Jealous? Me? Well, maybe. . . .

In preparing last week’s blog about eros in relationality (Eros: The Language of Relationality), we realized that there were some strong emotional chords that often get tapped in our relationships. Jealousy is one we identified easily, especially because it is an emotion that people tend to view negatively  (probably because it often seems to break relationships). Jealousy—defined as worry that someone (or something) is trying to take what you have—doesn’t feel good.

Whether the jealousy is aimed at a friend, a neighbor, or a lover, it makes us feel inadequate, possessive, and somewhat irrational in our responses. So this week we decided to focus on this highly charged topic.

kingsenglish.info
kingsenglish.info

And surely it can cause trouble. Over the years, we have known people who get jealous easily, often because they are insecure in their person and think their lover/partner is often, maybe even always, looking at and wanting another(s).

Of course, jealousy impacts both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. Coming from our respective locations (Robin, monogamous; Malachi, non-monogamous), we each can identify ways jealousy is present in relationships. Some of the jealousy  may seem different depending on the relational structure, but in some ways it plays out in remarkably similar ways.

Utilizing Jealousy in Positive Ways:

Jealousy doesn’t have to be a bad or negative emotion. Oftentimes, it can provide an opportunity for growth—both self-growth and growth within the relationship. It can be hard, for example, to know what insecurities you have until they come up in a relationship. By choosing to deconstruct jealousy to examine our own insecurities, we build a better relationship with ourselves.

maxzide.net
maxzide.net

Perhaps I don’t feel sexy—maybe I’ve put on weight recently and feel negatively about my body and how I relate to myself. That negativity might even lead me to feel less interested in sex with my partner, but I can still feel jealous when, in Malachi’s case,  his partner has sex with someone, or in Robin’s case, when he thinks his partner is showing signs of interest in someone else. That is an opportunity for some self-examination of my relationship with my body and possibly time to do some healing to help me be in a place where I do feel sexy and I am interested in being sexual with my partner.

Robin even feels gratitude for the jealousy he experienced, before he was conscious of feeling erotically drawn to his husband, when Jonathan danced naked on the beach to attract the interest of another man. As the drama played out over the course of a day, Robin began to realize he wanted Jonathan for himself. His anger at Jonathan’s actions at first surprised him, and then helped him decide to woo Jonathan. He was successful, and 18 years later continues to be grateful.

Dealing with Envy:

One cannot speak of jealousy without mentioning its twin, envy. Envy may be understood as wanting what someone else has. Advertisers know about envy—if only you buy our product then you will look like the beautiful model. Or if you buy a home in this development you too will have the perfect life shown by these models.

Jealousy and envy are so closely connected that it can be like trying to distinguish between a fruit and a strawberry; envy is a part of jealousy as much as a strawberry is a kind of fruit. Jealousy is often comprised of a combination of things: envy, entitlement (or, perhaps, expectation), and

sammyadebiyi.com
sammyadebiyi.com

insecurity (which often contains an aspect of fear). Different kinds of jealousy often come from some combination of these things.

The process of deconstructing jealousy is a difficult one, and when there are sexual dynamics at play, it can become even trickier.

Envy comes from a place of feeling unsatisfied. For example, in a non-monogamous relationship, if I am envious of my partner going on a date, is it because I want to be going on a date with him? Is it because I want to have someone in my life besides my partner to go on dates with?

Or, in a monogamous relationship, when my partner has dinner with a colleague, perhaps good-looking or even not, am I jealous just because I’ve been in the house for three days and I’m envious that he’s leaving the house? In either case, if I’m envious because I want to go on more dates with my partner, then that is something to discuss with my partner. And, again in either type of relationship, if I’m envious because I want to go out with someone other than my partner, then I would need to deconstruct that further to understand where that feeling is coming from (and most likely take a deep, hard look inside).

But if all I really want is to leave the house and be around people, then that’s something I can do for myself to feel satisfied and happy. Envy doesn’t have to be a negative emotion, but it’s an easy emotion to misunderstand because envy can come from many different places, and it requires that we be incredibly honest with ourselves about our needs and wants. The most important part of navigating envy is learning to recognize what we want and need to feel satisfied, and determine whether the thing for which we are feeling envy fits into that.

Envy + Insecurity Often Fuels Jealousy:

galadarling.com
galadarling.com

Body envy is a big deal. Rare is the person—even the most beautiful or handsome one—who does not have some insecurity about their body. Many men obsess about their penis size, others about their lack of pecs, maybe both. Women often have similar issues about the breasts. Men don’t seem to regret very large penises, but women can find larger than average breasts a real burden (and unlike men, surgery can help them).  Some people hide from the camera because they negatively compare their smile to that of others.

Friendships, even primary relationships/marriages, break up because one of the people is envious of another’s success, body, or possessions.Over time, they worry the one with more will take something, or someone, from them. The one who perceives themselves as having or being less ends the connection before they think they will lose more.

