« Thursday Short Poem: Olds' "First Sex" | Main | A good bishop gets it dead wrong: more on women's clothing, male desire, and God's gift of self-control »

July 13, 2006


prefer not to say

Ok -- I'll start. Christian writers on sex often admit that one of the things sex is "for" is to foster intimacy and a sense of connection. But the structure of abstinence and celibacy is always narrated in Christian books as 1) first develop a sense of intimacy and connection that has nothing to do with sex 2) then make a commitment 3) then have sex.

I would be interested in hearing Christians acknowledge that sometimes sexual connections open people up to an intimacy from which they would have otherwise shied away.

Christian writers will say no, no, no. That's a false intimacy. If you have a roll in the backseat of a car with someone and feel closer to them the next day, that's a lie.

But, um, empirically that's not really how it works. In an age where there are strong financial and cultural incentives to stay unattached (especially for, say, ambitious career women), sometimes sex surprises us by attaching us to people, opening us up to connections we might have otherwise refused. When the head refuses to sympathize, sometimes the body takes the lead.

I would love to hear Christians acknowledge this, at least.


Prefer. exactly. And I can think of a couple of successful Christian marriages that began that way. The folks in these marriages don't share that narrative, however (except with close friends) because their story doesn't fit the paradigm.

Of course, we modern evangelicals -- self included -- are convinced that sound psychology and Scripture are always going to be ultimately compatible. (I sat in on an "Integration" class or two at Fuller Seminary on the blending of these streams...) But what if we're wrong?


Well, I am not sure what advice to give. My parents were sort of like you--born-again hippies who clearly had really enjoyed being hippies some of the time.

I think the key (for people like you and my parents) is to keep the "some of the time" clear. For example, my father on pot. "Pot was great; it was a lot of fun; it was also immensely damaging to me and to our marriage." The key thing you say--and it comes across in the blog, but maybe not in person--is that there was plenty of fun, but also an immense amount of pain and damage to self and to others in your un-Christian life. The Bible doesn't underestimate this--Moses chose to obey God rather the enjoy "the pleasures of sin for a season." Saying that sin isn't fun is lying; saying that sin is fun is also lying.

prefer not to say

"Saying that sin isn't fun is lying; saying that sin is fun is also lying."

But what if that isn't actually one's experience? I can think of a thousand ways that promiscuity might not be "fun" or rather, might lead to real, damaging effects.

But anyone who's done a little Theology 101 knows -- sin can have good effects.

At any rate, I understood Hugo's post to be grappling with the question of "What exactly do we SAY is sin, anyway?" Trying pot a few times at a party, or allowing it to interfere with your marriage? Torrid hot fully clothed groping with a stranger you'll never see again, or sex with someone about whom you care deeply, but to whom you aren't married?

I think one of the shortcomings of most Christian discourse on sex is that they assume all extramarital sex is always had by wildly irresponsible people about to fall into the abyss of promiscuity. This idea is ludicrous to most of us who don't have the time, hot bodies or charming personalities to lead promiscuous lives, even if we did have the inclination.

Douglas, Friend of Osho

Hugo, for what it's worth, I don't think your past disqualifies you from counseling fellow Christians. Indeed, if you've suffered for it, it probably lends you credibility. Hypocrisy is often used as a way for folks to avoid debating an idea on its own terms, as I'm sure your experience in academia has shown you.
Cheers from your Breaker friend.


This may be blasphemy, but while I believe you when you say there's not much of a Christian persuasion on the discussion of sex and intimacy, there is much that has been said from a secular perspective.

Maybe this is something that Christianity is just ill-equipped to speak on.


Let me count how many Christian purity books I've read and own:

...and the bride wore white, Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity by Dannah Gresh

Gift Wrapped by God by Linda Dillow

60 Things God said about Sex by Lester Sumrall

Wait for Me: Rediscovering the Joy of Purity in Romance by Rebecca St. James

Authentic Beauty by Leslie Ludy

When God Writes your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy

...and that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

It's simply an amazing feeling to read these wholesome books, especially while you're cuddled up next to the fireplace with a kitten on your lap and tea at your side. Really, I can't describe it. You feel so connected to God while those reading eloquently written books in the process of purification and prayer.

I'm not sure how to say it, but now that I'm a *little* older than I was then, and have been in the same relationship for much longer, my perspective on sex and sexuality has slightly changed. I can't help but wonder at times whether or not my efforts of "pushing the gray" (especially in the area of sexuality) is a sign that God is - or is not - working within my life. Since I invested so much emotional energy that I would remain totally pure until marriage - and then, to those book's standards - failed at it, I can't help but wonder if I'm sinning. And I don't think my sense of guilt in this area of my life will ever go away.

