Less Stress, More Sex

Sex can be something that helps us feel less stressed in our pressurized lives . . . .

Robin:

revrobin2-023One of the gifts of Malachi and I writing together is the significant difference in our ages. I was born as an early Boomer (1946) and he was born right in the middle of the Millennials (1988), so there are times when our histories, our experience, are very different from each other. At the same time, each of us is embodied, each of us likes sex, and each of us is a person of faith. So we have fabulous, energized, and stimulating conversations, and we enjoy writing here, and teaching together in the Third Thursday series (see the end of this week’s post for details).

This week is a clear example of our distinctive starting points (and as regular readers know it is more than our generations that are different).

I encountered an article about the sex habits of Millennials, “Too Stressed to F&*K?” and forwarded it to Malachi. Then, we talked about it. The article, on a blog I read called “Pleazure Seekers,” discussed studies that show Millennials, single and partnered, are having less sex than others of their age cohort in earlier generations. The blogger, the father of two Gen Z/Millennials, is interested in understanding why this is so.

First, I confess that I tuned into the article before realizing it was about Millennials. I thought it might be about me. I know I sometimes feel too stressed even to masturbate.  Certainly, my husband and I have made plans for sex, only for one, or sometimes both, of us to feel too tired when the time arrives (he is 13 years my junior so it is not always about age). We have even gone for significant lengths of time without sex. All this feels normal to me.

I am aware that studies have been done about older folks like me, and generally they reveal that old folks still like sex. I know I do (I jerked off today, for example).

stressed-out-entrepreneursBut there is something to this “too stressed” business. I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed these days by feeling I have too much writing to do on too many topics and in too many genres. If I were not writing this blog each week, I am not sure when I would find time even to think about sex (well except today).

My angst will end, I know. But a whole generation having less sex? That is a great concern to me. As a society, a world, we need more sex, not less.

The writer of the article says he thinks Millennials are too tired—they work long hours, they have to be available for their jobs all the time (the iPhone curse), they have long commutes, they volunteer a lot (both on principle but also as a way to have good credentials for employers), etc. When I think about the Millennials I know, I can see some accuracy in his observation.

The trouble, as I see it, is that the habits they are learning now will be hard to change later in life. At least, that is how it has been for me. I did not become a workaholic late in life, I learned it when I was the age Millennials are now. I did not put the demands of others for my time and energy before my own when I passed 50. I started doing that as a teen and then really perfected it in my 20s and 30s. I got really good at it-so good I lived in denial about my soul’s desire to write until I was in my late 60s.

But this is about more than individuals, this is about our society.

The blog writer is correct that Millennials and GenZ folks are far more open-minded about sex—sexual orientation and sexual practices—and gender and gender identity than earlier generations. We are better as a world for their openness, and I believe they will continue to push society away from judgmentalism and narrowness and toward acceptance and celebration of human diversity. This can only be good.

intimacy_desire_handsHowever, we really need people slowing down for intimacy, including but not limited to the two-by-two or multiple partners varieties in bed. We certainly need people to pleasure themselves and we need all the other varieties of consensual erotic connection that God makes possible and in which human beings find pleasure and deep and abiding joy.  We need friends to just sit together—close I hope but even not close is good—perhaps holding hands or sitting with arms around each other or lying side by side, even spooning.

Why do I feel  so strongly about this, and at this time?

Much attention has been focused on an OpEd on May 30 in the Wall Street Journal authored by the President’s National Security Advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster ,and the Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Gary Cohn. They wrote, outlining the President’s “America First” vision of foreign policy, “the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

Gary Cohn and H R McMaster
Gary Cohn (left), H.R. McMaster

Their focus is on the activities of nations and other actors in the international sphere—and as many have pointed out, the Trump foreign policy, and this articulation of it by McMaster and Cohn, is a clear repudiation of post-World War 2 U.S. foreign policy conducted by every administration, Republican and Democrat, since President Truman.

However, this is not limited to foreign policy. In many ways, the current administration encourages competition over cooperation here at home, and the fact that many feel the loss of economic stability in their lives also contributes to this behavior. And this privileging of advantage is exemplified in Congress these days, where little compromise happens, where political opponents become enemies. It is exemplified by the President’s tweets that belittle people with whom he disagrees.

And, I submit, it is exemplified in what the blog author says about Millennials. They are too tired from competing to cooperate, to worn out to crawl into bed together, too distracted even to play with their own genitals or curl up with a good friend (and I am not meaning only “friends with benefits”).

Many speak of resistance to the President’s policies and even resistance to him personally. We do need to stand up in opposition to harmful, hurtful policies and government actions.

But we need to resist at deeper and more personal levels, too. Three days before the Presidential Inauguration, the Huffington Post ran a piece by Alex Garner, “Queer Sex Is Our Greatest Act of Resistance.” It is a brilliant evocation of why Queer folk need to stay focused on and in our bodies. I was exhilarated by its honesty and power. I cheered.

sex is the best medicine copyBut queer sex is not enough. Here is Garner’s conclusion—and it applies to all of us, queer, not queer, vanilla, kinky, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, polyamorous and other forms of consensual non-monogamy, etc.—and certainly Millennials of every persuasion:

  • Talk about sex. Our sexuality is at the core of our human experience. To not talk openly about it is to deny part of who we are. There is no shame in pleasure and intimate connections.
  • Have sex and lots of it. Push boundaries and explore. Find pleasure in your sexuality in the midst of the chaos and the insanity. Think about what it means to choose queer [or not queer] sex and to value queer [or not queer] sex in a world that tells us it’s wrong. When we fuck we resist.
  • Keep resisting. Fuck as if your life depends on it because with this new administration, it’s how we can fuck the status quo and upend the world we now find ourselves in.

Thus endeth my sermon for today. Go thou with other(s) or by yourself, and fuck, or whatever turns you on.

Malachi:

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nAs much as sex can be a wonderfully joyous means of connecting with ourselves and our partners, it’s not always easy to make space to have a fulfilling sexual life. Work, day-to-day concerns (like getting the laundry and dishes done), kids, etc. all take time and energy, and sometimes, we find ourselves falling into bed next to our partners, worn out and too exhausted to intimately connect.

And that’s ok! Life can be stressful and exhausting sometimes, and it’s important to take time to make sure that we are getting enough rest and caring for ourselves. But it can be easy to slip into a pattern and suddenly weeks (or months) have gone by with no time to connect with our partner(s).

Sometimes, we address the situation by trying to create intentional time to be intimate. And that can be really effective- sometimes. But what happens when we have set aside time, and when that time comes, one (or both) partners aren’t feeling into it? Maybe it was a particularly hard day that’s difficult to shake off. Or perhaps the concept of “setting side time” makes sex feel more pressurized or obligatory…which never feels good, but certainly not when you’re trying to feel connected.

There are a lot of different ways that sex can feel pressurized. Feeling pressure to “perform”- particularly for those who were assigned male at birth and have a sexual connection to their penis- can lead to performance anxiety. I know personally, there have been times when I have been so aroused, it’s been difficult to reach orgasm. Other times, I have felt like if I didn’t have an orgasm, my partner would take it personally, which made it that much more difficult to relax and enjoy the sexual connection because there was an expectation of a certain outcome.

The ways that we put pressure, stress, and expectation on sex can be counterproductive.

fuck me
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Part of it comes from the ways that we define sex, intimacy, and connection. Sex and intimacy are often defined as a set of actions (e.g. penetration, orgasm, etc.), and we try to push ourselves to “go through the motions,” only to find that we don’t necessarily feel more connected to ourselves or to our partners afterward. This is a trap I have fallen into with my partner, and we both feel more drained after such encounters, rather than uplifted and connected. When sex is based on the actions, rather than the intention of connection, it can lead to feeling like another task on a to-do list, rather than a spiritual and intimate experience with someone we can about.

It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes, what we want is to experience a specific type of sexual intimacy and pleasure. Other times, what we want is to feel connected with ourselves and with our partner(s), and it’s not contingent on a specific sensation. In those cases, I wonder if we can find ways to make intimacy feel less pressurized so that we are able to relax and connect with one another even when life is busy and exhausting.

Small things, like intimate touch. Backrubs, foot rubs, facial massages are ways of helping your partner physically relax even when you’re both too exhausted for sex.

Mutual masturbation can be a way to achieve sexual release together. Laying naked together with no explicit sexual touching can also be very connective. These are a couple small ways to feel more intimately connected with our partner(s), but they really only address the symptoms, and not the deeper underlying problems.

The world we live in is fast-paced and stressful. Many people work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, and raising children, dealing with household tasks, etc. only add stress and pressure into already-hectic lives. Perhaps some of the issue is, “How do we connect sexually with ourselves and one another when we are exhausted and stressed out?” but I think it’s also important to think about, “How can we limit the amount of stress we

mutual masturbation
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experience in our lives so that we don’t feel so worn out at the end of the day?”

I’m not sure there is an easy answer for this question. Small things, like making sure household tasks don’t pile up, can be immensely helpful, but only if all people involved are helping to keep that manageable- otherwise, it just adds one more task to one partner’s daily routine. The truth is, de-stressing our lives is a longer process of shifting our priorities, and shifting what things we have to make time for (like working and making sure bills get paid) and what things we choose to make time for. For many people who experience sexual attraction, maintaining a strong, intimate relationship is important… but sometimes, we choose to make time for other things, which cuts into the time we have for our partner(s).

When we see our sexual selves as a form of spiritual, physical, and emotional nourishment, it becomes a lot easier to make time for intimacy. It’s not something that depletes our resources, but helps them grow. While “in the moment” it can feel easier to succumb to the exhaustion, more often than not, we find that we are more rejuvenated and energized when our partnership(s) are strong, nourished, and sustained through sexual intimacy. I have experienced this several times with my partner- I have fallen into the “maybe tomorrow” rut, and found that, as that prolonged to another (and yet another) day, it became harder to instigate sex because it began to feel like a task that I was procrastinating doing. But when we were able to be connected and intimate with one another in ways that didn’t feel pressurized, I was able to recognize the ways in which that sexual relationship helped fulfill me as a whole person, rather than drain me with another thing I needed to do.

I speak, of course, as someone in my late twenties. There are certainly changing hormones as our bodies age that shift our physical needs and desires, but I believe that

god-loves-sex-dashhouse-com
DashHouse.com

our spiritual desire for sexual intimacy and connection remains, even when our bodies are not as responsive as we would always like. Then, more than ever, it is important to find ways to feel sexually connected without necessarily focusing on the “acts” of sex, and that comfort comes through a lifetime of practicing and reframing how we think about sex. I feel immensely lucky that I have had the opportunity to do some of this work as a younger person- although it’s difficult that the world we live in demands that young people have to learn these lessons in order to have and maintain healthy, sustainable sexual relationships.

Sex isn’t, of course, an obligation, and no one is entitled to our bodies without our consent. But sex also isn’t something to do because we haven’t done it in a while. Sex is something we can approach as a form of self-care, as a form of nourishment and fulfillment, to feel stronger and more connected with our partner(s). Sex can be something that helps us feel less stressed in our pressurized lives, if it doesn’t feel like another obligation on our already over-extended time.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Are you having less sex than you want? Or are you too stressed to know? Do you make time for intimacy with your partner(s) and friends, or are you too busy? When was the last time you enjoyed a lazy afternoon with your body and/or with someone else’s body/bodies?  Can you visualize the world as an erotic community, the earth as God’s gift of eros? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

third Thursday
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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in two weeks, THURSDAY, June 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Our focus will be “Creating Consent Culture in Our Churches.” Malachi and Robin will discuss how church leaders and members can foster an atmosphere of trust and exploration through mutual concern and consent while considering difficult topics such as various forms of sex, the spiritual ground of sex, and sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

 

 

 

 

Can Prayer Be Erotic?

