is it possible to be a sex-positive Christian? [part two]

This post is a continuation of the argument begun in this post. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, please do, as it laid the foundation for today’s post.

III. Fornication

On top of the reality that women were thought of as property in biblical times is another reality: most of the time, the Bible is not addressing consensual sex where the people involved are socially equal. Take, for example, the argument that James Brownson lays out in Bible, Gender, Sexuality: in the times when the Bible seems to be addressing male-on-male sex, it’s not talking about two men who are social equals in a “loving, committed relationship,” as Matthew Vines likes to say.

A famous example is Sodom. I grew up believing that God destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone because a lot of the men who lived in the city were gay. Except … that’s not what happened. Ezekiel says that the “sin of Sodom” was greed, and the whole passage in Genesis is about men who wanted to commit rape. In ancient times as well as today, male-on-male rape is an act of domination, aggression, and violence. It is physical harm as well as psychological warfare because the act itself says you are no better than a weak woman.

Other examples in the Bible are stories like David and Bathsheba– I believe that David was punished for rape, not for adultery. Bathsheba could not refuse someone so much more powerful than her, and therefore could not give meaningful consent. When the prophet Nathan confronts David about raping Bathsheba, he tells the story of a beloved sheep: one man loved his sheep; the other man used his power to steal her away and then ate her. He wasn’t interested in keeping and cherishing her, but in consuming and destroying her.

I think what the New Testament is addressing when it talks about porneia is similar.

At its most basic, porneia is a bit of a loose term. It basically means “illicit sex,” with “illicit” here meaning “forms of sex that society frowns upon.” In the larger cultural context, “illicit” sex was limited to bestiality, incest, adultery, heterosexual pre-marital sex, etc. Pederasty was, depending on the time and the author, viewed with varying degrees of approval. However, I don’t think these actions were what the biblical writers meant when they chose porneia.

However, many times when porneia appears, it’s being strictly limited to a single form of sex: prostitution.

Temple prostitution has a bit of a mythos surrounding it in Christian culture. Occasionally you’ll hear allusions to the “temple at Corinth” in order bolster claims like these, or used as illustrations in sermons or historical lessons. The archeological evidence seems to indicate that temple prostitution wasn’t widely practiced the way many Christians think it was at the time the NT was being recorded; but what my research seems to show is that while there might not have been temple prostitution, there was a definite linguistic link between temple prostitution and prostitution more generally.

For example, Aphrodite’s temple in Corinth had been destroyed and had not been restored while Paul was there, but prostitution continued to be practiced, and it was still associated with the worship of the love goddess, however tangentially. We can see this cultural and linguistic connection in the Bible:

  • Acts 15: “That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication … Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
  • Acts 21: “We have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.”
  • I Corinthians 10: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.We should not commit sexual immorality (not porneia here, this is porneuo, which simply means “to prostitute”), as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.”
  • Colossians 3: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry …”
  • Revelations 2: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”

In each of these instances, fornication is intrinsically linked to idol-worship, and thus, to prostitution. Except ancient prostitution and modern prostitution don’t bear any resemblance to each other. Today, a sex worker can freely choose to employ themself that way without any form of violence or coercion forcing them into it. That didn’t really happen in biblical times (if there were consensual sex workers, I couldn’t find a record of their existence). At the time that Paul was writing, the only way “prostitution” was practiced was as sex trafficking. The women (and perhaps men) who were prostitutes were in no way consenting. They were slaves.

Is it any wonder that Paul condemns those who “join themselves to a prostitute”? I don’t think Paul was condemning people for having consensual sex, but for paying a sex trafficker for the opportunity to rape people.

Other appearances of porneia don’t refer to idolatry specifically, but it does usually appear in the context of abuse and exploitation. We have Paul condemning incest in I Corinthians (incest being an abusive act), associating it with murder in Romans, and Jude links it to the attempted rape in Sodom.

I think the consistent message of the NT regarding sex is don’t harm, abuse, exploit, and rape people, not “don’t have pre-marital sex.”

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  • Reblogged this on katyandtheword and commented:
    What amounts to sound translation of Sodom and Grommorah…some day we’ll have a Bible that does it well

  • Tim

    Nice work drawing the connection between NT use of porneia and prostitution as practiced at that time.

