Why are so many of us so afraid to talk about sex? Or even about some parts of our bodies?
Whatever creates this fear often seems to have something to do with religion, at least the monotheistic ones, and certainly my own faith, Christianity. Conservative Christians still generally exhibit the most sex-negative attitudes (although there are I am sure exceptions). For some, attitudes and behaviors that were common when I was a teen–in the 60s–still apply. But for many others, things have changed a lot.
I am amazed at how much has changed in the past 40-50 years of social history.
- Living together among heterosexual couples before marriage used to be severely condemned.
- Sex before marriage was a serious sin.
- Interracial marriage was a definite no-no (illegal until 1967, and definitely frowned on even after that).
- Homosexuality used to be a secret whose “ugliness” occasionally leaked out into notice
- Nobody even knew bisexuality existed (most people still don’t appear to really believe it does)
- Nudists, or naturists as they are now calling themselves, were dirty or sex-crazed (many people still feel this way)
Of course, there are people who still claim those beliefs, or have retained vestiges of them. But so many others do not. So there remains much contradiction in how we deal with sex.
But there is one thing that remains pretty constant. For most people, it remains hard to talk about in an open and honest way, and generally even more difficult to talk about sex in a positive (or even neutral), non- exploitative, way.
Clergy generally are afraid to preach about it, or if they do, to use any specific language, even the most clinical. When was the last time you heard a sermon with the word “penis” or “vagina” in it? I grant that I can’t think of the homiletic situation right now in which either would be necessary, but what I know with even more certainty is that any preacher who did so in almost any Christian church would be well advised to start looking for a new gig. Why should this be?
Is there something bad about a penis or a vagina? Are they evil? Are they dirty?
My spiritual director uses guided meditation in our work together. When we do this, she invites me to breathe, to relax and focus on various parts of my body, beginning with my toes and feet and ankles, calves, thighs, stomach, chest, hands, arms, neck, mouth, nose, eyes, and the top of my head. Did you notice something missing, when we went from thighs to stomach? I have noticed many times in situations of naming body parts how this sacred center–the groin, private parts, genitals, also known as the root, or Muladhara, chakra in some Indian religions–is glossed over as if it does not exist.
We don’t talk about that in polite company. But we do, at least sort of. Every time you hear a man or woman say they are trying to have children, they don’t mean they are saving up to buy a child (although for those who must, or choose to, adopt this is a reality). They mean they are deliberately engaging in sexual intercourse, using those two unnameable bodily parts to bring sperm and egg together to produce a child.
One hopes they are enjoying the adventure, excited about receiving the blessing of a pregnancy, as well as being determined to produce offspring . But it often sounds more like work–because to talk about sexual pleasure is pretty much a no-no, unless it is done in a suggestive, wink-wink, kind of way. Sexual jokes and innuendo are okay within certain limits, but to actually talk about the joy of sex, the reality of sex, somehow seems sacrilegious.
Yet, did God not create all of us, all parts of us? Do we not affirm, with our Jewish ancestors in faith, that God created it all, and that it was and is all good? Is there an asterisk somewhere in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 that says, “exceptions include penis, vagina, uterus, breasts, anus,” etc.?
Do we think God is so old and crabby that He/She (but probably He in this case) intended our sexual organs to be used only a few times to produce children, and otherwise they are just ugly and unholy? Is masturbation the real original sin of Adam and Eve? Based on what I was told in my youth, it sure seemed that way.
All this is very sad. At least that is how I see it.
Sex, sexual pleasure, sexual activity, is beautiful and life-affirming (except when it is not, and then it is, by my definition, not sex but rather something that someone may define as sex but is physical and/or emotional violation and abuse using one or more bodily organs and limbs, etc.).
But I will go further, and say it is holy, it is sacred, it is divine, it is godly. And like eating and hydrating, and resting and processing the nutrients and eliminating the excess of what we take into our bodies, I believe sex and sexual pleasure and activity are vital for healthy living. They are a gift from God to help us be the whole people we are intended to be.
So we need to celebrate the gift, to say thank you by really using it and not hiding it, devaluing it, or encasing it in rigid often unstated rules about not talking about it.
The purpose of this blog is to contribute to opening conversation about sex and bodies most of us, including me, need to have–out loud, holistically, respectfully, truthfully, lovingly . . . and most of all spiritually. We can learn from sex and bodies, and we will learn the most when we are open to them and participating in dialogue with them and each other.
Stay tuned–more to come, much more.
And feel free, indeed encouraged, to join the conversation right here with your own comments.