Parents of young children—as Robin was and Malachi is—often advise their charges that they can’t necessarily control the emotions they feel, but they can control how they choose to respond and react to her emotions. We both are reminded, as most parents are, each time of how we could benefit from remembering and instilling this lesson in our own lives, especially when it comes to jealousy.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that jealousy is neither good nor bad; it’s our responses to jealousy that can be positive or negative. The truth is, jealousy can be destructive when it is used to manipulate or be possessive of someone else. When we make our insecurities someone else’s responsibility,  we run the risk of developing dangerous, co-dependent habits. But healthy responses to jealousy—deconstructing our emotions and having honest conversations about where they are coming from—can be a powerful way to reconnect with ourselves and reconnect with our partner(s). By facing, addressing, and working through crucial issues in our lives and relationships, we build a stronger, healthier foundation with ourselves and, through that connection with ourselves, our partner(s).

Any relationship is subject to stress. The key is awareness and openness. When we feel jealous, or envious, it is important to acknowledge the feeling, accept it as part of being human, and decide how to deal with it. Do not hide it, but instead bring it out into the open.

If you can’t share it with the object of your feelings, talk to a friend, or seek professional help. Working with a therapist, for example, can help us overcome envy by being more accepting of, and even celebrating, our own unique beauty. A therapist can also help us overcome basic insecurity, and even work through jealousy (partners need to share this work).

You might just be surprised at the good that can come your way if, instead of hiding, and hiding from, your feelings of jealousy and envy, you own those feelings and share them openly and honestly.

Eros: The Language of Relationality

Following last week’s discussion of non-monogamy, Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell continue to explore our connections to ourselves, our partner(s), the Holy in an exploration of the language of relationality.

 Introduction:

 Sexuality is a form of language, language that brings together body, mind, and spirit. It is embodied language that uses not only our voices to speak or our hands to write but also can use those means and all other parts of our body to communicate.

It is a language of connection, intended in its highest and best use to bring bodies together (this may include genital sexual activity or not, depending on what feels right). That connectedness has divine roots, the eros of God, to bring us together as humans and to bring us into union with the divine. It is the language of relationality.

As such, it is a powerful language, perhaps the most powerful. And, like all language, it can bless and honor and affirm, or it can hurt and harm and abuse.

All close relationships have an erotic component—again, not necessarily to do with genital sexual activity, but rather a foundation of connectivity from the eros of God, the central part of God who desires connection with us and our connection with all others.  We are drawn to each other from that foundation.

revrobin2-023Robin:

I want to turn to some thoughts about patterns of relational health and their opposite, relational dis-ease or disorder. Our relationships—including our friendships, even our connections with neighbors, co-workers, fellow congregants—require us to pay great attention to the processing of this divinely inspired erotic language. I will draw some of this from experience with my husband.

  • Learn from what went wrong. He and I become very angry with each other at times. Any relationship that avoids all expressions of anger is probably not really alive. Yet, these times can be so very hurtful. We say things that come from inner places of harm, perhaps from childhood demons and injuries. We cannot stop this entirely from happening, but in time, we learn to pull back and re-position ourselves to talk through with less anger what has happened. We can on occasion become stronger through the entire process. And I think we engage in these angry outbursts less than we used to.
  • Check out what is going on. Sometimes, such moments are created by perceptions by one or the other of us that we are not receiving sufficient attention from the other, or perhaps even a thought that the other is paying too much attention to someone else, or we are not touching each other enough or the other touched another too much.
  • Someone be the adult. It is, of course, vital that the one on the receiving end of the first statement, perhaps said in high-volume anger or even in soft but cutting tones, try not to respond in kind. This is easier said than done. We each know how to maximize the pain of the other in the simplest and most basic ways. That is one of the things intimacy teaches us, and shows us the power of this erotic connective language. Fortunately, it also teaches us how to offer healing.
  • Pay attention to all the signals. Thus, relationships, because they are built upon and utilize the power of eros, require that we pay close attention to many dynamics—facial expressions, tone of voice, types and places of touch, listening, smelling, e.g.—both in times of joy and ease and in times of pain and disruption.
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http://relationship-bliss.com/unhappy-relationship/

In a monogamous relationship, and in relationships with multiple sexual partners or other significant relationships, these dynamics can be heightened by so many factors of ordinary life—unhappiness with our work, or an argument with a colleague, bodily pain that won’t go away, disconnection from other family and loved ones, and many other things. Thus, it takes self-awareness to avoid letting a build-up of unhappiness lead to tensions that can create an explosion.

There is one more area I want to briefly explore. We all carry sexual memories which can have an impact on our sexual relationships today.

  • Use the entire vocabulary. I remember some incidents from my post-coming out, single days—when I sought sex with men as a way of self-discovery and affirmation—that carry some vestige of pain to this day. In one incident, I was told that I should give up on being gay because my penis was too small. More than my organ was badly deflated. In another incident, a man I had taken to bed told me, after a few minutes, that he could not continue. “I feel nothing,” he said. Of course, I felt a lot after that.

I admit to still feeling the sting of these moments, even if only in a memory bank that I don’t visit very often. But what both of them did was let their penises do their thinking. And, of course, I was letting my penis do a lot of my thinking, too. I can look back and see signs that neither of these men would be a good fit for me. But I was so eager and sexually hungry and they were very handsome and seemingly available. Why should I not give it a try?

This is not, in my view, holistic erotic relationality. And it is using one part of the body to speak for the whole body, denying the possibility of deep connection.

I say this not to deny or demean the urgency and power of sexual desire, nor to judge myself or even them for insensitivity or hunger, but rather to say that it is important to use the whole vocabulary of this embodied erotic language to experience, and to give, to participate in, real and whole relationality, body, mind, and spirit.