    You say, “Today a sex worker can freely choose to employ themselves that way …” I agree that’s theoretically true and actually true in a minority of cases. In the majority of cases in the US and worldwide, we haven’t come all that far from the ancient world. As many as 90 percent of prostitutes in the US say they would like to get out of that line of work but can’t because of lack of health care, money, education or other basic resources. The average age of entry of a prostitute in the US is 12-14 yo, well prior to the point at which they could meaningfully consent. http://www.soroptimist.org/trafficking/prostitution_faq.html

    I get the brief every time I travel: bottom line if you see someone offering sex for sale in the majority of countries outside the US it’s reasonable to assume they’re trafficked.

    • I make a clear distinction between “prostitution” and “sex trafficking”: the two are not the same and should never be confused or used interchangeably because that is incredibly damaging to victims (phrases like “child prostitute” should be expunged from the English language, for example).

      Also, the “90 percent want to get out but can’t” is a weak argument in my opinion. I think you could say the same of pretty much any industry that people turn to b/c they don’t have the resources/privilege not to end up there, like fast food or retail.

      I tend not to trust resources from anti-prostitution organizations for the simple reason that they belittle women who are actually sex workers. They refuse to listen to women who don’t agree with them, or outright demonize them, calling them liars/deluded/misogynists, etc.

      • Tim

        Yes, there’s a distinction between prostitution and sex trafficking, and I get what you’re saying – if someone is forced into sex slavery, it is damaging to them to refer to them as a prostitute implying that they have some choice in the matter when in fact they don’t.

        But are you making a distinction between “sex worker” (the term you used in your post to refer to someone in the modern era who exchanges sex for money and “prostitute” which you use frequently in reference to the NT era? Part of your point was that the institution of prostitution in the ancient world was largely involuntary and was very damaging to, for example, temple prostitutes. Are you comfortable using “prostitute” to refer to a modern sex worker? Is there other language that could be used to carefully distinguish between someone who is exchanging sex for money in an entirely consensual way vs someone who has been coerced into this situation? To the person buying sex on the street, the distinction is not necessarily obvious, unless, for example, the person offering sex is under age.

        I agree with you that the statement 90 percent would like to get out but can’t is a weak argument by itself, but when you combine that with 70 percent suffer from PTSD (as severe as combat veterans seeking treatment) and 75 percent attempt suicide, it paints a picture of a profession where the desire to leave may be on a whole different level than the desire to quit Pizza Hut so that you don’t have to spend so much time on your feet.

        Those stats are on the web-site of an org that is anti-prostitution. Some people who are anti-prostitution do indeed belittle women who are sex workers and refuse to listen to women who disagree with them. Which sucks. That’s bad behavior. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into “they just made up that data”. I think it’s reasonable to actually look at what study was done, how the study was designed, what was the raw data, how was it interpreted to make that kind of call.

        • Brett

          Keep in mind these groups have a history of massively exaggerated claims about the scale of trafficked sex workers. They’re often behind the claims that “tens of thousands” of women get trafficked into town for the Super Bowl and other major events, when in practice the stepped up police enforcement in response usually finds a couple dozen (most of whom were already working there well before the event).

          I’d treat any statistics coming from them with huge skepticism, especially if they contradict the oral accounts of actual sex workers (ranging from street walkers to escorts, and so forth).

      • Brett

        A lot of the statistics about prostitution tend to be pretty dodgy as well. For example, the “12-14 years old” claim came out of a voluntary low-response survey done specifically of underage children doing sex work.

        It’s probably true that many of them wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t have the money, but you could say that about a lot of low-paying jobs (a disproportionate number of which are occupied by women). I can’t think of a lot of people who would want to be a maid or line cook at Burger King if they didn’t need the money.

        • Brett

          EDIT: Sorry, “Did need the money”, not “Didn’t have the money” at the start of that second paragraph.

        • Tim

          Thanks for the link. The example in the article of CASE (prop 35) is the sort of thing that grieves me most – public policy that’s generated in response to a real problem and purports to address that problem but ends up doing more harm than good to the people it’s intended to help, either by incompetence or design.

