requires a bit more care, but that is precisely what can make it such an intimate act: I can think of no other action that is quite as physically vulnerable for a man than to be penetrated. Either that can be abused and can be an instrument of great harm, or it can become the context for the expression of great love, tenderness, and care between both partners. But this requires us to raise another necessary point:
Not all gay men have anal sex, nor is it the defining aspect of male homosexuality.
Allow Stephen Fry (a gay icon who has, by his own admission, never had anal sex) elucidate with his savage wit in his book “Moab is my Washpot”:
‘But have you any idea what these people actually do?’
Self-righteous members of the House of Commons loved standing to ask that question during our last parliamentary debate on the age of homosexual consent.
‘Shit-stickers, that’s what they are. Let’s be clear about that. We’re talking about sodomy here.’
Oh no you aren’t. You think you are, but you aren’t, you know.
Buggery is far less prevalent in the gay world than people suppose. Anal sex is probably not much more common in homosexual encounters than it is in heterosexual.
Buggery is not at the end of the yellow brick road somewhere over the homosexual rainbow, it is not the prize, the purpose, the goal or the fulfilment of homosexuality. Buggery is not the achievement which sees homosexuality move from becoming into being; buggery is not homosexuality’s realisation or destiny. Buggery is as much a necessary condition of homosexuality as the ownership of a Volvo estate car is a necessary condition of middle-class family life, linked irretrievably only in the minds of the witless and the cheap. The performance of buggery is no more inevitable a part of homosexuality than an orange syllabub is an inevitable part of a dinner: some may clamour for it and instantly demand a second helping, some are not interested, some decide they will try it once and then instantly vomit.
Stephen Fry goes on to clarify that the real heart of the homosexual experience has to do with love: love in it’s most debased and most heavenly forms. (I would, however, be more careful than he is with the term “gay-hater.” I don’t believe DeYoung is a gay-hater or a bigot until he is proven otherwise.)
There are plenty of other things to be got up to in the homosexual world outside the orbit of the anal ring, but the concept that really gets the goat of the gay-hater, the idea that really spins their melon and sickens their stomach is that most terrible and terrifying of all human notions, love.
That one can love another of the same gender, that is what the homophobe really cannot stand. Love in all eight tones and all five semitones of the word’s full octave. Love as agape, Eros and philos; love as romance, friendship and adoration; love as infatuation, obsession and lust; love as torture, euphoria, ecstasy and oblivion (this is beginning to read like a Calvin Klein perfume catalogue); love as need, passion and desire.
Fry concludes with an important point about the prevalence of anal sex in the straight world, dispelling the notion that anal play is somehow the exclusive domain of homosexuality. It is a human activity, not an exclusively homosexual activity.
All the rest of it, parking your dick up an arse, slurping at a helmet, whipping, frotting, peeing, pooing, squatting like a dog, dressing up in plastic and leather – all these go on in the world of boy and girl too: and let’s be clear about this, they go on more – the numbers make it so. Go into a sex shop, skim through some pornography, browse the Internet for a time, talk to someone in the sex industry. You think homosexuality is disgusting? Then, it follows, it follows as the night the day, that you find sex disgusting, for there is nothing done between two men or two women that is, by any objective standard, different from that which is done between a man and a woman.
(And of course, you don’t just need to talk to people in the sex industry to see the prevalence of anal play in the “world of boy and girl”, you can ask many straight, Christian, married couples. I personally know many who’ve admitted to me that they enjoy some kind of anal play.)
Let me take a moment to speak from my own experience here. Among all the homosexual encounters I’ve had in the gay hookup scene, (which, for the record, I believe were, at worst, very sinful and, at best, utterly unideal, and I have repented of them) the vast majority of them did not involve anal sex. I personally don’t always enjoy it, and I honestly don’t know if it will be a regular part of my married life, or even a part at all. I think I would be content if it wasn’t. I know gay men who love it, and I know gay men who tried it and hated it.
Anal sex does not define my experience of homosexuality, love does. Anal sex is not the height or greatest expression of homosexuality. Being gay is not a sex act: it is the capacity to be drawn holistically and uniquely and erotically towards the same sex, and sexuality makes up only a part of that equation.
Is it possible that anal sex works because God designed it to work? I know this is a bold question, but let’s really think about this for a moment. If we believe the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, (though as a yoga therapist, I would like to have a word with Him about his design of the knee and spine), then we have to confront the fact that God designed the anus and prostate to be sexual organs. The prostate is, after all, the male G-spot, and is immensely, sometimes mind-blowingly pleasurable when stimulated – often far more so than mere external stimulation of the penis. God put those nerves there, and God made them uniquely sexually sensitive to stimuli. That was His idea, not the degenerate gay’s idea. Furthermore, he could have buried the prostate anywhere in the body, but he didn’t. He put it right where another gay man can access it. Conversely, God could have put the clitoris anywhere in the body, but he didn’t. He put it right where another woman can stimulate it.
I am not saying that this therefore means that gay sex is okay. It simply means that it may complicate our notion of what is “natural” and “unnatural.” It is natural that the prostate is wired to respond erotically when stimulated. And who’s the grand orchestrator of Nature? God. Is it possible that God therefore designed our bodies to accommodate homosexuality and anal sex? I don’t know – I generally try to avoid simplistic interpretations of what nature, in her infinite variety, is telling us – but it is certainly something to ponder.
All sex is dangerous. To condemn anal sex solely on the grounds of it being dangerous is to condemn the human experience of sexuality. A “do no harm” approach to sexuality is necessary, noble, and good, but it is also the result of modern innovation. More than any war or plague, heterosexual sex may have the greatest body count in human history through death in childbirth and infant mortality. The only reason we perceive straight sex as safe is because we have unnaturally made it so through the miracle of modern medicine.
It would be easy (in our culture of tribalistic, post-modern, black and white thinking) if we could cast sex in a simple role of either, “good” or “bad”, of “safe” or “unsafe”, but nature and our own humanity don’t allow us that luxury. Throughout history, sex has always been an expression of our deepest natures: it’s capacity to create life and beauty is inextricably connected to its capacity to brutally kill and destroy. Its ability to foster intimacy and a one flesh bond is inextricably tied to its power to contort, control, and break our wills. Sex shows humanity’s true nature as fallen beings prone to violence and destruction who are also made in God’s image, capable of union, intimacy, and mysterious creativity. And as many gay people can say, homosexual sex is no different. All the heaven and the hell that can be communicated in heterosexual sex – that is just as present in gay sex as well.