We are made for connection. But it takes effort and attention and self-education and growth, and being fully present as much of the time as possible.

Malachi:Malachi Grennell

Thinking about the language of relationality reminds me of my upbringing. Growing up in
a lesbian household has had some incredible benefits (as well as complications) in my development as an integrated, sexual adult. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I learned from my parents was the emphasis on finding a partner that was “good to me and good for me.” I always knew the gender of my partner wouldn’t matter; the focus was on how we treated one another, not the aesthetics of our relationship.

This is a lesson I have carried with me and believe that it strongly applies to the discussion of non-monogamy: what the relationships look like matters less than how the people in the relationships treat one another.

I have heard a lot of people who practice non-monogamy state, “I am my own primary partner.” (a subject I have written about at length here) In essence, this just means that someone has a strong relationship with themselves: they are centered, grounded, self-aware, accountable, etc. But I also see this as an important aspect of monogamy as well: the best of relationships can fail without a strong understanding of self. And for those of us who believe that we are created in the image of God, I would argue that a strong sense of self is a sense of the God, indeed the presence of God, within each of us.

Building a strong sense of “self” can be difficult in a world that inundates us with superficial perspectives without cultivating a sense of accountability for our actions. I have found that these types of self-check-ins are a necessary part of non-monogamy, but I have learned that most of the conversations have more to do with being honest about where we are at, taking accountability for our own emotions and feelings, and working together to figure out how to keep the relationship strong. In that spirit, these are some of the things I have had to check in with myself about on multiple occasions:

  • Know yourself. Know what you want and need from a relationship. Know what things are deal-breakers for you. Know what things are red flags. Know what things are preferences. Learning to differentiate between “needs” and “wants” can be vital, particularly in attracting relationships that can be mutually nurturing and beneficial. It’s nearly impossible to get your needs met without first understanding what they are and how to verbalize them.
  • Understand how to get your needs met. Determine what things you want and/or need from your partner, what things you want and/or need from friends and other communities, and what things you want and/or need to
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    http://www.psych2go.net/13371/

    provide for yourself. Remember that we are community-oriented beings: having friendships outside of a sexual relationship is important, necessary, and healthy, regardless of whether we are monogamous or non-monogamous.

  • Allow time and space to be comfortable with your emotions. Name them and try to understand where they are coming from. Determine the difference between emotions like jealousy and envy. Try to understand your own insecurities and how you can combat them. Find low-stress, loving ways to bring up your emotions and discuss them with your partner(s).Remember that you may not be able to control how you feel, but you can control how you act. For example, I always think of a good friend of mine who has a 72-hour rule in dealing with anger: she waits 72 hours before she brings up something that made her angry. More often than not, she’s forgotten about whatever it was after three days; if not, she has taken some time to reflect and is able to approach the conversation in a much healthier way.
  • Understand the intention of agreements. It’s really easy to accidentally break trust with a partner by breaking the intention of an agreement. Understand the purpose of agreements you make. Understand what insecurities you might be struggling with if you’ve asked for a specific agreement. Understand what insecurities your partner might be struggling with. In my opinion (and in my experience), it’s easier to maintain agreements when the intention is well-understood.

While these might be concepts that could be applied to any relationship (family, coworkers, friendships, etc.), it becomes more complicated when we are trying to navigate relationships that have a sexual component. How we connect with and relate to ourselves and our bodies directly impacts how we are able to relate to our partners (and our partner’s bodies).

I know that when I am dealing with some disconnection with my body and myself, it becomes much harder to have a sexual relationship with my partner, which is difficult for them. As people who practice non-monogamy, this can get incredibly complicated: if we are not consistently having sex with one another, it becomes more difficult to navigate the sexual relationships we have with other people. We are more prone to jealousy, sadness, and frustration than usual, and deconstructing those emotions can be time-consuming, painful, and complicated.

Conclusion

It is vital that we find ways to maintain our connectedness with ourselves, which is a lesson we each wish we had learned much younger. Our first relationship is with ourselves and, by extension, our first relationship is with the God within each of us. So whether we are sexually monogamous or non-monogamous, our strength and connectedness with our partner(s) is often a direct extension of our strength and connectedness with ourselves. Perhaps focusing less on aesthetics and more on substance will help us all be more in touch with ourselves, more in tune with God, and more connected with our partner(s).

 

Partner or Partners: What Works for You?

By Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction:

 Non-monogamy is a loaded topic, especially within most Christian contexts. This seems to be due to church teachings that monogamy is the only righteous, sanctified option for sexual activity. It used to be one man and one woman; now, it is one person for one person.

But there is a problem with all this certainty. It is not grounded in reality. Most clergy are well aware that there are many people who are not monogamous in their congregations, as well as in the wider world. Some of them, of course, slip, and are filled with regret, remorse, and even shame. Others, however, choose to live non-monogamously.

It is time we got real about this. It is time to talk, openly and honestly, and to listen to each other (not just to those who advocate for, even live in, monogamy).

Robin:revrobin2-023

I remember the first time I encountered intentional non-monogamy. It was 1974, I was newly married. Judy and I were living in my hometown, a very conservative community 40 miles northwest of Detroit.

nickbsteve.wordpress.com
nickbsteve.wordpress.com

Three 20-something men moved in next door. They were unlike other young men in my experience. I never saw them kiss, but I did see them hug, fairly often, and their hugs went on longer than I was used to—actually there was not much male-to-male hugging of any length in those days!

