Allow Me to Screw Up Your Sex Life a Bit

“We monks do not try to repress our sexual passions . . . Woe to those monks and nuns, who shovel into their subconscious their sexual passions. . . There is no spirituality in that. What happens, and what we aim at, is the transmutation of erotic energy from earthly attractions to God.” – Father Maximos quoted in The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides

In the old pagan world, sex and religion were all tied up together. Temple prostitutes and depictions of group sex on ancient Hindu temple walls and all that. Christianity has too often taken the opposite tact – sex as being so unholy that for a while it was considered a sin even in the context of marriage by the Roman church. Which led to possibly the most dysfunctional set-up ever; putatively and sometimes actually celibate priests being told each time a parishioner had sex with their spouse. What could be the problem with that, eh? Although the actual rejection of sex by the Christian church has varied wildly from place to place and time to time, the reality is that a lot of people continue to see sex and God as inevitably belonging in two separate spheres of our lives. To the extent that God and sex intersect, it is in the parsing out of rules for sexual conduct. But when actual sex takes place, well if our guardian angels could please exit the room, that would be great. And surely God has the good manners to turn his head for a few minutes. Wouldn’t want to be caught in flagrante delicto by the creator of the universe. That would be too weird.

I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church which of course demands celibacy from their priests and nuns. I remember being told that when they had sexual urges, they would pray. I’m not sure if anyone specifically said it, but my understanding was that their prayers would be for the removal of these base urges so they could focus more totally on their relationship with God. I can’t say if I got that right, but I must say that the celibacy described in the quote above makes much more sense to me. If we really believe that God made us and he made us sexual beings and he declared this male-female union “very good”, then trying to escape from, reject or suppress our sexual urges hardly seems right.

After reading the quote above some time ago, I discussed it with my husband. He told me that the idea of bringing one’s sexual impulses to God in prayer for satisfaction rather than repression was common in the black churches he attended where single women struggling to remain chaste made up a good chunk of the congregation. And of course, many saints through the ages has spoken of union with God in pretty explicitly sexual terms. Perhaps this idea of bringing our sexual desires to God isn’t so weird as a lot of us might assume.

Now, as modern Christians we say that sex is good. God created sex. So let’s put that alongside another thing we say is true: a Christian is supposed to seek God first in all areas of their lives. Not merely follow God’s rules, but actually seek him. Which would seem to include in our sex lives. You’ve probably prayed about your children, your work, your marriage, finding a parking place near the door at the grocery store. Have you ever prayed for sexual satisfaction? Would you?

It occured to me after reading this quote and discussing it with my husband that this might also point to the meaning of Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in 1 Corinthians 7:5 – “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer”. That verse never made much sense to me. Unless you’re Sting and need a whole weekend to do the do, it doesn’t seem that sex would take up so much of your time that you couldn’t also find a few minutes for prayer. Why would you want or need to refrain from sex with your spouse in order to pray? Unless of course, this prayer was the married person’s chance to bring their sexual urges to God much like a monk or nun would.

As I thought about the matter further, I realized that if this practice of bringing our sexual selves to God as a means of creating a greater connection with Him would not only benefit our relationship with God, it would benefit our understanding of ourselves as sexual people. it could be a powerful means of allowing God to shape this part of ourselves much as he will shape our hearts in other ways. Which is something we need more than ever in our modern world where the majority of kids born to moms under 30 are now being born outside of marriage. And even further, what if we taught our kids that this – and not “just say no” or cold showers or purity rings – was the Christian way of handling sex in those times between when we become sexually mature people and when (or if) we get married? Could teaching them to bring that part of themselves to God and lean into him during those years rather than trying to ignore, control or repress their sexual urges be a huge benefit to them as well? A Catholic priest told me once that most people would rather talk with him about their sex lives than their prayer lives. Prayer is a very intimate, private thing. In fact, my experience is that praying together as a married couple – beyond the trite “God bless us and protect us and provide for us” praying that we’d do with a child – is incredibly uncomfortable and difficult. If your sexuality and your prayer life are wound up together, it seems unlikely that sharing sex with a stranger or person you don’t have a deep commitment to would be all that tempting. But when you did go to share it, how much more powerful and bonding would that be?

These are all relatively new ideas for me so I can’t report much about how well they would work in practice. Beyond that they served me well enough during the 7 months my husband and I were separated in the last year. But I have shared them with my oldest son who found them intriguing as well. Maybe you can ask him in 10 years if mixing God and sex and prayer all together is a good idea or not. So anyways, those are just some more of my upside down ideas. And now that you’ve read them, they are in your head as well! Have fun with it. 😉

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9 thoughts on “Allow Me to Screw Up Your Sex Life a Bit

  1. I got the text via email & immediately thought of the Theresa scuplture — which a friend across the hall did a painting of, a few years back.

