The Quest Continues: The Recap on Bringing Sex into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity

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Review by Donna Lee Schillinger

I believed Bring Sex into Focus; The Quest for Sexual Integrity by Caroline J. Simon might be a book to finally put sex in its place. Is it just me, or does anyone else think we spend an inordinate amount of energy on this topic? (And look! I’m contributing to it even now!) From the subtitle, “The Quest for Sexual Integrity,” I anticipated a book that would aid me in coming to peaceful and godly terms with sexuality, so I can get on with life. What I found instead was a book that stirred up already turbulent waters. Reading it did not help me come to terms with human sexuality, but it could possibly be one step toward that end.

Bringing Sex into Focus is marketed as a Christian text, but I would argue it is more postmodern in its approach. Simon identifies herself as a philosopher and a Christian, but she effectively keeps her personal worldview at bay in this study. In fact, she puts her views on par with five others, which she calls lenses, or theories, of how we make sense of sex. The six lenses she identifies are (pithy explanations in parentheses are mine): covenantal view (become one flesh); procreative view (be fruitful and multiply); romantic view (save yourself for someone special); plain sex view (just enjoy it for what it is); power view (sex wields power); and expressive view (a form of self-expression).

As is evident in the excerpt on homosexuality (see p. X), Simon puts a variety of sex-related topics under the different lenses to help the reader understand the complexity of sexuality in our culture. The approach is a bit too myopic, however, in an underlying presupposition that we see sex through one lens. Primarily, perhaps; but this lens analogy would be more effective as a Venn diagram where there are large areas of overlap among several lenses. After all, a rapist can have a quiver full of children at home. In an effort to convey the complexity of human sexuality, Simon oversimplifies the matter.

We need to have empathy for others’ background and experiences. I get it! Who hasn’t seen these different lenses at work in our culture, even among our friends and family members? This is helpful for informing actions and decisions, but it’s not to be confused with a standard by which we act and decide.

Whereas it is not futile or even dangerous to briefly peer through other lenses to help us understand others and to prevent oversimplifying the issues, the lenses are no substitute for a standard of truth. No single lens that Simon proposes accurately represents God’s view of sex, so she was not remiss in failing to identify the 20/20 lens among her six. The problem was that she did not identify that there is a light, apart from the lenses, an objective truth – God’s word – which holds the key to bringing sex into focus  and to sexual integrity in our lives. If the purpose of this book is for academic use in a sexual ethics class—the kind Simon actually teaches—I can understand (though I may not be able to excuse) why she shies away from absolute truth. But I cannot accept placing a view Simon identifies as Christian (covenantal) on par with sex as power, sex as pleasure and sex as self-expression. It would have been better to untag that view as Christian. The view with Christ’s named attached to it is unparalleled, fully in focus and the absolute truth.

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