Religion and Sex

 

Time to get back on topic.  I’m doing better, thank you all for asking!

I’m listening to Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings on a podcast about sexuality or as they title it, sexual brokenness.  They did this podcast almost a year ago, but of course I didn’t know about them then.  Not that much of what I’ll talk about will be from their conversation.  Like most religious broadcasts on the subject of sexuality, they spend a lot more time talking about pornography and the sexualizing of our society, than about the issues I grapple with here.

 

But they do get off to a promising start in talking about how religion most often appeals to shame when it comes to sexuality and sexual sin.  “Sex is shameful.”  “Masturbation is dirty.”  “Lust is sinful.”    But by the end of the podcast, I do sort of get the impression that these guys do end up buying into masturbation = sexual brokenness. 

 

Anyone who has read me for any length of time will understand if I see “sexual brokenness” a bit differently.  To be sure, sexual brokenness is all about some sort of sexual dysfunction but the over riding theme here is all about a lack of sexual wholeness between two people.  I would dearly love to be able to offer myself up completely to my wife in a sexual way, except she doesn’t want it.  Her menu of things she wants from me include my time, money, some help around the house, help with the kids, going out to places together, doing family things together and possibly eating out together just the two of us.  But sex together?  It does not even make the list.

 

There are a smattering of Christian authors who sort of deal with the issue; Dillow & Pintus, the Lahayes,  the Wheats and a few others.  But these are not the sort of books that end up in the front section of the Christian bookstore, or the reception area of your pastor’s office or even your own coffee table when your cell group is getting together.  Those of us who are blogging candidly about the subject do so very anonymously with some who are more than a bit squeamish about making certain comments for fear they someone might Google us up and then out us in front of everyone, surely bringing shame to us and our families and especially spouses. 

 

For the most part, religion has NOT served us who are in sexual starvation very well at all.  We were told when we were single that we should wait until we were married.  I was one who waited until I was 26, which is longer than most but  I still wasn’t married.  I felt some amount of guilt about that, and looked forward to the day when I could finally be married and then it would be all legal and I could have as much sex as I wanted without the guilt.  Whoohoo!

 

Right?

 

RIGHT?

 

WRONG.

For as sure as I’m sitting here at my keyboard, I’m here to tell you that the reality is that guilt-free sex seems to be equal to sex-free sex. 

 

In an amazingly candid display of openness, Arwyn actually expressed some of her guilt to the pastor who did our premarital counseling about our premarital sex.  He said not to worry about it.  But I know she did and she said she looked forward to being married and being free of the guilt.  But of course, I don’t think she has ever been free of it.  She certainly has never been free of hang ups.  After being free of the guilt of being immoral, at various times there was the fear of pregnancy.  And then a few years ago, the fear of pregnancy was eliminated and so was our sex life.  It did pick up for a couple of months but then plummeted and continued to get worse and worse and worse.

 

The religious answer to all of this is to pray, to be faithful and to go to counseling.  Perhaps go to a clergy member for some guidance.  One problem noted by Brad and Wayne in the above podcast is that the pornography consumption of a given hotel is directly proportional to the number of clergy staying there.  But Wayne and Brad do not discuss what to do when your partner ditches you, sexually speaking, in favor of kids, career, chores, television or whatever else.  We hear all sorts of admonishments against adultery but there’s nothing said about what to do about one partner forcing another partner into a state of involuntary celibacy.  Some may say it is a wrong and selfish thing to do, but it is not a teaching that appears in any Sunday sermon.  It is not something that is discussed openly in the religious community at all, at least where I’ve been able to find it.    Try Googling it up (christian involuntary celibacy), and the first hit is a guy on my blogroll who hasn’t blogged in months!

 

I know all about 1st Corinthians 7.  Been there and done that to death.  We know it’s in the Bible but it isn’t taught in the institutional church.  Ever.  It’s rarely discussed even informally outside the walls. 