  • I have come to the same/similar conclusions as you do. I think the main message of what is described when it comes to sex is to not do harm. In a society where a woman would be killed/hurt/excluded from society it is reasonable to say that all sex should be kept within the marriage. While the times were different in other ways as well, this was genuinely what would be the best for women and men. Now we have birth control and paternity tests and fathers have to support children even if they are not married to their mother at least in my country (Sweden) and many others. Now we can safely expand the norm for what is sex that does not cause harm. We can choose to have sex outside of marriage if we like and if we seek consent and protect ourselves and the other part from unwanted pregnancy or disease. We can safely know that even if our efforts fail to do this there is a safety net which means that if a child is born he/she will be allowed some support and have a good chance of at least knowing the name of both their parents. For STD:s there are treatments to cure or in the case of HIV slow down the process. Our time is simply different from when the bible was written.
    As a Christian I do think we should examine our motives when seeking to have sex to make sure that we do not cause harm and this may lead to avoiding sex completely before marriage or before one is a point where marriage is close to happening and that is fine but I also do not think that a Christian with absolute certainty should avoid all sex outside of marriage.
    Prostitution, sex which is without consent, adultery if you are married are still not OK but given other changes in our world I do think there is a responsible choice for a Christian which is not just waiting until marriage.

  • Melissa

    There’s a lot in here I like. But I have some caveats. First, not all prostitution in the ancient world was rape. Mary Beard on Pompeii (and perhaps she’s written about it elsewhere) is pretty interesting here, in discussing the evidence for what was coercive (slaves probably working in the brothel) as well as the likelihood of many women (barmaids, etc)- and men- working as occasional prostitutes to earn extra money, on their own initiative.

    Personally, I think there are contradictions in Paul. I agree that it’s best to get at these through understanding context, but I don’t think it’s possible to make them all positive in today’s terms. If I remember right, at one point Paul basically defines sin as doing harm/hurt (I couldn’t find the verse just now). But then when he discusses prostitution, he is explicit that the problem lies in “defiling” oneself- in becoming impure. If he meant that a man was doing a prostitute harm, he easily could have said so. Instead, he implies that the prostitute would be doing the man harm. And not all these passages mention idolatry, either.

    I think there is a tension in the NT between an open/expansive morality- taking love as the basic principle, embracing outcasts, being egalitarian- and an older purity/impurity ethic much more prevalent in the OT (Richard Beck’s Unclean was very interesting for this). To me, Paul is basically trying to argue for the new ethic, but he still has elements of the old in his thinking. Because of this, we see his morality actually EVOLVING in the NT, not set in stone….Literalists would hate that, I guess. My point is, I don’t think Paul would have been ok even with consensual prostitution. But despite that, I still think we can derive the conclusions you’re talking about from the basic principles of his new ethic (but not the old pure/impure one).

    • Yeah, I don’t think that there was never any consensual prostitution happening– but I just couldn’t find reputable scholars talking about it during the time/setting that things like Corinthians were being written. What I did find seemed to indicate that the vast majority of the “prostitution” happening was slavery and trafficking.

      I agree with your point that not everything in the NT should be attempted to be read in a positive light. I think the NT writers were all sexist, every single last one of them, and some of what appears in it is outright misogyny (including the language about “defilement” and such, you’re right).

      However, I do think it is possible to read the larger ethic of “love and do no harm” into some of the conversations about sex in the NT, and because it’s possible it should at least be attempted for those of us who aren’t ready to shrug our shoulders and say “welp, Paul was a misogynist, so it’s going to come out occasionally.”

    • “But then when he discusses prostitution, he is explicit that the problem lies in “defiling” oneself- in becoming impure. If he meant that a man was doing a prostitute harm, he easily could have said so. Instead, he implies that the prostitute would be doing the man harm. And not all these passages mention idolatry, either.”

      That’s what I was thinking too. Paul uses language like “don’t you know that whoever unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in flesh?” which sounds to me like he’s trying to say “ewww dirty.” I really like the idea of the bible condemning prostitution because it wasn’t consensual, but that’s not the explanation given when Paul writes it.

  • Samantha, thank you for being a very brave soul and for doing the hard work of researching and wrestling with human sexuality, And thank you for articulating your thoughts on an indispensable component of our human constitution.
    15+ years ago I recall the Bishop of Southern Virginia (Episcopal) commenting that the church did not have a protocol (or was it an apologetic) regarding LGBT relationships and marriage (and with Anglicans it was ordination for ministry). He stated that until such a rubric (my term) was in place (however long and arduous it might be to develop one) we are only spinning our wheels in coming to resolution on human sexuality.
    That said, what I see Samantha working toward here (and my intent is not to put words in her mouth) is a clear description and understanding of Scripture in regard to the full orb of human sexuality (particularly the unmarried). And, it would make sense that it applies to both heterosexual and homosexual practice. What the conservative Christian churches have been postulating the last couple of centuries has been a default to doing the really hard work of honesty and integrity.
    If one thinks about it, what Samantha is laying out here will not make teaching sexuality to our children any easier. In a way it’s more complex. Because now we will have to develop discernment and wisdom in our children. It’s no longer, “No! Just don’t do it!” which is mainly why young people ignore our admonishments.

