Healing Through Fantasy

I have always been ashamed of my fantasies…

Introduction: Last week, Robin shared a beautiful, erotic poem depicting a fantastical spiritual experience. My piece on fantasy this week is quite different and much heavier. With that in mind, I want to make a content warning note: this piece does discuss rape, sexual assault, and intense shame around fantasies. Please use your best judgement in engaging and reading.

Malachi:

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nWhen I was a child, I used to relax and calm myself down for sleep by fantasizing.

I didn’t realize this is what I was doing, of course. But each night, when I would settle down for sleep, I would close my eyes and picture a boy that I had a crush on coming into my bedroom. At six or seven years old, the taboo-ness of having a boy in my bedroom at night was risqué enough, and the concept of “having sex” wasn’t something I understood well enough to take it any further.

As I got older and began to understand (to some degree) this elusive concept of sex, my fantasy would change. I dreamed of growing up and going to a school where people learned and experimented with having different types of sex. There was a lounge where people of all genders would walk around in various stages of undress. Some people would be having sex, some cuddling, others walking around serving drinks (the whole thing had a very Greek feel to it). Outside of the main foyer, there were thousands of hallways with different doors, and people were welcome to walk into the rooms beyond the doors.

Some nights, when I was having a particularly difficult time falling asleep, I would venture out and open some of the doors. The one I remember most vividly led to a room that was designed to look like the outdoors: grass growing, and a massive tree on one side and a couple having sex in the middle of the field that didn’t pay me any mind. I was embarrassed, but fascinated to watch, and ultimately fell asleep.

I remember wondering what could possibly be going on in other rooms. I

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didn’t have the imagination to dream up thousands of rooms worth of sexual fantasy, but some part of my mind allowed space for the possibility. At the time, having sex outside, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and experiencing/participating in orgies and/or group sex were the extent of my creativity- but granted, I was still prepubescent, and these are fairly extravagant fantasies. Imagine my surprise when I began to get active in the kink and BDSM communities and realized that the places I had imagined as a child truly existed!

I have always been ashamed of my fantasies, and I’m not fully sure where that shame comes from. I think I have had a pervasive sense, since I was a child, that I am not like other people and, in trying to avoid getting ostracized, I learned to keep these things hidden. It took me many years to admit to partners that I had fantasies at all and even longer to be comfortable sharing them. Even still, this is something that I struggle with.

Some of my shame comes from the nature of my fantasies as I got older. The six-year-old fantasy of someone coming into my room at night slowly grew and morphed, and I began to fantasize about someone coming into my room and touching me while I slept. Sometimes it was someone I knew, sometimes it was a stranger. These eventually transformed into fantasies of being raped, which compounded my feelings of shame and secrecy.

As someone who was developing an understanding of sexual harassment and violence, I thought I was a horrendous person. Rape is a violent, disturbing act, not something to fantasize about! It was at this point that I realized I could never talk to my partners about my fantasies. Many of them had survived sexual assault; what would they say to this blatant disregard to the atrocities of rape that I found sexual excitement in imaging?

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I stumbled onto some articles online of other people who experienced the same thing and shared their histories of shame and self-hatred in coming to terms with their fantasies. Realizing I was not the only person to experience this was the first step in healing. Openly admitting it to my partner was the second.

I began to talk about it with my partner (with many hours of coaxing). I would not have been able to had he not been as open, gentle, and patient with me as I stumbled through the words, “I have rape fantasies.” He didn’t shame me for it, but embraced me and told me that this didn’t change a thing between us, and we could keep talking about it as much (or as little) as I wanted.

That conversation began a sense of healing that I am still working through, even today. My partner and I talked (and still talk) a lot about fantasies and the role they play in sexual dynamics and relationships. Beyond those conversations, though, I began to see and understand how fantasies can be enacted and come to life when I began to get more involved in the kink community.

The kink community taught me safe and responsible ways to interact with my fantasies and furthermore, helped me understand where they come from (for me) and what I got out of manifesting them. The reality is, as someone whose body has been utilized without my consent in innumerable situations (everything from unwanted touch to assault), rape fantasies became a way for me to process and deal with my own trauma. It became a way for me to relive and configure my own experiences in a way that made me face the trauma, but still allowed me to have control over the situation.

Perhaps this sounds extreme, and maybe it is. But the kink community has safeguards built in place that are universally understood within the community. Among other things, safewords are a key component used in many situations. The terms “yellow” and “red” are used by a person when they need a situation to pause or stop completely.

The purpose of this is simple: for some people, they have a difficult time saying “no” to something (particularly if they have been socialized to be placating or accommodating). Often called stoplight safewords, “yellow” is a method of communicating that a person needs something to pause briefly; “red” is a method of communicating that something needs to

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stop completely. These are less socially-loaded words that allow someone to take a break to figure out what they need to communicate. In many situations, “hold on” or “stop for a second” or “I think I’m done” work just as well.

However, there are certain situations where a person wants to be able to protest and say things like “No” and “Please stop” and deliberately have these protests ignored. This is where safewords become really crucial, because it is important for a person to still be able to communicate if something is truly not ok and needs to stop versus the act of protest that is ignored.

This is a difficult concept that can be hard to grasp if a person is not wired toward fantasies that include an aspect of resistance. That’s ok. It’s certainly not something that everyone enjoys, but it is something that is important for some people (such as myself), and it’s important to have good safeguards in place for those who need that.

There is also a saying in the kink community that is crucial to creating safe space to enact fantasies: “Your Kink is Not My Kink and That’s OK.” The truth is, what works for one person might be traumatic or distasteful to someone else. For me, having the freedom and space to interact with these long-standing fantasies without the risk of someone shaming me for having them was invaluable. While I understood in theory that I was not alone in dealing with violent, traumatic fantasies, my interaction with the kink community helped me come to terms with the reality of that truth. I am not a disgusting, terrible person. It helped bridge a deep chasm of shame that I had lived with for most of my life, as well as gave me some tools to navigate these things in responsible, healthy ways.

