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Let’s talk about sex….

When we talk about sex, social scientists use terms such as extra-marital sex, premarital sex, group sex, multiple partners. But in the Bible and in our churches, we use the words, ‘adultery,’ ‘fornication,’ ‘orgies,’ ‘promiscuity.’ While they are referring to the same act, our Christian terminologies are expressions of judgement and condemnation.

In her book, Queer God, Marcella Althaus-Reid, laments that Christianity has placed God in a very small box called heterosexual marriages. Only those that submit to these standard encounter God in their relationships, or are ordained by God. As a contextual theologian, she critiques how ‘Eden’, where God brings together man and woman, is constructed as paradise. She argues for ‘beyond Edens’ and how Christians, as resisting people must cross boundaries and encounter God in the most unexpected places.

Riane Eisler in her book Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body proposes ‘cultural transformation theory’ where she inspects two models for social and ideological organization: partnership and domination. She grounds her study on the experience of the body, of pain and pleasure, of women and men. Inevitably, she theorizes, how we view our bodies, our sexuality and spirituality our understanding of what is sacred and what it means to love will construct the kind of world we will live in and will pass on to our children.

Eisler’s book is real shocker for conservative Christians, and even the not so conservative. According to her, evidences show that in the dawn of civilization, the female vulva was revered as sacred. It was the primary symbol of what we know now in Western history as the Great Goddess: the source of life, pleasure and love. In cave sanctuaries in the South of France, as early as thirty thousand years ago, archaelogists have discovered many images of the sacred vulva. Furthermore, it is also believed that they were placed in caves as they were likewise symbols of the Great Mother’s womb. Pre-historic art were primarily connected with rituals and myths and it is inevitably associated with religion. France was not the only place where the vulva was a dominant symbol. Similar symbols were found in Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Japan, India, Egypt, Italy, Mesopotamia and many other places, in the Paleolithic, Neolithic and in the Bronze Age. She informs further that the male phallus was also an object of veneration in ancient times, particularly in the Bronze Age. There are also depictions of the union of the vulva and the phallus. However, she argues that these ancient sexual images are not pornography. They depicted the sources of life and pleasure.

Eisler argues that sexual attitudes and practices are both constructed and learned. This observation is affirmed in the comparison of early societies where the vulva was revered and of the latter societies where sex is considered dirty and women are treated as objects. She attributes to Saint Paul and Saint Augustine the Christian belief that the human body, especially the body of a woman, is sinful and even demonic. What followed was the demonization of sexuality where men were to deny themselves and torment their flesh. While women, who were constructed as more insatiable, were persecuted and some were burned at the stake as ‘witches.’ Consequently, as humanity was doomed in its sinfulness, according to church leaders such as Bishop Ambrose of Milan, humans had forfeited their freedom and independence and must be governed by authoritarian rule. Eisler validates Elaine Pagels argument that Augustine allied himself with the Roman Empire to justify military force and the tyranny of those in power. The demonization of women’s bodies, the sinfulness of the flesh, the torment of men’s flesh and the necessity of authority by those who are ordained by God was a systematic and intentional movement from partnership models and egalitarian societies to societies of suffering, control and domination. There is a challenge to create new sexual ethics that are more affirmative of life, women and sexuality.

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14 thoughts on “Let’s talk about sex….”

  1. Ang pag dampi ng halik sa balat
    At panandaliang lasap sa tuwa ng pagniig
    Ay di isang sumpa o kasalanang itinuturing

    Maaring ang saglit init ng yakap at saglit na halik
    Ay ugnayan higit pa sa balat at balat
    Sa pakikipag-ugnayang lagpas sa abot ng kamalayan
    Lagpas din sa haplos ng sandali
    At bulong at lambing sa dilim at magdamag

    Ang pagsuong at pagniniig ng balat at laman
    Mula ulo hanggang talamapakan
    Ang pagiging hubad at Malaya sa isa’t isa
    Ay kalayaan ng sandali
    Na sa pagkakayapos sa isa’t isa’y
    Mainit din sanang binabaybay
    Na mula sa kalayaang ito ay magkatuwang
    Na palayain ang lipunang
    Labis na ikinanakalalal pati ang pakikiniig -ugnayan ng tao sa tao.

    1. Salamat, Diwata.
      Naaalaala ko na naman ang sinabi ni Lualhati Bautista,
      “Sana, tuwing nagtatalik ang mga tao, nagtatalik din ang kaluluwa nila.”
      Sabi mo nga, hindi pag angkin at pananakop ang pagniniig ng dalawa
      Ang bawat halik at haplos sana ay pagpapalaya at malalim na pakiki-isa.

  2. Is this applicable for anybody outside marriage? free love and free sex? just asking? sandaling ligaya sa pagniniig? I realized i am so conservative…

    Should we were thought otherwise, then everybody shall enjoy sex with anybody without thinking it as dirty, profane, evil… or within the boundary of marriage. Before in Matriarchal period when no one thinks of owning or possessing one another; when the idea of family is the whole community and the concept of making and raising children were not exclusively confined in “the family” composed of a woman/wife and man/husband with children; then, there would be no issue nor problem of divorce, separation, even the notion of ownership or possession: “she is my wife” or “he is my husband” or “she is my GF” or “he is my BF”. So, being related to another or having an affair with her or with him outside the “confinement of marriage” will never be an issue, a big deal to be talked about! Well, the Bible says:”… and the greatest of all is love.” Ang mahalaga ay nakikibaka sa pagpalaya sa sarili, sa kapwa at sa bayan, Gawing ang pagkakayapos sa isa’t isa’y mainit ding binabaybay na mula sa kalayaang nadarama ay magkatuwang na palayain ang lipunang labis na ikinanakalalal pati ang pakikiniig -ugnayan ng tao sa tao. GREAT!

