Jealous? Me? Well, maybe. . . .

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

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

kingsenglish.info
kingsenglish.info

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

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

Utilizing Jealousy in Positive Ways:

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

maxzide.net
maxzide.net

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

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

Dealing with Envy:

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

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

sammyadebiyi.com
sammyadebiyi.com

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

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

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

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

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

Envy + Insecurity Often Fuels Jealousy:

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galadarling.com

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Eros: The Language of Relationality

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

 Introduction:

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

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

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

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

revrobin2-023Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi:Malachi Grennell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

Partner or Partners: What Works for You?

By Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction:

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

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

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

Robin:revrobin2-023

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

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nickbsteve.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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freevector.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi:Malachi Grennell

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

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tumblr.com

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

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

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

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

Click here* to join the call!

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

Sacred, Not Secret: Conversations about Sex

Introducing our Editorial Team:                   Robin Gorsline & Malachi Grennell

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

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

Who Am I?

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

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

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

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

What Is My Experience?

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

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

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

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

What Are My Goals and Passions?

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

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

What Are My Hopes for this Blog?

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

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

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

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

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

 As a Team . . .

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

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

What We Hope to Achieve:

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

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

 

 

Solo Sex, Sacred Sex

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

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

Masturbation gets a bad rap.

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

But it won’t get a bad rap here.

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

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

  • Religious institutions frequently condemn masturbation as a practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Betty Dodson eventbrite.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy solo sex, sacred sex, today!

 

 

 

More Sex, Sacred Sex

This blog is sex-positive.

This blog is body-positive.

This blog is spirit-positive.

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This blog promotes the union of all three of these positives. Indeed, the union of them is, I believe, God’s intention, God’s desire. That union brings us as close to God as we can be, or to put it another way, it is total union with the divine. It is the God spot within us, each of us, what I would like to call the G-Spot (different but not opposed to the physical G-spot many claim in women’s bodies and in men’s bodies).

However, this understanding of the relationship between spirituality, sexuality, and bodies may contradict at a pretty deep level how we think about them. We are taught, from a young age, that our sexual selves are at odds with our spiritual selves, and it can be difficult to overcome the inundation of social and religious messages that remind us to keep our sexuality and our spirituality compartmentalized.

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So, part of what this blog (not just this post but the blog as it unfolds over time) hopes to do is to bring us into contact with new understandings and to help us navigate changes in our beliefs and practices as we feel ready to do so (and of course also to help us investigate and reaffirm beliefs that still feel right to us). This may be seen as an unlearning and re-orienting process. As with any unlearning process, it can feel clunky and awkward at first. The goal is quite simply to facilitate openness to and celebration of the sacred union of our–yours, mine and others–sex, bodies and spirits. 

In this process, we can be self-conscious in a way that we haven’t fully experienced before because we are, perhaps (or probably) for the first time, being fully present in our bodies with ourselves and our partners. That awkwardness isn’t an indication that we are “doing it” wrong… it is part of the process of growing and healing the chasm that results from seeing our sexual, embodied selves as sinners separate from God to seeing our sexual, embodied selves as holy and communing with God.

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One way to experience that sacred union is to be in deep sexual union with our partner(s). And such union is, it seems to me, to be an entirely fitting and holy way to observe Lent.

In keeping with last week’s edition, “In Lent: More Sex, Not Less,” (click here to read) I want to encourage all of us to consider intentional, multiple, deeply erotic and spiritual, sessions with our sexual partners.

In response to last week’s post, my friend and colleague Malachi Grennell wrote the following:

. . . sharing sexual intimacy can be a conduit to connecting with the Holy in our own lives. I am leaning toward saying, “Have sex! Have lots of sex, with yourself or with your partner(s), but do it with intention. Do it with the understanding that these bodies are holy, and we are created in the image of God and the Earth and this is a time of awakening, a deep thaw after a long winter.” We allow ourselves to be distracted . . . but now we can refocus, reconnect, and begin to thaw out our Spirit in anticipation for what is coming. Have sex, in ways that feel good and pleasurable and enjoyable, but perhaps, in this spirit of Lent, our sexual selves can come with a different form of intention: one of pleasure, certainly, but also one of connection… not just with the body, but with the spirit that resides in each person.