For me, though, there is a responsibility when engaging in violent fantasies to also maintain a good awareness and analysis of the realities of those fantasies in life outside of kink. Rape is something that happens to people every day, and it is a violent, brutal act that strips people of their humanity (as well as inducing long-term consequences like depression, impact on future sexual relationships, and body dysphoria). Rape is not a joke, and I don’t treat it is such. But interacting with resistance-based fantasies has been a part of my sexual experience since I was a child, and self-shaming for that is not a healthy way to live, either.

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Certainly, not all fantasies are as complicated and loaded as that one, and certainly, I have other fantasies. But something I have had to come to terms with is the difference between the idea of a sexual experience and the reality of experiencing something. There are things that, in my head, are immeasurably hot, but in real life, I don’t actually like the experience as much. And vice versa: there are things that, when they happen in real life, I think are incredibly hot, but in a fantasy, don’t do much for me.

For me, fantasies are both a way to stimulate sexual desire and navigate difficult experiences that have impacted our sexual lives. They are a way for our minds to let our bodies know what is sexually stimulating and exciting. It gives us creative ways to share our bodies and sexual experiences with our partners. And, for some, they can give us a way to heal from experiences that have damaged or hurt our sexual interactions (in addition to other tools, such as therapy, medication, etc. as applicable to each person.)

I don’t believe I am alone in self-shaming for fantasies. I think that many people have been embarrassed or ashamed to admit their fantasies: either they don’t want to admit they have them at all, or the nature of the fantasy feels embarrassing or shameful. I have come to a point in my life where I think that fantasies are some of the healthiest ways to explore our sexuality. We don’t need to act on (or act out) every fantasy that we have. But it is important to be honest and celebrate our fantasies- even the ones that make us feel vulnerable.

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

How do you feel about sexual fantasy? Do you let yourself fantasize without judgment? Are you ashamed of any of your fantasies? Do you share any of your fantasies with your partner(s) or friends? Does fantasy have a place in your sex life? Have you engaged in sexual behavior that you fantasized about only to discover you didn’t like it?  Or did it please you as much as your fantasized it would? Or differently? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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

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

Only Yes Means Yes, Part II: On Rape Culture

Content warning: Contains discussions of rape, sexual abuse, and trauma. Some discussions and/or images may be triggering.

Rev Dr.Tom Bohache:  As a rape survivor, I am always troubled when people say, “Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about violence,” for I think it both trivializes it and misses the point. It IS violence, but it is ALSO sex. The horror and outrage is that sex has been used as the vehicle to perpetuate violence, and the survivor’s sexuality has been (forever?) perverted by this act. Some of the lasting effects might be body shame, self doubt, fear of intimacy, and an unwillingness to engage in certain sexual acts. (In my case, it tainted receptive anal sex for me.)

Rev. Miller Hoffman: it feels tricky to me, Tom. Sex has become weaponized in rape, and folks like me are trying to distinguish between something that is mutual and consensual (sex) and something that is not (violence). I think the confusion between rape and sex may be at the heart of Brock Turner’s light sentence, for example: much less likely if he had assaulted her with a bat.

Rev. Dr. Bohache: Yes, there are many layers to the issue. But what bothers me is when people make a statement like the one I quoted without realizing the complexity. It feels dismissive.

Rev. Hoffman: Absolutely. Especially if that’s the response when we are trying to talk about rape’s impact on our sexualities.

revrobin2-023Robin: The dialogue above, on a Facebook page that hopes to continue conversations that began in October 2015 as part of an ongoing symposium, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit,” sparked conversation between me and Malachi, and we decided to share some of our own experiences and thoughts.

Two weeks ago, Malachi began the conversation with a powerful post, “Only Yes Means Yes”: On Consent and Cultural Influences.”

Before that, as we talked, I began by saying something to the effect that it might be a future topic, and that I might be able to write about it even though I had no personal experience of rape or sexual abuse.

No experience of rape or sexual abuse.

As the words came out of my mouth, they got stuck in the air just beyond my lips.

Then I was able to offer a correction to Malachi. I said I have no specific memory or evidence that I was abused but I have long carried the feeling I was. Based on embodied reactions to an uncle, I have long wondered if I had been abused by him when I was three years of age and left in the care of him and my aunt for a week or two (I was not terribly fond of my aunt, but I felt no revulsion for her, as did towards my uncle).

This uncertainty—and at times I feel more certain—has created in me a

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great empathy towards those who report with absolute certainty what happened to them. My inclination is toward believing the testimony of victims generally, but it is especially strong in the case of those battered, abused and murdered due to rape and sexual abuse.

This experience (of the feeling of violation at least) has also caused me to believe that these horrors happen far more often than most of us think, something with which those who collect statistics and are otherwise knowledgeable generally agree.  It has also caused me to be more open to listening to, and finding truth in, those who share experience and knowledge that contradicts my own.

One occasion causes me to be aware of this frequency as well as the need to listen to others–indeed to realize how thin the line can be between one person’s “no” (or lack of “yes) and another’s putting their “need” or sense of privilege ahead of any consideration of the right to safety and security for the body of another human being. This time I was the perpetrator.

During a time in my life when I was single, I became close to a young man whom I met through the Radical Faeries. I will call him Steve, a handsome and quirky guy who favored several European philosophers. We hung out together in Brooklyn and visited the beach on Fire Island. We had many conversations about philosophy, religion, and family. Over time, I became sexually obsessed with him. I made my desires clear, and he made his refusal clear, too. “I want to be friends, but I am not sexually attracted to you.”

That was a clear “no,” but I failed to heed it. One day, as we lay, naked, side by side, on the beach, I reached over and placed my hand on his genitals. He responded immediately by lifting my hand off his body and said “Don’t ever do that again.”

Immediately, I felt shame, and apologized. I told him I did not want to lose him as a friend. He said he too hoped we could remain friends. “Time will tell,” he said.

Soon, we no longer had any contact. I still feel shame and remorse–but it was not until Malachi and I had considerable conversation about consent that I remembered Steve and how I violated him.

I know I am not alone in violating the body of another–which is not an excuse, but is an acknowledgment that our culture has a lot of boundary violations going on, from hugging without permission to unacceptable sexualized touch to rape and other forms of intimate violence. This is, as I see it, all part of a “rape culture” which seems to create, or at least work alongside, other cultural influences and norms so that its adherents and practitioners get what they want, or stop others from getting what they deserve, by dismissing the embodied autonomy and innate worth of others.