  • Melissa wrote: If he meant that a man was doing a prostitute harm, he easily could have said so. Instead, he implies that the prostitute would be doing the man harm.
    A good point, but another way to look at this is that by being with a prostitute he is doing harm to himself, (causing guilt, losing empathy for his wife, moving away from God) not necessarily the prostitute doing him harm. She’s has no say in this.
    This has been an interesting couple of posts and has given much food for thought.

  • Rebekah

    I really like what you said about David ‘eating’ and destroying Bathsheba like the man ate the lamb, I had not thought of it that way before. It has seemed to me in the past that even though the author never says rape (probably because he wouldn’t have considered it rape) he definitely downplay s Bathsheba s actions in the story and focuses on David as the main actor of the story, seeming to suggest he bears the responsibility and Bathsheba is innocent (since she is the innocent lamb in the story).

    While I do agree with u that David was being called out for hurting Bathsheba, he was also guilty of trying to cover it up and murdered Uriah in the process, which seems to be a more serious issue.

  • What a great post. I’ve never heard of that interpretation of David before. Just how evil Bathsheba was at texting him.

    • Tim

      Yep. The text doesn’t describe Bathsheba as a willing participant in adultery at all. Not even on a casual reading. But you can find examples of Christians over millenia (including recent fundamentalists) reading the story that way, and I’m sure I absorbed that take on the scandalous story growing up.

      It was sort of a shock to me the first time I heard someone go through the text in detail. David is 50, at the height of his power, having finally unified the kingdom. Uriah, a convert to Judaism, is twenty years younger than David, but wins a place in David’s court as a skilled warrior. David is his hero. Uriah then marries Bathsheba, the daughter of one of David’s advisors, a young woman who probably grew up around the palace. And that’s who David decides he has to have while Uriah is away. There’s no way Bathsheba can say no to the King; there’s no way she can meaningfully consent. Nathan’s parable is crystal clear about the divine perspective on the situation. Uriah loved Bathsheba; David is a predator; Bathsheba is entirely a victim of David’s actions, as was, Uriah.

  • Girl, this makes sense! Also, I know David was a good king and Jesus came from his line and blah blah but I can never get over how he just claimed Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. Craziness.

  • The Mom

    Which begins a conversation about penitence.

  • Jeff

    “I think the consistent message of the NT regarding sex is don’t harm, abuse, exploit, and rape people, not “don’t have pre-marital sex.””

    Can you think of any passages in the NT that, in your judgment, say “DO have pre-marital sex (if you want to).”

    • Jeff, I don’t understand your question. It seems like a non-question.

      • Jeff

        Well, I did forget to include a question mark at the end!

        These three posts focus on challenging traditional interpretations of several Biblical passages. And that’s fine, but it’s not the same thing as building a positive case for the argument.

        For example, the third post ends with “As long as you’re not causing harm and you believe that having sex would be good, beneficial, loving, enjoyable … then in my book, you’re golden.” Samantha’s book notwithstanding, do we think Paul, for example, would agree that “you’re golden” in such a situation? Can we find any examples to suggest that he would?

    • Can you think of any NT passages that say “DO go on roller coasters, if you want to?” or “DO consult your doctor about cancer treatments?”

      I don’t think this is a valid question. The Bible isn’t going to address concepts that the writers didn’t think were necessary questions to address. In their culture, it was a bad idea to have sex with an unmarried woman because of what it would do to her– there was no such thing as “sex that won’t completely ruin a woman’s future security and life”, just like there weren’t roller coasters and cancer treatments. The positive ethic in place in the NT is “they shall know you by your love.”

      • Jeff

        Well, be a little more careful — I’m not advocating the “Bible as cosmic rulebook” view, and like you, I like the views Peter Enns expresses about how to think about scripture. And I absolutely believe it’s imperative to understand the cultural context in which the text was written, as it can add important nuance.