By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation?

Robin:

I remember a time more than 20 years ago, when, as a striving doctoral student in systematic theology, I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. All I remember are comments from two more senior people in the academy. They both said, rather vehemently, that “desire” is not a theological category.

AAR logo_slideshowI was surprised. I did not make such a claim overtly in my paper. But as they spoke, it dawned on me that their analysis of what underlay my argument was correct, even though I thought they were wrong in their judgment. Desire is a theological category because desire is of God.

Let me quickly add this caveat: not everything we desire is godly, part of God’s desire for our lives, any more than everything we claim is love actually meets God’s understanding of love. But the activity and reality of desire are gifts from God.revrobin2-023

I will now fast forward to a time several weeks ago when I was enjoying an evening with nudist friends—a social group that gathers monthly for a party in a private home. I have met some lovely people through this group, including a young man who is becoming a dear friend.

The rules of the group preclude sexual activity—this is true of almost all nudist, or naturist, groups—and as one happily committed to monogamy in my marriage, I would not participate were it otherwise. And yet, I find desire.

The people, perhaps numbering 30, come in all shapes and sizes, colors, nationalities, and sexualities. I am not aware of transgender people, but I could be wrong. Certainly, all genders are welcome.

nude dinner groupSome of the body appearances are more appealing to me than others. I have my gay tilt toward the male ones, of course, but as nudists often say, all the bodies are beautiful, just as they are. And in some way or other, I desire connection with them all. Not sex, but desire.

Frankly, I find it easier to start connections with new people who are naked than with people who are clothed.  Naked people have removed a layer of protection, we’re more vulnerable. Vulnerable people make connections more easily.

Here’s where my theological point comes in: In my experience, God wants us to connect more—with God of course, but also with each other. That’s why I think naked bodies—the ones God gave us for which we eventually become responsible—are beautiful, powerful  expressions of the divine. Each human body is an image of God, and more than that, each is a means, an opportunity, to create connection.  I call this connectivity “eros.”

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde

Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde first introduced me to the erotic as something more than physical sex, calling it “an assertion of the lifeforce of women.”  I think that is true of male-identified persons, too. I know it is true of me.

Lorde also said “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.”

At this party, I also witnessed a sign of eros. Several of the men, at various times in the evening, exhibited full or partial erections. I do not know precisely what they were feeling, but imagine they found some other body alluring, or perhaps something someone said or did gave them a charge, or perhaps they were just feeling happy. Who knows, maybe all of the above?

What I know is that such a beautiful sight touched me. I’ll admit they were good-looking men but my reaction was not so much about them, or even wanting them, as it was about me. What I felt, rather keenly, was my desire for an erection of my own.

Regular readers of this space know of my erectile dysfunction and issues related to my prescribed treatment of testosterone replacement therapy. Erections are not very common for me.

erectionsBut then, even when earlier I could more easily get hard, I never did except during sexual encounters or solo masturbation. For a long time, I carried shame about my small cock, and even as I worked at shedding that I still felt an erection was only for private times, only for having sex. I had bought into our culture’s view that bodies are mostly meant to be hidden, and certainly male bodies with visible erections.

But as I gazed upon these men I realized the truth of Lorde’s observation. I was experiencing myself—feeling my own embodiment in a deep way (partly through something I could not achieve then)—and experiencing strong feelings of desire, of connection, feelings that in that moment felt chaotic because I was being drawn simultaneously more deeply into myself and toward others.

I did not seek sex with them, or they with me, and yet I wanted to connect with them. I wanted to talk with them, I wanted to learn more about them in general as well as to learn more about what caused them to get hard in that moment.I wanted, and I still want, to see the world through their eros as well as my own.

I am not sure I am explaining this very well, because I think I am still trying to figure it out. But as I continue to reflect, I am coming to understand that my erotic feelings—certainly those I share with my husband, but also those I experience at other times by myself and with others, too, including in more common moments like feeling the sun on my body or the touch of soil as I dig in the garden or observing or participating in a moment of human connection or human/animal connection—are a form of prayer. Eros is for me embodied prayer, a prayer for connection with myself, with others, and with God.

upraised hands prayerI have read a number of articles and books about body prayer. None of them mention the genitals and anus. It is as if we cannot mention that part of God. But God will not be stopped or ignored.

The good news for me is that whether I get a really good erection ever again (and I’m working on it—more about that another time) or not, God continues to desire me and I God, and others, too.  I know I will continue to call out “O God, O God,” when I ejaculate (dry or wet) because God is in that moment of chaotic, exuberant joy. And I know I will continue to be blessed by my own eros and the eros of others—with and without obvious arousals, just by being open to, and desiring, each other, the world, and God.

Let us pray.

Malachi:


When I think about prayer, I have the quintessential image in my mind of someone kneeling by their bed, hands folded, head bowed, saying their prayers before bed. I must have gotten this image from pamphlets and movies because that’s never something that was a part of my life or experience growing up, nor is it something I really do now.

Thinking about prayer makes me think a little about worship, and how the image in my mind of worship is also very different than my physical experience of worship. The word “worship” brings to mind the image of being in church on a Sunday morning, perhaps hands raised, in celebration of God. And while I have worshiped that way at different

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points in my life, I don’t currently have a home church I am attending…but I certainly still worship.

I can’t help but think about the intention of these ideas- the intention of prayer and the intention of worship. To me, the intention, the purpose of worship is to celebrate: to celebrate a God who loves and cares for us, to celebrate that we are made in God’s image and that God is in each one of us. “The God in me recognizes and honors the God in you.” We can worship with our whole bodies. We can worship through dance and singing, through cooking and sharing conversation, through cultivating gardens and protesting, and yes, we can absolutely worship through sex. If our intention behind our actions is one of honoring and celebrating our creator, then I call that worship.

So what, then, could be said about prayer? I believe the intention of prayer is desire and connection: we want a shift in something in our own lives, or we want someone we care about to be lifted up, or we just want to put something out there, outside of ourselves, because it feels too big for us to carry alone. And if those actions we take outside of church that are done with intention of celebration can be worship, can’t those things done with the intention of desire and connection be a form of prayer?

It’s something I haven’t thought much about before, to be honest. I’ve certainly appreciated sex as an act of worship, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of it as a form of prayer. But it makes sense to me that

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prayer is something I have often felt disconnected from- I have a hard time, sometimes, sitting with my own desire. And I’ve learned to listen to those things that are mirrored disconnections in my life, because they are often related. If I am feeling disconnected from my own ability to name my desires, then prayer becomes that much more difficult because I’m not always sure what I am bringing to the conversation.

Prayer is, to me, an active conversation. It’s one in which we bring ourselves and our desires and lay them out honestly- both with ourselves and with God. I don’t think prayer requires us to know the answers- in fact, many times, I think we come to prayer because we don’t. But I do think that we have to have the awareness of what we want from ourselves, from one another, from God, to be able to name it in some capacity. It’s vulnerable. We may be saying, “I can’t do this alone.” We may be saying, “I need help and guidance.” I think about the times- particularly this most recent time- where I have struggled with my own sexual relationships, and how thinking of my own needs and desires as a form of prayer might have helped in those situations.

I also think of how many people will have sex following the death of a loved one. It’s often called an affirmation of life- in our grief of losing someone, we affirm that we are still living, still capable of feeling connected and good in our bodies. I wonder if that, too, can be thought of as prayer- raising up our grief, our desire for healing and wholeness and connection.

Prayer can also, of course, be celebratory, coming from a place of gratitude and thankfulness. Prayers of connection and reconnection.

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Prayer is hope. And worship and prayer are intrinsically intertwined, I think. We can act out of a place of celebration and desire simultaneously: celebration for what is and desire for what comes.

But prayer is, I think, a conversation we have with our whole bodies- not just with bowed heads, speaking words aloud or in our minds. That is absolutely a form of prayer, and a valid one, but I think we miss something of the conversation if that’s the only way we can envision prayer.

I think about conversations and communication styles. A vast majority of our communication is non-verbal: facial and body expressions are a crucial part of how many people communicate. By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation? What are we holding back by viewing prayer within such rigid parameters? How might we envision new ways of praying that include the use of our bodies, minds, and spirits- a conversations from our whole selves?

I know, for me, that I’m going to struggle with this idea for a while. I’m going to have to think about what it means to communicate my desires as an act of prayer. I’m going to have to think about what it means to have conversations with God with my whole body- to do so with intention and purpose, instead of thinking arbitrary thoughts toward God when it’s convenient for me. So I am thinking more about how to relate to and connect with the idea of prayer- one that fits with how I worship, rather than something I saw in a movie. I don’t have answers, but I do have a fervent desire to be more connected. And it seems desire is a good place to begin.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your desires? Do the sexual ones feel holy? Do you recognize any type of eros in your life? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex? Can you imagine sex as prayer? Do you think God participates in your sexual life? Does your sexual life connect you with God? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

When Bodies “Betray” Us

Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I haven’t spoken much about it, but over the past year, I’ve had some serious issues in my sexual life.

These issues were not specifically related to my attraction to anyone else. My sex drive simply… shut off. Things that used to feel pleasurable simply… didn’t anymore. It’s not that they felt bad, exactly (although the longer it went, the more guilt and shame I felt, and those feelings began to make sexual touch feel bad). It’s that things that used to feel sexually arousing had about as much sex appeal as scratching my elbow.

I still don’t know what caused this or why. I also don’t know what made my sex drive turn back on, or why- it was like a switch got flipped and suddenly, I had interest in sex again. In fact, I had interest in sex AND interest in all the sex I hadn’t had over the last 10 months. It was sex over-drive.

Until the switch flipped back on, though, the truth of the matter was, I could barely have sex with my partner, and it was incredibly difficult on both of us. Perhaps the only thing that made it easier on him was that I also wasn’t having sex with anyone else- myself included. I masturbated when my body simply demanded an orgasm as a basic necessity- much as you use the bathroom when your body informs you that you need to go. But I didn’t really get any pleasure out of it- sex with myself or with others felt more mechanical than connective.

I am terrified that that will happen again. That I will wake up tomorrow and find no interest in sex. And the next day, and the next day, and so forth. My partner is wonderfully patient with me, for which I can never be grateful enough, but I know this long stretch of minimal sexual interaction was incredibly difficult. It was incredibly hard not to take it personally, or feel like I just wasn’t attracted to him. And as much as I tried to explain that it wasn’t about him, it was still an understandably hard time for both of us.

I wanted to fix it. I felt incredibly broken and felt an immense amount of pressure to fix
my sex drive, fix myself, fix our relationship. Every night, we would go to bed, and I could loss-of-libidofeel him wanting to ask, but holding it in. I could feel myself trying to pep-talk myself into it: “You love him. He’s beautiful. You are attracted to him. You want to be intimate with him. You want to, dammit!” But try as I might, I couldn’t feel connected to my sexual self… which also meant I couldn’t feel connected to his sexual self. And so I would hold him, and think, “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I can do it tomorrow.” And I would feel how much it hurt him, and I would think, “You’ve got to fix this. You’ve got to do this. Tomorrow. You have to deal with this tomorrow.” But tomorrow would come, and it would happen all over again.

Sometimes, our bodies do things that we don’t understand. It can be their way of telling us that something’s up. Our connection is broken, somewhere, and it’s trying to mend, but it needs our help. Sometimes there is something we aren’t focusing on that we need to- sometimes, it’s our mental health (I started seeing a therapist partway through this process, and it has helped immensely), or physical health. Sometimes, our bodies are changing, and those changes impact our ability to be sexual. And sometimes… sometimes it’s just that there is a lot of tension, stress, and pressure and our bodies are energetically exhausted.