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This may not be rape as sexualized violence, but efforts to deny the value and beauty of bodies is nonetheless violation and it creates ongoing negative effects in how people view and relate to their own bodies. It is mental and emotional rape even if it is not physical.

A number of political and social leaders, including but not limited to Donald Trump, have drawn upon this to give public voice to what many older white men (and some younger ones, too) believe, namely that the claims of other people—racial groups other than white people, women, even gays and lesbians and certainly transgender people—are overblown, if not false, and are endangering our well-being as a well-organized, orderly society.

Their reaction to these and differences is not to listen, or even to ask questions, so they might learn about the experience of others, but to respond with dismissals, slurs, and belittlement. Alas, any of us can do that when we encounter difference, but it is possible to train ourselves to be more open. But we have to want to be open.

Trump’s ongoing belittlement of women—his crass responses to women who oppose him and the support he receives for and because of it—offer not only evidence of the ongoing power of rape culture but also send a clear signal to many, mostly men but probably also to some women who support these men, that he is “THE MAN.” And Mario Rubio’s effort to belittle Trump’s penis seems to have been, perhaps unconsciously, his attempt to say, “No, he is not THE MAN. I AM THE MAN!”

This takes me back to Tom Bohache’s initial comments when he wrote about the effects on the survivor’s sexuality.  So many people, so many of us, carry scars from this culture even if we do not carry scars from rape of our body, our person. And I believe far more of us than have said it are victims of specific acts of various forms of rape. How many of us carry a feeling of violation even if we cannot name it with any assurance or precision?

And although more women are victims of rape than men (misogyny and

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patriarchy are alive and well), there are many men who, unlike my brave friend and colleague Tom, have yet to openly admit their histories. Another of my dearest friends has told me about his repeated gang rape in a Midwestern middle school bathroom.  I know he is bravely working to overcome the damage done to his own sense of self and sexuality, but it took him years even to recall the memory. My friend is one of the most open, caring people I know, but I know (and he knows) he also has much anger inside.

I wonder how many of the angry white men who cheer Trump and others—many of whom have legitimate grievances against an economic system that has shut them out—may also have rape or abuse histories yet to face and tell? Preying on their anger does them no good and undermines the well-being of many others, indeed wreaks social havoc.

As Miller Hoffman writes, “Sex has become weaponized in rape, and folks like me are trying to distinguish between something that is mutual and consensual (sex) and something that is not (violence).”

All of us need to stand, as best we can, in that space to distinguish, and promote, something that is mutual and consensual, speaking up, standing up, and opposing that which is not.

 

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi: Rape, sexual assault, consent violations: it’s a heavy topic, one that is full of emotions and (for some), triggers. It’s an abhorrent act that cuts at the heart of who we are as sexual people- perverting an act that is meant to be spiritual, holy, pleasurable, and fulfilling in order to commit violence on another body, to exert power and control over another person.

If sex is intended to be a reclaiming of our bodies and pleasurable selves, rape is the inverse, removing our capacity for choice, power, or pleasure from the equation. It is not connective and mutual, but one-sided and isolating. It is a violent act.

And this is just the act itself. This does not take into account the fairly

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horrendous process of reporting rape in an environment that associates rape of masculine people as a sign of weakness (which often leads to the underreporting of rape on assigned male bodies), and rape of feminine people as a consequence for existing (the comments on the victims clothing, state of sobriety, location, and/or lack of company are more than enough to insinuate that a woman is responsible for her rape by wearing clothes that support her sexuality, choosing to consume alcohol, walking down the street, or simply being alone).

A couple weeks ago, I began to contextualize the concept of rape culture as part of a larger response to Rev. Tom Bohache’s and Rev. Miller Hoffman’s dialogue on facebook about the language and implications when talking about rape.

The conversation highlights aspects of a survivor’s story- including long-term effects and language that we use to designate the difference between consensual acts and acts that are rooted in seeking to hold power over another person.

First, I have to state that I appreciate the importance of the distinction for many: particularly for women and those assigned female at birth, there is an inherent cultural disbelief of a survivor’s story, or a sense that a victim “deserved it.” Because the cultural response is to automatically doubt the victim’s story, phrases like “it’s not sex, it’s violence” become important because they are another way to say, “This was not my fault. I did not have a choice in this.”

In a somewhat-separate facet of my life (my involvement with kink and BDSM communities), I am actively working with several organizations who are trying to (a) navigate allegations of consent violations within the community; (b) instate better policies to keep people safer at events; and/or (c) seek to update reporting processes and be transparent in accountability and addressing consent violation reports. One particular discussion thread that is vital to the conversation is centering the victim’s experience and requests in the healing process. Rev. Tom Bohache makes this

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important point that his voice feels diminished and/or silenced by creating the hard line between sex and rape.

In many ways, I understand that hard line and why it is drawn. Rev. Miller Hoffman points that we need ways to distinguish between the act of sex and the atrocity of weaponizing sex- a distinguishment of intention, rather than acts. We don’t want to see any relation between the consensual, sacred aspect of our sexualities and the brutal perversion of sexual expression through rape.

But what is “sex”? Is it simply a mechanical, technical act, a pelvic thrusting motion, a combination of hands and lips that combine to produce a physical sensation? If sex is nothing more than a physical act, then I absolutely see that it is harder to differentiate between the two based on the physical components.

For me, though, sex gets a little more complicated. In BDSM, I have seen people have orgasms fully clothed with no genital touch. I have seen people having sex without having an orgasm. I have seen people having orgasms from pain stimuli. I have seen the exact same two scenarios happen- someone tied up in artistic rope- and for one person, the act is sexual, for the other, it is not.

I still struggle to define what sex is. For me, it most often comes down to the vague, “people are having sex if they consider the actions occurring between them consensual, sexual acts,” which inherently diverges from “rape” in both consent and intention.

We have to all be desiring to do what we are doing for it to be sex, for me. Anything else isn’t automatically, de facto “rape”… there are a whole lot of different interactions that happen between “sex” and “rape.” Those grey areas are not talked about enough, and those gray areas are the entire premise of rape culture.