One day, two of them were sitting outside when I came home and they called out to me. One of them said, “We’re sort of newlyweds, too.” I was taken aback, but I swallowed and said some sort of congratulations, as I admitted not ever knowing men who were married. And then I asked, assuming the two of them were the happy couple, how their friend felt about this. They laughed and said all three of them were married to each other.  One said, “We sleep together and everything, just like you and your wife.” I have no memory of what I said, except I know I was in some sort of shock.

Sadly, within two months they had been asked to leave, because some violence arose when one or more of them became very angry.  I can admit now to being fascinated—I was well in the closet in those days (even though I grabbed looks at the centerfolds in Playgirl whenever I could).

About ten years later, when I was in seminary in Massachusetts and well out of the closet, I met three young neighbor men who identified themselves as lovers. They also did not last too long as a unit/family—they seemed like nice guys, and I remember wondering what it would be like to be sexual with some combination of them.

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freevector.com

I had one other opportunity to experience non-monogamy, what might be called polyamory.  After I came out in seminary, my first steady male lover was a visiting scholar who taught classics at a prestigious small Midwestern college. We became what felt to me like boyfriends, although we had not yet attached a label to “us.”

After a couple of months of seeing each other regularly, Jim (not his real name) told me his lover was coming for a visit. I had not known he had a lover until then—the way he had spoken of this man helped me to think of him as a roommate (how naïve I was). And they wanted me to join them not only for dinner but also for sex. He told me that this was their way: Jim traveled a lot and had lovers in various places and when Roger (not his real name) visited, they would have a three-way. Several years later, I met another friend of Jim who confirmed that he had lovers in many places and this was their regular practice.

I was hurt by what felt like Jim’s betrayal and insensitivity. So, I declined the request, and I also told Jim I did not want to stay connected with him. I think I was right in my reaction—at least to what felt like Jim’s inability to be honest with me up front.

But there is more:  I had seen pictures of Roger and his appearance really turned me off. So that was another reason I said, “No thanks.”  Yes, I was hurt by Jim keeping secrets from me, but, had Roger been a hot guy, would I have decided to give it a try? I cannot be certain.  I was sexually adventurous in those days—the delayed adolescence often experienced by gay men who lived as straight in high school—and I well could have said yes.

I have known others who live in various non-monogamous configurations. Several very dear friends, including professional colleagues—people I know to be honorable, loving, and faithful—have been or are in long-term non-monogamous relationships/marriages.

This is real. I accept the legitimacy of their choices, even as I affirm and cherish my own monogamous marriage of 18+ years with Jonathan. And I can say that I have learned from these friends about honesty and relational integrity.

I am tired of being quiet about all this, of colluding, even passively, in the shaming of good people, not to mention wanting to be true to God who creates us for love in all sorts of ways, conditions, and practices.

Malachi:Malachi Grennell

I was first introduced to the concept of non-monogamy when I was in my early twenties. I met a cute guy while out dancing who mentioned his girlfriend early in the conversation. Although I was trying to be respectful that he was in a relationship, the sexual tension built between us as the night went on and we exchanged numbers before parting ways. Not long after, I received a text from him that said something along the lines of, “I’m not necessarily off-limits. Want to get together and talk?”

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tumblr.com

This experience led me to be in the first triad of my life. With no real understanding of what I was doing, I found myself in a relationship with two individual people, as well as in a relationship with their relationship. Although there were three of us involved in the relationship, we practiced something I now understand is called “poly fidelity”: the relationship was closed to the three of us. I did not date outside of the two of them, and they did likewise.

The various relationships dissolved for a number of reasons, but that experience started me down the path to understanding and accepting myself as a non-monogamous person. But it was a complicated and often-murky path forward; I was working without a framework and didn’t know who I could talk to that might have some supportive, helpful advice. I had never met anyone that was non-monogamous before, never mind someone who was successfully non-monogamous. Now, in a successful 5-year non-monogamous relationship, I feel like I have a much better foundation to work from, but part of that has been the explosion of resources and conversations around non-monogamy in the past 8-10 years.

We need to be a part of these conversations. The reality is, as people of faith, it is necessary and important that we have frank, open dialogue about both monogamy and non-monogamy. Both are perfectly valid premises from which to base our relationships; one is not better than another. So often, those who practice non-monogamy treat it as though it is an enlightened state that anyone can reach if they would free themselves from petty emotions like jealousy (a stance with which I wholly disagree). Others who practice monogamy are sometimes made to feel as though it is an outdated concept and fight against that, delegitimizing non-monogamy in the pursuit of defending monogamy. In reality, both are perfectly viable approaches to relationship. Yet without dialogue around non-monogamy, it remains a secret part of who we are, and those secrets are part of what keep us from authenticity and a sense of belonging. Your relationship is not my relationship, and that’s ok. There is room at the table for all of us.

 Interested in participating in the discussion? Please join us Friday, March 18th at 2 PM EST for an ongoing conversation on Sex and Spirit, led by Metropolitan Community Church. This month, Malachi will be facilitating the conversation on non-monogamy. All are welcome and encouraged to attend, regardless of religious or denomination affiliation.