        But. Extra-marital sex is not in the same category as theme park amusements, as you know perfectly well. It’s not a cultural practice that was completely unknown in Paul’s day. To be sure, in an honor/shame society, the ramifications of one’s actions on one’s honor (and more importantly, on one’s family’s honor) were an important and driving concern. At the same time, you read 1 Cor 7 and Paul, while on the idiosyncratic and ascetic side, nevertheless speaks about sex in a way that sounds an awful lot more like practical wisdom gleaned from experience and observation than it does guidance about not damaging one’s property value. Put differently, the cultural background is important but isn’t a justification not to engage the text itself.

        (It’s also questionable to project too many “sexist” Greco-Roman cultural assumptions and practices onto the early church, since we also know that women comprised a significant fraction of the early church and the reason for this was likely influenced by the church’s “counter-cultural” views about women specifically).

        • Of course “roller coasters” is an over-the-top example, but I still think my point holds.

          I’m not arguing that pre-marital sex didn’t exist: of course it existed. However, pre-marital sex that didn’t ruin a woman’s life would have been as completely foreign to Paul as roller coasters.

          • Jeff

            Well, sure, and it’s for a similar reason that I don’t think the “Paul doesn’t unambiguously condemn slavery!” argument that some make is all that distressing or problematic.

            At the same time, I’m worried about constructing an argument from silence on these grounds, particularly when the writer isn’t actually silent! You seem, to me, to be saying, that we can discount any negative statements Paul makes about extra-marital sex, and ignore the lack of positive statements about it, because the culture he was embedded in would have disapproved of it categorically. The problem with this is that it appears to only allow positions that are counter-cultural to fit in the framework of what you’ll consider “God-approved”. If one of the writers happens to approve of a position or practice that is congruent with the culture in which he was writing, it doesn’t count. I don’t think that’s a reliable criterion on which to base judgments of this sort.

          • I’m not saying we need to discount them. I’m saying we can examine them in a new light. We don’t live in first-century Palestine where women were property and we don’t have to have the misogynistic attitude that having a sex with a woman is “EW GROSS” that Paul seemed to have.

            I’m not saying that just because a biblical writer endorsed a position that was also commonly endorsed by his culture it’s automatically wrong. I’m saying that when it comes to women and sex there are going to be misogynistic things happening and we should evaluate those.

          • Tim

            This exchange deals with one of the first things that occurred to me when you started this series. I agree with you, pre-marital sex that didn’t ruin a woman’s life would have been foreign to Paul, and I think you can argue that he opposed pre-marital sex, as it existed in his time, on those grounds. However, that doesn’t exclude the possibility that he might have opposed pre-marital sex on other grounds as well; grounds which might transcend his particular culture, and which might apply even to post WW II US non-life-ruining pre-marital sex.

            But I think in order to really get at whether Paul may have had grounds for condemning modern non-life-ruining consensual pre-marital sex, you have to consider whether there is a Christian concept of marriage that transcends both the legal and social constructs of Paul’s time and our own time, and whether that Christian concept, if it exists, has any bearing on sexual activity (outside of the general admonition to Christians that we ought to get along with laws and people in whatever society we happen to find ourselves.)

            I think you brought up some good things to think about and I appreciate your research.

  • Erik K

    Two quick things (even though I’m late to the party):

    1) The following quote jumped out at me: “In ancient times as well as today, male-on-male rape is an act of domination, aggression, and violence. It is physical harm as well as psychological warfare because the act itself says you are no better than a weak woman.”

    I’m not sure if I’m being very nit-picky, but it seems unnecessary to me to say that the act itself says “no are no better than a weak woman”. The act, as you do note, is about domination and violence – it’s about power. It elevates the attacker while attacking the victim’s personhood. It says, “I can do this to you and you cannot stop me; to me, you aren’t a person, but a thing.”

    The danger is associating this to being a “weak woman”. I know that many rapists will use that language, and through context, I assume that’s what you meant. Which is why it may be nit-picky, but I thought it was worth a comment.

    2) In the ancient Roman world, women weren’t the only ones who were subject to violence and rape. It was a common practice to protect one’s underaged sons as they were often victims of rape. This would be another reason Paul may have been warning against male-male sex – as Samantha noted, it wasn’t consensual sex, it was rape.

  • Thank you for this series. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the “Do no harm” and “Know your limits” common sense readings. I’m glad there are Christians out there who don’t immediately turn to finger-wagging at the idea of fornication.