But as important as the phrase, “That wasn’t sex, that was violence” can be to some survivors (although, clearly, as Tom said, that phrase undermines his own experience in how rape has impacted his ability to be a consensually sexual adult), it is a phrase we cling to because it separates us into us-vs-them. Good people and bad people. Good people don’t rape and rape is violent. Rape is about power. I’m a good person. Therefore, I don’t use sex in violent ways or use it to exert power over others.

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But when the focus is only on the black-and-white, sex vs. rape, it minimizes the numerous areas between those two things. I have had situations in which I pushed, coerced, or misread someone else’s interests. Now certainly, when someone said no, I stopped, but the point is, there is a violence when we push our own desires onto someone else. Kissing someone when they don’t want to be kissed. Touching someone when they’re intoxicated. These situations impact someone’s capacity for sexual expression in future situations- sometimes extensively. Rape is not the only form of sexual violence, and without minimizing the atrocities of rape, I think we can also come to understand the ways in which we have used (or seen others use) sex as a means of power and/or selfish intention.

Does this mean we are inherently bad people? No. Does this mean that rapists should get a pass for the atrocities they commit? Absolutely not. Holding people accountable is absolutely necessary, and there is an immense amount of trauma and pain associated with healing from rape. But I think, in many ways, it can be an oversimplication to say “Rape isn’t sex, it’s violence.” Not because that narrative is untrue or not important, but because sex is not purely a mechanical act, and I have found that there are many ways for sex to be weaponized and used as a power tactic.

Recognizing that we need to find a way to differentiate these things is important. But similarly, we have to ensure that, in our desire to separate out the differences in both understanding and semantics, we are not doing so in a way that continues to silence the voices of survivors.

 

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

How do you feel about the culture you are currently a part of? Do you feel as though you are living in a rape culture? Can you think back to times in your own sexual history where there wasn’t enthusiastic consent from all parties? How do you feel about the phrase, “Rape isn’t sex, it’s violence.”? 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, September 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 2, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 2” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise as well as If We Can’t Talk About It, We Shouldn’t Be Doing It to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (.5 credit for each session with 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.

If We Can’t Talk About It, We Shouldn’t Be Doing It

Robin:

My survey of early Christian teachings about sexuality (in preparation for next week’s online workshop), largely through the eyes of the historian Peter Brown, leaves me overwhelmed with how much our ancestors struggled over the place and power of virginity in the life of faith. It is as if the call for chastity before marriage in our own day—the abstinence before marriage movement, or saving yourself before marriage—came alive two thousand years ago. But of course, it is the other way around.

revrobin2-023The ancient world of early Christianity was very different from our own. For one thing, life expectancy was shockingly low—2nd Century citizens of the Roman Empire were born into a world where life expectancy was less than 25 years of age. Jewish teaching responded to this fact by emphasizing reproduction to maintain Israel and keep it strong.

But Christian writers and spiritual teachers in the first several centuries after Jesus talked about sexuality differently, and were far from one voice about it. Some felt that people did not have time to be just pleasuring their bodies; they needed to deepen their souls, connect with their spirits, and get ready for death. Others understood that young people might want or need to be sexually active with a spouse in order to reproduce, but they could at a later age opt for what was often called continence within their marriage. Another, Clement of Alexandria, accepted that people would be sexually active but wanted it done, echoing earlier upper-class Roman attitudes, with dignity; and he was clear sex was only for procreation.

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Icon representing Valentinus blogs.uoregon.edu

Still others, often associated with the gnostic teacher Valentinus, believed that their spiritual well-being, indeed their being in and of itself, depended on being part of small communities of students (we might say seekers today) centered around a single spiritual teacher. These communities were, surprisingly in an era so clear about gender hierarchies, composed of both women and men, and required sexual abstinence for their successful and long-lived functioning.

As I write about these strands of our religious history, and prepare for next week’s online workshop—“Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 2” at 3 pm ET here —I keep thinking about conservative Christian struggles to govern sexual behavior today. How much have things changed?

On the one hand, things have changed a lot. Pre-marital sex is not only the norm, but it is openly acknowledged (in my childhood, even adolescence—back in the social unenlightened times—it existed of course, but was talked about only in hush-hush tones, if at all, and always with shame attached).  Any negative judgment seems muted.

Nudity used to be rather modest, with the showing of some skin considered as much as was allowed. Now, films display bodies, mostly female but more and more male, in all their glory, and some of the more respectable tabloid press (New York Post, e.g.) run stories about celebrities at nude beaches and elsewhere with pictures. True, women’s breasts and all genitals are covered with bar,, stars or headlines, but a quick online search reveals the full picture.

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Generally, I think all of this is healthy. In my own pastoring, most of the couples who came to me for spiritual conversations before commitment or marriage were already living together, or at least being sexually active together. I did not discourage this, or certainly judge it—and not only because most of these couples were same-gender-loving people who lacked widespread support for their love. I had come to the conclusion that practice helps, and not just in bed.  In addition, way too much has traditionally been made about a woman’s intact hymen, creating an easy double standard—and I also believe that Christian theology which depends on the virginity of Mary is oppressive to women, and all the rest of us.

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve from homepage of Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica

As for nudity, my only misgiving is how much of the exposure feeds on sensationalism and titillation. I devoutly pray we will someday as a culture get over our shame about our own bodies so we can validate all bodies.  For a website promoting this from a sex-positive perspective—albeit only heterosexual  and partnered sex within marriage but a positive view of masturbation—visit “Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica” at http://www.genesis2twenty5.com/index.html .

There is of course another view, in particular as regards pre-marital sex. The movement for abstinence before marriage got a major impetus from the HIV/AIDS epidemic and from the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD).  One way to avoid even the possibility of one of those serious outcomes is to abstain from all sexual relations.

In addition, proponents claim that better marriages result. I offer a caveat on their behalf: this is really only aimed at heterosexual couples, because the movement promoting abstinence does not actually believe non-heterosexual people should marry, and in reality cares little, if anything, about the quality of lives of gay and lesbian people.

Proponents even claim psychological studies support the desirability of abstinence, but many psychologists and others say they are misusing data, and that some of the studies, including a heavily publicized one conducted by a scholar at Brigham Young University, are deeply flawed (see an example here).

