Emotionally unprotected sex
by- 6th March 2013
Speaking at last week’s Westminster Faith Debate on sexualization, I was struck by two things – first, that I was the only one on the panel or in the dialogue afterwards who mentioned how liberating Christian teaching on the body is.
And the second was how dominant the Jewish view of sex and marriage has become: almost the default position now.
The background view, it became clear from comments from the floor and the panel, is that the church views sex as bad, and does little to help people struggling with its ramifications, except stand on the sidelines and scold.
The received wisdom has it that it is the church that has caused shame – so all we need do is get rid of religion (Freud in Civilization and its Discontents), or of shame (Giles Fraser here.)
Fraser said on Thought for the Day last week: ‘The churches’ condemnation of homosexuality has forced gay sex into the shadows, thus again reinforcing a sense of shame that, for me, is the real source of abuse.’
I am frustrated with this, as a convert to Christianity who emerged from a very sexualized background, because it was not my experience. The church conveyed a body of teaching that saved my life, and then demonstrated a determination to 'judge me up' not down (i.e. the opposite of condemn) which helped me rebuild.
One journalist tells me that half her women friends now have cervical cancer. But as sad as that is, the emotional fall-out is even sadder.
The breaking of sexual trust in what is called in the US ‘hook-up’ culture has consequences that reverberate down the generations.
Failed relationships of whatever kind are experienced as rejection and abandonment.
It's this that in turn causes shame even into adulthood, and makes future relationships of trust less likely; shame more predominant, and addictions and resulting boundary issues almost inevitable as victims seek to smother their pain.
Naturally the church says 'Dont', or more usually 'Be careful' - like you'd warn someone against stepping in front of a bus.
Emotionally and socially unprotected sex - it surely needs all the protection it can get - can all be the products of power imbalances in marriage, caused by emotional dysfunctions that have a long generational hinterland.
The debate exhibited a fairly ‘smug married’ view of all this: comfortable middle-class people who have never got into sexual trouble, or examined their issues, unable to get near enough to the action to feel the pain.
Yet, as Judge Sir Paul Coleridge formerly of the Family Division has said: ‘Family breakdown is on a scale, depth and breadth which few of us could have imagined even a decade ago. It is a never-ending carnival of human misery. A ceaseless river of human distress.’
Yet we regard sex today as if it were just a healthy pastime. That to my mind is a very low view of the body, contrary to the biblical view that regards the body as a fit dwelling place for God himself.
We think of the body now as what life is about. Nowhere in our culture is there any reflection of a sense that the body is a vessel held in trust to fit us for real life, true fulfillment and a future in eternity.
‘The spirit gives life; the body counts for nothing’ says the NIV translation of John 6: 63.
Yet we’ve reversed that. The body gives life; the spirit is just a fiction. Ecstasy is just a pill. Orgasms are what’s worth counting.
St Paul’s writing on sex was subversive of a Jewish culture that, according to Maureen Kendler, Head of Educational Programming at the London School for Jewish Studies, had and has no word or category for the unmarried or for chastity.
It was St Paul, following Jesus’ love for all kinds and conditions of marginalized women, who gave dignity and ultimate purpose to those who don’t, or won’t or cannot marry.
Yet today, we’re all Jews, it seems. Sex seems to be obligatory – as the 13-year old schoolboy implied when he asked me, after a school assembly:
‘Miss, with all these condoms and things in the toilets, are we supposed to have sex?’