When ‘Stuff’ Gets in the Way

The truth is, I’ve been having trouble being sexual at all lately. . . .

revrobin2-023Robin: Writing, or talking, about sex often pushes limits, sometimes self-imposed, sometimes imposed by others, and sometimes by what we think others will say, think, or do in response.

Those limits can be connected to a primary personal relationship—e.g., what a partner or partners in primary personal relationship like or do not like sexually as that relates to your shared sexual lives, or what they are comfortable with your sharing about them. Or they can be about an institutional relationship—e.g., what your sharing might cost you in terms of employment. Or, they can be limits based on family connections—e.g., how your children or siblings or others will react to what you reveal.

Today, I am testing limits I feel by being an ordained clergy person, a professional in ministry who treasures a relationship with a church, both a local congregation and a larger denomination (or as I prefer to say about Metropolitan Community Churches, a movement).

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

To some extent, I have already done this by writing pretty openly about nudity, masturbation, and other topics not often talked about at church. But I am going to go further today, depending on the choice you as a reader make.

Many people at the church where I serve as volunteer clergy on staff—as Writer-Theologian in Residence, no less (a wonderful title, I admit! and great joy as ministry)—are aware of my interest in the connection between sexuality and spirituality. A dozen or so attended a recent workshop I led on the topic. Some probably even read this blog. So far, they have not kicked me out.

But I can tell you that the fear that someone in the congregation or denomination, leader or not, will become angry and begin a campaign to evict me is very much part of my life. I know in my heart that I would never write to hurt someone or to create trouble for the church I truly love since I walked in the door of MCC New York in 2001, the church that saved my spiritual life (and thus really my life) and that ordained me in 2002.

Einstein ThinkingAlike kcbob com
kcbob.com

And I know that some of this fear has little to do with MCC, and more to do with a lifetime spent struggling within the Christian church at large. Notice, I do not call this a struggle with Christianity—because although I have tussled and continue to tussle with what I believe as that relates to what “the church” says, I have never seen this as a struggle. That is simply the work every believer needs to do. As we grow and change we must negotiate with our faith, with our Lord and the Holy Spirit, with God. But they are partners with whom I feel safe sharing everything.

The church does not feel like such a partner, especially when it comes to sex. Some of that I recounted last week (see Sexual  Repression, with link). Here I want to talk more about how my emerging sexuality and sexual practices create in me anxiety and even fear (if you have been following this blog, you know that at 69 I am on a wonderful journey of embodied sexual self-discovery).

gay love Roman figures haaretz com
haaretz.com

Recently, I wrote my first-ever erotic poem. It recounted love-making that Jonathan and I shared, as well as my sexual energy and feelings before and after. It is pretty explicit, as they say, using a slang term for a body part, and describing what we each did, and how we reacted ecstatically. I also, perhaps even more shockingly, related this directly to Jesus (and my certainty that he did these things, too) and how God is pleased when we engage in sexual pleasure. Indeed, I think God is more than pleased, God is relieved that we are using the gifts God gives us for connecting and feeling joy in our bodies and spirits. I believe God receives it as worship, as our giving thanks.

I shared the poem with Jonathan who said he really liked it.  He also liked the piece on nudism I wrote for the blog at Jonathan’s Circle (a movement of men led by a dear priest friend of mine focused on exploring the links between men’s spirituality and sexuality). He even agreed with me that I should use a frontally nude picture of myself with it. As it turns out, that violates the website rules and so they used a more chaste photo. At any rate, Jonathan may not be the best judge of how the church will react—he encouraged me to publish the poem, too.

Then I shared the poem with two friends—a gay man and a lesbian woman, both very spiritual, one engaged in church and one who feels turned away—whose taste and judgment I deeply respect. They both raved about it. They too want me to share it more widely.

