Q:Do your religious beliefs exalt or stigmatize sex (or both)? Is religion a useful tool for helping young people navigate the treacherous world of sex, love and relationships? Does religion present an alternative view of sex and sexual relationships to the culture at large? Should it?
The very first commandment in the Torah is to have sex.
Ok, so you might not have heard it said that way, but it is true. “Be fruitful and multiply.” In biblical times, there was only one way to have children. Jewish tradition understood that sexuality, eating, all the functions of the body, are potentially beautiful, elevating, pure.
The body is extraordinarily powerful. Try an experiment: imagine what it is like to have another touch your hand. Then, have someone touch your hand. The actual sensation far surpasses even the most urgent imaginings. We have – indeed we are – bodies. Yet.
Bodies can also be degraded, exploited, trivialized, and unmoored from sanctity. As masters of self-deception, we can imagine that we are using our body to express love when we are using it to exercise power. Judaism is not anti-body. It rather enjoins us to understand the body. Judaism teaches us to shepherd our urges; to express them in ways that are kind to others, and enhancing to our own spirit.
Sexuality is a powerful way of recognizing the image of God in another. For it is a kind of human devekut – clinging, the same word the mystics use for clinging to God. It is the word used in the bible to describe the relationship between a man and woman – v’davak b’ishto – a man will cling to his wife. This is what sex ought to be; it is not something that can be realized by a high school student. Religion at its best restores the power of sexuality to public consciousness. Sexuality without restrains, without taboos, is not a free sexuality, but one enslaved to sensation; and sensation alone will never raise us above instinct. We are – we should be – better than that.
Human beings are the only animals who make love face to face. It requires maturity and thoughtfulness to see another human being face to face. Judaism demands that of us. Do we really want a society in which we approve of less? Do we want to teach our children that choosing to have sex is no more spiritually urgent than choosing to have ice cream?
We are bodies. But we are not only bodies. Sex divorced from spirit is ultimately destructive. Loving sex is the highest expression of the human yearning for connection. Devekut, clinging; to God and to one another – that state is the summit of human attainment.