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I could not have said it better myself. I hear Malachi encouraging us to be holy sexual and sexually holy, urging us to move more fully into sacred union. 

So, here are some suggestions.

  • Pray, ask God, by whatever name or description you relate to a power outside and greater than yourself, for guidance about how best to be connected sexually, bodily, and spiritually with yourself, with your partner(s), with the divine
  • Share with your partner(s) about this, too, telling them what you are learning, and encourage them to pray or connect however they do with their power.  Be as open as possible in your sharing; that will encourage your partner(s) to do the same. 
  • Set aside some time for you to talk together, perhaps even pray together (you might even consider doing this while naked, not so much with the idea of immediately jumping into bed but more to be aware of your mutual vulnerability and the divinely created/inspired beauty of each of your bodies/spirits). Again, openness is key to this really helping you. 
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    Agree on times you wish to engage each other in intentional times of sexual/bodily/spiritual sharing. Try to pick times/dates that will allow for sufficient time without interruption, and that are unlikely to be preempted by other concerns. I encourage you to commit to a minimum number of times (think of it as like trying out a new church–e.g., agree to go 6 times to give it a fair test). 

  • Agree, if you can in advance, on the kinds of things you might want to do (maybe even something new that has arisen during prayer and/or discussion)–but don’t feel bound if during a session you decide, mutually, to do something else. Again, keep talking, sharing not only your bodies but also your learnings and feelings. Discuss the ways in which you feel inadequate, awkward, or self-conscious. Don’t hide from or shy away from these things, but bring the whole of yourself–including those parts of you which feel most vulnerable–and present them to your partner(s). And don’t forget to laugh! 
  • Keep your appointments, make them a priority. Things do come up, of course, so if one of you feels the need to cancel, talk about what is going on–if it is a matter of unavoidable schedule conflict, see if you could reschedule instead of cancelling. 
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    Include time after to meditate or pray, and discuss, how it went, how you felt, what you learned, what gifts you received, what worries or troubles you encountered, etc. I encourage you to think about whether including God in this holy time of union (including God or your greater power in your sex, if you will), has changed–improved I hope–your relationship with God/power, yourself, and your partner(s).

  • Of course, remember to give thanks to God or the power you called upon for guidance
  • Commit to the next time.

And, if you are an observant Christian, I encourage you to begin thinking about how you might build this way of being holy sexual/sexually holy into your celebration of Easter, a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus’ body through the sharing of your bodies. The same for Jewish lovers, or interfaith lovers: as we approach Passover, think about celebrating the liberation of Hebrew bodies through celebrating your own embodied, sexual, spiritual liberation. 

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Two points:

  • I refer to partner(s) above, as does Malachi, because we realize that people engage their sexuality in multiple ways. I am encouraging you to recognize what is holy in whatever way you are sexually active–and I am not going to judge it, assuming that you are not damaging anyone through it. There is one “should” here: Sex should not cause trauma (if it does, it is not sex). 
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    Next week, I will take a look at what is sometimes called solo sexuality or self-pleasuring–what I was raised to call “the M word,” i.e, masturbation–as  another way to experience sacred union with the divine.

So, to connect last week’s message with this one, here’s the word: Have sex! More sex! Intentional sex. Holy Sex. Enjoy the eternal, embodied, erotic sacred union with the divine within yourself and within your partner(s) and with Godself. Spend some quality time with your G-Spot! 

 

In Lent: More Sex, Not Less

Lent with crossChristians are in the season of Lent, the 40-day period of preparation for the glory of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. It is a time for prayer and introspection, a time to take stock of one’s spiritual health, and for many, a time to fast or otherwise give up something one ordinarily desires.

Roman Catholics are asked to observe some fasting days, giving up meat, for example, on certain days, or avoid food for a day or several days. Other traditions have less clear requirements.

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What about sex? Some traditions say that if you are fasting from food, or from certain food(s), you should also abstain from sex.