Queering Christianity amazon com
amazon.com

So what holds me back from sharing it here? I feel certain that church folk will raise a holy stink and the clergy will have to let me go, and if they don’t, the church board will vote to do it for them. I love these colleagues—among the very finest pastors with whom I have ever worked, not to mention just being fabulous human beings—and don’t want to cause them any more trouble than they already have. And if it does not happen at the local level, I feel certain the denominational leadership will do something—like removing me from co-leading a working group focusing on racial reconciliation (which would break my heart).

As I have recounted elsewhere (in my essay in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God Who Is Always Up to Something New”), when I spoke in a sermon at MCC Richmond about a time I masturbated to an artist’s rendering of Jesus, some people reacted angrily. Some of them did so because they felt I had breached propriety. Others said they felt unsafe, and for some of them it involved being victims of sexual abuse. That is serious. I had no desire to hurt anyone, certainly not people I cared about who had been hurt in that ugly way. I felt very unclean for that.

Others came to me relieved, to share their own secrets and shame, because, as they said, I had made myself vulnerable and now they trusted me enough to do the same. After listening to them, I felt not only relief but also gratitude that I had followed what seemed to me like a strong urging from God to share so openly (knowing that as any preacher should know, just because you think you are hearing God correctly, does not mean you are).

Those two responses continue to haunt me. Which will guide me?

This is my decision.

There is a difference between sitting in a pew listening to a sermon, and sitting somewhere in your space (private or public) reading a blog. The reader has a choice the listener does not.

So, with great trepidation, as well as considerable excitement, I am going to share links to each of the blog posts.  Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware); it’s your choice from here on out.

First, “A Naked Wholeness” is available on the blog for Jonathan’s Circle.

Thou shall have sex and be holyThe poem, “Holy Hardness,” is available on a wonderful blog, GayShiva: Pursuing the Spirituality of the Male Body, curated by a friend of mine from Jonathan’s Circle.

Whatever your choice, I hope you will let me know, and especially if you would let me know what you think of whatever you read, either or both the piece on nudism and the erotic poem. Or, if you choose to read neither, I would like to know why you made that choice.

I continue to hope this blog can be a dialogue, but It can only be that if readers make comments. Otherwise, it is a dialogue between me and Malachi, but a monologue with the rest.

And know that whatever your choice, it is okay by me. And if it serves your spiritual well-being, then for sure it is a good choice, too.

Malachi GrennellMalachi: Last week, Robin and I discussed our personal histories with sexual repression in preparation for our Third Thursday workshop this week on the history of sex negativity within Western Christianity. With this blog’s focus on sex and sexuality, it can be easy to focus on the ways that we are working on strengthening our own sexual expressions and freedoms. What can be harder, however, are discussing the ways in which sexuality may be difficult for either/both of us to express at various times.

I am both polyamorous and kinky, both identities that often have some inherent sexual component for me. So between the discussion of kink events or discussions of dates or sexual liberation, it is difficult to address the reality that, for some time now, sex has been something that has been increasingly difficult for me.

Depo-Testosterone
Depo-Testosterone

When I was younger, before I started testosterone, I had a fairly high sex drive. I noticed that my sex drive tended to be higher than that of many of my partners, and I felt somewhat embarrassed by it at times. Overall, however, my high sex drive didn’t bother me… I became particularly good at masturbation and self-satisfaction.

When I started taking testosterone (often referred to as “T”), my sex drive spiked. Masturbation became a daily requirement, an integrated part of my getting-ready regimen. I would get up, use the bathroom, shower, jack off, brush my teeth, get dressed, and go about my day. I found that, on days where I didn’t have time/energy to masturbate, I was much more irritable, cranky, and short-tempered. So whether or not I was “in the mood,” it was important for me to masturbate each day.

When I met my now-spouse, I had been on T for several years and had an incredibly high sex drive. Coupled with New Relationship Energy (NRE), we had quite an extended period of time where we would have sex every day, multiple times a day. It was wonderful and amazing (and certainly not sustainable in the sense that neither of us got a lot done during that time).