Sometimes, our minds really want something and our bodies won’t cooperate. On a more lighthearted note, I recently began sleeping with someone who was designated male at birth, and interacts with his penis in a sexual way. We were fooling around a bit, and he looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and said, “I think I’m having a bit of…performance anxiety.” And then we spent a few minutes talking about how “getting hard” isn’t necessarily the same as “being aroused”- that he was incredibly turned on, he just couldn’t get hard in that moment.

Oh.

I didn’t even know that was a thing that could happen. I knew, of course, that it was possible for people with penises to get hard without necessarily being aroused, but I never realized that the opposite could be true. I also know that it’s completely possible to want to want to be sexual, but not have the energy for it.

The point of all of this is that sometimes, our desires and our actions don’t always match up. Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up. And that can be incredibly hard- no pun intended.

passionAnd there isn’t an easy answer for these things. The breakdown and disconnect comes from different places for different people for different reasons. Figuring out how to reconnect with ourselves can be a difficult process- especially when we’re exhausted, or don’t have the time or the energy to deal with it right now.

From someone who went through a 10 month dry spell, I highly recommend dealing with it before it becomes a prolonged thing. Because at some point, you’re not just dealing with a disconnection within yourself; you’re dealing with a disconnection from your partner(s), and you’re dealing with the guilt and shame that goes with that.
I wish I knew an easy way to do that. I wish I knew what really caused the disconnect for me in the first place, and what helped bridge it, so that I don’t fall back into that place. It’s not a place I want to be. So while I am feeling strong and connected and sexual and in touch with these parts of myself (and my partner), I am doing the work I can to maintain and strengthen that connection. I am doing the work- difficult as it may be- to understand what broke down in the first place. Our sexual selves are an extension of ourselves, and sometimes the breaks have nothing to do with sex, exactly… the break is simply an extension of brokenness somewhere else inside ourselves that we need to address.

It’s a poignant reminder that taking the time to heal the disconnections within ourselves can also help strengthen the intimate relationships that sustain us, and remembering that our sexual connection with ourselves enables our capacity for a sexual connection with others. For some, they do not want, seek, or desire a sexual relationship with others- and that’s totally fine. But for others of us, who do desire those things, we have to constantly do the work of being whole, real, connected people, and listen to what our bodies are telling us.

revrobin2-023Robin:

The old adage, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” feels increasingly apt as I age.

I am reminded of this sexually when despite almost a decade of TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) intended to help me cope with ED (erectile dysfunction)—ever notice how we make initials out of things as a way to code them, for ease of communication to be sure, but also perhaps as a way to avoid saying certain words in public—I continue to experience a lack of penile hardness far more often than I want.

I have alluded to this in this space before, but it seems like the right time to explore what for me is a sensitive topic, and to include how physical limitations can impact emotions—for in truth, there are times when even the spirit can seem weak.

I don’t think I am alone among those born with penises when I say I have a complex relationship with mine. As I have said  before, I have struggled (and do still to some degree) with its small-ish size.

I used to comfort myself with the knowledge that when erect it measured 5.5 inches (yes, many, perhaps most, of us, measure), which is the average length of an erect penis according to those who study these things. But now, sad to say, it is more like 4.5 inches. I have moved to below average.

banana erections healthtap com
healthtap.com

But my husband has never complained and seems to like my little guy. So, all should be well, right?

Well, not so fast. TRT helped overcome ED at least a little for a year or two. But hard still was not really happening. So I tried pills, a pump, even injecting something into my cock just before sex (so romantic to say to my husband, “Okay, dear, I’m done, can you please take the syringe to the disposal container in the kitchen? Then hurry back!”). It didn’t do much either. Cialis on a daily basis  (unlike ingesting it just before sex) worked wonders, but then it lowered my already low blood pressure to dangerous levels. No more Cialis.

Herbs seem to help a little, maybe, and walnuts are said to be good for erections. I like walnuts, so I eat some most days (have to watch how many, however, due to fat content). So we “limp” along.

I did learn from a wonderful doctor I saw once in Richmond that my little guy was suffering from disuse. So I began to masturbate regularly (have written about this here before—“It Gets Better”).  And that can help in sex with my husband, sometimes as well.

But lately, I have not even been that keen on jerking off. What’s going on?

uses-of-testosterone-ageonics-medical
Ageonics Medical

And the last several times he and I have made a date for sex I confess I did not feel much of the usual anticipatory arousal. Nor did I have much luck getting hard—a little when he stroked me, but it did not last when he stopped. Even his penetration, while feeling okay, did not get my juices going or my guy to rise to the occasion (being fucked is usually a turn-on for me and I get hard and often ejaculate with great joy).

I am writing this history about my flesh not simply to confess or even to ask for sympathy (although it would be accepted). I am writing because I know I am not alone among men with these issues, and because I believe talking openly about sex is vital to survival, indeed to thriving. I know that is true for me, but I believe it is true for others, too. I also know men are not the only part of the human race with sexual issues.

I also feel quite sure that all this is having an impact on my emotions, as my emotions are having an impact on my physical self—and all of it is having an impact on my spirituality, my God connection.

This embodied self which is me—sexual body, spiritual body, emotional body—is subject to analysis from different disciplines, different perspectives, but it is at the same time a unity in which the various parts interact to create me at any given moment. Of course, this creation is not affected only from within me and my parts, but also by the social body/bodies of which I am a part.

prayer-patheos
patheos.com

But here’s the deal for me, at least as I see it. This recent lack of sexual interest is linked, I believe, to my lack of interest in a daily God connection. I am having a dry spell, and it is not just in one of my private parts.  My focused prayer life, like my sex life, has been off-balance.

What makes this really interesting, to me at least, is that another part of my life—my writing, especially poems—has been more lively of late. I may not be expressing much through my genitals or through prayer time, but I have been really enjoying written ejaculations. In fact, poetry composition requires considerable foreplay and massaging to find just the right word, and the process often feels very erotic to me (no matter the subject of the poem).  So maybe I have been more erect than I knew?

Is this just a question of balance—pulling back (or out) just a bit from writing and inserting a bit more God time and/or sex-play—so that the various parts of me receive adequate attention and produce appropriate levels of expression?

writingpoetry-tl-shreffler-1
TL Shreffler

It sounds too simple, frankly, but I know it is not easy. What is easy, because, it is well-learned from our culture and religion, is to separate these aspects and treat only one at a time. I have spent a lot of energy trying to find a pill or cure for ED. I often turn to some new prayer or practice or commitment to make time for God. I engage a therapist to figure out what feelings need to change and how to change them.

What I do not often do is explore the links among these parts (and others), and certainly not to explore how they could help me to be more me, more potent, in all parts of my life.

I really like using the word potent, or potency—because it has two fields of meaning. The first is about forcefulness, effectiveness,  persuasiveness, cogency, influence, strength, authority, power.  Those are aspects I want associated with my poetry and other writing, and also descriptive of God’s place in my life (and my place in God). The second meaning, according to the dictionary, is “a male’s ability to achieve an erection or to reach orgasm” (I want the “or” to be “and”).

I want a potent life. God wants that for me, too. And for you, for all of us. That’s my belief, my truth.

aliveOf course, there is a limitation in this word, in the second part. But I know many potent women, and I trust you do, too. Some of them have been, and are, my teachers. And I sure know potent trans folk, whatever their genital configurations (some teachers here, too)! They may not achieve erect penises or ejaculate semen, but they do stand very tall and they certainly give forth powerful self-expression.

I am a whole person, continuing to come into my wholeness, my potency. I hope and pray, and believe, that is true for you, because that is what God wants for each, all, of us. And if you don’t feel it right now, stay open, there is always more with God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you had sexual “dry spells?” How did it feel? Did you do anything to move out of it, or did change just happen? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex?  Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

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Workshop description: We are still working out the precise content, but we will be discussing how to help church leaders and congregations open up sexual conversations, and to be open to people of differing sexual practices. Stay tuned for more specifics, and in the meantime mark your calendar to be with us on March 16!

In the Sheets, In the Streets

It’s not just what we do in the sheets, but how we act in the streets.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

It’s so easy, sometimes, to get caught up in the analytical, theoretical aspects of being poly. But something I don’t always do a good job at sharing is the beautiful ways in which my life is able to manifest outside of the conversations and theoretical discussions. So, this week, I will do my best to suspend some of my heavier, denser thought patterns and talk a little about a fantastic “poly-full” weekend I had with friends and a much-anticipated date.

My partner and I have a mutual friend that we know through the kink community who lives several hours away. We (myself and this friend) had been talking more, and my partner had noticed (and I explicitly acknowledged) that I had a growing attraction to them. So, at my partner’s urging (which included no shortage of teasing), I asked this person on a date, and was delighted to receive an enthusiastic yes.

This was something I knew I needed. It was important to me to spend one-on-one time with this person and, yes, certainly, there was a strong sexual component that was explicitly acknowledged. As I was preparing to drive up, I recalled, at several points, the piece that Robin and I wrote last week, “What A Good Fuck,” and recognized internally that, if I had sex on my date, there would be a component of radical resistance to it. When I originally wrote the poem included in last week’s piece, “Fuck Me Fiercely,” I acknowledged privately to my upcoming date that they were on my mind while writing it.

So, although my partner got sick just before I left, they encouraged me to go spend time with this person, and I got to experience- simultaneously- the joy and love and stability of my partner as well as the giddiness, excitement, and nervousness of going on a first date.

I feel… immensely blessed to have the people in my life that I do. The night before my

compersion
Source

date, I stayed with a friend who has become very close recently, and felt immensely safe sharing my fears, concerns, nerves, and excitement. He reassured me, teased me gently, told me I looked wonderful, and radiated compersion (a term used in the poly community to mean “experiencing joy when those around you are experiencing joy” and is often explicitly used to refer to warm, happy feelings when someone you care about is going on a date that they are excited about). He sent me on my way early afternoon to go on my date, assuaging my nervousness and reminding me to be a whole, real, present person.

And it was a fantastic date! We spent time together. They cooked a wonderful meal and we had conversations about God and politics, about theology and resistance, about kink and mental health and a whole slew of other disconnected but equally vibrant things. I was giddy and nervous and excited. I checked my phone and had encouragement from friends and partners and people who love me that want to see me happy.

That’s the thing about poly that gets missed so often: I think we truly want to see the people we love happy. And when things are going well, we are able to manage our emotions and reconcile jealousy (when it’s present) and send our partners a message that says, “Hey, I really hope you’re having a good time and hoping you get laid!”

And that’s what I got this weekend from my partner. Encouragement, excitement, a listening ear as I was driving home and laughing at the silly escapades and incredibly hot experiences on my date. I had a friend that messaged me, asking to hear anything I was willing to share because he was so excited for me. I’ve had days of secret smiles and fond musings over beautiful memories and anticipation for when we might make time to get together again (something that was a mutually agreed-upon desire). And on the way home, I took a few extra minutes to stop and get some flowers and a balloon (and some chicken noodle soup) because I also love my partner, and I wanted to take the time, in the midst of my happiness, to show him that I loved him, missed him, and thought of him.

And from my date? I looked at them and acknowledged that I felt like fucking them was an act of radical resistance, and they agreed. We had coffee and sex and went out for breakfast

locked-fingers
Source

(or, perhaps, lunch) at a diner and they held my hand and showed affection toward me publicly. It seems like a small thing, but it solidified the way that sex as resistance feels. That I am not just simply someone to desire privately, but relegated to platonic interactions beyond the bedroom. That they, someone who is predominantly read as male, are willing to hold my hand. That they are not ashamed.

And that’s something in and of itself. It’s not just what we do in the sheets, but how we act in the streets. When we are able to connect and feel these acts of radical resistance in bodies and sex and fucking and intimacy, and then we claim that by holding hands and showing affection publicly… that, in and of itself, is its own resistance. It’s a refusal to hide and fly under the radar and give into fear. Watching someone willingly shrug off the privilege they carry as a white-presenting, male-presenting person and choose, instead, to risk being associated with me, someone who is harassed almost daily for the way that I look… that is a type of courage that I respect, and feel honored to have witnessed and received.

