Written by: Frances Molina
Want to know how to have the best sex ever? Class is in session.
The amusing tagline had me hooked almost immediately. The banner advertised a conversation on love, relationships, and hookup culture. I didn’t know what to expect from the lecture since I didn’t know which campus organization would be hosting, but the talk would run for three nights from February 2nd through the 4th.
The presentation began with a series of video interviews. Students were asked to respond candidly to four questions: Does sex enhance a romantic relationship? When should people have sex? Would you rather date a virgin or someone who’s experienced? When do you know you’re in love?
The lights came up at the end of the video and the hosting organization was finally revealed: Every Nation Campus, a popular Christian organization on campus with multiple chapters across the country. Two representatives from the org stood up to announce the itinerary of the evening and introduce the guest speaker. As they explained a bit about their organization and thanked us for coming out for their last night, I was caught somewhere between surprised and uncomfortable.
The purpose of this talk…was not just to start a dialogue on campus about sex and relationships but also to help us raise our “relational satisfaction”.
A Christian organization hosting a lecture on sex and hookup culture. Didn’t I already know how this was going to go? I stayed in my seat, however, curious and almost fidgety with a nervous energy that anticipated someone daring to tell me I was wrong or bad. Old habits of a catholic school child.
The guest speaker, Dr. Greg Mitchell was a pastor, couples counselor, author, and Christian family man from Vancouver. The purpose of this talk, he said, was not just to start a dialogue on campus about sex and relationships but also to help us raise our “relational satisfaction” and improve the sex, love, and intimacy experienced in our relationships.
Dr. Mitchell presented two sets of unrelated statistics. The first were from a sample survey taken by 390 students on campus, using the same four questions featured in the video interviews. The second set of statistics were taken from national surveys covering a variety of subjects: the rate of divorce, abortion, sexual abuse and domestic violence, and the crime rates of children from single parent homes.
While both sets of statistics were unrelated, he insisted that they indicated some alarming trends about relationships in our society. For example, he said, the impressive rate of divorce in America may be indicative of a breakdown in communication and emotional intimacy caused by an increase in cavalier physical intimacy. Inspired to seek a positive solution to these modern problems, he begged the question: how do we become more relationally mature and happy? Dr. Mitchell’s research and experience as a pastor and couples counselor helped him develop four suggestions.
“The pressure to be everything for your partner crushes the relationship”, [Dr. Mitchell] said.
The first two suggestions were polarizing: limit sex to marriage and avoid dating without the intention of finding a spouse. I felt the tension in the room shift. I’d heard suggestions like this before, and I would wager that I wasn’t alone. Anyone who spent their adolescence in Texas can tell you that their sex education – or lack thereof – boiled down to a lifestyle practice of Christianity that required abstinence and avoidance of sexual temptation. Dr. Mitchell assured us all that it wasn’t his intention to shame anyone, and I waited to be convinced.
The second pair of Dr. Mitchell’s suggestions were more accessible and easier to entertain. The first was learning to love. While love and hate can coexist, Dr. Mitchell explained, love and selfishness cannot. Seeking maturity in a partner – a partner who is accountable, emotionally available, and respectful of your time and your boundaries – is the key to “finding a perfect mate”. Dr. Mitchell’s second suggestion was to be realistic about the opposite sex. “The pressure to be everything for your partner crushes the relationship”, he said, offering the crowd what was probably the best relationship advice I had heard in long time.
As expected, the Q+A session that followed the talk was a little uncomfortable. A group of boys in the back of the auditorium took the opportunity to raise their voices, questioning the legitimacy of Dr. Mitchell’s claims and the relevance of his statistics. One boy in particular challenged his assertion that an increase in physical intimacy leads to a decrease in emotional intimacy, perhaps the most controversial statement of the evening. He insisted that the two could coexist, build off one another. After a little back and forth, Dr. Mitchell admitted that his statement was only a proposition to consider.
“Yes, we have a bias. Everyone has a bias. Yet we’re still open to having that conversation.” – Takia Shoats
The talk concluded on an uneven note. The question and answer session left everyone tense but the organization’s hosts tried to lighten the mood by ushering everyone out of the auditorium for cookies, coffee, and conversation.
Takia Shoats, a campus missionary with Every Nation Campus, spoke with me about the organization’s purpose for the event. “People want to talk about love, sex, and relationships. It’s something to engage the culture…Just because we call ourselves Christians, doesn’t mean we’re not having these conversations. We have to wrestle through too,” she explained, “Yes, we have a bias. Everyone has a bias. Yet we’re still open to having that conversation.”
I also got the chance to talk with Elias Hinojosa, freshman RTF major. “I had my own preconceptions of what the event would be about…but one thing I did not predict was the bias of Christianity. I felt a little bit cornered. But as the lecture went on I realized why people follow this type of religion. It clicked. And listening to this man talk about something that so many people feel so passionate about really opened my eyes. Maybe I was closing myself off a little bit to this idea.”
On my walk home, I grappled with my own feelings about the event.
I found Dr. Mitchell’s approach to the subject incredibly heteronormative and homophobic. The only time he mentioned same-sex relationships was when he was citing their rate of divorce and infidelity. I also disagreed that premarital sex discouraged emotional intimacy. Most frustrating of all, Dr. Mitchell seemed keen to simplify and ignore the complex social, racial, and gender dynamics involved in the sex and relationships of young people. As a result, he lost much of my respect as a listener.
But I couldn’t completely dismiss him. He had made important points about developing healthy, cooperative relationships. He had made very credible suggestions that many couples, religious or otherwise, could apply to their lives. The talk brought up more fire in me than I expected. I left feeling unsure, reaching for a middle way and eager for someone to talk to. The only thing that was certain was that Every Nation Campus had achieved their goal: they had definitely started a conversation.