 

The problem is that religion is so terribly bound up in keeping people from engaging in sexual activities and sexual behavior that when a couple finally do marry and can do it legally, it seems counter-productive to counter all those years of “Thou Shalt Nots.”  The fact is that if one has really and truly bought into the religious prohibitions, some degree of deprogramming must take place in order to fully enjoy that gift that God is supposedly the author of.  Thus, God is now cast in the role of the Great Frustrator.  There are all sorts of temptations all around and we are created with these hormones and desires and there is nothing whatsoever to do with them and still remain within God’s grace and mercy while we’re single.  So we finally meet a person with whom we can freely allow our sexual expression to have free reign and…what happened?

 

Paul said it was better to marry than to burn, but I’m wondering if he was not terribly misguided on this.  I’m married and still burning.  I still have all the same hormones and temptations and desires and perhaps even moreso now that I have some focus to them in the person of Arwyn.  But there is no expression allowed here.  When she exercises her free will, it is her will that we not engage in sex.

 

If I force her, it becomes rape.  If I try to appease her, it is manipulation.  If I try to guilt her, I might get a mercy fuck.  If I try to work out some sort of quid pro quo exchange, it’s prostitution.  If I find another willing partner, it is adultery.  If I masturbate, it is shameful and selfish.  If I castrate myself, I’m attacking the temple of the Holy Spirit.  If I channel my desires into something else, I’m repressing or I’m kinking.  No matter how you add this up, I am sinful and depraved for wanting to have sex with my wife when she does not want to have sex with me.  On a deeper level, I want to be wanted and desired.  When it comes to being personal and intimate, you can’t get more personal and intimate than sexually.  It can’t be done.  I can reject you on many levels but if I reject you sexually, that’s the deepest of cuts for any man especially when it comes from someone he loves.  And I imagine it is just as hurtful to any woman who gets rejected, postponed and put off by a man she loves.  In all the ways that a person can be rejected, sexual rejection has to be the most hurtful and personal of all.

 

The Church is not talking about sexual rejection and I think that’s because as a body it rejects sexuality as a legitimate expression of communion between two people.  I think a lot of lip service is offered, but it is not something that is going to be discussed openly with any sort of consistency or clarity.  It will be secretive and veiled.  Something to be laughed at, joked about perhaps.  But it is not seen as a problem because NOT having sex is seen as too much of a virtue in Christianity.  The Catholics have taken celibacy and elevated to sacramental proportions where it is a defining and core characteristic of their priests!  Having sex is seen as a weakness, and Paul certainly treats it in such a condescending manner when he does discuss it.  It is seen as a virtue for the sake of procreating other little converts, but not as a fundamental bonding experience between a man and a woman. 

 

Sexual abstinence is the steady drum beat that is drilled into the heads of little girls and boys from the time they begin asking about sex.  They are told that they must wait until they are married.  The problem is this: what if Mom and Dad aren’t having sex?  What sort of message is that?  Why the hell should I wait and look forward to that?

 

It’s getting to be about time be a bit more candid about this conversation we’re having.

 

Somewhere along the line, the Church needs to unfuck itself and start getting on message: celibacy and abstinence within marriage is NOT a virtue!  It is not spiritual!  It is an abomination!  Because if one part of your body is causing you to sin, better to pluck it out, right?  And guess what?  My spouse is the one who seems to be the cause of me burning.  At the very least, she doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with my unhappy state while being fairly content to exist on the other things that I offer while rejecting those things I most want to offer.

 

D.

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to Religion and Sex

  1. Desmond Jones says:

    You know, Digger, I’m wondering if Arwyn’s guilt over the pre-marital sex might be a bigger hangup than either of you wants to admit. . .

    I’m sure you’re right that spouses’ sexual ‘duty’ to each other is not being properly taught, in most places. Molly and I have recently begun giving a talk on ‘Christian Marriage’, as part of our parish’s ‘Intro to Catholicism’ course, and we try to go out of our way to emphasize the sexual relationship as good, and life-giving, and blessed by God within marriage.