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In addition, those promoting abstinence rely on the general view of biblical texts which is that sex is limited to married persons. However, some scholars, point to texts that are not so clear. For example, American Baptist biblical scholar Jennifer Knust points to the Book of Ruth as showing premarital sex as a blessing. This is, however, a minority view among church leaders despite many public surveys of younger church members in most denominations that record widespread premarital intercourse and oral sex.

I detect differences, perhaps subtle but nonetheless important, between the spiritual teachers and leaders of the first several centuries and those of today promoting abstinence. Those long ago were trying to grasp the difference Jesus and his ministry made in their lives and the lives of those who came to the faith. They felt a new spirituality and believed it impacted their sexual and social lives, requiring them to dissent from existing social patterns.

Today, Focus on the Family and others, often well-meaning I am sure, are trying to stop the shift of cultural influences that challenge established sexual practices.  This is so, even though most of those who engage in pre-marital sex do not aim so much to challenge religious beliefs—which they often view as either outdated or irrelevant—as to simply live open lives in concert with others around them.

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In addition, those of long ago did not expect to change the rules of society—they were trying to build and sustain a movement, but had little, if any, idea they would change Roman society. Too many of them were being martyred to think that way. They did, however, believe that ultimately God would change everything.

The conservative leaders today really are engaged in cultural wars, and despite what appears to be an uphill climb, they seek to win. They want control of sex again, something that religion in the United States seems to have had prior to the 1960s. Thankfully, however, they do not seek to make us all virgins!

 

Malachi:

Malachi GrennellNext week, Robin and I will be holding the monthly Sex, Bodies, Spirit educational webinar. In light of this, we decided to discuss a modern version of an ancient debate: the morality of sex outside of marriage. In particular, we wanted to look at Abstinence Only Sex Education (AOSE) and recognize the ways in which this discussion is much, much older than we often think.

I remember my first sex education class. Specifically, it was called “Family Life,” and it began in the fourth grade. The boys in the class were taken to another room to do something fun with science, and the girls from another class were brought in and we learn about menstruation, puberty, and the beginning discussions of sex (which were, in essence, don’t do it). If the boys asked what we were doing, we were instructed to tell them that it was a “woman’s conversation.”

So many things about this initial conversation were problematic, but I am

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grateful they were contrasted with the lessons I learned at home. Since I grew up in a lesbian household before gay marriage was legal and my biological mother conceived me with my biological father out of wedlock, they were hardly in a position to enforce the “no sex without marriage” line. I was told instead that “if I couldn’t talk about it, I shouldn’t be doing it,” which seemed a much more mature, practical approach to sex education.

The conversation about sex outside of marriage- particularly from a Christian perspective- is an old one, and something that is full of misogyny and anti-woman sentiment. For example, many have heard the adage that “prostitution is the oldest profession”… and plenty of religious writing has broached the subject of prostitution, but the indictment always seems to come down on those offering the services, rather than those partaking (and traditionally, more women than men have engaged in prostitution out of economic necessity…when a husband died or was incapable of working, women needed to find a way to provide for their families even when no jobs were available to them).

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The birth of Christianity is a synthesis of different cultures: on one hand, Jewish culture, which celebrated the family, and needed to procreate in order to flourish; and Greco-Roman cultures, from which much of modern philosophy was born. Christianity effectively synthesized the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates that valued spirit over flesh and viewed women as second-class citizens, useful only as incubators for life given to them by male seed with Judaism, creating a hierarchy that celibacy was better than marriage, but marriage was much better than sex outside of commitment, for only through marriage could the sexual union between a man and a woman be holy.

In fact, most of the discussions about sex in Christianity assume a gold standard of sexual relationship, and discuss all other actions as abominable. If you’re going to be sexual, then you must get married, and the only acceptable configuration of that is a male/female partnership; any deviation (homosexuality, masturbation, female pleasure, prostitution and later, contraception and abortion) were unquestionably sinful.

We can easily see the traces of this line of thinking in modern day AOSE programs. One of the largest criticisms of a study supporting AOSE  is that this particular study did not have the same moralistic slant that most AOSE programs (e.g. people were not characterized as bad or immoral people if they engaged in sex before marriage).

Historically, as well as in the present-day, we see the largest push-back against comprehensive sex education (CSE) from Christian communities. But framed within the context of the larger discussions of sexual morality inside of Christian communities, this is one of many fights that stem from the same basic root.

The point is, the discussion about sex outside of marriage is a much older

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http://genderbodyandmind.weebly.com/uploads/1/6/6/5/16659556/4118570_orig.jpg

conversation than simply sex education.  It is important to note that Jesus made little comment about sexual practices- the overarching message and teaching of Jesus encouraged people to make informed, educated choices, rather than accept a force-fed theology of the status quo. The point was not to tell people what to believe or how to manifest those beliefs, but to provide as much information as possible.

In fact, I feel very strongly that Jesus would have advocated for CSE (which covers abstinence as well as contraception and STI prevention). We think of interaction with God as a miracle, complete with trumpets blowing and a light ray coming down, but I am reminded of the familiar parable of the man and the flood: a man hears that his town is going to flood and, despite multiple rescue attempts, insists that he is a religious man, God loves him, and God will save him. When we ultimately drowns, he demands an answer from God. God replies that he sent a radio report, a rowboat, and a helicopter, and asks the man, “What the heck are you here?”.

Sometimes, miracles do not look like what we expect them to look. And in a day of HIV and antibiotic-resistant STI infections, we need a miracle. But I’m not sure the answer is simply, “Don’t have sex.” I think the miracle we need is a different approach: encouraging people to talk openly about sex, providing education to people starting to explore their sexual identities, and encouraging a more mature approach to sexuality. God has sent us education, opportunity, and empowerment to speak. Like my moms always taught me, if we can’t talk about it, we shouldn’t be doing it.

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

What do you think about sexual abstinence before marriage? Did you practice that before you were married? Do you support sex education in public schools? Should it be required in all schools (including schools run by religious bodies which oppose discussion of birth control and abortion and homosexuality? Did you receive sex education in school? What was it like? Did it give you information you did not already have? What are the roles of religion and religious institutions in people’s sex lives? 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, September 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 2, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 2” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (.5 credit for each session with 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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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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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.