    Not so sure what to say about your prayer suggestion. God invented sex, along with various emotions and sensations people were evidently constructed to experience. Some things obviously appropriate between God & us, others (ie “nursing hatred”) obviously not — and this one, so utterly mixed up with turbulent human emotion that it’s hard to say. William Blake: “The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.” But it’s also tied in with our best dreams and our worst outcomes…

    Certainly not a question to be settled by a committee. “Are your intentions toward God honorable?” Hmmm. It makes me think of the dream in Acts 10, where Peter gets offered all this nonkosher meat, refuses, and is told: “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” But we’ve picked up so many mixed messages about sexuality through our lives, we would just about need to be Seduced. “Don’t tell; people would think of this all wrong!”

    And where would other people fit into that?

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    • I think that one of the real challenges we have is combating the hellenistic duality which has been a plague on Christianity since the beginning. The gnostic idea that there is something better and higher about ridding one’s self of the physical in favor of the purely spiritual. One of the things I am noticing more and more as I journey towards God is how foolish our notions of God as floating above the fray and the holy as being removed from this world is. At first it is a bit disappointing to realize that the higher things we seek are actually present in and around us. But in time, I discover that there is so much purpose woven into everything. To reject the physical, the common or the everyday in search of the high and holy turns out to be exactly the wrong thing. Which is not to say that we should be like pagans who worship what is made or see it as embodying (or being embodied by) the spiritual. Rather I think our call is to understand the spiritual purposes for the physical, common and everyday things. In this process they become tools for our worship, for our redemption and ultimately for our union with God. But learning that language of creation takes a willingness to do as Jesus demonstrated for us: walk through suffering, let ting go of everything while clinging to God and nothing else. There’s a reason that the earliest Christians called it “The Way” rather than “The Beliefs” or “The Practices”. It’s a way of living one’s life and thinking and relating to God that puts you on the narrow path with a cross on your shoulders. And part of the reward, it seems to me, is learning that language and discovering those tools that have been around us all the time.

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  2. I once saw a pretty good introduction-to-sex-for-kids that was really starting where most kids start, ie finding things to do with oneself that happen to feel good. But that, of course, is not where the best parts, or the troubles, begin!

    Human sexuality ties directly into the same interpersonal needs that get so totally botched and tormented in typical American childhood and parenting; instead of thinking of it being ‘another side of the coin’ you might rather call it an edge… but it’s the same coin all the same!

    My wife Anne once remarked: “If you want to truly hate somebody, the best way is probably to expect something from them which you can really only get from God.” But back in that story about Adam and God, we find God saying: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” We tend to project from one sphere to another, from parental to God & back to parental… but they aren’t precise equivalents.

    One thing we need specifically from other humans — is imperfection! We need to experience our own imperfection; and we need other people to help us practice accepting imperfection compassionately!

    Another — is to be needed. Are we going to ask God, “Was it good for You, too?” (Maybe this is less of a difficulty for females… not having egos, right?)

    To hope for God to provide directly… something we really need to receive via interaction with other limited beings… is really just going to send one back to the same place on the squirrel wheel where one got off. With the fact that we need love from each other, and aren’t particularly good at dealing it out — or dealing with it. Maybe not back to the same squirrel — but that wheel’s likely to turn just the same.

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    • I think that we have two problems with how we talk about sex with our kids. First we insist on conflating the facts of sex with the nuances of sexuality. So we wait until they are ready for ideas about sexuality to talk with them about the biology of sex. If the first time we openly talk about sex with our kids is when they are 10 or 11, of course, they will think it’s weird and taboo! I gave my kids the basic tab a slot b facts as soon as they started asking real questions about how babies are made – between 4 and 6. At that point it’s just a weird thing like pooping or farting that we do with our bodies. And it’s something most everyone does and a perfectly normal thing to talk about in the right situations. That way the conversation is declared open and I’m established as the expert before the rest of the world can really sink it’s claws in.
      The other mistake I think we make is not respecting the fact of our children’s autonomy. It’s very easy to convince your child that you are right. They assume you are right. The trick is when they no longer assume you are right and have to really think for themselves. So, I emphasize from the outset that these are decisions they will have to make for themselves. And it won’t be as easy as they think while they are sitting there listening to and agreeing with me. The first thing I taught my kids about sex is “the primary purpose of every organism is to reproduce. Don’t think you’re any different. That drive can and will over ride every rational thought and good intention you have if you let it. Don’t ever underestimate that reality.” So I really push them to be thinking about these things and taking ownership of this aspect of their life long before they find themselves in the middle of a relationship or situation where that primary objective rears its head and demands to be dealt with.

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    • You should try it. You might be surprised. Ever have a “heartgasm”? God works in strange and unexpected ways. Which is as much as I think I have to say on the details of the matter. 😉 Besides, if your intentions are good, he can be trusted to keep us from harm.

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      • Trying the Chinese ejaculation-suppression thing… I got a lot of energy in my forehead. Reverting to normal — stuffed-up nose. No nasal organisms, just a sense of “People are wired in odd ways. [Whee!]”

        My heart? Well, that’s a mystery to me…
        ‘Like a Russian magician
        I used to hide my heart in a tree…’ [& so on for many lines ala Silverstein, alas! A heart that just comes back to kick you for having paid no attention at the time, oy veh!]

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  3. Pingback: “Masculine Christianity” and Men « The Upside Down World

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