Click here* to join the call!

(*Please note: this is a teleconference on AdobeConnect that allows for webcam feed as well as audio. You do have the option to opt out of the webcam feature; however, please be aware that others will not. If you have a headset, that allows for minimal feedback and echo during conversation.)

Sacred, Not Secret: Conversations about Sex

Introducing our Editorial Team:                   Robin Gorsline & Malachi Grennell

This week, we are taking a step back to discuss some exciting changes in the life and evolution of this blog. Begun six weeks ago as a solo enterprise, this blog now has co-authors!! A team of two friends—with gender, sexual, and age differences—aim to give this enterprise a depth and range that reflects a wider perspective of sex and sexuality in this world. Our goal also is to model dialogue that we hope can help others begin their own conversations, and bring many together to contribute to healing the world from sexual dysfunction and all that flows from it.

This week’s post is designed to introduce the co-authors, as well as give some background and context to our identities and our mission with this blog.

Who Am I?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: I am a 27 year old radical queer, trans, kinky, polyamorous writer, mathematician, and artist. My identities feel like a hefty list, but each part of who I am influences my perspective in conversations about sexuality, spirituality, and bodies. Intersectionality is crucial: recognizing that each piece of who we are is not a discrete aspect, but impacted by the other identities we hold. My sexual orientation is queer, as is my gender identity, although I also identify as transmasculine (the terminology can be confusing, so to clarify: I was assigned female at birth and transitioned with hormone replacement therapy for five years and present as masculine most of the time). I am active in the kink/BDSM scene as both a community leader and educator and am happily married in a polyamorous relationship. I have my bachelor’s degree in traditional mathematics with a minor in English, and hope to finish a graduate degree in either public health or applied mathematics. In the meantime, I am blessed with the opportunity to do some art and writing.

revrobin2-023Robin: I am a 69-year-old male-identified gay man—with a propensity to live and share some traditionally feminine aspects of myself—who was once married and is the father of three daughters (leading at least in a technical sense to be considered bisexual by some). I have been married to the same Jewish man for 18 years and we inhabit a traditionally monogamous space.

I come to this writing as a theologian, trained at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, MA. Both institutions have a strong commitment to liberative faith and action, and I claim that tradition—especially in its feminist/womanist, Queer, Black liberation modes—as my own. I am an ordained minister in Metropolitan Community Churches (and a member of our local Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue).

I am old enough to be Malachi’s grandfather and am fairly traditional in many ways. Malachi is already teaching me about sexual things I had heard only in whispers. I am eager to learn, not because I am dissatisfied with my own sexual life (although aging creates sexual challenges, as well as opportunities) but because I am dissatisfied with how little I know about sex and bodies and spirit and their intimate relation, and how little the people I care about know, how little most of us know and understand.

What Is My Experience?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: I have had the extraordinary benefit of growing up in Metropolitan Community Church in Richmond, Virginia, where I first met Rev. Robin. We developed a close, personal relationship throughout my tumultuous late teens and early twenties, and have maintained a friendship as I have settled into a stable, healthy place in my life. As we begin (and in many ways, continue) these discussions and explorations of our bodies and sexualities through the lens of Christian experience, I am honored to be able to call him a colleague and a friend.

revrobin2-023Robin: This blog is changing me. I started it out of frustration at how little Christianity talks about sex in healthy, life-giving, positive ways, and specifically sadness that my own faith movement, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), does little better in that regard than other mainline Protestant denomination.

Aging has impacted my formerly casual relationship with my own sexuality. I have had to stop taking it for granted. In the process, I have discovered how much I like my body, not in spite of but because of,  its “imperfections” (as evaluated by cultural assumptions of what constitutes embodied perfection).

I am writing to help Christians (and those affected by Christianity) overcome the Platonic dualism we adopted long ago, to overturn not only the dualism of body/sex vs. spirit but also the hierarchy that puts the latter on top. I cherish the Eros that touches us all, creating a wholeness surely intended by God. It is touching me in new and delightful ways, and a more embodied spirituality is emerging in my life. The angels are rejoicing!

What Are My Goals and Passions?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The aspects of my identity that I have chosen to highlight about myself have a purpose. I have long since lost the notion of binary opposing concepts: male/female, gay/straight, creative/logical, normal/deviant, right/wrong. In discussions around topics as heated as sexuality, it can be easy to accept binary dichotomies because we are inundated with them every day. The scientist in me feels it necessary to claim my bias, and for me, that bias is a belief in the subjective truth. What works for one person may not work for the next; it does not mean that one person is right and one is wrong, but simply that there are two different perspectives highlighting different conclusions. Similarly, when Robin first approached me and asked me to co-author this blog, I immediately thought of both the ways that we are similar and the ways we are different. Through a foundation of mutual respect and trust, we are able to bring our experiences- both those that are similar and those that are different- to this conversation in a way that not only enriches our perspectives and our lives, but broadens the conversation beyond the binary.

revrobin2-023Robin: My ministry today lies in writing and teaching. I am honored to have been appointed Writer-Theologian in Residence at MCC in the District of Columbia (MCCDC).  This blog is part of that ministry. My writing and ministry, however, are about more than sexuality and gender. I stand at the intersection of those life forces as well as those of race (in particular for me, white privilege and supremacy), and ethnicity. I understand my particular contribution to be in helping to pry open the tightly locked doors of Christian orthodoxy to let in the life-giving and unsettling breezes of Jesus’ unorthodox approach to life and faith. I am passionate about helping Palestinians, and all oppressed and disregarded peoples, discover and live out their identity. And I am care deeply about reversing trends of negativity and death infecting our national politics, especially as that creates new opportunities for global self-destruction.