After we had been together for several years, I decided to go off of T for a

http://images.medicaldaily.com/sites/medicaldaily.com/files/styles/headline/public/2014/08/26/couples-feet-bed.jpg
http://images.medicaldaily.com/sites/medicaldaily.com/files/styles/headline/public/2014/08/26/couples-feet-bed.jpg

variety of reasons. Coming off of T, I noticed a shift in my sex drive. I started going a couple days without masturbating and noticed that I was not unreasonably irritable. Truthfully, it felt like a bit of a relief from feeling a constant sexual pull.

But my sex drive continued to decrease. At that time, I was dating someone else, and NRE was helping maintain my sexual interest, but after a while, my lack of sex drive began impacting our relationship as well. It was an incredibly difficult time for my partner (with whom I was not having sex) and myself (because I knew that this relationship dynamic was hurting him).

At that point, we used a kink event to help us reconnect sexually. The first time I attended what has now become a staple event in my life, I felt my

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

sex drive re-ignite and was so excited to be having sex with my partner again. It solved the problem of that extended “dry spell,” but it didn’t solve the deeper problem.

The truth is, I’ve been having trouble being sexual at all lately. There are times when I have a strong desire for sexual intimacy, but it’s not consistent, and it goes as quickly as it comes. And for me, it turns into an anxiety spiral: I get anxious that my partner and I haven’t been having sex and I know that’s something they’re wanting more of, and I want to do that, but it feels pressurized, and I don’t want sex to feel like an obligation on either of our ends.

Being honest about these things is scary. I’m so in love with my partner. I’m so attracted to them, and think that they are a beautiful, incredible human being. It’s not a lack of attraction, but a feeling in my body- or perhaps, a lack thereof. It’s as though a part of body has turned off, and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it or how to navigate it.

I wish I knew how to explain what this feels like inside my body, but it’s not a feeling; it’s an absence of. I am, in many ways, unaware of my body as a sexual entity until a situation arises in which I realize that it has been awhile, and I begin to feel a deep sense of shame and anxiety that make intimacy all but impossible. It is immensely frustrating and I’m not sure how to reawaken that part of me that so desperately desires sexual intimacy… and not just intimacy with anyone, but intimacy with my partner, the person I love and have made a life with.

In this context, it feels difficult, sometimes, to be a person that spends so

much time talking about sex. Whether in this blog or in kink, so much of my life is spent talking about sex in one form or another and I think it’s important to be transparent. Sex isn’t always easy for me right now. In fact, more often than not, it’s incredibly difficult- and that difficulty has compounding effects. It’s hard for me that it’s hard for my partner. It’s hard for my partner that I can talk about sex so much, but have so much difficulty

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http://cdn.skim.gs/images/he2jdvqqmttas7z7nlvu/

having it. It’s hard to be in a body that, for so long, has had an incredibly high sex drive that has greatly diminished.

Sex is not always easy. It isn’t always simple- sometimes our hangups from the past impact our ability to have healthy sexual dynamics as adults. Sometimes our fears get in the way and it feels like an insurmountable wall. And in this case, I’m not sure what the answer is. I haven’t figured it out yet. This is not a retrospective contemplation on an already-solved problem, but midway through the mess of trying to figure it out. I’ve begun seeing a therapist to try to work through some of my own issues. I’m trying to find ways to be intimate that feel safe and good and authentic with my partner. I’m pushing myself as much as I can, but this is a hard period to go through.

Although I imagine every long-term partnership struggles with dry spells and “keeping the intimacy alive,” there is no one way to navigate these particular issues because each person is different. The best we can do is be honest- with ourselves, with our partners, with our trusted confidants. As a person who is polyamorous and kinky, this becomes particularly important as I navigate sexualized spaces and multiple relationships. It’s not always easy. It’s certainly not always pretty. Relationships (and sex) can be hard, and it’s ok to admit when things are hard. They can’t get better until we do.

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

Have you ever had difficulties maintaining intimacy in your relationships? Has your work or career made it difficult for you to be open about your sexuality? What are some other barriers to your ability to be authentic and open in your sexuality? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.