Christian literature on sexuality has greatly shaped my perception of sexuality and my relationship with the Lord. I read most of it at the age of 14! And while I am very thankful that I read those books, as they taught me A LOT of good values, I can't help but feel that my efforts to question their merit on certain issues is a sign that I am questioning my Lord as well.

Douglas, Friend of Osho

Mermade, if you can't question your deity, you're in for a rougher than unnecessary ride. I know, I grew up Catholic, too. What a relief to give up the tenet that I and other humans were born with at least one strike against us. You need to understand, Hugo's student was right: we infidels do have more fun. It doesn't last (what does?) and we sometimes harm the innocent in the pursuit of pleasure (nothing compared to the harm inflicted in the pursuit of piety), but pleasure it is. (This, btw, is an unspoken animus against gay marriage: gays already get the fun attendant with fornication, they won't get marriage.) If you gave in to that sense of fun, you did sin. But, apparently, Christ forgives, so why feel guilty? 'Fess up, resolve to do better and go on your way, until the next time. And so on, ad infinitum...


Hugo wrote

We Christians do a great job of making the case for "NO!" But what, exactly, is the true nature of the "YES?" What does it look like, taste like, feel like?

I am sure you are familiar with the Catholic Catechism, so from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children. In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.

A deceptively simple message.

People now have different ideas and ways of living. If those conflict with these simple ideas, are they trying to rationalize their own position?

You were asked the question..
Dr. Schwyzer, I know you're a believer. But I get the sense from you that you had more fun when you weren't."

Reminds me of the scene in Jaws: my scars bigger than yours.

Do you still have fun? The fun you have now is maybe just different to how you were in your wild youth?

Sex is only one kind of fun, though since you mentioned it, what are the consequences of sex outside marriage? Oh, this is the beahviour so much 'no' has been written about.

All behaviour carries risk, sinful behaviour tends to have higher risks and is definately thrilling.

As you grow you begin to realise the consequences and try to forewarn others. Yet people sometimes need to learn for themselves, that is part of being human.


What do you mean by saying, "What a relief to give up the tenet that I and other humans were born with at least one strike against us?" I don't agree with this, perhaps, because I don't understand what you mean.

I have never, NOT ONCE, believed that is richer and more fun for those who are not dedicated to living for Christ. Nobody has proven that to me. I have my struggles in terms of my faith, yes, as my first comment explores. But truly, my life has only become more enjoyable and more fulfilling since I became a serious Catholic.


Indeed, Mermade. Antigone is right that if one looks at the body of Christian literature, we are ill-equipped to talk honestly and accurately about sex save in terms of dire warnings about the consequences of sex outside of marriage and vague rhapsodizings about the splendors of conjugal love within the bonds of matrimony.

But why can't a Christian write like Sharon Olds? I don't think it's inherent in our theology to be anti-sex, even as we debate the limits of what Scripture, reason, and tradition permit. I'm tired of the euphemisms and the Victorian decorativeness that surrounds so much Christian writing about purity and sexuality -- it's not biblical, it's nineteenth century, and there damn sure is a difference.


Perhaps the problem is a fear of losing control, which is based on a fear of sinning, because one hasn't really internalized the gospel and the forgiveness of Christ. It's the same reason, I think, that contemporary Christian/evangelical culture is so wary of the arts. If the imagination, or the libido, are free to roam to unknown places, we may wander into making mistakes. (And of course "good" Christians never make mistakes!) I don't think we as Christians are meant to live under that kind of fear, but so often we do. So we become edgy about straying outside the realm of approved thoughts and feelings.


Exactly, Jendi -- which is what makes non-Christians instantly suspicious; it's as if they can sense our own fraudulence and anxiety on us sometimes, and it's not an attractive quality for evangelism!



You are right--it is not inherent in Christian theology to be anti-sex (even though some strains of it have often been so.) Look at Luther on marriage; or the writers of Song of Solomon and Proverbs; or even the Puritans* on marriage. The discomfort with sex is much more a Victorian than a Christian characteristic.

*e.g. Thomas Hooker
The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye...when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parties with her in each place where he comes.... She lies in his Bosom, and his heart trusts in her, which forceth all to confess, that the stream of his affection, like a mighty current, runs with full Tide and strength.


Hugo; you constantly put yourself up as a leader, writer and teacher about sexuality, particularly viewpoints on Christian sexuality; you also continue to side-step the one minority of sexuality that is actively demonized by Christianity: same sex relationships.

Evangelical Christianity is as good at putting out pamplets condemning homosexuality as it is on promoting purity. I have seen you repeatly talk about purity and faith based heteroseuxal sexuality, why not gays?