What Are My Hopes for this Blog?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: While I have chosen not to seek ordination at this point in my life, I have always felt a call to ministry that has manifested in my writing and discussions. Writing this blog, like much else in my life related to sexuality and gender, is ministry.  I believe strongly in the example set forth by Jesus to challenge the expectations of the status quo, and I truly believe that exploring our sexuality and relationships with our bodies through the lens of faith has the capacity to bring us into relationship with the Holy in new, powerful ways. As Christians, I believe that it is important that we have honest, open, frank discussions about ourselves as sexual beings and how we can embrace our sexuality as a sacred aspect of ourselves in Christ. Growing up in MCC, I was taught that sexuality is not a secret part of who we are, but a sacred part of who we are, yet in recent years, that message has grown quieter and more abstract. I was both honored and excited when offered to opportunity to co-author this blog because I believe that it’s a vital conversation that is often neglected in faith communities. In that spirit, I am thrilled to be a part of creating space for much-needed discussion, dialogue, honesty, and growth.

revrobin2-023Robin: So, we are near the beginning of this enterprise, but I have been engaged in it long enough to realize that greater gifts could be had if it were a shared enterprise. And, as often happens, the right person appeared!

I have known Malachi since 2003, when I became pastor in Richmond. Her (how she presented herself then) lesbian parents were leaders in that congregation. From the beginning I recognized someone of uncommon strength, intelligence, and perception. Recently, I asked Malachi for coffee to discuss being a resource person for this blog. As we talked I knew I had found, or God had presented me with, a co-author.

One thing I am discovering I am not traditional about: wanting to talk about sex not just in the bedroom with my husband but also out in the open, in public, in church, among friends and family, and in our public life—not in the usual ways of judgment and/or titillation and nervous humor, but with honesty, openness, gratitude, and intelligence about something central, indeed necessary, to our lives.

So I hope Sex, Bodies, Spirit becomes a space where conversations begin and grow, and become an integral part of a movement to spread the conversation into all corners. Malachi and I, friends for many years, hope to model open, honest, and caring conversation that can happen among friends and across boundaries of age, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, and embodied ability, not to mention sexual practices and pleasures.

 As a Team . . .

Although we come from different perspectives, we share a passion for genuine, open discussion with one another and with others.  Because we both see and experience the ways in which Christianity has stifled and silenced the conversations around sex and sexuality, our focus is primarily on exploring these concepts through the lens of Christian faith. However, we welcome discussions that reference or center on different faith practices, and occasionally will reference different faith practices as applicable.

There will be organic development in our topics from week to week, but we seek to have relevant and coherent threads through the ongoing development of the blog. We draw inspiration from the liturgical calendar, recent events, our personal lives, and public discussions as we discuss and write together.

What We Hope to Achieve:

Perhaps the greatest achievement would be to begin conversation threads that shift and grow with us and our readers. We are seeking to create intentional, safe space to foster dialogue and personal growth. Our hope is that over time we will help construct a conversation that reaches a broad platform of people seeking to integrate their sexuality and spirituality in authentic, mindful ways. Part of facilitating that growth and conversation is our willingness to be transparent: transparent in our own struggles with these issues, transparent in our discussions and dialogues, and transparent in our conclusions, whether or not we reach the same conclusions. Along the way, we intend to provide some tools for further study and research, as well as some suggestions to move forward.

Through research and thoughtful study, we present this platform for discussion. We will actively work to make this a safe space, free from oppressive language. We seek to understand the privileges afforded to each of us and be accountable to the reality that our perspectives come from the intersections of identity, power, and privilege in this society. We seek to incorporate other perspectives and views that add to the discussion in positive, affirming ways.  Finally, we seek to approach these subjects with humility and care, understanding that the rift—created some millennia ago and carried forward to this moment–between sexuality and spirituality can be a tender and even anxious space. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to healing this deep and often dangerous wound.

 

 

Solo Sex, Sacred Sex

. . . masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God . . . .

[Note: this blog post is focused on a sensitive topic; the images on the page are very mild, but there are links to two teaching sites that are more sexually open. Also, I want to acknowledge the editorial and content assistance generously provided by Malachi Grennnell, good friend and cherished colleague.]

Masturbation gets a bad rap.

Even though many people do it. Even though it is not illegal.

But it won’t get a bad rap here.

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Indeed, it is my view that masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God. As a Christian theologian, it seems clear to me that God delights in sexual pleasure, provided no one is injured. And as was stated last week in terms of partnered sex (see More Sex, Sacred Sex), Lent is a great time for single people, and others who choose to masturbate by themselves or with others, to engage in sacred self-pleasuring, meditative masturbation, not only for the joy of it and for feeling good about our bodies but also for the avenue of divine engagement and closeness it can provide. Engaging in sacred sex, partnered or alone, deepens our intimate relationship with ourselves, God, and others.