  • “Today, a sex worker can freely choose to employ themself that way without any form of violence or coercion forcing them into it. That didn’t really happen in biblical times (if there were consensual sex workers, I couldn’t find a record of their existence). At the time that Paul was writing, the only way “prostitution” was practiced was as sex trafficking.”

    Of all your claims I think this is the most harmful message to put out there. The rest I can see as potentially not harmful (I mean for me personally, sex with more than one person would be highly emotionally damaging but I don’t feel the need to argue that case). But on the concept of prostitution I believe that is 100% harmful. If you watch the documentary Nefarious in all their interviews with women in America who “chose” to be prostitutes all of them had been sexually abused and all of them said they didn’t know anyone else in the industry that had not been sexually abused. All of them reported feeling worthless. Most said that since men in their life had abused them they figured no man would treat them with respect and dignity so why not make money doing something that had been forced upon them? Other supporting research on this hypothesis: “Sexual Abuse as a Precursor to Prostitution and Victimization Among Adolescent and Adult Homeless Women” http://m.jfi.sagepub.com/content/12/3/361.short
    In other words it would appear that women are more or less conditioned to be prostitutes, not necessarily that they decide that this sounds like a fun profession I’d enjoy.

    Sorry for the long post but it’s a topic I’m passionate about and I don’t think it can be talked about so casually. Especially considering that most prostitutes in America can also attest to the high rates of violence committed against prostitutes and/or have harrowing stories of their own.

    • I’ve seen Nefarious and I’ve been researching sex and human trafficking for two years. I disagree with many of the anti-trafficking industry’s conclusions and methods, mostly because many organizations are still deeply rooted in misogynistic sentiments about women and sex, and I do not trust the “facts” and “research” as presented by them as they are far too agenda-driven to be considered trustworthy by me.

      Prostitution is an extremely dangerous profession, but there is a complicated discussion to be had about that fact. WHY is it dangerous? I don’t think the answer is likely to be that it’s inherent to the idea of exchanging your time and labor for compensation. Misogyny, lack of regulation, rape culture, the view that sex workers are all useless and worthless crack whores, etc, all contribute to the danger but aren’t ideas that can’t be combatted.

      There is a distinct difference between consensual sex work and trafficking, and the two shouldn’t be confused. There are many sex workers who enjoy their profession and haven’t been coerced into it, but many anti-trafficking organizations would like you believe that those people don’t exist or are deluded, an attitude that has some pretty deep problem with sexism.

      • Thank you.

        I’d also like to add that, from what I’ve heard, a lot of sexual assaults of prostitutes are committed by police.

      • Tim

        I agree with you that figuring out why prostitution is dangerous is complicated and it’s not obvious that exchanging sex for money is inherently dangerous. And I also agree with you that sex workers who enjoy their profession and haven’t been coerced into it really do exist, and if you insist that they don’t or they’re deluded, that will definitely lower your credibility and/or make you seem sexist.

        However, I think “facts” and “research” are good or bad based on objective factors having to do with the way a study was designed, etc. Not who did the study or what their agenda is, whether you mainly agree with their goals or attitudes or assumptions or not.

        • That said, I think, in the absence of explicit and reliable indications of exactly how research was conducted, there are good reasons to treat “Groundbreaking new study commissioned by the tobacco industry suggests cigarettes don’t cause cancer” with a tidge more skepticism* than “Groundbreaking new study commissioned by the Department of Health suggests cigarettes don’t cause cancer.” Samantha did say she distrusted the organizations’ methods.

          *Where “a tidge more skepticism” may mean “toss in the direction of the wastebasket with a derisive snort.”

          • Tim

            Yes, in the absence of explicit and reliable indications. Usually, the indications aren’t completely absent. Above I cited the discredited stat about age of entry. The Atlantic article explains that the stat came from interviews with 200-odd underage young people who had been exchanging sex for money who were asked, “At what age did you first exchange sex for money?” and the answers were averaged. The number isn’t applicable to the whole population of prostitutes because A) they started with an underage sample set, so clearly the average was going to skew young, B) the sample size wasn’t huge (although large enough to draw some conclusions) and C) it was a sample of convenience rather than a random sample. There are plenty of other indicators that would cast doubt on it as being applicable to the whole industry as well.

            So, fair enough, if the stat is used to apply to the whole industry, that’s a misuse of the data, and there’s probably an agenda behind that. But the data wasn’t made up, it came out of a real study. And, the way I read it, the people doing the study weren’t driven by a particular policy agenda, they were just trying to gather real data on a subset of the population exchanging sex for money, i.e. those who are underage. Even if that’s only ten percent of the whole population that’s still a large number of young people who are vulnerable and who are worth studying and trying to help.

