Review: Making Sense of Sex

July 20th, 2011

When it comes to sex, Michael F. Duffy is a pastor, not a preacher. In Making Sense of Sex, he offers not a sermon on ethical behavior, but a comprehensive guide for young adults looking to make their own responsible decisions about sex.

Duffy approaches sex as both a unique and an ordinary part of life. It is, in his view, a complex piece of our identity that affects us and our relationships on deep and often ignored levels. On the other hand, it is also a quite tangible component of our being, and we can make decisions about sex using the same principles we apply to any important life choice.

To help give order to the sometimes chaotic world of young adult sexuality, Duffy identifies ten “puzzle pieces” that must be fit together if we are to make healthy choices about sex. He examines issues of consent, pregnancy, and spirituality, among others. With each puzzle piece, he takes care to ask questions that invite deep reflection about sex without imposing his own standards on his readers.

At the heart of each piece is the question of relationship. Sex obviously impacts the relationship with one’s partner, but it can also affect relationships with friends, parents, God, and self. In light of this, Duffy constantly reframes the same question: “Is having sex in this situation the right way to treat the other person and the right way to treat myself?” (p. xvii).

The way individuals put together the puzzle pieces will help them develop a framework for decision making about sex. But Duffy does not suggest that the puzzle is ever completely “solved.” Having sex once, for instance, does not mean that future sex is inevitable or necessary. As the factors involved—the individual, the partner, the circumstances, etc.—change, the puzzle may change shape. Duffy recognizes that many different solutions are possible for Christians and non-Christians alike. Of paramount importance to him is that each decision be made with integrity and love.

Once he has discussed each of the ten puzzle pieces, Duffy presents four common solutions in the form of anecdotes. Each vignette walks through the individual’s decision-making process to show how he or she arrived at that conclusion.

The final section of the book answers some specific questions not addressed in previous chapters, including inquiries about pornography, intimacy, and virginity. Although brief, this Q & A section helps bring clarity to topics that are important to young adults concerned with developing a mature, healthy sexuality.

As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and Professor of Theological Studies at Hanover College in Indiana, Duffy is able to write theologically without coming across as disengaged from the real-life complexities of sex for young adults. His concern for his readers is evident in his refusal to manipulate or make their decisions for them. He writes with the utmost respect for their power to navigate these issues and offers some of his most helpful thoughts in the form of clarifying questions rather than direct advice.

Making Sense of Sex could be a useful small-group resource, but will likely have its greatest impact on individuals or couples looking for help with sexual decision making. His candor and comfort in talking about sex invites the reader into honest reflection, although these same qualities likely make it a bit too difficult for adolescents. However, for young adults and those who serve as their pastors or guides, Duffy provides a valuable and refreshing resource to help us think and talk about sex.

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