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yurlystasyuk.com

As a society, however, embracing our solo sexuality as a method of communing with the Holy is barred by a series of sociological and religious ideological practices that have permeated our understanding of masturbation. So before we can move toward embracing solo sexuality as a meditative process, we need to dismantle some of the myths around masturbation:

  • Religious institutions frequently condemn masturbation as a practice.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians generally share the sentiment, although there is some more recent deviation from that perspective. Similarly, Islam generally teaches that masturbation is contrary to God. However, many mainstream Protestants have been reducing their condemnation (and some writers, theologians and ethicists now affirm the value of it).  Jews often refer to the biblical text in which Onan “spills his seed,” but other than the Orthodox, there is not an outright prohibition within Judaism. In short, many of the religious institutions rooted in more conservative theologies and worldviews tend to view masturbation in a negative light; however, many of the organizations that do are also rooted in the belief that the primary role of sex is to procreate. These two perspectives (masturbation is bad and sex is for procreation) also lend themselves easily to the condemnation of same-sex couples. The structure and framework of these practices tend to be rooted in self-shaming, and for those of us seeking to embrace the Holy through our sexual selves, there is very little in the teachings of these practices that is congruent with our lives. Why should we continue to maintain this ideology about masturbation when we have shrugged off similar teachings about partnered sex and relationship dynamics?

  • Masturbation leads to addiction.
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In the past few years, another concern involving masturbation has arisen, namely easy access to online pornography which has for some led to addictive behavior–endless masturbation sessions online (either in terms of frequency or duration, or both). Clinicians have expressed concern as with other forms of addictive behavior but not all professional bodies have expressed it with the same degree of concern. It is important to note that addiction to porn is not the same thing as addiction to masturbation, nor does one necessarily lead to the other.

In addition, of course, addictive use of pornographic materials or masturbation does not, as is true in the case of any sexual or other behavioral or substance addictions, mean that either is bad in and of itself. As is the case with alcoholism, e.g., the problem is not the substance per se (pornography or masturbation), but rather the spiral of addiction itself.

In short, we can absolutely support healthy masturbation practices without supporting obsession or addiction.

  • Masturbation is just a means of achieving relief–to be over and done as fast as possible.
The Quickie  theshorthorn com
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Perhaps one of the most pervasive perspectives of this climate is the idea that our bodies are inherently “not good enough.” We are inundated with messages that teach us to be self-shaming: our weight, the size of our breasts or penises, how we express ourselves. With these repetitious messages that we are “not good enough,” it’s no wonder that we approach masturbation as a mechanical act, a necessary relief to be finished as fast as possible.

We are not taught to celebrate our bodies, but to hide and shame them. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, even down to how we manage our pubic hair (discussions around shaving/trimming/managing pubic hair is perhaps one of the most intrinsic ways that we feel shame around these ideas that our bodies are “not good enough”).

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Masturbation as a meditative practice can help to combat the idea that we are inherently flawed. While we are bombarded daily with impossible images and ideals of the perfect bodies, we must learn to combat these social messages with nurturing care to the body we were given. Practicing masturbation as a means of embracing our bodies (which were created in the image of God) is one of the most powerful ways we can learn to love ourselves. And it is important to state that loving ourselves, children of God, is a way of honoring God.

So how can solo sex or self-pleasuring or masturbation–or “jacking off” or “jilling off,” depending on gender–help us deepen our spiritual lives? Learning a little about two teachers of masturbation may help us answer this question.

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Betty Dodson, Ph.D., is the “Masturbation Maven” of our time. She single-handedly helped women in the earlier heady days of feminism, and even now, to learn to love their bodies through self-pleasuring. Her classic text is Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving. She really brought the clitoris, and its pleasuring, into the light of day for untold numbers of women. And, as she says, in the process, she freed many women to finally have real orgasms through heterosexual intercourse. No more faking it, thanks to Betty. Later in her career, she even led masturbation sessions for men.

Betty Dodson eventbrite com
Betty Dodson eventbrite.com

Dodson, now 86 and still teaching, writes of her experience of bringing together her practice of Transcendental Meditation and masturbation (activities that were part of her daily routine) when she was too busy to do each by itself. She switched from two twenty-minute TM sessions, one morning and one evening, to one forty-minute session of meditation with her vibrator (Betty is very big on vibrators, even encouraging men to try them on their penises), a practice that regularly led her to orgasm. She realized she felt “harmony between my body and my mind,” centered in her body and relaxed in her mind.

If you want to learn more about, or from, Betty Dodson–which I encourage for women, and men, too–click here for her website, where you will find all sorts of resources, some for free and others not, but all honest and sex-positive and caring. Please note that Betty does not hide body parts–her own and those of others. There is no shame here, so be prepared to see, e.g, a celebration of the clitoris, and hear frank talk about sex.

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More recently, she has a colleague on the male side of things, Bruce Grether. Since 1995, he has been “a male masturbation activist and teacher,” showing us, according to Joseph Kramer (another renowned teacher of sexual energy and pleasure, and the founder of the Body Electric School), “that the sustained sexual arousal produced from mindful masturbation gives us access to the magic deep within our hearts.” (click here to visit his website, Erotic Engineering). A note here, too. You will find lots of naked men on this site, mostly masturbating–and as with Betty’s site, lots of informed discussion about sexuality (Bruce is himself often, though not always, clothed).

