Sex and I have had a lengthy and solid relationship. Spirituality has been more touch and go.
I’ve been a long time observer, fan, activist, advocate and participant regarding consent, LGBTQ equality, women’s agency in controlling their body, sex education, and opening up conversations and respectful dialogue about pleasure, healing shame, promoting the humanity of sexuality.
I consider the show I co-produce, BedPost Confessions to be a kind of church, one that allows people in where they are now, gets them listening, talking, pondering and most importantly providing a place for people to be witnessed as sexual beings, full in their humanity. We producers focus on three pillars; ethics, education, entertaiment, to provide the base for a solid show that has reached 300 per month for over three years.
I’ve mentioned before that I fell away from organized religion for a few reasons.
One, early on in my parochial education I was informed that all non-believers went to hell, something I could not square with a kind and loving God. Two, as a person who found great joy in the sensual and in novelty, I was awakened to the possibilities of the world in school. So many languages, so many plants, animals, eco-systems, art forms.
For humans to have such variety, it only made sense to me that God would be beyond, and I mean BEYOND our comprehension, but that all our paths and stories would have to lead us in a wonderful web of connectedness back to the source code that created us. I did not hold fast that there was just one narrow path that only predestined were allowed upon, or that there were magics or tools only a priest could use to help you out.
Three? That sex was such a thing of consequence and loathing/longing. That gay people couldn’t marry. That women were forever Madonna/whores. That men were fully in charge with perceived penis power and women (life bearers) were somehow second class with their monthly curse. It made NO sense to me.
I saw how religion hurt so many of my friends coming out. Rejected and cast away from churches and families. Emotionally tormented and tortured during the AIDS crisis of the 80′s. I watched childhood friends spurned from their religious homes because they divorced abusive husbands. I’ve seen more than my fair share of church leaders fall far from grace in sexual scandal. I’ve researched stats on porn usage in the most evangelical states (high), knowing that there was a kind of “good for me but not for thee” principle in action.
Finally, I ‘ve heard stories from women and men trying to undo the dysfunction and damage that religious upbringing had done to them. As a sexual being, I couldn’t square that most of all.
All of those reasons seem less like things a Source of Great Love would want, and more like something people would make up to control each other. I couldn’t hold truck with literal interpretations that held no room for cultural change, scientific discovery, and growth. That’s heresy I realize, from a Christian perspective, but that’s me, Heresy Girl.
The irony is? Throughout my life I’ve been “in church” the church of theater, the church of social justice, the church of community. It’s been a “little s” spirituality, and a radical one, but I’m accepting it more and more, even though finding my faith alongside producing BPC is challenging.
Recently, I came across a tweet from Jonalyn Fincher, of Soulation, on “Why Wait? Reconnecting Sex With Your Humanity.” I admit I was immediately triggered, in that “Oh boy, here we go” kind of way that I get when I see pieces on sex by Christian public figures. I’ve watched Jonalyn’s videos, and I’ve enjoyed her work, even when I haven’t concurred. I watched and found things to agree with all while finding places to take issue with.
My feedback will be directly below the video, which I don’t think will embed directly. My caveat? I’m not a biblical scholar so I won’t be offering much feedback from that point of view.
My first reaction is that the “Humanity” mentioned through the piece is humanity as measured through Christianity only. I get it, the POV is Christian and the audience is Christian, but that leaves out a hell of a lot of other people and cultures. A cursory google provides loads of links on sexual mores of different religions. Here are a couple on Buddhism (amended to add that there are various forms of Buddhism and these are general links). Here too is a fun wiki on Religion and Sexuality and a humorous “brief” history of Human Sexuality.
Jonalyn mentions in the video that most, if not all, cultures have pretty extravagant rules for sex. I don’t disagree. From the links above you can see that all the major religions have rules, though they are quite different in levels of control or repression. The Brief History Of Human Sexuality article mentions this as well, that without cultural rules we’d be like our closest relative,
“And what if we weren’t bound by such social limitations? Taylor offers the promiscuous—and very laid-back—bonobo chimpanzee as a utopian example.
“Bonobos have sex most of the time … a fairly quick, perfunctory, and relaxed activity that functions as a social cement,” he writes. “But for cultural constraints, we would all behave more like bonobos. In physical terms, there is actually nothing that bonobos do that some humans do not sometimes do.”
Humans are meaning makers so it makes sense we’d make major meaning out of something we want to do so much. Food and sex both have loads of mythos, history, rules, longing, loathing, desire and so forth. We just talk about food a lot more, share recipes all the time, and explore all types of food (not just “one” kind) so framing humanity (and sexuality) through a singular Christian lens seems quite limiting to me personally.