I observe Lent, and I am giving up reading certain kinds of political commentary, specifically what I call “horse-race reporting.” I am a political junkie and can get totally immersed in reading endless print and online reports and commentaries on the strategies of candidates and which ones are working and not working. I chose this abstinence because I realized it is addictive for me and gets in the way of my reading more substantive news (including reporting on proposals and issue positions by candidates) and spiritual writing.

My choice for this year’s fasting fits my criteria for a Lenten fast: give up something that gets in the way of my relationship with God.

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Sex does not get in the way of my relationship with God. In fact, it is an important way for me to communicate with God. God gave me a body that I cherish (mostly) and sexual desire as part of the total mind-body-spirit system that is me. God also gave me my husband whom I cherish in all ways and the desire to share my body with his and to enjoy his when he shares himself with me. God also gave me the desire at times to pleasure my own body.

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In all that sexual activity, that embodied intimacy, I am experiencing the God within as well as feeling the presence of God in my life (through my husband and my own embodied feelings with him and by myself). There is good reason for so many of us to cry out, “Oh God, Oh God!” during orgasm and ejaculation.

I am in a committed monogamous marriage, so my sexual life revolves solely around my partner and me, and me on my own. Other people make other choices, or are simply at other periods in their lives.  Those who are not in such a relationship can experience God through solo sex, of course, but also with others (discussions of types of relationships will addressed in this space at a later date).

I believe sex is good. More than that, I believe it is part of a healthy lifestyle. Pleasure is good for us. Connecting with our bodies is good for us. Connecting with God through our God-given bodies is good for us.

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Some religious authorities agree with me, at least to a point. In the Talmud there are discussions from ancient rabbis about how couples should have sexual relations daily (except if one of the partners, presumably the man, is away at sea or traveling for business). No once a week or twice a month routine for the rabbis!

St. Paul (1 Corinthians, chapter 7) stresses the duties of couples to be sexually active, only excepting for brief periods mutually agreed upon for the purpose of prayer.

Of course, both these authorities are addressing married couples only–although as we know, not everyone in the Bible limited themselves to one spouse (see David, Solomon, etc.). What many conservative Christians call “traditional marriage” is not truly based on biblical texts.

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This reminds me of Lent when I was an adolescent. I felt such great pleasure when I discovered the exquisite joy that comes from genital self-play and sexual fantasy. But I also was sure it was wrong. Anything that feels that good has to be bad, right? My mother caught me one day and spoke shaming words.

I remember trying to give it up for Lent. I failed. I was ashamed. I carried that with me a long time, although I feel free from it now.

What I wish is that someone, my parents or my priest or other trusted authority figure, had told me that masturbation was normal and good, and that I could connect with God through it (there are advocates for masturbation as meditation, and that is a topic for later discussion here, too).

That is not the message of the Virginia House of Delegates. Although they are not addressing Lent or masturbation, they are setting sexual and gender boundaries based on the religious views of part of the population.They have passed a bill that would prohibit government authorities from penalizing people and businesses who discriminate against same-sex couples, transgender individuals, and those who have sex outside marriage, based on the discriminating person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

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The bill, HB 773, now goes to the Senate. Based on my knowledge of that body, I would say it will not pass. But that is far from a sure thing. I cherish my former Commonwealth, but right now I am very glad to be living in Maryland!

We need to resist such social engineering–which seeks to take something Godly and turn it into something wrong and ugly.

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I am often an advocate of resistance in the Ghandian and King tradition. In this case, I do not propose public “sex-ins” by the subject groups, but I do propose that during Lent, in order to celebrate the divine gift of sexuality in all its forms, that we all, coupled and not, have lots of sex. As the member of a Jewish congregation (by virtue of my marriage to Jonathan), I will do what I can to follow the Talmudic teaching.

Let’s thank God for our bodies and our sex. So, in Lent, more sex, not less.

 

 

 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: The Real Story?

So, if Jesus had a penis (see prior post here), then Mary had a vagina, right? Well, of course. And Joseph had a penis, too.