So poly can be fun. It’s theoretical and analytical and please don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of conversations that happen around these moments. But when the conversations go well, and everyone is on the same page, and the relationships we have built are strong, then my partner can send me off on a date where sex will most likely happen, and text me encouragement and excitement and joy, where I can feel the compersion coming from him and I know that he is genuinely happy that I was able to get something I needed. The giddiness and feeling of radical resistance through fucking and holding hands over diner food, through carefully learning someone’s body and ways of moving, to begin to learn how my body can interact with their body, and what that feels like in a visceral way, and to come home and share those stories with my partner and watch the slow smile start blooming across their face as they nod and say, “I’m so glad you had a good date.”

Robin:

In 1993 or 1994 I wrote a poetic reflection on Ruth 4:7-17 to be read as part of the observance of “Lesbian and Gay Worship Week” at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (where I was a doctoral student).

revrobin2-023As Malachi and I have thought about how to draw upon biblical resources to further understanding of, and openness toward, non-monogamous relationships and families, I remembered the poem. I also remembered the commentary by Queer biblical scholar Mona West who describes “Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz’s decision to create their own family and define their own understanding of kinship and responsibility to one another within the context of the inheritance and kinship laws of ancient Israel.”  (The Queer Bible Commentary, SCM Press, 2006, pp. 190-194). West draws a clear connection between this ancient story and the ways Queer communities and persons have long been “creating our families.”

She does not explicitly connect this to polyamorous partners, nor did I when I wrote the poem. However, as I continue to explore the reality and beauty of non-monogamous relationships it is now clear to me that these three people chose to live in a form of polyamory, to create family for themselves and for their child, Obed, the ancient ancestor of King David and, if the Gospel accounts are to be believed, of Jesus.

the-queer-bible-commentary-amazon-com
amazon.com

Thus, a revised version of the poem, below, contains a few additional lines that reflect not only the evident polyamory but also seek to express some gender fluidity, not so much for Naomi, Ruth and Boaz as for all who are called women and men in the poem (and to reflect how Ruth pushes the boundaries of behavior by women of that time by her boldness in creating a relationship with Boaz).

In other words, this biblical text, like others, can show us how life, how God, opens up more truth than we previously knew, if we stay open to what we have not yet seen. With God, there is always more.

Meditation on Ruth 4:7-17

A son was born to Naomi
A son whose mother was Ruth
Naomi and Ruth bore a son
Boaz provided the seed
Naomi and Ruth provided the son
The women of the neighborhood provided a name
The women of the neighborhood said to Naomi and therefore also to Ruth who loved Naomi
Blessed be God who has not left you this day without next of kin
The women of the neighborhood said to Naomi who lost a husband and two sons
You shall be nourished by your son born to Ruth whose love is more dear to you than seven sons
The fidelity of Ruth and Naomi for one another brought forth a child from the womb of one
to the mothering breasts of the other.

This is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
not the Book of Boaz the Husband/Father nor the Book of Obed the Son
The Book of Ruth and Naomi because Ruth says to Naomi whom she loves more dearly than seven sons
where you go I will go
where you lodge I will lodge
your people shall be my people
your God my God
It is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
because Ruth was not a Hebrew but a Moabite
a foreigner who chose to live among the people of her mother-in-law
It is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
because their love the love of a Moabite woman for a Hebrew woman produces the ancestor of David the king of Judah
David the Israelite King has Moabite blood because of the love of Ruth and Naomi
It is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
because the women of the neighborhood call both women mother
because the women of the neighborhood name the child
claiming the power of naming the child born to the two women
this child Obed the Son of Woman.

Jesus the Son of God the Son of Man the Son of David the Son of Jesse the Son of Obed
the Son of Ruth and Naomi
all praise the love of Ruth and Naomi
who bear the ancestor of the ancestors of the King of Judah and the King of the Jews
All praise the love of Ruth and Naomi

Stop!

The value of the love of two women is not the men and kings they produce.
Perhaps King David danced naked in the public square because he was the son of Naomi and Ruth
Perhaps he loved Jonathan surpassing the love of men for women because he was the son of Naomi and Ruth
But the love of two women is sufficient unto itself

Perhaps Jesus cherished the one known as the beloved disciple in a special way because among his foremothers were Naomi and Ruth
Perhaps Jesus loved Lazarus most of all because his ancient mothers were Naomi and Ruth
But the love of two women is sufficient unto itself
The hunger of two loving women must be fed even if that means one sweats in the fields for Boaz by day and lies with him by night
The security of two women must be met even when that means one sends the other forth into an unfriendly world.

Women loving women men loving men
defining their own genders and desire
not dependent on birth certificates or the rules of others
make our way in that unfriendly world which demands we deny our desires
to make the world safe for Boaz.
But Boaz was not a bad man
he responded honorably in his time to Ruth and Naomi
but we no longer accept the necessity (or protection) of invisibility in the household of Boaz.
We who were once children loving one another in the first faint stirrings of pre-pubescent desire
are now grown to woman-loving-womanhood and man-loving-manhood
however we choose to define ourselves.

We are your children whom you do not see until we tell you who we are by whom we love
This very day some who are still children will die in despair at their own hands because they cannot yet find the voice to claim their love against the silence which blankets them in shame
They die at our hands too for our failure to hear them into speech
our failure to love them into love.

We who are grown to woman-loving-womanhood and man-loving-manhood
however we choose to define ourselves
We who kiss woman to woman man to man
who share the kiss of peace which disturbs the peace
We who believe in revolutionary love
also give life and love to children
who are the children of the promise of Ruth and Naomi.
Our children are born of women
into constellations of family, of parenthood, often dazzlingly complicated
not conforming to what is claimed by many to be the right and only way.
Two women using the semen of one man or several men whom they know or do not know
Two men asking a woman whom they know (and alas sometimes paying one they do not know) to bear the child of all three
Two women two men three women three men
Even a man and a woman who are not lovers except as they love a child
Two men one woman two women one man
bearing the children of their loins
or sometimes adopting the child unwanted or unclaimed by others.
The combinations are endless
the children are loved
with or without benefit of clergy
with or without blessing by the state
too often with suspicion by the social gaze.

The children are loved
by women by men in the neighborhood who give them their names
by women by men who are family without blood ties
whose blood is simultaneously thick with passion and care and a refusal to be invisible or silent
whose lust for life is predicated on and nourished by an honest lust for one another
and a lust for justice for the children — all children.
All praise the love of Ruth and Naomi
All praise the family of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz and Obed
All praise God who loves all, who is love.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your thoughts and reflections on Ruth 4:7-17? Have you had any experience with non-monogamy and unconventional relationships that have brought you joy to think on? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, February 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

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Workshop description: Non-Monogamy 2 continues from where a previous workshop ended. On December 15, 2016, Malachi and Robin delved into non-monogamy. Malachi described its various forms in contemporary culture and offered observations from personal experience. Robin commented on some of the positive aspects and understandings he has gained through learning more about non-monogamy and reflected on his own feelings (which are more positive than he would have thought). There was a good discussion among those participating on the call, and questions were raised. Malachi and Robin plan to offer more information, and specifically some responses to the questions. If you were unable to be present on December 15, we are hoping a video of the presentation (but not the discussion) will soon be available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Think It, You Can Kink It

More often than not, kink isn’t about whips and chains so much as it is about finding a way to creatively express who you are.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

Truthfully, I feel like I could write pages and pages on my experiences in kink and BDSM. I jokingly say that I’ve been kinky since I was 5 (which is only partially a joke), but in all honesty, kink has been such a vital part of my life, particularly in the past 6 years.

Completing our three-part series, “Sacred, Not Secret” on Thursday, January 19th, Robin and I will talk more from an educational and spiritual perspective on kink and BDSM. So today, I just want to write about what I have learned from kink, both from the community and from my sexual partners.

Before I get into that, though, a few words on language, semantics, and assumptions: “kink” and “BDSM” are often used interchangeably, although they mean different things. “BDSM” is a multifaceted acronym that means “Bondage/Discipline, Domination/Submission, Sadism/Masochism.” There are other dynamics that can fall under this heading (for example, M/s relationships are “Master/slave” relationships, rather than Masochist/Sadist dynamics), but in general, BDSM is describing certain intentions behind actions. S/M implies an intention of pain applied/received, D/s implies a level of emotional power exchange, B/D implies an intention of physical power exchange.

“Kink,” on the other hand, is more of an action, a thing you do. “My kinksBDSM_acronym are…” is a common beginning of a sentence, followed by a list of things a person likes doing. They may or may not come with a BDSM intention (For example, someone might have a kink for sex in public (exhibitionism), but only when it’s done in an established D/s relationship. Someone else might just have a kink for exhibitionism, but no interest in a D/s relationship.)

So, the two certainly overlap (think of a Venn diagram), but they are not synonymous. The other big assumption I want to tackle before diving into my own lessons learned is this: not all kink and BDSM is sexual. This is probably the hardest one to grasp, because I think non-kinky people (usually referred to as “vanilla”) can understand that some people need certain things in order to have an orgasm. Here we get into the distinction between “kink” and “fetish”: a fetish is defined as something someone requires in order to have sexual arousal. Fetishes are inherently sexual; kinks are not.

I tend to define kink as “anything that is used to help deepen and further your connection to yourself and/or your relationships with others.” Which is a really big and nebulous definition, but it incorporates kink as catharsis, kink as spirituality, kink as sexuality, kink as art, kink as community. Which brings me to…

If you can think it, you can kink it

It’s cheesy, but I have absolutely learned that anything (and when I say anything, I mean anything) can be a kink. From glitter to food to leather cleaning to smoking cigars to drinking coffee to cleaning to body painting to… the list is endless. And maybe this seems silly, but it has given me a place to allow my creativity to flourish. You think it would be fun if we ran around a field and play-wrestling and smacking each other with glitter? Let’s do it! I think it would be awesome to inflict pain via direct impact (e.g. kicking and punching someone) while periodically stopping to drink shots of coffee? Hey, let’s make this happen! You want to find a way to face a difficult and traumatic situation in your life by recreating it in a safe way? Let’s talk about what that means to you. It brings you great joy and peace to do someone’s dishes as a way of expressing your care for them as 10866118_10100347062366349_6573193232652256420_owell as quiets your own thoughts and helps you feel calm? I have a sink and plenty of dishes.

More often than not, kink isn’t about whips and chains so much as it is about finding a way to creatively express who you are. It’s silly and goofy and absurd and sometimes it’s hard and difficult and powerful, but it can just be… fun.

Learn yourself, know yourself

In kink, similar to poly, it is of the upmost importance to know what you want and, I would argue, work to understand those desires. If you like pain, great! What kind of pain? Sharp, stingy, thuddy, dull? How much pain? Rate on a scale of 1-10 the level that you enjoy experiencing. Do you want to stay at that level, or get pushed beyond it? Do you like small amounts of intense pain or long, slow amounts of a steady buildup of pain?

You like being restrained? Great! Do you enjoy the feeling of being unable to move? Or does it help you feel more present in your body? Does it make you feel afraid or safe to be tied up? Do you only want to be tied to furniture (e.g. a bed) or would you be interested in doing artistic rope?

malachi-rope
Photo Credit BDSLR

Knowing and understanding your desires not only helps you be able to talk about and ask for the things you want, but it also helps you understand what similar things you might also be interested in trying. For example, if you like being restrained because you enjoy the feeling of not being able to move, you might also like certain types of rope suspension (and not just handcuffs to the bed). If, however, you like being restrained because it helps you feel more present in your body, then you might also be interested in experimenting with different stimuli (pain, sensation, etc.) to see how that might contribute (or detract) from the feeling.