Sexual Repression: Systemic and Personal

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

by Malachi Grennell and Robin Gorsline

Introduction:

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

Malachi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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themodernjewishwedding.com

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

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

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Daniel Helminiak visionsofdaniel.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

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

What Will the Children Say?

It’s taken me years to get even remotely comfortable talking about sex… there is still a long way to go.

by Malachi Grennell and Robin Gorsline

Malachi: 

This past week, I have had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with two dear friends of mine and their one-year-old son. One evening, after the baby had gone down for the night, the three of us sat talking and the conversation turned to parenting- and sex.

Malachi GrennellWe were sharing stories of some of our struggles as parents (a role that we have each come into this past year: the two of them with the birth of their son; me through developing a co-parenting relationship to our (Kase and I’s) goddaughter). Our goddaughter (who we affectionately refer to as Kiddo) is 7, and I have had a series of interesting conversations with her that have led me to ponder how we talk about sex in healthy, age-appropriate ways with children.

A few anecdotes to contextualize this situation: when she was four, Kiddo asked for a whip for Christmas. When asked why she wanted a whip, she responded, “I think people would like it if I hit them with it.” In the South, spanking kids is something that is considered normal and encouraged, and her primary parent decided to try to spank her as a consequence for something. Her response to being was to ask for more- which quickly put an end to that as a consequence method. She has also commented that, if the tooth fairy came, she would pee in his or her mouth (her words).

These are the innocent statements made by a seven year old with an active imagination, that’s true… there is nothing inherently or intentionally sexual about them. And yet, all of her parents are kinky and laugh, recognizing that there is a good chance she will grow up to be as well. But it led me to wonder how (and when) to provide information to her about alternative types of sexuality. The obvious answer, of course, is to bring it up when talking to her about masturbation, or perhaps sex in general. Except that conversations about sex only really come up when talking about babies.

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truthrevolt.org

She and I have had many conversations about where babies come from. We talk about biology, about bodies with eggs and bodies with sperm and bodies with uteruses (for a really amazing book that deals with conception and pregnancy without ever mentioning gender, check out What Makes a Baby ). She has some understanding that babies are a product of the mingling of an egg and a sperm inside of a uterus. She might even have some understanding that one of the ways sperm enters a body is through sex, but I don’t think she has a firm idea of what sex is.

Which leads me to this point: how to we introduce and talk about sex as a recreational activity (and not just simply a means to an end, e.g. conception)? Forget kink; how do we address the idea that sex is something that we do because it feels good and is a way to be intimate with someone we care about? As parents, we are one of the primary sources of information for our kids- and what they don’t learn from us, they learn from school (such as sex ed) or other peers.

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nytimes.com

I remember the sex education I received from my peers in the guise of dirty jokes and juicy gossip, and it makes me shudder. I would like to inform and equip Kiddo to be better prepared to than that.

In truth, though, I want to raise her in a better informed world. I want to raise her in a world where her body is not criminalized and debated in public arenas. I want to raise her in a world where she doesn’t see her sexuality as a hindrance or a thing to feel shame about, but is excited and equipped to explore her sexuality in safe, responsible ways.

I want to raise her in a world that celebrates all of who she is. And yet, I wonder if I struggle so much to find the entry points for these conversations because we as adults are not accustomed to having these conversations. We have no framework to allow sex to be a part of normal, adult conversation. When we do choose to explicitly reference it, we do so in euphemism (“We’re going to have some alone time” wink wink) or in self-serving ways (“I’m gonna get laid/lucky tonight!”)

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familydiv.org

We talk about having age-appropriate conversations with children, and that is incredibly important. As a queer person, I know I worry that I will say too much, or push a conversation, and I worry about what’s age-appropriate. Queer parents often feel that sense of scrutiny…we work hard to have families and, once we do, want to make sure that we do it exactly right because we want to prove that we are just as capable as heterosexual parents. Besides, the queer community (particularly gay men and bisexual people) have been accused of being “obsessed with sex,” so there is a certain trepidation about bringing up sex at all.

We talk about having age-appropriate conversations with children. But what, I wonder, is the appropriate age to talk about sex as a pleasurable activity (and not just a means to an end)? By the state of United States culture, it seems that many of us haven’t reached it yet! We don’t talk about sex as a part of our lives. We have very little framework to help us create safe space to talk openly about sex and allow it to be a part of our conversations.

If we aren’t doing it, then how can we hope to model that type of behavior? As a child of queer parents, I know that my understanding of sex was severely limited… what I took away from the conversations was not mechanics or concepts of intimacy, but an overwhelming sense of shame. Although my parents never said it, I knew that sex was something to be ashamed of. Once I updated my understanding of the mechanics of sex (I confess, the physics of heterosexual sex made no sense to me until I started watching porn- not the best method of sex education, but a helpful lesson in the technicalities), I started working on my emotional hangups. It’s taken me years to get to a point where I feel even remotely comfortable talking about sex… there is still a long way to go.

Carlos McKnight

Last week, Robin and I talked about the terrifying political climate after the Republican National Convention. Since then, we have seen the Democratic National Convention seek to provide an alternative to the alarming display the previous week. While I think there were many important concepts discussed at the DNC, I am reminded that the next president will nominate judges to the Supreme Court, and I have a seven year old girl looking to (among others) me for guidance.

This election is not just about us, but about the world we shape for the generations that follow. I want to live in a world that is well-informed, and I want to shape the next generation to be thoughtful contributors. I want people in Kiddo’s generation to be able to push beyond what we are fighting for now. I want us, as adults, to know how to have these conversations with one another so that we are able to impart these lessons to the next generation. I want us to be comfortable enough with ourselves that we are able to answer questions without imparting a sense of shame. But most of all, I want us to actively be a part of creating a better world for those who follow after us.

Robin:

“Kids say the darndest things!” Those of a certain generation (mine) will remember how Art Linkletter mined that truth to make money with a book of the same name, as well as part of his “House Party” radio program. In 1998, Bill Cosby found the same rewarding path for several years on television.

revrobin2-023What these venues featured were kids saying “cute” things, definitely not using “bad” language or, e.g., sexual or excretory terms.  However, my experience with children features some differences. My daughter Emily, while enrolled in Cambridge, MA public schools in 1984, came home to ask me, “Daddy, what does ‘fuck’ mean?” (a word neither her mother nor I ever used). She was in First Grade, age 6. Of course, she did this at the playground in front of her younger sisters, and waited, as they did, for an answer.