    (Sigh; apparently, all my protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, you and XH simply won’t believe me that the Catholic Church has taught for centuries that the two fundamental purposes of sex in a Christian marriage are procreation and union of spouses; both of them; together; every time. Nor is the rule on priestly celibacy coming from a ‘sex-is-bad, really-holy-people-don’t-have-sex’ perspective; but no matter)

    Anyway, it’s certainly true that, among Christians thru the centuries, there has been no shortage of folks who’ve worked from a ‘sex is bad’ paradigm, but that really hasn’t been ‘The Teaching of the Church’.

    At any rate, I don’t know that I’d lay much of your trouble at the feet of ‘the Church’. Arwyn was an enthusiastic sexual partner before you were married, right? I hesitate to say this, because it can’t help but be more ‘loaded’ than I mean for it to be, but (fools rush in) – marriage thrives on mutual respect, and sinning together before you get married doesn’t do much for building the foundation of respect that you’ll want to have firmly in place when you’re married. You wouldn’t be the first couple I’ve known (or the second, or the third) for whom that’s been an issue.

    But you are married, and if you’re not having sex together, that’s a problem. Morally and theologically, not just for your psycho-sexual well-being, or the pressure in your balls. You’re certainly right that some sort of intervention is called for – some sort of ‘this isn’t right’ message needs to be delivered. But you’ve been saying that for years, right?

  2. Digger Jones says:

    Not to worry about rushing in here…I’m the one posting, right?

    I’m not saying I “blame” the Church for my woes, but there hasn’t exactly been a lot of help to be found in establishing open communication in this area.

    I know, I know Pope John Paul said some sex-positive things, not that he would know first-hand. However, you absolutely can not say the dominant message of the church has been similarly sex-positive with a straight face, can you? “Good girls don’t” and that Billy Joel song and all.

    As a good Catholic, I’m sure you are privy to more of the real meaning behind celibacy within the priests, nuns, monks, cardinals and pretty much the entirety of the leadership of the catholic church. But the message projected to everyone else is: Holy people don’t do it. But obviously, with the size of many of the more traditional Catholic families *someone* is doing it!

    D.

  3. FTN says:

    I’ve actually tried to bring up this very topic… with other guys, even IN SUNDAY SCHOOL recently. After a long discussion on sex that was mostly about (drumroll please) morals and sin. Two problems, though:

    1) First of all, it’s embarrassing. Obviously. Tremendously so. Even when I just say some of the things that you said, I feel as though I am implicitly identifying myself as the one that is having sexual problems. I’m a pretty frank, open-and-honest kind of guy. I’ll talk to people about my past issues with porn. But to tell even a close friend about the kind of sexual issues some of us write about? That’s even beyond me. There is a lot of shame there. Plus, it would be hugely embarrassing for my wife. I can’t do that to her.

    2) When I DO bring up the issue of “why aren’t we having these discussions and classes on the POSITIVE side of sex, rather than just the ‘don’t do it’ side?”… I get blank looks. Because, after all, what is there to talk about? Once you are married, you can have sex, and it’s great! Fantastic! All you want! Or, people ask me, what exactly would you talk about? Diagrams? Instructions?

    But you nailed it… Sexual rejection and dysfunction is a HUGE problem in many Christian marriages, and I bet the marriage counselors would be the first to tell us that. I do believe porn is both a cause and a result, in many cases.

    Anyway. Interesting post. Albeit strongly worded, which I can’t really fault you for.

  4. xi summit says:

    Hey, you should wander on over to our brand of Churchianity …. or maybe not, sounds like we’ve been going to the same place.

