The Church’s Sex Problem

Our sexuality does not compete with our spirituality — it completes it.

Lets not talk about sex. At least not the rights and the wrongs, the shoulds or the should nots. Nor about “How far is too far?” or the standardized 10 commandments of boundary making. I don’t want to talk about the statistics of “sexual sin” or use any more of the shaming words that have become part of our accepted evangelical vocabulary. No. I don’t want to talk about that sex — and not in that way.

But I do want to talk about sex-uality.

redeemingsexbookI want to talk about the good gift of sexuality — about the beautiful, messy, grace-filled thing that it is to be sexual. About how our sexuality images our creator. And I want to hear how my sexual desires are a core part of my humanity — that I was created sexual, and that all those broken parts in me can be redeemed, and in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I want to talk about sex in a way that makes sense, the nitty-gritty kind of sense. That’s what I want to talk about . . . but don’t we all?

Then why don’t we?

Why do we always seem to get stuck talking about the negative stuff? Why does our first response to all things sexual usually come with a pointing finger? Why do sexual sins seem to overshadow all others, marking us with both shame and disgrace? Why do we have such a problem relating to sexual minorities, both in and outside the church? Sex certainly gets a lot of airplay, but sadly, it’s mostly negative.

I think the church has a sex problem.

The poet Rilke mourned that the church had failed to give our sex a home. A quick glance through church history confirms this. We encounter people like Origen, one early church father who attempted to solve his “sex problem” by castrating himself. Or Augustine, a revered early church theologian who struggled deeply with his sexuality. While he was able to affirm sex as a good gift from God (within marriage and solely for the purpose of procreation), he was still unable to integrate pleasure into his theology of sexuality. No sex for fun here!

Over time, some of this odd thinking has been corrected, but I’m still not convinced the church has moved all that far. No one is likely to emulate the likes of Origen, but there are more ways than one to castrate oneself.

Let’s face it, most of us are both uninformed and ill-informed when it comes to our own sexuality. We’ve never really been taught how to grow up with an integrated sexuality.

We are alienated from our bodies and we don’t understand our passions. Fear and judgment — not love and grace — have become our prime motivators for all things sexual. And we are still not quite sure how it all fits with our spirituality.

Most Christians seem to experience a profound disconnect between their sexuality and spirituality, viewing them as incompatible. Yet, one of the most fundamental truths we must embrace is that we are both fully sexual and fully spiritual, and this is by God’s design. Our sexuality does not compete with our spirituality — it completes it.

To better understand the interplay between our sexuality and spirituality, it is important to look at our sexuality through two lenses: social sexuality and genital sexuality.

Social sexuality constitutes every relationship we have: family, friends, work colleagues, etc. — all those who make up our basic social network and friendship circles. Broadly speaking, social sexuality is our human need for intimacy and connection.

Genital sexuality is about our longing for connection on more erotic levels. This ranges from a purely physical act (if there is such a thing) to all the stuff of romance, fluttering of the heart, arousal, and so forth.

It would be true to say that every relationship we have fits into the category of social sexuality, and only some are of a genital sexual nature. Sexuality, then, is much bigger than just sex. It’s important we understand this, not least because not everyone will experience genital sexual connection, but because everyone can and should experience meaningful relationships within their social sexual friendships.

Redefining sexuality, beyond simply what we do or don’t do with our genitals, is essential. It not only helps us appreciate how integral our sexuality is to our humanity, but also makes it easier to see the much needed (and much neglected) connections between our sexuality and spirituality. Let me give some general definitions to help unpack this more.

Spirituality: Can be described as a vast longing that drives us beyond ourselves in an attempt to connect with, to probe, and to understand our world. Beyond that, it is the inner compulsion to connect with the Eternal Other that is God. Essentially, it is a longing to know and be known by God (on physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels).

Sexuality: Can be described as the deep desire and longing that drives us beyond ourselves in an attempt to connect with, to understand, that which is other than ourselves. Essentially, it is a longing to know and be known by other people (on physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels).

It seems that sexuality and spirituality are more similar than we might have imagined. Both of them express a deep longing to know and be known — by God and by others. Both involve a call to learn the true meaning and practice of love. Isn’t this exactly how God created us — with both spiritual and sexual longings?

This is where we start. Sexuality first needs to be liberated from our negativity and narrow definitions. It must be integrated back into our lives, our bodies, and ultimately into the living body of Christ. Sexuality and spirituality are humanity’s deepest longings. They belong together. To be in right relationship with both God and our neighbor — this really and simply is the human condition.

This is the kind of sex that I want to talk about. Don’t you?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Deb Hirsch
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