Understanding where we are coming from is crucial, not just because it helps us articulate what we want, but also because it helps inform and guide enthusiastic, informed consent.

Consent isn’t sexy; it’s mandatory.

Ok, so I think consent is also sexy. But it is mandatory to get consent before interacting in any way with another person. Different communities do this differently, but for me, I recognize that my lessons inside both radical and kink scenes (both of which, for me, were consent-focused) has made me more aware of the ways in which I interact with people outside of those settings.

I ask before I hug someone, unless I know them well enough that we have given one another permission to hug without asking. I ask before I touch someone else’s things- be it a book on someone’s book shelf, or sitting on someone’s bed. I am aware of how close I am standing to people in line at the coffeeshop, aware of people’s personal space, aware of body language signals that imply whether or not it is welcome to approach someone. I ask before broaching emotionally-loaded conversations to make sure that the person I’m talking to is in a space to have those conversations.

It comes from navigating spaces in which enthusiastic consent is expected. As I was saying above, knowing where a desire is coming from is a vastly important aspect of the kink scene because of enthusiastic,

sussexstudent.com
sussexstudent.com

informed consent. For example, if someone wants a situation (also called a “scene”) that will cause them a lot of pain because they like the endorphins, that’s a very different situation than someone who wants to do a scene that will cause them a lot of pain because they are dealing with a traumatic experience and want to find a cathartic way to deal with that. The person inflicting the pain might be fine with the former, but not able to deal with the emotional fallout from the latter (and that is completely fine). So we have to have consent- not just to be touched in certain ways or subjected to certain sensations and experiences, but also to decide what situations we want to engage in.

Fear

Kink is an amazing way to face all kinds of fears. For me personally, kink has truly helped me dismantle many of my thoughts, feelings, and assumptions about my interactions with cisgendered men and allow myself to be physically and emotionally vulnerable and connected in a way that I had not experienced before. Allowing cismen to tie me up, for example, has been a really powerful experience for me- not just because I like the feeling of rope, but also because I put myself in a position where someone had power over me, and I had to yield to that feeling of vulnerability and learn to trust that I was safe.

I have utilized kink to deal with sexual trauma, fear of queer-bashing, internalized distrust of cismen, feelings of inadequacy, and fear of the unknown. I hope that I would have found a way to confront these fears outside of the kink scene; however, for me, the kink scene was immeasurably helpful in propelling my own healing in these areas, and I do not feel like I would be in the place that I am without my engagement in the kink scene.

I have a hard time imaging what kind of image this paints for someone who is not intimately involved in kink or BDSM (see Robin’s observations below). Kink is so many things to so many people, and the only blanket statement I can make about kink is that you can’t make any blanket statements. Every person’s experiences are different and come from a different place.  Kink has taught me a lot about who I am and how I want to navigate the world. My way isn’t the only way, but it feels real and authentic to me. Kink has helped me be a better version of myself: more honest and open, better able to articulate and hold to boundaries, to understand the process the world that I live in. I celebrate who I am- the serious and the goofy, the sexual and the platonic, the spiritual and the embodied, and watch the lines between these black-and-white dichotomies slowly fade to gray.

Robin:

revrobin2-023About a year ago, as I sat at a meeting, a church lay leader told the group that she and her partner were in a dominant/submissive relationship. I was delighted by her honesty, her courage, and frankly also intrigued because she suddenly seemed like a more interesting person than I had imagined.

At that point I had no real knowledge of what she meant. What I was sure about is that she and her partner were not the only people in the congregation with those interests and practices in their lives. Her revelation was related to the discussion—namely how to talk about sex in a church context—and helped frame and explain her point of view, but it was not central to our main topic. Still, I now note with interest that I did not seek her out later to learn more, despite my usual interest in all things sexual.

You can't say that in church jasonkoon net
jasonkoon.net

There are several reasons for this, I think.  The first may be that this whole subject felt scary to me. It certainly presses all my internalized buttons about feeling a need to appear “normal.” Not just in church, but in our society generally, dominant/submissive sex or life in general is not considered mainstream.  Nice people avoid this, or at least avoid talking about it, and certainly do not admit to being interested or involved.

Of course, in another sense this is nonsense. We live in a world where we are dominated in one way or another, and many, maybe most, if not all, of us, are dominant sometimes. Just think about our current political realm. I doubt I need to use names of some dominant people very much in the headlines these days. Those of us who are parents, not to mention bosses or owners of various enterprises, have certainly dominated others at times. The truth is we, or at least I, live in denial about the place of dominance and submission in life.

And I am aware, now, that I had a preconceived idea about what dominant/submissive meant—mainly that one put the other through pain. I am not a big fan of pain of any sort.

The reality, as I am learning, is that being “dom and sub” is not so simple. Yes, some activities are about physical pain. But others can be more about psychological needs—as Malachi has told me, for example, being submissive can be an opportunity to let go of all your needs to meet some internalized standard or set of standards about your looks or behavior, standards that for many of us are heavy burdens to bear through most of our lives.

So, as Malachi and I prepare to lead an online discussion on kink/BDSM, I am learning more about this way of sharing and celebrating lives and bodies. I know that people engage in activities that meet their needs—emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual—and that is good for them, and for the rest of us, too, when people are finding personal satisfaction and fulfillment. What I also know is that I can learn from them about what they do and why they do it, and in the process I will learn more about myself. I may even discover something I want to do that I never knew about, or even knew I wanted.

So far, I have only delved a little, with Malachi’s help, into the world of what practitioners usually call “kink,” what I and others, if we are feeling particularly sophisticated, may call BDSM (activities, often sexual but not always, involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomacocism), I have read articles and watched a lecture and visited a website, fetlife.com.  It is all very educational for me.

fetlife-logoAs I perused fetlife.com, I did not think there would be anything to catch my fancy, but I have discovered that exhibitionism is a popular activity. That certainly is something I have long known was part of me and as part of my education I am seeking to learn more.

What I am already learning is that there are many kinds of exhibitionism; and as I continue looking around, I discover that the larger world of kink seems almost limitless. Malachi told me, “if you think it, you can kink it,” and I am beginning to see that truth.

This raises up a positive attribute I am seeing in my explorations, namely that “kinksters” know what they want and they say so. They also appear to know how much of it they want and how often, and any limits they need to set. I think many of us could learn from this, especially perhaps when it comes to sex. Frank conversations with our partner(s) are, I observe, too rare in many more traditional relationships. Many of us are victims of an old attitude of “don’t talk about it” when it comes to sex. Frankly, our sex lives, and the world, would be a better place if many of us were more honest about sex, if we really named our needs and desires.

The other thing I am observing is the centrality of consent and trust. Kinksters know that for their needs and desires to be met they need others whose needs and desires also are deserving of respect. And this means honoring limits as well as dreams and fantasies. All of this builds trust. And trust is key to good sex, as in all forms and venues of intimacy.

Imagine if our entire world could learn that while sex can often be playful, it is not a game of one getting something from another or one lording it over others. It is about satisfaction and joy and deep feelings of wellness and pleasure for all involved.

tie me up
http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/img-thing?.out=jpg&size=l&tid=144025376

And then there is play. BDSM people often enact what they call “scenes,” meaning that by dreaming and planning together they create shared time for pleasure and intimacy—time that involves their bodies as well as a setting and often some sort of equipment or toys. Costumes can be involved, too. If the scene is complicated, or involves new types of activity to one or more of the participants, practice may be necessary. This can sound serious, but like much satisfying play, sexual or otherwise, organization can be important, and even practice can be pleasurable.

There is so much more to kink than these few notes. I am learning that it is not all about sex. Some rope tying I watched did not seem sexual to me and I was even bored through much of it. But it seemed satisfying to the participants.

So, I am beginning to see that this is all more involved than I could have imagined—and very rich and satisfying for those whose needs and desires it satisfies.

What seems clear to me is that once again I can learn from others whose desires, attitudes, and activities are different from my own. There is no room for judgment, no need for fear. Instead, we can affirm people who are consensually pleasing, supporting, and even stretching each other. The world needs more of that, not less.

I hope you will join us next Thursday, January 19 online for further remarks from Malachi and me, and a time for participants to share their thoughts and feelings, too. Details below.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

Who has impacted your understanding of how you navigate the world as a sexual and/or queer person? What people have had an impact on your experiences and pushed you to be the best versions of yourself? What was it about those people that made such a substantial impact? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, January 19th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm

We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 19th for the third part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On January 19, they will continue to explore non-normative relationship structures and practices, focusing this time on kink and BDSM. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of these sexual activities, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to practitioners–because do not doubt that you know and interact with them, in church and elsewhere.

Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.

Holy Fantasy, Holy Reality

. . . holy communion without bread and wine, bodies spirits shared . . . .

We found ourselves recently talking about sexual fantasy. We decided to write about it from our personal perspectives, believing that this is a healthy form of expression (whether we actually enact the fantasy or not). Our writing took us in different directions and we decided to share one this week by Robin and one the next week by Malachi.

NOTE: This week’s offering may push religious boundaries, even shock some readers. 

Robin:

I begin by warming the organic coconut oil
(necessary in cooler months),
come into my prayer space naked as I was created,
lighting three candles, one for each companion
with whom I yearn to sit;
I place a cloth on the chair and sit
dipping my hand into the oil,
lovingly rub it on my flaccid cock
and greet Holy Parent, Beloved Son, Blessed/Blessing Spirit,
saying Thank You, God, Thank You, God, Thank You, God,
sometimes down the shaft on Thank You, up on God,
over and over, slowly, intentionally, wanting to experience God,
sometimes feeling energy around me, Thank You, God,
I feel you God, You are here, in my cock, yes, and body,
and around me, a largeness of space bigger than the room;
and soon I say Help me, God, Help me, God, Help me, God,
saying in between the names of loved ones in need,
Help me, God, Help them, God, Help me help them, God,
sometimes down the shaft on Help me, up on God,
and then again, Thank You, God, down and up, Thank You, God.
I continue for more down and up,
and in a while I begin to feel,
and to see in my mind’s eye,
my three companions,
similarly naked, each partaking of sacred oil
for their bodies, laying it generously
on Parental cock and clitoris, wondrous unity,
Son’s cock, Spirit’s clitoris, each amazing in perfection,
each and all of us feeling a warm blessing and communion,
I begin by saying, You are here, Thank You,
down on You are here, up on Thank You.
and after a while I say, I am here, So blessed,
down on I am here, up on So blessed,
and after some of that, I say, We are here, Joy!
down on We are here, up on Joy!
(and for some round and round, circling, raising the joy).
The movements can even become heated at times,
we sharing some energy, erotic connection,
sighing with pleasure, sometimes crying out
with rushes that can take us to peak
without falling over the other side.

I have more to say, words they already know,
But I am learning to say the prayer
Jesus taught, in Aramaic,
so I say, Abwoon d’bwashmaya
ah-b-woon dahb-wash-maya
(hearing from the tradition, Our Father/Creator)
Our birth in unity, O Birther,
Father Mother of the Cosmos,
down on Ab-woon, up on d’bwashmaya,
down on Our birth in unity, up on O Birther,
down on Father Mother, up on of the Cosmos,
and back to down on Ab-woon, up on d’bwashmaya,
repeating this sequence as many times as feels right.
After a while, I say: Nethqadash shmakh
nit-kadahsh sh-mahk
(hearing from the tradition, Hallowed be Your Name)
Clear space for the Name to live,
Focus Your light and dark within, make it useful,
down on Nethqadash, up on shmakh,
down on Clear space, up on for the Name to live,
down on Focus your light and dark within, up on make it useful,
repeating this sequence as many times as feels right.
After a while, I say: Teytey malkuthakh,
tā-tā malkootahk
(hearing from the tradition, Your Kingdom/realm come)
Creative Fire,
Create Your reign of unity now,
down on Teytey, up on malkuthakh,
down on Creative, up on fire,
down on Create Your reign, up on of unity now.

