Christians are in the season of Lent, the 40-day period of preparation for the glory of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. It is a time for prayer and introspection, a time to take stock of one’s spiritual health, and for many, a time to fast or otherwise give up something one ordinarily desires.
Roman Catholics are asked to observe some fasting days, giving up meat, for example, on certain days, or avoid food for a day or several days. Other traditions have less clear requirements.
What about sex? Some traditions say that if you are fasting from food, or from certain food(s), you should also abstain from sex.
I observe Lent, and I am giving up reading certain kinds of political commentary, specifically what I call “horse-race reporting.” I am a political junkie and can get totally immersed in reading endless print and online reports and commentaries on the strategies of candidates and which ones are working and not working. I chose this abstinence because I realized it is addictive for me and gets in the way of my reading more substantive news (including reporting on proposals and issue positions by candidates) and spiritual writing.
My choice for this year’s fasting fits my criteria for a Lenten fast: give up something that gets in the way of my relationship with God.
Sex does not get in the way of my relationship with God. In fact, it is an important way for me to communicate with God. God gave me a body that I cherish (mostly) and sexual desire as part of the total mind-body-spirit system that is me. God also gave me my husband whom I cherish in all ways and the desire to share my body with his and to enjoy his when he shares himself with me. God also gave me the desire at times to pleasure my own body.
In all that sexual activity, that embodied intimacy, I am experiencing the God within as well as feeling the presence of God in my life (through my husband and my own embodied feelings with him and by myself). There is good reason for so many of us to cry out, “Oh God, Oh God!” during orgasm and ejaculation.
I am in a committed monogamous marriage, so my sexual life revolves solely around my partner and me, and me on my own. Other people make other choices, or are simply at other periods in their lives. Those who are not in such a relationship can experience God through solo sex, of course, but also with others (discussions of types of relationships will addressed in this space at a later date).
I believe sex is good. More than that, I believe it is part of a healthy lifestyle. Pleasure is good for us. Connecting with our bodies is good for us. Connecting with God through our God-given bodies is good for us.
Some religious authorities agree with me, at least to a point. In the Talmud there are discussions from ancient rabbis about how couples should have sexual relations daily (except if one of the partners, presumably the man, is away at sea or traveling for business). No once a week or twice a month routine for the rabbis!
St. Paul (1 Corinthians, chapter 7) stresses the duties of couples to be sexually active, only excepting for brief periods mutually agreed upon for the purpose of prayer.
Of course, both these authorities are addressing married couples only–although as we know, not everyone in the Bible limited themselves to one spouse (see David, Solomon, etc.). What many conservative Christians call “traditional marriage” is not truly based on biblical texts.
This reminds me of Lent when I was an adolescent. I felt such great pleasure when I discovered the exquisite joy that comes from genital self-play and sexual fantasy. But I also was sure it was wrong. Anything that feels that good has to be bad, right? My mother caught me one day and spoke shaming words.
I remember trying to give it up for Lent. I failed. I was ashamed. I carried that with me a long time, although I feel free from it now.
What I wish is that someone, my parents or my priest or other trusted authority figure, had told me that masturbation was normal and good, and that I could connect with God through it (there are advocates for masturbation as meditation, and that is a topic for later discussion here, too).
That is not the message of the Virginia House of Delegates. Although they are not addressing Lent or masturbation, they are setting sexual and gender boundaries based on the religious views of part of the population.They have passed a bill that would prohibit government authorities from penalizing people and businesses who discriminate against same-sex couples, transgender individuals, and those who have sex outside marriage, based on the discriminating person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
The bill, HB 773, now goes to the Senate. Based on my knowledge of that body, I would say it will not pass. But that is far from a sure thing. I cherish my former Commonwealth, but right now I am very glad to be living in Maryland!
We need to resist such social engineering–which seeks to take something Godly and turn it into something wrong and ugly.
I am often an advocate of resistance in the Ghandian and King tradition. In this case, I do not propose public “sex-ins” by the subject groups, but I do propose that during Lent, in order to celebrate the divine gift of sexuality in all its forms, that we all, coupled and not, have lots of sex. As the member of a Jewish congregation (by virtue of my marriage to Jonathan), I will do what I can to follow the Talmudic teaching.
Let’s thank God for our bodies and our sex. So, in Lent, more sex, not less.