Jesus may have been the result of immaculate conception, but surely his birth was like every other human birth–Mary carrying him for nine months to term (remember her visit to Elizabeth?), then her water breaking, and the contractions beginning, and her having to push and push and push. Apparently, he was her first child, so it was a lot of work (births after the first one are often far easier for the mother).

Mary, Jesus. and Joseph, in modern incarnation jesusisnotalone blogspot com
jesusisnotalone.blogspot.com

I don’t know the custom of that time, but I hope Joseph was there (while doubting it was permitted), encouraging her. Three of the absolutely most precious and wondrous times in my life were being present with my wife, Judy, at the births of our three daughters, holding her hand, giving her encouragement, hearing the first squalls from the newborn, and being able to wipe Judy’s sweaty brow and give her a kiss of the deepest gratitude and joy. I hope Joseph did not miss that.

Actually, I hope he did not miss the impregnation either. I know, I know. It was the Holy Spirit. But I have my doubts. In fact, I don’t believe he did miss it. I think Jesus was conceived in the usual way.

St. Paul's Brookline stpaulsbrookline org
stpaulsbrookline.org

I remember when, as a first-year seminarian in 1981 working in my field education parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, MA, the rector assigned me to meet with the weekly Women’s Bible Study. I began in Advent. As we finished what was my first meeting with them, I announced that the following week we would study Luke 1:26-38 (click here to read the text).

“Oh no,” said Elizabeth, a an older woman from England, “We don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth, do we?” All eyes turned to me, the new guy (and the only man in the room), and as I took a deep breath, I said, “No you don’t. There are no litmus tests here.”

All during the week, I felt anxious about our next meeting. I chose not to tell the rector, feeling a bit like Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt to avoid trouble from Herod. That made me nervous, too.

giving birth pushing-lying-down  evidencebasedbirth com
evidencebasedbirth.com

During the actual discussion, these women, many of whom had given birth and all of whom were either married or engaged to men, were remarkably open in their story-telling and their hope that Jesus was conceived in the usual way. Frankly, I had never dared speak of my doubts until that night, and I kept much of it to myself–my job being to facilitate their exploration–but I felt sure they were right.

Over the years since, I have become convinced that the virgin birth was invented by the story-tellers and gospel writers of long ago. I don’t doubt it could have happened, and still could happen in another situation–all things are possible with God–but I have three reasons for thinking it did not in this case.

First, the God I know, from the biblical record, as well as my own life, chooses ordinary human beings and ordinary human situations through which to manifest the divine desire for wholeness in the world. I believe Joseph and Mary were, in this instance, the ordinary human vehicles God chose.

young_couple_having_passionate_sex_3-4_tmb anybunny com
anybunny.com

Second, I think they had sexual intercourse that led to the birth of Jesus before they were married. It is entirely in keeping with the biblical record that God would select the child born out of wedlock to carry the mantle of Messiah.  In fact, to do otherwise really runs counter to that record. But the disciples, and probably Mary and Joseph, and others, worried that the wider world would be scandalized by an illegitimate child being the Messiah. So they changed the story (biblical texts are filled with these “edits” by scribes and others).

Third, I surely believe Jesus was the son of God, but then I think each of us is a child of God. Jesus did not have to be born through impregnation of Mary by the Holy Spirit to become the Messiah–he did have to choose to use the gifts God gave him to be so but then God gives us similar gifts, too. The thing is, Jesus made the choice, and did not change his mind.

Children of God bobjones org
bobjones.org

There is a bit of the divine in each human being, and that holiness is passed on from God through our parents. Conception, the mating of a female egg and male sperm, is a moment of divinity in the body of the mother–a moment that is the continuation of the holy union of penis and vagina, followed by continued lovemaking, ejaculation by the male, and receiving of the semen by the female (as well as her own natural lubrication).

Now, I can hear abortion opponents saying, “See, abortion is the murder of one of God’s children.” I do not share that view. There are times when this union is not holy, certainly in the case of rape and incest. But even in the absence of those horrors, God gives us free will to choose how we will live with the gifts of God. Many women, for all sorts of reasons, choose to refuse the gift.

magnificat elobservadorenlinea com
elobservadorenlinea.com

Mary chose to keep this gift and nurture Jesus. Indeed, what we call the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) could be her response to the birth of Jesus even though the writer of Luke has placed it with her meeting with Elizabeth (and it is a wonderful hymn of gratitude for the gift, wherever it is placed in the story).