Bear in mind I had already had to try to explain to her, and to them, what “being gay” meant—I had responded by talking about  “liking men and the company of men,” and then stumbled about when she asked in response if I would still want to spend time with her and her sisters!

Frankly, I do not remember what I said in response to the playground query, except I am sure I strongly suggested she did not use the word again (which probably only heightened interest).

Art Linkletter Kids say the darndest things barnesandnoble com
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Fast forward to this year, last week in fact. Our five-year-old granddaughter (who shall remain nameless), realizing her mother was getting frustrated with her two-year-old sister’s slow response to a request to find her diaper, said, “Susie (name changed to protect the innocent), where’s your fuckin’ diaper?”

What a difference 32 years can make. And yet, have things really changed in any important way?

Things have changed in terms of conversations about sex. In some respects, there is more openness. But note that our granddaughter’s sentence, correct in terms of everyday usage, continues the pattern of negative value being connected to sexual “street language.” (See our blog, “What’s Your Body Language?”) And just because she can use the word in a grammatically correct way doesn’t mean she has any more idea what the term means than did her aunt before.

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nationalenquirer.com

Sexual scandals are reported more easily and fully these days—there always seems to be some celebrity and/or politician embroiled in compromising photo-sharing or sightings on a nude beach or having a sex video flying around cyberspace. Sex certainly still sells—that has not changed—still brings readers and customers.

But what about actual conversations among adults?  Surely, many use “fucking” and other exclamatory and negative terms. But do we talk about sex, really talk about it, even in private spaces?

The other day, when Malachi and were trying to find a time for our weekly editorial conference, he proposed an evening time. I texted back that I would not be available because Jonathan and I had carved out time for us, and we would, I hoped, be having sex at the time mentioned. After I wrote the text, I thought “You can’t say that,” and then I thought, “Oh yes you can, this is Malachi, and he not only knows you and Jonathan have sex, you know he and his husband (and others) have sex, and you sometimes talk about it in preparation for writing this blog. You both even write about it!”

Then I thought one more thing: “Wouldn’t it be great if I felt comfortable saying things like that to other loved ones, not just the co-editor of a blog about sexuality and spirituality and my very dear friend?”

Of course, six months ago, when Malachi were friends but were not yet colleagues on this blog, I would not have texted, or certainly said, anything about Jonathan and me having sex.

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Relationships matter. In truth, I have only two other relationship (besides with Jonathan) in which I might make that statement (two gay male friends of mine with whom I have discussed some of my sexual function issues).  I want to change that. I want my sex talk with others to reflect not only troubles but also the sheer joy and celebration of sex with my husband. And I want it to be more commonplace. I have written an honest and open (what others might label “explicit” or NSFW) poem about recent sex with Jonathan, and I am trying to decide where to publish it (Jonathan likes it).

I don’t want to use language I have heard some use, things like (as someone, usually a man, heads out on a date), “I hope I get lucky tonight” (wink, wink). I not only want to use the word “sex,” but also I want it, at least in my case, to be about mutuality and shared pleasure (and if about masturbation, my own).

Last week, we wrote against the backdrop of the Republican National Convention. This week, the Democrats have completed their gathering.

And what a difference! They gave openly lesbian and gay speakers, and a Transgender speaker, prime times to speak (I don’t know if they provided that to an openly bisexual person).  Many of the non-LGBT speakers spoke positively about LGBT people. And there are no platform planks about bogus methods to “cure” same-sex attraction nor linking sex only to reproduction or repealing a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Also, a search on the internet revealed no reports about a boom in business for male sex workers, as at the GOP event in Cleveland. Maybe that’s because there were many more out, self-affirming gay men already at the convention?

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wnd.com

But one thing remains the same at both conventions. Nobody talked openly about sex. Former President Clinton had an opportunity to lament the effect on his presidency and his family from his affairs (especially the one with an intern) but nary a word from him, or Chelsea or Hillary either. We all know that when people talk about Hillary’s toughness, it refers not only to negotiating with dictators but also to hanging “tough” with her husband. But it is not discussed except in hushed and judgmental side conversations.

Think how much more healthy it would be for them , and us, if we could get it out in the open—we don’t need to judge him, or her, but we can understand the situation as human. It could be a time of education for many.

We could be more real about the power and divine roots of sex, and its centrality in our lives.

love makes family familydiv org
familydiv.org

Maybe then we could talk more openly with our children about it, too, not only to tell them about reproduction, how the parts work, but even to talk about pleasure and joy it can bring (as well as the potential for pain possible with such a great power). We could talk openly with them about masturbation, no longer giving messages about its dangers as they discover its pleasure (leaving people confused).

When Emily posed that question in 1984, I was only 18 months or so out of the closet, recently divorced, and still dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia. There is no way I had the conceptual understanding or language I have today to speak affirmatively about sex.

its not the storkWould I have had a different conversation with my daughter then? Perhaps (I really don’t remember what I said). I do know I would have had different conversations with her and her sisters as they grew up.

It is not my place to speak with my granddaughters about sex (unless they ask), but I can share my thoughts with their parents. And that I will do, knowing how much they love their daughters and how I trust them to do the very best they can to insure bright futures full of love and joy for each girl—futures that include the kinds of sex that bring them joy and fulfillment God intends for them.

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

What do you think? How do you feel about talking with children and youth about sex? Have you done it? How did it go? Can you share from your experience things the rest of us might need to know? Or are you troubled and uncertain?  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.

New Educational Adventure!

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com

Please plan to join us on the third Thursday of each month at 3:00 pm ET for a one-hour online educational and discussion session with Malachi and Robin! First session: August 18, 2016! Stay tuned for further details (Note: available for CEU credits for MCC Clergy).

People’s Lives Are At Stake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangus Hirschfeld
Mangus Hirschfeld

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The political climate is terrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

come as a culture and society, the reality is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finding Sanctuary: Reminders of God through BDSM

by Malachi Grennell

Malachi GrennellLast week, Robin wrote a wonderful solo piece around the challenges and joys of sexuality and aging while I was away at a retreat for people engaged with the BDSM community. This week, while Robin is away at Metropolitan Community Church’s General Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, I get the opportunity to share some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences from not one, but two different events that I had the opportunity to attend.

