Chip, who is an infrequent but invariably eloquent and charitable commenter here, writes in response to yesterday's post on modesty:
I can agree with you when you talk about not giving into the Abercrombie-type image, Hugo, but I can't agree fundamentally with the concept that "their sexuality [is] theirs." Heck, my sexuality is not my own -- my use of it is called to be a picture of Christ and the church. Just as Christ gave his life for the church and was totally faithful to it, so the apostolic teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit asks me to reserve myself for one woman and to be faithful to her ... and to give sacrificially for her.
But to broaden the issue: From a Christian POV, I can't see ANYTHING in our lives to be our own. "You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body [or your talents, or your mind, or your emotions, or your thought life, or your work ... you get the picture]." "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again." Impossible commands? Sure, in our own human strength ... but it's still something we are called to grow into by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are to live with the ultimate goal of pleasing God.
I need to do a better job of explaining myself. Chip's use of 1 Corinthians 6:20 is an important one, given that it comes at the end of an extended meditation about the importance of avoiding sexual immorality. But let me be clear -- arguing against the rhetoric of the "modesty movement" is not a defense of sexual immorality!
When I say "I want the women with whom I work to see their sexuality as theirs", I am not encouraging them to use that sexuality recklessly, abusively, or self-destructively. What I am arguing is that our sexuality is a gift from God, a gift with more than one purpose: Christians are indeed called to honor God with their bodies, but we are also called to take our own delight in living as embodied creatures. Pleasure is part of God's gift; to receive and to give pleasure can be honoring to God. All Christians believe this; conservatives believe that pleasure should be limited to heterosexual marriage, while progressives believe in a more liberated and inclusive ethic, but we are united in our conviction that God intends us to have sexual pleasure, and that experiencing and sharing pleasure can be profoundly honoring to our Creator!
My body is a gift to me from God, and I am called to use that body as I believe He would have me use it. That's not the same thing as saying "my sexuality does not belong to me". I said:
"it doesn't belong to their fathers, their future husbands, the leering boys in math class or the older men at the bus stop. It doesn't belong to the church, or to MTV, or to the magazines, or to their peers, or to their parents."
God was quite deliberately NOT on the list of things to which the body ought not belong! (Sorry for the double negative.) I think it's quite possible to teach young men and women that their bodies are their own, gifts from God to be used to honor God; by the same token, their bodies do not belong to the culture, their families, or their peers.
On a related topic, here's a lengthy, thoughtful, Christian argument against masturbation at Bonnie's blog. (You may need to scroll down). She's making an argument that may be similar to Chip's (though Chip, I don't presume to know your stance on masturbation). It's difficult to summarize her argument fairly, but here's a key section:
Sexuality is a valuable treasure, a great gift. We give our very best gifts – our figurative gold, frankincense, and myrrh – to God. In so doing, we give our sexual gold, frankincense, and myrrh to our spouse. We do not “spread the wealth” around; to do so is to cheapen its worth and dilute its significance as well as to make a mockery of the gift itself and the covenant of marriage. Adultery isn’t referred to as “cheating” for no reason; adultery cheats a spouse of what ought to be theirs and theirs alone. Autoerotism also cheats one’s spouse (current or future) out of a portion of one’s sexuality. (Emphasis in the original; it's Bonnie's call to use "autoerotism" as a synonym for masturbation.)
Masturbation is a provocative subject. I share with Bonnie the belief that in healthy, monogamous sexual relationships, I ought to do all that I can to share my sexuality with my partner. For many couples, that may mean making the decision not to be sexual except when they are together; refraining from masturbating thus allows sexual desire to build for one's beloved. I've known of more than one relationship where one partner regularly masturbated and then professed little interest in or energy for sex with the other; that, I think, falls well short of the mark for "sharing" and "giving"! Other couples may come (pun somewhat unintended) to different agreements about solitary sexuality within the context of their relationship. I don't think there's a "one-size fits all" answer here. The key thing is to be clear and honest, with the other's pleasure and delight one's foremost concern.
I don't intend to turn this post into a paean to masturbation. Though there is much to disagree with in Bonnie's post on both theological and psychological grounds, at places she makes very good sense. But I am interested in rejecting the notion that if our bodies belong to God and to our partners, then they do not also belong to ourselves! Here, I'll take the "both/and" stance: our bodies are intended both for God's purposes and for our own pleasure (indeed, more often than we realize, these may be congruent!); our bodies are intended both for our spouse's delight and for our own.
Ultimately, when it comes to sexuality, I think far too many people fail to distinguish between what is selfish and what is self-honoring. Selfish sexual expression is anything that robs another person of their dignity, their value, and what is rightfully theirs. Adultery is selfish, and even masturbation can be selfish when and if it deprives one's partner of one's entire energy and excitement. But as created beings, whose bodies -- like all creation -- are fundamentally good, we are right to honor ourselves. On the one hand, self-honor doesn't mean narcissism; even when we delight in our own bodies, we are giving thanks to the Creator who gave us our flesh. And it's worth pointing out that self-honor need not always be the same as self-denial! When we eat to satiety, and delight in the taste of rich foods, in a very real sense we honor both our bodies and God's gift of sustenance. When we explore and enjoy our bodies sexually, we are similarly honoring both the gift which was given and He who gave it.
It's no accident that so many people call upon God at the moment of orgasm! When we do so, wittingly or no, we are perhaps giving thanks and praise to Him for the extraordinary gift of our sexuality. As spiritual people, as believers, we must avoid twin pitfalls: on the one hand, we must be leery of a secular ethic that devalues sexuality and sees it as something to be squandered; on the other, we must be equally leery of those who, with the best of intentions, wish to too narrowly limit the time, place, and manner of sexual expression. We must always approach our own sexuality with a sense of awe and responsibility, and if we do so, we will neither use it recklessly nor unreasonably constrain it.