The view of Jesus’ conception espoused here has not only biblical resonance in terms of so much else in the record (just think of all the unlikely people God chooses to work through), but also undermines the sex negativity inherent in the texts we have received.

The church and indeed most of us as Christians have been influenced more by Platonisn–with its severe split between body and spirit–than by the earthiness of the Bible, the union of body and spirit that happens over and over again. This influence was enhanced by the account of Jesus’ conception.

shame-on-you cherispeak wordpress com
cherispeak.wordpress.com

Jesus and sex are kept a safe distance apart from conception to death–no sex between his parents leading to his birth, no hint of sex by him during his life, and a chaste cloth to cover his genitals on the cross. Nobody ever said this to me, but I imagine some priests or parents, or both, have told pubescent boys, “You mustn’t masturbate, Jesus didn’t, you know. He doesn’t want you doing it either.You must be pure like him.” Of course, that would involve those adults admitting (at least to themselves) that Jesus had “one of those things.”

jesus-feet-walking  umcholiness wordpress com
umcholiness.wordpress.com

Of course, this is my opinion. Biblical literalists will throw every text they can at me from the Gospels to prove me wrong. Many of them will even most likely tell me I am not a Christian (the good news is that not many such people read my writing).

But I know I love, and I do my best to follow, Jesus–the flesh and blood, fully embodied, incarnate, Jesus who walked the earth, taught, healed, loved, ate, peed and defecated, sweated, cried, wiped and maybe even picked his nose, and, I believe, had sex (as did his parents).

My Messiah was a real man, and his mother and father were real human beings, too.

Praise God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Had a Penis

SpotlightJonathan and I recently saw “Spotlight,” the film about how the Boston Globe exposed the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. It is a magnificently done film, a strong reminder of the absolute necessity of a free and responsible press, and a powerful indictment of secrecy in church and society.

Indeed, it is the push I needed to begin this new blog.

As I sat in the theater watching the film and talking about it with Jonathan later, I realized that I had been treading water about my desire to write and publish this blog about sex, bodies, and spirit–mostly out of fear of what “people” (church people, professional colleagues, family members and some more traditional or conservative friends, perhaps even neighbors, maybe others) would think.  I had been keeping my own secret in deference to unspoken social pressure–exactly the combination that had caused the Boston Globe and community leaders, as well as the church hierarchy and ordinary members, to keep for many years what really was an open secret in Boston.

Fr. Michael Shanahan
Fr. Michael Shanahan churchmilitant.com

So, here I am today, out in the open, feeling the fresh air and sunshine of telling the truth as I see it. And hoping others will respond as they feel moved, disagreeing or agreeing or simply sharing information. We just need to talk more about sex, bodies, and spirit!

Two days ago, Fr. Michael Shanahan joined the conversation in a very public way. On February 1, Fr. Shanahan, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Chicago, came out as a gay man in an article in The Washington Post (click here to read the article).

He is not the first Catholic priest to come out, far from it, but for me his courage is an important affirmation of what the Boston Globe and its work did earlier–breaking open the dangerous silence in the church about things sexual.

Homosexuality and Social Justice by Kevin Gordon
The author of this 1986 book, the late Kevin Gordon, was my neighbor and friend at Union Theological Seminary, and he, along with the late Fr. John McNeill, showed me and many others about the presence and beauty of gay and lesbian people within the Roman Catholic Church.

The truth is that there are many gay priests (and at least one Bishop) in the Roman Catholic Church (I have known personally quite a few over the years). No one knows for sure how many, but studies indicate it could be as high as 50%. Others say 10%, but either way it seems the priesthood may be one of those vocational homes known to be especially “gay” (like hair stylists and florists, etc., at least so goes the conventional wisdom).

As more and more priests, and sisters, too, come out, it may be hard for the Vatican to maintain the official teaching that homosexuality is an “intrinsically disordered” condition.

