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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Can Christian Coitus Continue to Be Chaste and Conservative?

With many popular topics in the news this week focusing more on political intrigue and revolutions in the Middle East, I thought I’d take a topic closer to home. Though I myself was only indirectly exposed to the teaching of many Christian churches on this issue, I think I can still speak on it with an informed perspective, outsider to sexual experience as I am. The issue I speak of is the morality of sex, before and after marriage, and the teaching I refer to is not uncommon today in many sexual education classes; abstinence only. I only learned in some detail about how to use a condom in my senior year of college, though I could’ve learned as early as freshman year, no doubt. There appears to be a trend; in high school you learn to “keep it in your pants”, so to speak, and then college tells you what you can do to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDS after you’ve probably already taken it out of the pants anyway. It’s counterintuitive and also a pretty large gamble in trusting adolescents to take seriously your advice that they should abstain from sex entirely when they’re at their most hormonal at that age.

As much as one can tell me, “It’s the parents’ job to educate their children about safe sex; the school’s job is to educate about sex in general, not particulars,” I don’t think school should completely avoid confronting the issues of protection against STDs, as opposed to just using a deterrent tactic and tell kids that STDs are dangerous and give them abstract explanations. If someone who actually has syphilis or gonorrhea or herpes actually comes to the class at the very least and tells the kids about their mistakes, maybe they might be a bit more responsible. But most importantly, it behooves any parent and any school as well to bear a responsibility to teach teens about proper use of protection. Even if the children don’t necessarily use that knowledge, reinforcing that education can help in some way to motivate teenagers to behave responsibly. The show “16 and Pregnant” comes to mind as an example to explain to children why pregnancy as a result of unprotected sex can negatively affect your life. Albeit the show doesn’t approach the issue of making the choice of abortion, but the challenges of adoption and raising the child oneself are both exposed to teens that might have otherwise not known about them.

Of course, I’m getting away from the point of the article I reference. The focus of that essay was that many Christians have shifted towards what might be called a Gnostic view of sex; or, at the very least, an excessively pragmatic view. What I mean by Gnostic is the general tendency to regard the body as the source of impurity and other sins as opposed to the soul or mind as generally understood in Christian theology. And what I mean by excessively pragmatic is seeing sex as purely mechanical and only for procreative purposes even within the sacred bonds of matrimony. But many Christians today have shifted significantly from this area of near sexual repression and stifling of what should be regarded as natural passions for one’s spouse. The common Christian teaching seems to be that while sex in marriage is proper, it shouldn’t become something that defines one’s marital commitments. But I don’t think when a so-called “liberal” Christian advocates making passionate sex part of one’s sacramental marriage, that they means sex should be the only reason you love each other. But expressing one’s love and unifying oneself with your spouse in the intimacy of intercourse is not something that’s opposed to the Christian message. If Jesus was fully human and fully God, then a human fully realizing their humanity within limitations on sexual behavior (no adultery or rape for example) is well within the bounds of a Christian’s life still devoted to fulfilling God’s purpose: which, in the case of incarnate humans sharing the quality of embodiment with Jesus himself, means you usually get married and express that love through sex, along with other forms of intimacy. Just because you reduce the amount of sex you have in later years doesn’t mean your love has necessarily reduced for the person you love. But mature marriages should not be without some degree of physical passion for the person you love.

It seems to be more common nowadays for older married couples to completely give up on sex for any number of reasons, most of all the obvious fact of their body’s natural degeneration. We all have that tendency to regard chastity and abstinence as intertwined and even sometimes, mistakenly so, synonymous. But chastity involve a complete rejection of sexual feelings before marriage. As the Belief Blog columnist put it, you can direct those sexual feelings towards something larger; or at the very least wait until the time is right for sex, even if you happen to not be married, but committed to each other nonetheless. I take it that many Christians would have a problem with the idea of masturbation as a solution to the failings of abstinence education, but one can theorize (myself still a virgin) that self pleasure doesn’t give one the same degree of satisfaction as intercourse with another person. And in this way, the Thomistic formulation of sex as both unitive and procreative serves as a way to justify even sterile or post menopausal couples having sex, along with pre marital teenagers, if only to express the love they have for each other on the most intimate of terms, becoming one flesh and knowing each other to use two Biblical metaphors. In pre marital cases, though, the tendency should be rare and responsible.

All in all, I can’t say I’ve spoken as one who has known and understood sex on a concrete level, but even with abstract considerations on my end, there are practical applications of those theoretical understandings to consider. If we are physical beings in some sense, even my own Buddhist perspective can admit that sex is something to be enjoyed. As much as Buddhism is misunderstood to be repressive or suppressive of sexual desires, there is a great deal of literature from the Chinese and Japanese schools of Ch’an/Zen of sex being a path towards enlightenment. It gets into racy territory, however, since there is pederasty involved in many cases of monasteries, along with monk Ikkyu visiting the brothels of feudal Japan and writing erotic haikus. But Christianity is not without sexual aspects to its theology, such as the various metaphors in mysticism for the unity with God, particularly Teresa of Avila, not to mention the sexual poetry in Song of Songs. For anyone to start pointing fingers and speak about sex as if it’s something bad usually suggests some insecurity on the part of the pointer about their own experience of sex. If you’re taught about sex in one way, perhaps you may need to shift your thinking about it ever so slightly, to enjoy yourself without losing control. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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