            Samantha could speak to particular issues she has with data from anti-prostitution organizations; she’s clearly had more experience with that than I have. But I think most of the time it’s better to evaluate a study on it’s own rather than deeming it guilty by association so to speak.

    • Cboetcker: I see your comments as an important part of the dialogue initiated by Samantha. Your response is a good example of the kind of public dialogue that is most effective in leading readers to formulate their own views without being disrespectful, strident or defensive.

      Likewise, what I like about Samantha’ posts are that she doesn’t seem to feel the need to nail down all the corners or qualify all the nuances. She pretty much sets up what she learned/was taught in her formulative years and how she now is realigning her views based on observing reality, contradictions and inconsistencies through her life’s experiences. And, the study of Scripture and other scholars works.

    • Tim

      Cboetcker, you started your post by talking about the harm in putting the message out there that today sex workers are able to exchange sex for money without experiencing the harm that comes from being coerced into sex.

      I don’t think there’s a great potential for harm in that message even if I think it is misleading. Consider this, would a typical young woman read this and decide, “Hey, I never thought about that, maybe prostitution is a pretty safe and respectable business nowadays, maybe I should consider a career in it.”? Nope. If what you say is true, the majority of the young women in the business weren’t persuaded because they read on a feminist blog that it was ok, there were many other factors that contributed in more powerful and negative ways. And I think you’re right. Samantha’s blog is not going to cause a young woman to get into the business only to discover too late that it wasn’t what she had imagined and then wind up hurt.

      On the other hand, could the message contribute to harm by convincing a man, who had formerly not been interested in paid sex, that sex with a prostitute is a value-neutral thing and he should stop boycotting the industry. I don’t think so. For me, the knowledge that some prostitutes (and I guess we could argue whether it’s most or a few) are there out of desperation because ordinary social services have failed their situation, or because they have been trafficked, and it’s impossible to tell whether any woman who is offering sex for money is doing so in a truly consensual way or not renders almost all solicitation immoral. If I might be committing rape, but hey, I might not, that ambiguity doesn’t make it ok to proceed, in fact the ambiguity is what makes it not ok. So even if Samantha is right that some (even many) sex workers are engaging in meaningfully consensual sex, the significant probability that it’s not the case some of the time would still deter someone who was trying to act in a moral way (a non-rapey way, if you will) from soliciting sex from a prostitute.

      Samantha’s message could be harmful if it persuades people that they should work for the legalization or regulation of prostitution, and you’re convinced that legalization would cause more harm. But I think that’s really a whole separate issue. It could be true that prostitution is almost entirely non-consensual in any meaningful way and also true that it should be legalized. Or the reverse. Even if we believed most prostitution today was meaningfully consensual, that by itself wouldn’t necessarily dictate a particular policy position.

      On the whole, I think the message has the potential to mislead, but I don’t really see the potential to cause significant harm.

  • Tom

    Ive ready Vines book and Brownson’s book, but Im still not convinced that “when the Bible seems to be addressing male-on-male sex, it’s not talking about two men who are social equals in a loving, committed relationship, as Matthew Vines likes to say.

    Sure Vines would be correct to say that about the Sodom & Gomorrah story. But how do we know that Leviticus 18 does not include a loving gay couple? Ditto for 1 Timothy 1.

    And how can we be sure that the Sodom & Gomorrah story tells us nothing about whether gay relations are sinful? Sure Sodom & Gomorrah were judged for multiple reasons, but are we sure that homosexual practise was not one of them? The sticking point for me, is how Lot offers his daughters for rape, to avoid the rape of the male visitors. Why did Lot think this was a better option? Was his thinking that heterosexual rape was less of an abomination than homosexual rape? If so, doesnt that say something about what is sinful?

  • Gwendolene

    “I think the consistent message of the NT regarding sex is don’t harm, abuse, exploit, and rape people, not “don’t have pre-marital sex.”
    And yet, the sad thing is purity culture often leads to rape, because purity culture is predicated on the belief that it is impossible to control lust, therefore, the victim is blamed for ‘turning on’ her attacker and her attacker is spiritually justified in continuing abuse toward the victim, because the victim is no longer pure and therefore it doesn’t matter if he keeps doing it.