Of course, I believe the disorder lies with the church and its teaching, and not just about homosexuality but about sexuality in general. And this is true of more than the Roman Catholic Church. So much of Christian doctrine about sex seems intent on locking it up in tight boxes, compartments that deny that our spirituality is intimately connected with our bodies and sexuality, indeed that we can learn about God and from God through our bodies and sexuality.

According to the Washington Post, Fr. Shanahan “doesn’t disregard” the church’s teaching on sexuality, but he thinks most important is the teaching that sexuality is an expression of the divine. He wants people to pray and discern how to express that divine part of themselves, for themselves.

That sounds a lot like Jesus to me, not much interested in rules handed down by those who think they have been called to run things (and other peoples’ lives), and much more concerned with helping people open up to the divine inside each and every one of God’s offspring (us).

The church wants people to open up, but only to the approved, standard, versions of the divine. And one of those versions is of a sexless Jesus–the Jesus who was born without the messiness of human intercourse (and how often have we heard about Mary’s labor?), the Jesus who (although fully human and divine) appears not to have had body parts, or sexual or romantic interest in anyone, male or female.

Crucifixion wooden Michelangelo in Naples
Michelangelo, wooden Jesus on the cross. naplesldm.com

But Jesus had a penis and a scrotum–we do know he was circumcised–and may well have had erotic feelings for the “beloved disciple” or Lazarus or Martha or Mary or Mary Magdalene. Or maybe all of them. He was a young man, after all!

And most likely, because the Romans wanted not only to kill those on the cross but also to shame them as a form of torture–grisly sexual abuse and violence–as a reminder to the public to stay in line, Jesus and his two cross-mates were naked for all to see.

It may be considered in bad taste to show Jesus naked on the cross, but that has more to do with our notions of what people, including children, should see than it does with what actually happened on Calvary. And do we really think children would be harmed by seeing a naked Jesus? I think they might like it–and it surely would help them know he was a real, flesh and blood, breathing, human being.

And it could help us confront and overcome sexual abuse and violence. As the Rev. Wil Gafney says, “The reason the Church has such a hard time thinking critically and talking about sexual violence is because it has a hard time thinking critically and talking about sex.”

Crucifixion of Chrsit Max Klinger centrosangiorgio com
Crucifixion of Christ, Max Klinger centrosangiorgio.com

Michelangelo did not shy away from the truth of Jesus’ embodied humanity, nor did the late 19th-early 2oth Century German Symbolist painter Max Klinger. What of course neither showed was the horror that would have been visible on the bodies after having hung for a few hours (most likely at least grotesque swelling of the arms from hanging with body weight pulling on them). If they had, we would know more about the horrors of sexualized violence.

It might even be that if we, as a culture in general, were less uptight, less secretive, about bodies, including naked bodies, our society might be far healthier about sex, and more open to talking about not only the beauty of our bodies but also the truths they can help us learn.

Then, we might stop keeping priests, and many others, in tight boxes, we might even do more to stop sexual abuse, and oh my, we might even begin to claim the full joy and power of sex as God intends it for all.

 

 

 

 

Can We Overcome Our Fear of Really Talking about Sex (and Some Body Parts)?

Why are so many of us so afraid to talk about sex? Or even about some parts of our bodies?

sexualityanthro316.blogspot.com
sexualityanthro316.blogspot.com

Whatever creates this fear often seems to have something to do with religion, at least the monotheistic ones, and certainly my own faith, Christianity. Conservative Christians still generally exhibit the most sex-negative attitudes (although there are I am sure exceptions). For some, attitudes and behaviors that were common when I was a teen–in the 60s–still apply. But for many others, things have changed a lot.

I am amazed at how much has changed in the past 40-50 years of social history.