My second reaction? Concern at the dismissal of non-married but long term relationships. All relationships end on this earthly plane. Whether it is divorce, death, or desertion, the legal document does not ensure betrayal or denial, and in fact is a holdover of a time when women were not granted full rights. Marriage as a legal institution had a great deal to do with property rights, and marriage for romantic love is relatively new. Here is a looooong wiki on the history of marriage. It has varied throughout history, with all of the progenitors of the form, I’m sure, believing theirs was the one true way.
Also, in a country that still denies same sex marriage rights, to ask LGBTQ individuals to remain celibate, rather than be joined in committed relationships, seems completely unreasonable. I understand that a great deal of the Christian world believes that marriage only equals man and woman. I disagree wholeheartedly both from a “come on!” perspective, it’s 2014 and the clobber passages have been well investigated, but also my god, the recruiting and retention disaster that is for people who WANT to be in the church, love God, but are flatly rejected as less than equal or not ideal?? Not. OK. Not. Love.
(There is nothing, NOTHING, in my opinion “less than” in a gay relationship. This is where traditional Christianity fails me (or I fail it) completely.)
Onward, there are abuses and problems in some Christian married relationships. There are firmly committed, long term loving and healthful Atheist non-married relationships. There are combinations galore. Why not look at the loving, committed, healthful parts and worry less about the legal status? Why is the action of love less important than the label?
Thirdly, Jonalyn mentions hook-up culture and the problems it appears to bring some women. I don’t deny that many people go into hook-up culture with hope and find it ultimately unsettling. I feel that way about fast food. It smells good and tastes good for a moment, but I feel sick after consuming it. I know some people that eat fast food all the time and don’t seem to have any trouble. My solution is to do what works best for me and acknowledge that perhaps other people truly gain nourishment from fried processed food.
I agree completely with her in that if hook-up culture is causing problems for you, making you feel horrible, causing problems in your life? Stop doing it. But I’d also advise that if monogamy is causing you to despair seek knowledge about different ethical models. And, if remaining in the closet as a gay man or woman is killing your soul? Please come out and live your beautiful life with integrity and authenticity.
This brings me to the part that I deeply agree with. Jonalyn and her husband stated that marriage as a relationship model provides three things:
Long term vision
I’m totally open to long term vision, communication, vulnerability, for any and all relationships. How we treat co-workers, friends, neighbors, lovers, partners all should follow that same kind of respect and honor. We, as human beings, and speaking to my own explorations of Christianity, should hold a long term vision of how we exist in relationship to others.
I may have the opportunity for amazing exchanges with people for one day or for a lifetime. Do I hold them in my long term vision as deserving of compassion and respect? Do I communicate with empathy and honesty? Do I share my vulnerable self when possible, allowing others that same safety?
As such, I have no problem ascribing these guidelines to sexual relationships! I think this is awesome and powerful! I just don’t believe one has to be married (or be straight, or hell, even monogamous) to do it. This is about intention and living with integrity and ethics, as well as being open and communicative about your relationships. And it is about doing that which is leading you towards whole life and whole love, healing shame and building internal strength to share with a partner.
I think this particular topic is vitally important for Christians to face because there are believers who are grappling with wanting to have sex! And to enjoy sex! And who have kinks! And who may have been taught shame inducing doctrine! Do you know how many people I’ve met who are identified Christians but who feel shame and guilt about kink or explorations? And consequently hide it from their own spouse? How is that ok according to Long Term Vision, Communication, Vulnerability? There is so much shame associated with sexuality (based in old Puritanical religious models) that it can be really complicated and difficult to unravel by using those same religious models.
What I love about the guidelines proposed is that they aren’t necessarily religious, but, to me, universal. The video includes the Finchers speaking about how these may only play out fully in a marital relationship, but I disagree.
I think that the guidelines increase the probability that a relationship will grow and thrive, legal status or not, but the absence of them may have a negative impact EVEN if it is sanctioned and approved by God/Law.
I cannot support teaching a person that sharing their body with another outside of marriage is automatically a cause for shame, but I do agree that sexuality needs much more discussion, more education, more dialogue so that the young and old alike, of all orientations and gender, can make more sold decisions, understand risks and benefits, and utilize agency in creating kind and loving relationships. I think its vital for spiritual communities to grapple with sexuality and speak out loud about it. I loved how frankly Jonalyn and Dale spoke about sex and their marriage, and how eager she is to bring sexuality into the conversation of faith. I fully support that, even where we disagree.
I’m looking forward to more dialogue with Jonalyn and hearing more stories both from people of faith and non-theists about how sexuality reconnects them with their humanity. For truly, our humanity is the whole of us, sex included.