Mindful masturbation, according to Grether, opens us to “limitless possibilities for bliss you can give yourself.” And masturbation, according to both Dodson and Grether, does not have to be a solo activity. Couples and lovers can share, and even groups. Older people, coupled and single, who may be experiencing less than the optimal functioning of earlier years, often find masturbation a very positive experience.

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One key element of mindful masturbation for men, according to Grether, is to not focus on ejaculation. This is not a race, but a process of self-pleasuring. Experienced practitioners can have many orgasms without ejaculation (did you know men can have “dry orgasms?). You might think of these as moments of divine revelation or connection–exquisite sensations taking over your body, then ebbing, and perhaps returning later after more stroking. Dodson, like all experts on female sexuality, stresses women’s ability for orgasmic release in waves–and both Grether and Dodson encourage staying with, enjoying and even learning from, all the feelings of pleasure.

So, what to do? Here are some suggestions for what is essentially a masturbatory meditation ritual/session. Here I am using my word “God” to stand for whatever greater or spiritual power you may identify in your life.

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    Pray. Ask God to help you set aside a time and place to make love with and to yourself. Commit to setting aside this time–an hour or more if you can, to start with, but less if you are unsure (but not less than 20 minutes if at all possible). Try to set aside time at least several times a week–and more if possible. If scheduling is important, set a timer so you can be sure you go the full time but also stop when you need to for the rest of your life. Daily masturbatory meditation–morning or evening–would be ideal. This can feel strange, doing a new thing that contradicts much you may have been taught, so take time to breathe, to ask God to guide and protect you. The big thing here is to let God be with you, or more accurately because God already is, to let yourself be with God.

  • Find a space where you feel safe, comfortable (a good temperature for nakedness), and will not be disturbed. Light a candle if you wish. You might want music, but then it might distract your meditation–you will learn what works for you. Ask God to bless the space and your time together (you and God, and others if present).
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    Pray. Ask God to help you take off all your clothes, one article at a time. Make a ritual out of getting undressed. Take a moment to smell the article of clothing, give thanks for its protection of your body. Touch yourself in the area where you removed an article of clothing as one way of getting closer to your body. Celebrate each area as your remove the layers. When you are naked, ask God to guide your hands to touch yourself all over, slowly, lovingly. Don’t rush this. Linger wherever you wish. Doing this in front of a mirror can be very enriching, but it is not necessary. What is important is that you allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy your body. Again, this may tap into issues of body shame–about specific body parts or your whole body–so breathe, ask God to help you see your body as God sees it, a divine creation of beauty and joy.

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    A key to this process is breathing. So now that you are naked and more comfortable, sit quietly, eyes closed, and breathe. If you wish, you can visualize parts of your body and give thanks for their gifts to you. Breathe from the gut as much as possible. This helps energize your genital area.

  • Think of a mantra you want to use to help you stay focused on your embodied spiritual energy, and begin to say it. Repeating a word or phrase with each touching, or at least each time you find yourself moving toward a climax, keeps you grounded. Some people use a word, “love,” or “joy.” Others may use a phrase. “God is good, all the time” is one possibility. In my meditation, I am partial to a phrase from Franciscan writer Richard Rohr, “Astonish me with Your love!” Using the mantra helps you stay grounded in a meditative state. I also encourage you to listen for God, who may use this time to say something important and loving to you. Leave some space for God to “speak.”
  • Touch your pleasure organ–your clitoris or penis–and gently rub it. Feel the sensation. Just hold it for a while, too. Breathe. Then more rubbing/stroking, remembering to repeat your mantra, too. Also, touch around the organ, enjoy the neighborhood!
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    Just stay with this as long as you can, not rushing, letting feelings of pleasure move through you. Touch yourself all over. Touch your penis or clitoris in different ways, rub them in different ways. The two websites mentioned above have many resources for techniques, ways of touching yourself to maximize sensation.

  • Of course, be open to orgasm and ejaculation but try not to rush it. Again, this can feel strange, since so many of us have been taught to release tension as quickly as we can. This is not about tension release, although that will happen, so much as it is about consciousness, God-consciousness for you. Try to ride the wave(s) of pleasure and feel yourself go deeper into ….. what? yourself, God, your soul, Holy Spirit–all of the above most likely.
  • Whatever happens, thank God!!!

I have laid out a pretty simple process. But I suspect for many, probably most, it will not be easy. We have issues to overcome, body- and sex-negativity that pervades our culture. So be gentle with yourself. Take your time, do this in stages if you have to, taking one or more sessions just to set the mood and get undressed and touch yourself a little. There is not a right way to do any of this, and you have the rest of your life to develop your own practice and style.

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This practice does not need to be limited to Lent; in fact, I hope you let it become a continuing part of your life. However, in Lent, when we have so often been told to give something up, perhaps you can choose to give up hurried, shame-based, masturbation for deeper self-loving that celebrates God and the body you have from God. That would be a new way of living to celebrate at Easter, or if you are Jewish, at Passover!

The key is to stay open to the endless possibilities, not only of pleasure but also of other forms of divine presence and revelation. Remember, pleasuring your body pleases, pleasures, God, too. In your shared pleasuring, you and the divine grow more united, more loving, more whole. And that will help you the rest of your day, the rest of your life, be filled with more positive energy—good for you and for the world.

Enjoy solo sex, sacred sex, today!