  • Living together among heterosexual couples before marriage used to be severely condemned.
  • Sex before marriage was a serious sin.
  • Interracial marriage was a definite no-no (illegal until 1967, and definitely frowned on even after that).
  • Homosexuality used to be a secret whose “ugliness” occasionally leaked out into notice
  • Nobody even knew bisexuality existed (most people still don’t appear to really believe it does)
  • Nudists, or naturists as they are now calling themselves, were dirty or sex-crazed (many people still feel this way)

Of course, there are people who still claim those beliefs, or have retained vestiges of them. But so many others do not. So there remains much contradiction in how we deal with sex.

unchartedparent.com
unchartedparent.com

But there is one thing that remains pretty constant. For most people, it remains hard to talk about in an open and honest way, and generally even more difficult to talk about sex in a positive (or even neutral), non- exploitative, way.

Clergy generally are afraid to preach about it, or if they do, to use any specific language, even the most clinical. When was the last time you heard a sermon with the word “penis” or “vagina” in it? I grant that I can’t think of the homiletic situation right now in which either would be necessary, but what I know with even more certainty is that any preacher who did so in almost any Christian church would be well advised to start looking for a new gig. Why should this be?

Is there something bad about a penis or a vagina? Are they evil? Are they dirty?

studyblue.com
studyblue.com

My spiritual director uses guided meditation in our work together. When we do this, she invites me to breathe, to relax and focus on various parts of my body, beginning with my toes and feet and ankles, calves, thighs, stomach, chest, hands, arms, neck, mouth, nose, eyes, and the top of my head. Did you notice something missing, when we went from thighs to stomach? I have noticed many times in situations of naming body parts how this sacred center–the groin, private parts, genitals, also known as the root, or Muladhara, chakra in some Indian religions–is glossed over as if it does not exist.

pictify.saatchigallery.com

We don’t talk about that in polite company. But we do, at least sort of. Every time you hear a man or woman say they are trying to have children, they don’t mean they are saving up to buy a child (although for those who must, or choose to, adopt this is a reality). They mean they are deliberately engaging in sexual intercourse, using those two unnameable bodily parts to bring sperm and egg together to produce a child.

keepcalmandposters.com
keepcalmandposters.com

One hopes they are enjoying the adventure, excited about receiving the blessing of a pregnancy, as well as being determined to produce offspring . But it often sounds more like work–because to talk about sexual pleasure is pretty much a no-no, unless it is done in a suggestive, wink-wink, kind of way. Sexual jokes and innuendo are okay within certain limits, but to actually talk about the joy of sex, the reality of sex, somehow seems sacrilegious.

Yet, did God not create all of us, all parts of us? Do we not affirm, with our Jewish ancestors in faith, that God created it all, and that it was and is all good? Is there an asterisk somewhere in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 that says, “exceptions include penis, vagina, uterus, breasts, anus,” etc.?

message.snopes.com
message.snopes.com I do not remember this at my alma mater, but the message is not inconsistent with what I was taught

Do we think God is so old and crabby that He/She (but probably He in this case) intended our sexual organs to be used only a few times to produce children, and otherwise they are just ugly and unholy? Is masturbation the real original sin of Adam and Eve? Based on what I was told in my youth, it sure seemed that way.

All this is very sad. At least that is how I see it.

Sex, sexual pleasure, sexual activity, is beautiful and life-affirming (except when it is not, and then it is, by my definition, not sex but rather something that someone may define as sex but is physical and/or emotional violation and abuse using one or more bodily organs and limbs, etc.).

http://sunyatasatchitananda.com/
http://sunyatasatchitananda.com/

But I will go further, and say it is holy, it is sacred, it is divine, it is godly. And like eating and hydrating, and resting and processing the nutrients and eliminating the excess of what we take into our bodies, I believe sex and sexual pleasure and activity are vital for healthy living. They are a gift from God to help us be the whole people we are intended to be.

So we need to celebrate the gift, to say thank you by really using it and not hiding it, devaluing it, or encasing it in rigid often unstated rules about not talking about it.

The purpose of this blog is to contribute to opening conversation about sex and bodies most of us, including me, need to have–out loud, holistically, respectfully, truthfully, lovingly . . . and most of all spiritually. We can learn from sex and bodies, and we will learn the most when we are open to them and participating in dialogue with them and each other.

Stay tuned–more to come, much more.

And feel free, indeed encouraged, to join the conversation right here with your own comments.