After more, I offer thanks again, down and up,
as we four gathered, peace and joy reflected
in the candlelight, small smiles of satisfaction
now and again crossing one face or another,
the up and down sometimes slow
sometimes more urgent, always sacred,
holy communion without bread and wine,
bodies spirits shared,
enjoying ourselves as if it were Eden again.
Perhaps it is.

aramaic-lords-prayer-pictureNOTE: If you are interested in the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, you might appreciate this YouTube video (beautiful images and a pleasant voice).

 

 

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about sexual fantasy? Is it part of your sex life? Do you ever write about your fantasies? Share them with your partner(s) or friends. Do you ever fantasize about lovemaking with religious figures? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.

Sexual Repression: Systemic and Personal

I remember being ashamed of my body and sexuality, even from a very young age.

by Malachi Grennell and Robin Gorsline

Introduction:

Next week, on August 18, in the first monthly installment of the online workshop, “Sex, Bodies, Spirit,” Rev. Robin and Malachi are going to take a look at the roots of sex-negativity and sexual repression within Western Christianity. In preparation for this workshop, we have read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise as well as contemplated our own experiences with sexual repression. You can learn more about the workshop, and how you can participate, at the end of this blog.

Malachi:

Malachi GrennellIn some ways, I feel as though my understandings and experiences with sexual repression retrospectively change as I have a better understanding of the world around me. For much of my life, for example, I felt that, because I was raised in a lesbian home, I didn’t experience sexual repression. I know now, of course, that although I was raised in a somewhat open and affirming home, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of sexual repression.

I spent a considerable amount of my pubescent teenage years terrified of  getting pregnant (and, as a result, terrified of having sex with cis-male people). When I tried to discuss birth control with one of my mothers, I got a 2 hour lecture about the dangers of hormonal birth control in teenage women and an offer to buy me a vibrator to take care of my own sexual urges without risking pregnancy. I declined and never broached the subject again.

pregnancy test
http://www.newhealthadvisor.com/images/1HT03997/pregnancy_test_positive1-495×236.jpg

I think back on this conversation with mixed emotions. On one hand, I did learn some valuable information about the biology of hormonal birth control and its effectiveness over the long-term. On the other hand, the conversation felt as though it didn’t actually address the issues I was dealing with. I wanted to find a way to be intimate with my then-boyfriend of nearly 3 years; my mom was trying to help me find a way to satisfy my sexual desires. I had already figured out masturbation- that didn’t answer my deeper question about how to be sexual while protecting myself from unwanted pregnancy.

Although I grew up in a lesbian household, I still had incredibly heteronormative ideas about what constituted “sex.” Penetration was the dividing line between foreplay and sex (regardless of what (fingers, dildos, etc.) was doing the penetrating) and the role of masturbation was a stop-gap when intimacy with another person wasn’t possible and urges needed to be managed. The concept of masturbation as a sacred act- or even one that could be done with a partner- was a foreign concept that didn’t enter my sexual consciousness until my early twenties, when I met my spouse.

what-is-sex
http://ubyssey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/what-is-sex.png

This is perhaps one key element that has been vital to the concept of sexual repression (and subsequent liberation): defining what sex “is.” The way that sex is currently defined (usually penis-in-vagina, or PIV) leaves a lot to be desired. Beyond the increased risk for the transmission of STI’s, it allows us to lie to ourselves about what we are doing. If we are struggling with sexual repression and therefore have shame, etc. around engaging in “real” sex, then this provides a loophole for us to be intimate with another person without ever admitting what we are actually doing.

In addition to all of this, I grew up with one mother who desperately wanted me to be a heterosexual woman because she didn’t want me to suffer and struggle with my sexuality (as she had). While I’m sure she feels differently now, at the time, her desire for me to be a heterosexual woman was very much interpreted by my teenage self as an internalized homophobia. If she loved and was happy with her life and identities, why wouldn’t she want that for me? Or better yet, why wouldn’t she simply encourage me to be authentic and love myself rather than fixate on a “gold star standard” of relationship practices? In all of this, I understood “heterosexual woman” to be better than “homosexual woman”- and “transmasculine queer man” is definitely not on the list of things she wanted for me. But even growing up in a lesbian home, I felt a certain sense of shame and fear to “come out” to my mother… when I first started dating a girl, but even more so as a trans person.

I hope she sees herself and her life with more joy than she seemed to then. I say this, but recognize that she still mispronouns me (refers to me as “she” and “girl” and “daughter”) despite the fact that I have been out as trans for over 10 years now. I believe she sees some things as better than others, and I think she wanted “better” for me than what I have, which is sad, because I think what I have is pretty dang awesome.

(Since I have lesbian mothers, I recognize that referencing “my mother” can be confusing. One of my mothers, an MCC pastor, is incredibly affirming- I have referenced her in previous posts. The mother to which I am referring now is my biological mother.)

orgy
http://ih1.redbubble.net/image.7797862.4997/pp,375×360.jpg

I don’t want to digress too far, but sexual repression was very much a part of my upbringing- even being raised in a queer home. I have come to recognize that there is a different level of scrutiny that queer families had in the late 80’s/early 90’s that, perhaps, prohibited discussions of sex even more drastically than heterosexual families of the same time. I remember being ashamed of my body and sexuality, even from a very young age. It wasn’t always something my parents said, but it was an attitude… an internalization of self-shame that was incredibly transparent to my childhood and teenage self.

I started having sex when I was 16. When I went to college (just after my 18th birthday), years of sexual repression came pouring out of me, and I started sleeping with anyone I could. I wasn’t safe and responsible. I didn’t get tested and didn’t often use barriers (because I was sleeping with people who were assigned female at birth, I was woefully ignorant that STI transmission could still occur). As often happens when something is considered taboo (e.g. alcohol, sex, etc.), when we are able to access it, we don’t often proceed with caution or moderation. Years of sexual repression coupled with a fear of being “bad in bed” led me to sleep with many, many people in a very short period of time.

I’m sure I didn’t always practice the best consent methods (not in the sense of forcing/coercing someone, but in the sense of “no means no” rather than “yes means yes” consent model). I didn’t have the tools to navigate the world as a responsible, sexual adult; instead, years of pent-up sexual longing exploded out of me in the span of a few months. I felt like everyone else had already been having sex for years and knew what they were doing and I was going to get left behind. The perhaps most frightening of all, because I was so out of touch with myself, my body, and my sexuality, when others turned their attentions to me, I didn’t always know how to say no…or believe that I was allowed to say no.

dental1
http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/sites/default/files/files/styles/large/public/field/image/dental1.jpg

There were a couple of women I knew through church that I felt comfortable talking to, but I still worried they would judge me for my actions because, well…they were church folk. Much to my surprise (and relief), one of them taught me about dental dams, safety, and STI testing. But there wasn’t a place I knew I could go to talk about my fears and concerns. MCC was a safe haven for LGBT folks, and the LGB part, at least, related to who we were sexually attracted to… and yet. If there was ever a place or opportunity to talk about sex, it was not geared toward the young adults (and I learned, after showing up to a workshop on HIV, that my parents got very uncomfortable talking about sex when I was in the room). There was no place to ease the pressure and talk, and I didn’t see the people around me talking about it, which meant that everyone else had it figured out, and I was lost.

Sexual repression has very much been a part of my upbringing, intentionally or not. As I have begun to do more work to parse through some of my own hangups, I realize how much of them come from a place of fear, shame, and secrecy. As we pivot toward a discussion about the roots of sex-negativity in Western Christianity, I encourage each person to consider ways in which they have had to battle/navigate sexual repression (both in and out of the context of faith). Understanding the history of our faith within the context of our own lives can be a powerful step toward healing and bridging these tender places inside each of us.

Robin:

I don’t know when I first heard words that told me that sex was a bad thing, but I imagine that was when I realized that it was not to be talked about.  As children, we often learn not only from what adults say but also what they do not say, and certainly their body language in both instances.

revrobin2-023I certainly knew in 4th Grade, as I entered puberty, that my fantasies about Bob S. (and a few other boys, but especially Bob) in my class were something to keep to myself.  And in 6th grade, I knew that the delight of another friend, Bob H., at seeing Bob S. naked and describing his “amazing, really big” penis, was somehow embarrassing, if not wrong (as well as feeling jealous that I did not see it, too). Now, much of this is what I imagine most, if not all, adolescents (at least in the United States) go through, struggling to figure out what to do with these burgeoning hormones sweeping through parts of our bodies and overwhelming our brains.

On the one hand, we want to know more, and on the other, we fear raising the subject. For most of us, the silence is deafening, broken only by various comments among contemporaries, many of which simply add to the confusion.

This is where, for me at least, the church comes in.

teenage-and-sexual-problems hormonals slideshare net-11-638
slideshare.net

I grew up in a small Midwestern Episcopal Church, not a hellfire and brimstone kind of place, but a calm, ordered environment where we read three biblical passages every Sunday and the priest expounded on at least one of them. I was blessed to have a priest, beginning in my middle adolescence and many years beyond, who was especially enamored of the Hebrew texts, but he certainly spoke about the Gospel and Paul and other writings.

I have no memory of ever hearing that good man speak openly against sex, but then I never heard him speak for it, either. Mostly, what I heard rarely was, if ever, about bodies at all, except when he taught about the war between flesh and spirit; flesh=bad (or at least dangerous), Spirit=good.

[There were two times he was very clear with me personally: one was to tell me, “I will find help for you,” when I told him I had sexual feelings for other men; the other was when he told me not to come back to church again, when I wrote him from seminary to come out as a gay man. ]

This is most interesting to me now, because of what I have learned about Jewish attitudes toward sex, going back to the earliest days of that faith, including the encouragement to married couples to have sex on the Sabbath in order to “hallow the day,” as Daniel Helminiak writes in “Sex as a Spiritual Exercise,” which you can find here. )

real-jewish-wedding-chuppah-ceremony themodernjewishwedding com
themodernjewishwedding.com

Of course, that specific teaching did not apply to me until much later, but that good priest eventually presided at my wedding, and he did not speak of that with me and my wife-to-be in our pre-marital sessions. My memory is further that I was relieved that he did not speak of sex at all with us, given the fact that he knew of my strong homoerotic desires when I had gone to him while in college seeking help (he referred me to a psychiatrist with whom I worked for the better part of a year, but ultimately, years later, after marriage, children, and divorce, her help was insufficient to erase my desires).

I recount this not to criticize this spiritual guide (who gave me much wisdom) so much as to suggest that the powerful anti-sex proscriptions of Christian practice wreak havoc with many lives. Where does all this come from?

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01
Daniel Helminiak visionsofdaniel.net

Malachi and I will be talking more about this on August 18 at 3 p.m. EDT during this month’s MCC online workshop, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity” on Sex, Bodies, Spirit, but I can say now that I share Helminiak’s view that most of this is not due to actual Christian texts, and certainly not Jesus, and not even so much to Paul, but rather to the influence of non-Christian philosophies and movements which the Church took in and laid over the top of those texts and our Lord.  In saying that, I am still holding church fathers of old and of now (and I count myself among this latter number) responsible for what happened, and what still happens.

