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I was amazed to discover that my denomination taught that it is sinful for males and females to swim together in the same swimming pool or at the same beach. It was the start of summer in California when I learned this, and I was faced with a difficult decision. Either I had to stop swimming or I had to leave the church.

I spoke to my pastor about it, and he explained that the rules had been made many years earlier, by a group of old men in Kansas City, Missouri, and that Nazarenes in places like California and Hawaii did not take them as seriously as people did in places like Missouri where there were no beaches and where swimming was not such a common pastime.

I tried to ignore the rule and return to swimming with a clear conscience like the rest of my church friends did; but somehow it didn't seem right. A promise is a promise. And if the rules weren't going to change to become consistent with our behaviour, then we needed to change our behaviour to be consistent with the rules. I didn't personally see anything wrong with mixed swimming, so in the end, I asked my pastor to take my name off the membership list.

At the age of 14, I had learned two important lessons: 1. There is a lot of difference of opinion about what is right and wrong when it comes to sex; and 2. People don't take promises very seriously any more.

When I went off to university I learned through studies of sociology that societies around the world have a wide range of beliefs with regard to sex. All societies have some kind of restrictions, but the specific rules differ considerably. There are very few which are universal.

Sexual taboos achieve certain social goals. Societies may, for example, want to guard against defects caused by inbreeding. So they make rules against incest. They may want to settle disputes over who is responsible for children. So they make rules about marriage. They may want to protect their women. So they make rules about rape or about what constitutes modest dress. But does Christian morality go deeper than social customs? Are there universal rules from God himself for people everywhere with regard to sex?

I am now in my 50's and I have spent much of my life trying to sort these issues out, in an effort to find God's will on the subject. But I have discovered that sex is so much a part of us, and our early experiences with sex have such a strong emotional impact on us, that sometimes even our efforts to break away from cultural hang-ups lead to new hang-ups rather than resulting in a complete understanding of what God's will is.

Young people raised in overly strict families may think that the answer is to throw off all restrictions, without realising that this too can be a perversion. Similarly, people who have been hurt by abuses associated with sex are likely to over-react and turn off to all sex. The real goal should be to find the truth on both sides and in the middle of it all.

Socrates said, "Know thyself." This can be a mammoth task when it comes to understanding our own sexuality. There are corners of our personality that we shy away from, and there are other parts that we flaunt without ever knowing why we flaunt them. Even the experts (including ourselves) who are supposedly telling us what is "normal" and what isn't, almost certainly suffer from hang-ups too, of one variety or another.

In trying to know ourselves, we often make unfair judgments on others, as happened with the church I was raised in. Just because some people were distracted by the sight of a woman in a swim suit did not necessarily mean that others were affected in the same way when they went swimming. And just shrouding women from head to foot does not necessarily stop hormones from stimulating imaginations.

Perhaps one reason Christ says so little on the subject of sex is simply because the subject is too complex to make many statements which can be taken universally. But he does say some things, and we will try to examine a few of them.
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