    Prior to marriage:
    – Bad
    – Wrong
    – Sinful
    – Destructive

    After marriage:
    – Beautiful
    – To be cherished
    – Not to be discussed

    You know, the truly sad part of all of this is that we are not taught about one of the foundational aspects of marriage, which is lust. Now stay with me here, because Paul makes it fairly clear that not getting married is a good thing unless your lust puts you in a position where you are likely to sin. Lusting for what you don’t have or are not entitled to is sinful, lusting for your wife is not. Yet this is not taught in the church, not even after marriage. Having talked to dozens of men who were counseled at various churches I have yet to cross the path of a single one who was taught, during marriage counseling or after, that it was OK for a couple to desire each other let alone lust after each other. I did run across two who were given sexual instructs, in mostly mechanical terms (arousal and tab A, slot B stuff), but not a single couple is taught that s-x not only has the green light but is to be expected and not withheld. Under the circumstances it goes without saying that there is often no need to tell a couple that the sex-freak should also be cognizant of not over-taxing their partner. Why tell folks they aren’t to take advantage when you haven’t even told ’em they’re entitled?

    OK, now I’ve lost track of where I wanted to end up. I’ll be back later after I ask for directions. Now where’s that next gas station?

  5. Dave says:

    Interesting, even in pre-marital counseling my guess is that most couples discussion with their priest/pastor/minister/whatever, would boil down to basically:

    Now it’s allowed, but don’t enjoy it too much unless you’re thinking of God.

    I like your blog and your writings, you always give me something to think about.

  6. diggerjones says:

    Embarrassing? Umm, yeah! Very! I actually also gave it a try in sunday school, albeit in a more avoider-friendly way by talking about marriage. Just marriage, not necessarily sex. And THAT was not greeted overly warmly although most liked the discussion. And the books I brought, a couple of which I linked above. Arwyn was not present for that, or any of my lessons so embarrassment was minimized there.

    Sorry about the colorful metaphors, which aren’t a staple of mine but useful for kicking up a post a notch or two.

    Xi, that is a bit profound:
    “Not to be discussed.”

    As a cultural moral agent the church is SO fixated on sex (premarital sex, homosexual sex) you would think holding up and promoting a wholesome, nondysfunctional model would be job #1 of the Church. But the Institutional church is focused on being punative and prohibitive in its orientation towards sex, and does NOT focus on good. It’s forever pointing the crooked finger at the *evil* of sex. On a good day, you’ll hear that it is wonderful within marriage between a man and a woman. But clearly it is not all that wonderful with the rates of infidelity and divorce amongst Christians identical to those not identifying themselves as Christians.

    There needs to be some distinction between Christian sexual wholeness and the worldly version of “do it if it feels good” other than “just say no.”

    And Xi, you start spouting that “entitlement to sex” stuff in church and the blue hairs will be fainting all over the place!
    D.

  7. Desmond Jones says:

    My main point is that, contrary to what lots of folks think, ‘The Teaching of the Church’ isn’t that the only reason to have sex is to make babies. Augustine and a few of his cronies aside, ‘union of spouses’ has pretty much always been understood to be one of the purposes of sex.

    Fair enough, there’s been plenty (too much) on the order of ‘sex-is-bad’, and vocations that involve celibacy do tend to be viewed as ‘holier’ (altho, again, that isn’t ‘The Teaching’). But, as you say, all those stereotypically big Catholic families would seem to indicate that we’re not all that sexually repressed.

    (I’m reminded of the gay columnist from San Francisco who lampooned the Duggars – the Iowa family with 16 kids – as ‘asexual’; HUH?)

    I guess I would mostly echo FTN – it isn’t talked about much because it’s embarrassing. And that’s a pity, because, as you say, it makes situations like yours a lot harder to deal with.

  8. xi summit says:

    Agreed, sex appears to be roughly equated to the 8th plague of the modern world. Churchianity indeed!

    I don’t mind fainting blue-hairs, it’s the ones with canes and mobility devices that worry me! Unconcealed weapons ….

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