Indeed, what some MCC veterans say about the time, early in our movement, when the church talked more openly about sex, may parallel what happened to the early church. The desire for members, indeed even for survival, and certainly as part of what seems to be a natural human desire to “fit in,” has caused MCC to stop such talk, to even stop making the connection between our founding and sex (for more on this point, see my earlier post in another online venue, “What’s Sex Got to Do with It?”).

naked het couple stick figure line through fengshuichat com
fengshuichat.com

Given that Christianity is grounded in the claim that God incarnated God’s self in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that in doing so validated yet again the centrality of embodied spiritual life (the Hebrew biblical texts are, again and again, a demonstration of God’s activity in, among and through human bodies), it seems odd to say the least that we now hide our bodies so much. And I am not meaning only in the opposition to, and embarrassment of, nudity (although as a nudist myself, I do mean that), but also in how we so rarely speak about our bodies positively in spiritual terms.

As a lifelong participant in Christian worship, I am hard-pressed to think of more than a handful of times, other than in prayers for the sick, when bodies have even occasioned a brief mention. As for sex, or sexuality, I can think of no times, not even really in prayers for justice for LGBTQI people. Never sex.

This silence reminds me of the time, when I was in high school, I told my parents, “I think I might be homosexual,” and they simply looked at each other and returned to watching the television program I had interrupted, not saying a word. And it reminds me of the time my mother caught me masturbating. “Stop that disgusting thing right now!” she said and then left the room, never to speak of it again.

priest-shhh-akacatholic com
akacatholic.com

In my view, the church has abdicated our responsibility to teach about, indeed to encourage practice of, the amazing and powerful link between our bodies and our spiritual selves. The sex-negativity of Western Christianity has allowed other forces—often in our day, corporations and advertisers, and media seeking followers—to make bodies and sex commodities to be pedaled, often through intentional titillation right up to the edge of “decency” (whatever that means) and teasingly to bump the boundary a little further at times. The result is that sex is not exactly an “open secret”—it seems we cannot get away from it ever, especially today on social media and the internet—but at the same time it is such a secret, a subject we all know about but know at the same time it is one that we should never really engage.

We will never change this if we do not figure out how we got here, and commit to a long struggle to undo the deep damage done to the world, and especially to billions of wonderfully embodied beloveds of God right here, right now.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What types of sexual repression have you experienced? Did they come from family, peers, the church, or other places? How have those experienced shaped, helped, or hindered your sexual expression as an adult? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please feel free to join us THURSDAY, August 18th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 1, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Rev. Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com
 Workshop description: In this first session, Rev. Robin and Malachi lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.
As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (1 credit for each session with full participation) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.

People’s Lives Are At Stake

revrobin2-023Robin: This past Saturday, I facilitated a workshop with 14 people at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. I had a great time, and they did, too, I think, focusing on the topic, “Sexuality and Spirituality: An Introduction.”

We learned, we shared, we laughed, some of us even cried—all in an atmosphere of openness where people talked about sex and spirit in a variety of ways. We agreed to convene again for more.

As the instigator of all this, and the designated teacher of the day (although most everyone in the room taught the rest of us something as the day unfolded), I came away floating with joy.

Then I came home and read newspapers from the previous few days, and realized how much of an anomaly this time had been.  And during Sunday morning worship, Rev. Cathy Alexander mentioned the workshop in glowing terms, and encouraged others to join the next one because, as she said, “It’s okay to talk about sex in church.” Her comment was met with silence (and this congregation is rarely silent).

The political climate in our country right now is not very open to talking candidly about sex, and certainly not to connect sex and spirit in positive ways. If you read the Republican platform adopted last week in Cleveland you realize that for that group, sex—other than heterosexual monogamous sex, presumably in the missionary positon—is wrong. Even evil.

And this attitude—including demanding a roll-back of legal same-sex

http://queerty-prodweb.s3.amazonaws.com/content/docs//2016/07/cleveland-craigslist-m4m.jpg
http://queerty-prodweb.s3.amazonaws.com/content/docs//2016/07/cleveland-craigslist-m4m.jpg

marriages—comes across clearly even as male escorts/sex workers in Cleveland report a marked upsurge in demand, and female ones a decline (see here for news report). The males reporting this trend among delegates indicated that most of the men were married, and appeared to be first-timers.

At the convention, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump drew cheers for speaking about a “dark time” in the United States, a time of economic, military, and social decline. At the same time, he appears unwilling to speak about sexual trends in this negative way—in some ways seeming to tell us what a great lover he is, not only with three wives but other women as well—even as many of his allies among more conservative Christian clergy and others are speaking about the horrors of addiction to pornography and masturbation. We don’t know how many of them were active with the men of Cleveland, but if history is any guide, at least some of these campaigners are leading double lives.

Neither that nor Trump’s reticence provide me any comfort, because I feel sure that if he needs to come down hard (pun initially unintended but as I thought about it more, it seemed apt) against sexual “sins” to keep his supporters happy, he will do so. And they will cheer.

We are in a difficult time. I fear that an agenda of openness to things like sex and sexuality, that society has for long tried to keep locked up, will result in harsh outcomes for many advocates for change, and, more importantly and alarmingly, a tightening of the social grip for control on everyone.

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/k1paQiWFhfo/maxresdefault.jpg
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/k1paQiWFhfo/maxresdefault.jpg

I want to believe that much of the pushback by Republicans and others is in response to gains made—not only the sea shift in marriage law, but also growing public acceptance of the change, not to mention the rapid rise of positive discussion of transgender people (not that real change in law and practice has kept up with this seeming shift), and a willingness in some circles to begin conversations about polyamory and other sexual practices far from what has been the mainstream. And I believe that is a big part of the cause.  Social gains by any group nearly always result in push back by others.

But this trend is linked to many other factors as well. Perceptions, and reality, of economic decline for industrial workers, and the belief (mostly incorrect) that their situation is driven by a flood of immigrants is a key piece: Thus, the cheers for building a wall and “sending them home.” We have many people who do not see gains by others in society as something to cheer about. Instead, they see conspiracies to deny them dignity and the living conditions they used to enjoy.

This includes those who are sure that African Americans are to blame,BLM_Letterhead getting “special privilege” through affirmative action policies and practices, while others of them simultaneously are breaking the law and getting shot or imprisoned as they deserve. These are the people for whom the Black Lives Matter movement feels like a threat, because they want to assert that their lives matter, indeed they say, “All Lives Matter,” as if those in BLM movement, and their supporters (like me), do not believe that, too.

And then there is the rise of a woman to be President—coming on top of two terms by a Black man. Many of these people, including it seems Donald Trump, do not believe he was ever or now is legitimately the President (illegitimacy, they might say, being rampant among African Americans), and now we have “that woman,” who needs to be locked up or hung. Whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton as a candidate or President, I trust you can admit that the language of the chants aimed at her at the Republican National Convention crossed the line of civil political discourse in our nation.

Mangus Hirschfeld
Mangus Hirschfeld

This is the environment in which many of us are attempting to broaden and deepen the discourse around sexuality. I begin to have glimmers about how Magnus Hirschfeld and others felt in the latter years of Weimar Germany as the Nazis and others rose to power (don’t know about Hirschfeld? Click here).

Before anyone thinks I am calling Trump a Nazi, or even a fascist, let me be clear. This is a lot bigger than one man, no matter what the size of his wannabe presidential penis. At the same time, I am interested in any evidence of insecurity by either Hitler or Mussolini about their respective male organs–it is clear to me that all share some basic insecurity.

Nor am I claiming that our modest project of seeking to change the church from sex-negative to sex-positive ranks, so far, anywhere close to all that Hirschfeld did.

But I am saying that the effort to open up our social system to the beauty and joy and sacredness of sexuality faces a daunting challenge, not only because for so long the church has kept it locked up in judgments of sin and ugliness but also in the face of rightwing efforts, often led and validated by religious leaders, to clamp down on any social change in the areas of sex, race, ethnicity, and gender/gender identity and expression.

That makes our work all the more necessary, no matter what they say. People’s lives are at stake.

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The political climate is terrifying.

On the heels of the Republican National Convention (RNC), many are confused as to how we got to where we are. I think many of us could not fathom the possibility that Donald Trump would become the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Certainly not; someone will step in and knock it off, and we would all breathe a little easier, laughing at the absurdity of “President Trump.” And yet here we are.

Recently, NPR published an interesting article about the concept of “echo chambers” on our social media pages. The idea is that the internet has a learning algorithm that keeps track of what we engage with, what we click on, what we’re interested in, and then shows us media and advertisements based on our interests. The unfortunate byproduct of this algorithm is that our perspective and worldview is constantly reinforced to the point that many people believe that their perspective is the general population’s perspective.

What does any of this have to do with sexuality or bodies or spirituality?

Image of protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Image of protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

Just this: we saw an explosion of advertisements during the RNC in Cleveland seeking male escorts for men. We saw an explosion of Craigslist ads during the RNC seeking discrete, one-night male hookups for men attending the RNC. (see here and here)

I wonder what the echo chambers for members and delegates of the RNC look like. I don’t have to wonder too hard; I can imagine fairly easily based on the (frankly, alarming) language used on primetime television at the convention. And from there, it is not a difficult leap to understand where this overwhelming desire for male sex came from.

The unfortunate truth is, we are surrounded by opinions that agree with us. We select friends that hold similar perspectives, and the internet selects media that is most likely to appeal to our values. How, then, do we facilitate a conversation about sex and sexuality in this climate? How do we facilitate open dialogue about sex and bodies and gender and things that are difficult and push us in such a polarized climate?

I am afraid of the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. I am afraid for my family and my safety. But I am also afraid that the many, many steps we’ve taken to move forward as faith communities and people will be pushed back until we are further away from our goals than when we started. Although I certainly moan and groan about how far we yet have to

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http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/faithwithwisdom/files/2011/06/love-makes-a-family-t-shirts_design.png

come as a culture and society, the reality is

  • Sodomy is no longer illegal
  • Interracial marriage is no longer illegal
  • Same-sex marriage is no longer illegal
  • Women (although still facing extreme prejudices and difficulties) are more empowered than ever
  • Families are much more fluid and able to be defined in a myriad of ways
  • There is significantly more visibility for trans people to speak about unique issues facing us every day

The world we live in is far from perfect. But we are slowly coming to enjoy more and more freedoms and we grow stronger in our love and support of one another.

Under a Donald Trump presidency, I worry that our bodies will become criminalized. Not even necessarily for gender, but for not meeting the white standards of beauty that surround us. Women fired for being “too fat.” Women belittled for refusing sexual advances. I can’t imagine the fate of trans people under a Donald Trump presidency, but I guarantee it isn’t pretty (just look at his running mate!).

This is not a man who holds sex as sacred, but one who has been accused of rape on multiple occasions. How do we begin to have a conversation about the holiness, the sacredness, the equality of sex when we are discussing a man who treats sex as a weapon?

This isn’t just about Trump, but about the movement that has come out of

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http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/behold/2014/05/3.jpg.CROP.cq5dam_web_1280_1280_jpeg.jpg

the woodwork. A movement that seeks to homogenize the United States to look, think, and act in the ways they do. This is not a movement welcoming diverse thoughts and experiences and ideas, but one that has a prescription for how to do things “the right way.” And in the midst of that, we see people unable to live their sexual selves authentically, seeking instead to quietly solicit gay men in an effort to get their sexual needs met without compromising their public values.

Please don’t get me wrong: I see absolutely nothing wrong with utilizing the services of sex workers and the sex industry. I do, however, recognize the hypocrisy in presenting the most anti-LGBT platform in the history it the party while behaving differently behind closed doors. I see hypocrisy when states passing the most oppressive anti-LGBT laws are also among the highest consumers of gay porn (see here and here). But more than hypocrisy, I see a movement that does not allow freedom of thought or diversity of expression.

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http://www.catholicismusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEXUAL-REV2.jpg

Those of us who believe in the power of sexual revolution must continue to speak. We must continue to share our truths and become radically committed to living our full, true, authentic selves. Because if there is not space for members of the Republican caucus to deviate from the platform, there will not be space for the rest of us- the non-monogamous people, the non-binary trans people, the kinky people, the progressive people, the people actively working to fight oppression in our communities.