When I was looking for some Christian understanding of myself as a lesbian, I found that many Christian bookstore do not carry books on homosexuality AT ALL (even those that condemn it - as just the word is too sinful to stock). Then there are those who carry books on homosexuality, but only ones that condemn them. I found over time a few books, written by men apologetic on male homosexuality (one written by 16 different liberal theologicans didn't mention lesbians once).

If human sexuality is "a reflection of our relationship with God" then must we not first be able to openly talk about it, and while I have heard plenty about the pains and struggles of guys and girls regarding heteroseuxal christian relationships, I have not heard the voices of guys and girls on gay and lesbian christian relationships.

The major Christian questions: Why are gay teens ignored? why are there double standards of "purity" to gay and straight people? Where is the litergy/literture which shows the joy and nature of God in same sex relationships?

If these aren't a concern to a christian feminist, who are they a concern to? Are we going to have to wait for a lesbian Bishop before we start talking?

Out of the Pit

“And it does seem a bit, well, hypocritical to be encouraging those of high school and college age to live up to a standard I was only able to meet after hitting my thirties.”

Well, it is hypocritical to believe that any individual can follow God’s laws without the power of the Holy Spirit. We too much want our own desires and not those things of God.

I don’t think the issue is hypocrisy. The issue is that we all are lodged in the same boat: no one can keep the law without the power of God. This is one reason of several why evangelism is so important.

As for the “fun” of our pre-Christian past, Paul warns us that the “old man” tries to break through even after our conversion. When we stumble and sin and we ask for forgiveness as Christians have since the beginning.

And, prefer not to say has it wrong: evangelicals very strongly believe there is a connection made when one has sex with another. It is called: the two shall become one flesh. Jesus speaks of this at some length in the Gospels.

This intimacy is very real, but it is misplaced. It is because “two shall become one flesh” through sex that it is so important for sexual appetites to be expressed in the context of a lifelong covenant of marriage. Sex is part of the bond; separating the couple after they have had sex is destructive.

This is the YES! And the NO! of sexual activity

Douglas says: “But, apparently, Christ forgives, so why feel guilty? 'Fess up, resolve to do better and go on your way, until the next time.” Not that I can convince a self-described infidel, but I think some German Lutheran fellow called this “cheap grace.” (Now, what was his name??)


Indeed, OOTP, one of the best arguments for obstaining from sexual intercourse that evangelicals have is that New Testament idea of the "two becoming one flesh". On the other hand, Olds' poem, to put it bluntly, isn't about intercourse. Evangelicals are on thin and difficult ice in suggesting that Scripture discourages pre-marital heavy petting!

prefer not to say

Out of the pit says:

"Sex is part of the bond; separating the couple after they have had sex is destructive."

But this is so vague as to be incomprehensible. Destructive to what? For whom? And what sort of separation?

And -- again, this seems something that Hugo's students are preoccupied with -- what even counts as that sort of irrevocably bonded sex? Exactly which combination of physical activities constitutes the irrevocable bond?

And since the bible did not give us that exact combination, is it spiritually fruitful for someone like Mermade to feel such a weight when they think of their own struggles to be both intimate and faithful?

I want to emphasize that I agree strongly with much of what you are saying -- the unmotivated taking and discarding of sexual partners has potentially degrading and damaging effects. And obviously many people have to depend on God's grace to lead a chaste life.

But then -- there are others whose libidos tend not to be that strong, who don't do much depending on God for good behavior. Are we supposed to consider these people MORE blessed by God's grace? That seems like a weird construction. The way Christians tend to write about chastity, the only people whose "no" counts are those people with robust heterosexual libidos who must struggle against them. What does "no" mean outside of that paradigm?

Sometimes "no" can mean "leave me alone. I don't want to care about you." Sometimes a person's "no" can be a way to blame their partner for the desire that the person saying no actually feels -- a way to say "No, you're the only one who feels such impulses. After all, I've got God's grace." Sometimes "no" is a way to feel smug and superior to those who haven't managed "no" as well.

If not all "no"s are equal, then can we really know what it means to say "Yes"?


I whole-heartedly agree with you, Hugo. In fact, all of the Christian purity book authors refer directly or otherwise indirectly to Jane Austin as the ultimate example of how to write about sexuality in a Christian way. While Jane Austin is one of my favorite authors of all time, I have read some literature on sex that many Christian parents would rather burn (the poem you posted is one such example).