“BDSM” is an acronym that stands for “Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism.” BDSM is a more familiar term to most people, but I often tend to simply use “kink,” which describes the larger umbrella of alternate sexual lifestyles (of which BDSM is a part).

BDSM_acronymLike many different types of communities, the kink community is comprised of both private and public aspects: there are those who engage in kinky sex privately, but leave it “in the bedroom,” while others form networks, present and/or attend classes, go to public dungeon spaces, and attend large conferences and events.

I don’t want to turn this writing into a workshop-style piece, but I do think it’s important to give some context. I can imagine- and remember my own impressions before attending an event- that it might appear that a 5-day kink retreat would simply be a massive orgy, full of whips and chains and a lot of leather, where showing up is considered consent and people do whatever they want.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, except for the leather. There’s a decent amount of leather around, and it’s glorious.

The truth is, the 5-day retreat is held at a remote campground where they

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http://www.leather-maniacs.com/user_html/1334067439/pix/a/n/1238540764-26532.jpg

take people’s privacy very seriously. The days are filled up with classes from educators across the country (and sometimes, from around the world) to teach things like rope bondage safety and flogging techniques and navigating non-monogamy (or, sometimes, navigating monogamy within the kink scene). The evenings are full of events where people can try something out if they haven’t experienced it (and want to), or sit and talk to other people, or even go swimming in the pool or have a dance party. The space is both clothing-optional and sex-positive, which just means that people can be as (un)dressed as they feel comfortable and are allowed to have sex in most places (with a few exceptions, such as places where food is served).

It’s not a massive orgy (although orgies do happen). It’s a community- a group of people who share a common interest- in this case, that happens to be an alternative sexual lifestyle. It’s almost guaranteed that every person will see something they like and hadn’t thought of, as well as see something that is an immediate turn-off. The mantra in the kink community is “Your Kink Is Not My Kink and That’s Ok.” It’s a diverse group of people ranging in age, experience, interests, skill levels, sexualities, identities, and backgrounds.

The truth is, whenever I start writing about kink, it always feels a little overwhelming because there are so many places I want to go. I want to talk about rape culture and what kink has taught me about consent. I want to write about intersectionality and the ways in which kink allows for important, powerful social analysis (and the ways in which the community sometimes falls short of those analysis). I want to write about my experience as a trans person navigating a clothing-optional space. I want to write about the ways in which I have learned to tackle difficult (and sometimes dark) desires in safe, healthy ways. I want to write about catharsis and about navigating trauma and dealing with frustration.

I want to write about everything, and I think that would take a book (or two).

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http://www.challies.com/sites/all/files/03-30-Lewis.jpg

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We get the camp we need, not necessarily the camp we want.” And she’s right: every event has provided me with important lessons that I needed to learn, even if it’s not necessarily what I wanted to be learning…even if I thought I learned them last time. It’s also worth noting that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… two lessons that emerged from kink camp, but are not unfamiliar: I have been wrestling with these throughout my journey with Christian faith.

But these parallels exist. We know, so often, that God provides what we need- the lessons we need, the experiences we need, the people we need- although, at times, it doesn’t exactly match up with what we want (or think we want). Kink camp is much the same way. I spent much of this camp in a caretaking role, ensuring the people that I care about were safe, protected, able to be vulnerable, had a place to decompress. Caretaking is something I have a complicated relationship with, and it’s not necessarily how I wanted to spend my camp… but I do think it’s what I needed to do.

Also, please don’t get me wrong- I had a blast. I had fun, I did all sorts of things, and truly honored the vulnerability and difficulties that friends were going through, and felt humbled that they reached out to me.

I was also reminded that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… which not only reminds me prayer, but reminds me that we must participate in our own miracles. I have a difficult time asking for what I want sometimes, and yet I was reminded that I cannot get what I want if I am not willing to ask for it. The juxtaposition between having friends need care and finding their own voices for articulating what they want and need against my own hesitancy to not “be a burden” on others was a powerful experience to have… and has given me lots to think on as I continue to settle back in to daily, clothes-wearing life.

I mentioned that I had the opportunity to attend two events. The first was the planned, 5-day camping retreat. The second was an impromptu trip to a hotel conference where a friend was coordinating overnight security and asked me to come help out. The second event was significantly different from the first event (zoning laws impacted the amount of nudity that is allowed, as well as restricted specific types of sex allowed in public spaces), but I enjoyed the event immensely and was reminded how important it is that we give back to community.

People come to these events for a myriad of reasons, but often it is to find

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http://melaniemilletics.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/diversity.png

support and comfort with like-minded people. Much like church, many of us are looking to find support and validation for who we are. Once we have integrated ourselves into that community, we then become a part of sustaining it.

I met many folks at the hotel conference for whom it was their first event, and they were overwhelmed with how accepted and comfortable they felt in that space. As a person who was there to ensure that everyone was safe and comfortable, as well as help make the event run smoothly, it reminded me that someone did this for me at my first event. When we reach a certain point of interaction within community, we become part of sustaining and supporting that community through whatever roles speak to us. Whether that’s a church or a kink event, it was a reminder that we are a part of shaping the communities of which we are a part.

It has been a full, exciting week and a half and I’m certainly still processing many of the individual experiences of both events. The big-picture resonance, however, is something that feels familiar. It’s about community and support. It’s about validation and confirmation. It’s about safety and reclaiming our identities. It is, in so many ways, about sanctuary.

 

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

What do you think? What are some of your thoughts, feelings, assumptions, or discomforts with BDSM? How do you feel about the synthesis of kink and faith? 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.

More Sex, Sacred Sex

This blog is sex-positive.

This blog is body-positive.

This blog is spirit-positive.

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starchildglobal.com

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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artbyani.com

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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snowflake.tumblr.com

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. 
  • black-couple-talking-in-bed enorfaslitnaomilane blogspot com
    enorfaslitnaomilane.blogspot.com

    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). 
  • I Love Me Written inside a Heart Drawn in Sand
    everysquareinch.net

    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!