We must speak, for our voices are the strongest tools we have. We must speak out loud, pray out loud, fuck out loud, live out loud our beliefs, get outside of our own echo chambers, and create help create the space for vastness of the image of God to be seen- not because we all project the same image, but because we express the immense diversity of God.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How are you feeling about the political/social climate in the U.S. right now? What are some ways you respond to it to keep you from despair, and to help resist it? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

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Is Your Body a Wholly Presence?

The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality . . . we give thanks for the ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

At the recent MCC General Conference in Victoria, BC, Canada, Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache and Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos co-hosted a workshop, “Hooking Up: Frank Talk About Sex and Spirit.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache
Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache

Five panelists shared for about eight minutes each on particular topics. They were Rev. Miller Hoffman on sex talk and ministry to survivors of sexual abuse, Rev. Victoria Burson on issues that sex talk might raise in the black church setting, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline on aging and how we might talk sex cross-generationally, Rev. Kate Rowley Harford on how body imagery and shame impact sex talk, and Rev Dr. Edgard Francisco Danielsen-Morales on talking polyamory.

Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos

The workshop was well attended, discussion was lively, and there was considerable energy in the room. The session ended with Tom and Kharma leading the assemblage in the liturgy we reprint below (with permission of the author, Tom Bohache).

 

TOM
Source of Love
Savior of Wholeness
Sustainer of Passion

KHARMA
We thank you for this time of sharing, of questioning, of seeking.
Help us to live into all of who you have created us to be.

TOM
Teach us to expand our comfort zones and to deal gently with one another as we do so.
Hear us now as we offer our very selves to you.
The response is “Bless them, O God.”

KHARMA
We offer to you our sexualities.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our spirits.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our minds and our intellect.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our bodies in all their beauty and in all of what we see as flaws, in our abilities and our limitations.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our heads–our eyes with which we behold your creation, our noses through which we smell what arouses us, our ears with which we hear endearments and sighs and moans, our mouths with which we kiss and lick and bite and suck.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our hands and our feet, with which we seek out and caress objects of our delight.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our breasts and our buttocks, our nipples and our armpits.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our vaginas and clitorises and labia, our clits and cunts, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our penises and testicles, our cocks and balls, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our sex toys and our erotic costumes, our slings and our harnesses, our gels and our lubricants.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our lovemaking and our self-pleasuring.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you all of who we are, even as we are still discovering the fullness of who we are and are becoming in you.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
Now dismiss us with your blessing, God of Pleasure and Power. Carry us forth from this place to be all of who you have created us to be, and more.

To which your people say…AMEN!

Robin: This is not an ordinary liturgy. I can hear people commend Tom’s candor while saying there is no way they can share it during worship at their church.

revrobin2-023Of course, it contains terms we do not ordinarily use in church—not only clinical language for body parts but also “street language” as well. But is that all that is troubling? How often do we so clearly pray, and give thanks, for our bodies? And when was the last time we raised up our sexualities, our spirits, and our minds and intellect in prayer?

And maybe we are even surprised to pray to expand our comfort zones?

Admittedly, this liturgy was not offered on a Sunday morning, but instead was shared during a workshop where all participants knew the topic would be sex and sexuality as well as spirit and spirituality. It was a self-selected group.

I suspect most people present felt safe participating in the liturgy as a blessing on our time together and an encouragement to go forth and be as open as possible. Some of us, certainly me and several of my fellow panelists, even felt celebratory. How wonderful to speak this language in a religious setting!

However, I may be imaging this, but it seemed to be that I heard a few intakes of breath as we heard parts of the prayer (we did not have copies to read along), and it seemed to be that in a few instances the responding voices were softer. Although my eyes were closed, I had the sense several people left (of course, I could be wrong, and it could have been for other reasons).

disciplesonthejourney.org
disciplesonthejourney.org

I encourage you to read it aloud, not just read it silently. It would be even better if you could share the reading of it with another person, or persons, perhaps even so you could simply hear all the requests and then respond as suggested, “All: Bless them, O God.” Liturgy, like poetry, is meant to be spoken and heard to achieve its full impact and meaning. We need to hear this one especially, to be able to really feel it in our bodies.

love is free weheartit com
weheartit.com

If this liturgy feels beyond what you can use, can you adapt it, modify or eliminate some of the terms so you and your community can pray for our sexualities?  How far do you feel you could go? Could you name some sexualities and sexual practices? Could you go beyond different-sex sex (heterosexuality) and same-sex sex (homosexuality)? Could you mention polyamory (multiple-partner sex) or BDSM (known by many specific names, such as bondage/domination or sado-masochistic sex)? If you feel you can’t mention these non-mainstream sexualities, could you at least use a phrase, such as “all other ways of loving” that would acknowledge that they are options beyond hetero- and homo-sexuality? Would that be a way to begin engaging people? Would someone ask what you meant by that, and would you be comfortable giving examples?

Also, I did notice that there was no mention of gender here, except indirectly in the mention of body parts. And those body parts do not necessarily correspond to gender—there are transgender men (male-centered persons) with vaginas/cunts and transgender women (female-centered persons) with penises/cocks. I think it might be helpful to acknowledge some of this as well.

human-body-combinations_f wired com
wired.com

The liturgy is not about gender, of course, or race, but it might be useful to incorporate some language that recognizes that sexual practices are affected by communities of which we are a part, and even those from which we may be absent. The power of genderism and racism is real everywhere, including in the bedroom (or wherever we have sex).

Malachi and I are trying to open dialogue with religious people about sex, bodies and spirit, especially Christians because that is our context and the context in which we see such great resistance to sex talk–and certainly not only exploring but even admitting there is connection between our sexualities and spiritualities.

This liturgy makes that claim of connection by assuming it, and praying from that location without question or condition. That is why we asked Tom if we could publish it here. We believe it is a good place from which to start, if not in your whole church, then perhaps in a small group, or even just by yourself.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Think what God might do for you and the people in your community, even in your family, if you gave thanks every day for the genitals and/or the sexualities and/or the heads, eyes, ears, noses, etc., of all—naming them—and asked God’s blessing that all be used to promote love and peace, joy and harmony, growth and justice. And then maybe you will feel willing to risk sharing this with another, and another, and they too share, and over a time you have a community engaged in praying for real about our bodies, our sexualities, our embodied spiritualities.

That is a revolution, as it will be a revelation for many. And we will be better for it, better citizens and better worshippers, and perhaps most important, better children/beloveds of our God who never denies us love and gives us limitless ways to receive and share it.

Malachi:   Although I wasn’t able to attend MCC’s General Conference (and thus not able to attend the paneled discussion Robin referenced), I am grateful to have the opportunity to read and reflect on the liturgy presented.

Malachi GrennellThe truth is, it can be hard to fathom something like this being read in a place of public worship. It can be difficult to imagine people sitting in church, murmuring in unison, “Bless them, O God” as each call and offering is presented. Perhaps a child fussing in the background, someone waving a fan through this blistering summer heat, the rustle of clothes and a periodic cough punctuating an otherwise still sanctuary as we hear each affirmation and call to blessing and respond in kind.

Yeah, I can’t really picture it either.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t picture such conversations, such language, such call-and-responses happening in our churches. It makes our skin itch a little. It’s uncomfortable, and we’re not even the ones saying the “hard” words. We’re just the ones responding, “Bless them, O God.”

It seems a bit…ostentatious, doesn’t it? And in fairness, the group with whom this was recited is a self-selected group, comprised of individuals who chose and consented to participate in a paneled discussion on sex and spirituality. They had a sense, perhaps, of what they were walking into and were (hopefully) mentally prepared for such conversations.

the2seasons.com
the2seasons.com

Liturgies like this remind me of the books we hide on the back of our bookshelves when our parents come to visit. Copies of “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” get pushed under our beds, frantically trying to make the house presentable. Or perhaps that copy of “The Best Gay Erotica” is always hidden in the drawer of our bedside tables, taken out for a bit of “motivational” reading, and placed back in its hiding place.

We hide these liturgies. We read them, hear them, and feel a blush rise to our cheeks. “Did they really just say that?” we think. We want to put it away and not think too much about it (or, at least, not get caught thinking too much about it). It feels embarrassing and we’re not sure why. And we get so caught up on the language and the words, the audacity of saying such things in public that we often miss what is being said.

Celebrate our bodies. Celebrate the capacity for our bodies to feel pleasure. Some sexual, yes, but think of small, non-sexual bodily pleasures: getting a haircut, getting a massage, having a pedicure, giving a hug. Things that make us feel connected to one another. We give thanks for community, for being in shared worship space together. When we say, “We give thanks for this community of people,” we are not just talking about the people present but about our body’s capacity to experience joy.

buzzfeed.com
buzzfeed.com

That is the piece that I think we so often miss in our worship and liturgies. We are not only grateful for the opportunity to be in relationship with one another, but we are also happy for the experience in our bodies, the feelings of pleasure and excitement and joy when we connect with another person. That is part of the celebration! We feel good when we are connected in community. We feel good when we are connected with another person. We feel good when we have intimate encounters with one another, when we experience pleasure in our bodies. In the case of this liturgy, this call and response, this context, the focus is on the pleasure we experience as sexual beings. But even if this particular liturgy is not one that we would feel comfortable reading word-for-word in a worship setting, the broader meaning is an important step on the journey to full love, acceptance, and celebration of our sexual selves: the idea that we must celebrate ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.

So how do we translate this liturgy in a way that is more appropriate for a worship setting (as opposed to a workshop where sex is specifically the focus)? We are capable of celebrating our bodies as the vessels through which we do God’s work. We can celebrate our hands and feet, our eyes and ears and lips and tongues, our backs and legs, our genitals and buttocks, our shoulders and armpits, our noses and stomachs. When folded into the entirety of celebrating our bodies, those words which blatantly speak to sexuality are incorporated as part of our bodies: not omitted, but not the focus, either.

pinterest
pinterest

We can celebrate our minds: creative and logical, thoughtful and contemplative, erotic and playful, analytical and relaxed.

We can celebrate our spirituality: encompassing and vibrant, the ethos and eros of our being, present in our every word and action.

We celebrate the totality of who we are- not focusing on one aspect, but not ignoring any aspects either. Our sexuality, while vital and crucial to who we are, while important to celebrate in and of itself, is all too often wrapped up in a lack of capacity to celebrate ourselves outright.

It goes beyond simply celebrating these aspects of self in the abstraction, though. It also calls us into conscious awareness of each part of ourselves as we give thanks and celebrate our bodies. Take a moment in reading to focus awareness on each body part. Focus on your feet for a moment, and take the time to be consciously aware of how they feel. Are they tired from working? Are the strong? Numb from poor circulation? How about your legs? Your arms? Your genitals? Your ears? How does each aspect of your body feel as you give thanks and celebrate it? And then, as a unit, the different pieces working together: how does your body feel?

You can do the same with your mind. Are you anxious? Distracted? Calm? Struggling with mental health? Quiet and focused? How is your connection between your mind and your body? (E.g. is your mind racing but your body is still? Or are they reflections of one another; calm mind, calm body?)

newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com
newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com

And the spirit… how is your spirit? Is it aching or joyful (or both)? Weary or rejuvenated?

We cannot simply give thanks for these aspects of who we are in abstraction. This liturgy (and ones like it) call us to be fully, wholly present in our bodies, minds, and spirits as we celebrate and give thanks- not just for each individual piece, but for ourselves as an integrated whole.

We are all- each of us- made in the image of God. The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality, and we give thanks for the many ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits. Thanks be to God!

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How do you feel about liturgies focused on bodies, on sex? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue about sex and spirituality through worship and small groups? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

[polldaddy poll=9468414]

 

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.