Up until this year, in fact, I always thought that the "ideal" love story was something like out of a Jane Austin novel or a Disney fairytale. I'm kind of a frilly girl anyway, and I still love to fantasize about those types of love stories. But, on the other end, I find myself feeling so much more connected, relating so much more and reacting so much deeper to writers such as Olds. When I read, say, Sense and Sensibility, it was good and challenging and all. But I couldn't relate to it as much. But say, when I read, "Riding in Cars with Boys," I felt like I was, in a way, living the same story.

This issue is the same with movies and music as well. A movie or album with even a beautiful and tender sex or love scene gets a rather negative review on Plugged In Online (Focus on the Family's movie review online magazine). Whereas only movies that are without sex 100% more likely to be classified as "good" and "worth your time."

You make a good point, Hugo, and one that I can deeply relate to. Thanks!

Douglas, Friend of Osho

Mermade: If you were any older, I'd wonder if you were being disingenuous. The "one strike" I refer to is original sin; it was a huge load off my shoulders to realize I was born right, meaning that whatever depravity I suffer wasn't there from the very beginning. I hope that makes it clear. And yes, I do think the wilder side of life that devout Christians see as proscribed to them is more fun. But if you'd paid attention to the qualifiers I added, you'd see I don't think we infidels necessarily lead richer lives. Fun isn't my be-all, end-all; I have a child to care for and if you've been to one orgy, you've been to them all. I just think the Abrahamic faiths have a poor grasp on the important task of managing our human nature as human animals.

Out of the Pit: What is so wrong with cheap grace? The Christian disdain for it led me directly to Eastern religion, where no effort is too small.

Out of the Pit

Hugo wrote:

“Evangelicals are on thin and difficult ice in suggesting that Scripture discourages pre-marital heavy petting!”

Are they? Jesus had pretty clear things to say about lust, which (if I may) I would suggest is all “pre-marital heavy petting” is:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5

Paul didn’t avoid the subjects of “sensuality“ or “lust“, either:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

And Again, Paul

Colossians 3. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

I’m not trying to Bible thump, at least not too much I hope! But I am surprised that we are blogging as though Christianity had nothing to say about these things!

Now, don’t misunderstand. I have known the pleasures that come from non-marital sexual activity. Like many things, it is attractive and exciting and feels great.

But its attraction simply shows how counter cultural the message of Christ really is. And how difficult it is to follow.

Preferred Not to Say said:

"But this is so vague as to be incomprehensible. Destructive to what? For whom? And what sort of separation?"

Is the “two have become one flesh” statement, made in Genesis and repeated by Jesus, really that incomprehensible? I wonder if we’re not giving enough credit to young people who go through sexual relationships that come to an end.


If you are drawn to Eastern Religion (eek, which one?) I hope you are embracing it. From your last post, one might think you are merely dipping a toe into the water!

Douglas, Friend of Osho

Out/Pit: I've practiced meditation daily for nearly 30 years. Satisfied? As my handle indicates, I use techniques refined by Osho, whom you may know as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the guru who had dozens of Bentleys and even more groupies. I never met Osho and am well aware he had a craven side; still, it's customary for those who use "his" techniques, which are much more innovative than the ones you find at the usual places, to style themselves as Osho's friends. For all his faults, Osho had the courage to assert that there really is no final "enlightenment"; there is only the meditative state. For that, I'll always be glad he walked this Earth. I've also been on pilgrimages to India, where I got more than a toe in the water of the mother river Ganga at Faisalbad, as well as Mathura and Vrindavan. I was more of a devotee of Lord Krishna in those days.

But, hey, enough about me. You never answered my question: what's so bad about what you or that German (I think it was Rheinhold Niebuhr) call 'cheap grace'? Don't you think you owe me a reply?


The "cheap grace" remark refers to Dietrich Bonhoeffer; when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die and all that.

Douglas, Friend of Osho

Thank, Hugo; I still hope Out/Pit explains herself.

Out of the Pit

"Out/Pit: I've practiced meditation daily for nearly 30 years. Satisfied?"

Friend of Osho, there is nothing that you need to prove to me. I apologize if my question was too trite.

I don't know where the Baghwan fits into the meager thimble-ful of Eastern philosophy that I know. I seem to recall that most Eastern religions include strict sexual disciplines (i.e.: how can one medidate effectively if one is focusing on the sexual appetite?), but I also thought that the Baghwan had inverted much if this either in his teachings or in his own practices. (My memory is sketchy on this point, but I had thought he had taken certain liberties with minors that would have made Cardinal Bernard Law blush? Or, am I defaming the Baghwan?)

I don't mean to poke a stick at a dead man. But given your comment: "I just think the Abrahamic faiths have a poor grasp on the important task of managing our human nature as human animals," I was wondering what system offered us a better grasp on this aspect of our human nature?

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004