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts…
      I am not talking about free sex. It’s about promoting healthy attitudes about our bodies and our sexuality. It’s a critique on how the church has demonized sex and bodies, especially women’s bodies, which has actually denied so many women of fullness and wholeness.

      1. I appreciate the “rationale” for your reflections, Lizette. At the same time, I think that any ethics of sex or sexuality, not to mention the demonization of sex and bodies, especially of womens’ bodies, cannot avoid the question of singularity and plurality in relationships–sexual or otherwise. While it may be historically true that Christian marriage valued monogamy, for example, I’m not sure that monogamy is rooted in the singularity of love, as Levi Oracion seems to suggest (or that singularity in love is a mark of its genuineness). I’m not an advocate of “free sex” either. And unlike Levi, the radicality of freedom, in my view, does not eventuate in autonomy and “unbridled relationships.” In fact, for me, radical freedom, is radical relationality–that requires mutual obligation. Here, marriage is not constitutive; it is regulative. What is constitutive, it seems to me, is radical freedom. But, that is why for me, any argument about sex and sexuality needs to be transposed to the level of eros and thanatos (life and death), of which sex and sexuality are only one small part.

  3. I have not read about sexual practices of the ancients in different cultures and climes, and understandably these would be quite different from what Christian ethics prescribes. As a theologian, I try to look at everything from the perspective of Christ’s ministry, his crucifixion and his resurrection; and it would take a lot od doing to do that here. I suppose everything we Christians do, have been so much shaped and given content by our faith, and that it is well nigh impossible for us to imagine what being in love was like before faith. But let us take the phenomenology of love or of being in love. Perhaps, the first thing that we will see is the feeling giving oneself totally to the other, the complete self giving of everything that one is to the beloved. And there is a feeling of mutuality between the lovers. Whether this is something that Christian faith has inculcated in us or not, I do not know; but in my own experience I was really thinking of myself as a Christian when I felt this way in the act of love. Integral to this feeling is a total commitment to the other—“no one but you,” “only you,…” and “you and you alone,” etc. are words that spontaneously arise from the being of the lovers. Hence, there is a feeling of exclusivity in being in love. It could be cultural because there are cultures that allow for a plurality of partners as in Islam, and in Mormonism. But we know of male husbands in Islam who have favorite wives. In the OT, it is clear that Jacob favored Rachel over Leah.

    Within the Christian context, this feeling of totality and exclusivity in the act of loving becomes sacralized with divine imprimatur, and I think that this is the theological foundation of Christian marriage. Of course, we know that such a totality and exclusivity could be enslaving—love can dissipate and disappear after some time. This is a critical problem in Christian marriage. In Christian marriage it is the sacred responsibility of the partners to work seriously in keeping their love for each other, and the arrival of children may help in keeping couples together and in love. But if freedom becomes unqualified and absolute in a covenantal relationship, then the partners would find difficulty in sticking together.
    Freedom is a blessed and beautiful thing, but when it is radicalized it can become demonic as in the case of Anna Karenina who dared give free rein to her feelings no matter what. I think that radical freedom is the reality that bedevils so much of modern marriages.

    Now, I think, however, that it should be possible to enter in a relationship of love with a third, a fourth, a fifth person and so on ad infinitum even if one is bound in a Christian marriage. After all, Jesus enjoins his disciples “to love one another.” But here we have to have a definition of love that does not necessarily involved sexual intercourse. There are women who I love but we do not fancy ourselves being sexual partners. When I love a person I do mean that I wish the very best things for her or him, and would try to make those good things happen if I could. And I do love to be with them, talk with them, do things together with them, and have a very free exchange of ideas with them. Perhaps, it would quite thrilling to have my love with them “go all the way,” but that could bring my whole world crashing down—it will hurt my wife, my children, and throw awry a thousand and one relations that make up my life—just like what happened to Anna.

    Perhaps, we should create a freer and less restrictive forms of relationship between the sexes, be they married or not. A new consciousness may be on its way to set us free from the inhibitions that shackle the galloping forces of love within us, that when exercised would elevate us to a higher form of being and relationships. But until that happens, I would restrict myself to Shakespeare’s “To the marriage of true minds, let me not admit impediments.”

  4. I am happy that my brilliant philosopher-theologian friend, Lester Ruiz, weighed in on this discussion; he always probes deeply into any subject at hand. I think his remarks on “radical freedom” are very much to the point, and I’d even go along with him. By radical freedom, I mean the kind of freedom the man in the street takes it—freedom that has no bounds, to be completely without restraints, without boundaries. It is the kind of freedom the half-witted brother of the Karamasovs meant, when he said, “If God is dead, then everything is permitted. Of course, radical freedom can be interpreted in a more authentic sense which takes us to the source and basis of freedom, the human. If we take the human to mean “the imago die” then freedom would be essentially bound up with love, righteousness, truth, equality, mercy and kindness. For me to exercise freedom in the most radical sense is to act in close proximity to these qualities. or perhaps we can simplify it by pairing freedom with love. I am free, but I have to exercise my freedom as an act of love, and perhaps reverse it can say, I do love someone, but I love him/her as act of freedom. For this is essentially what is meant by radical freedom.

    1. I have read about the myth of Avalon and the reality of other Goddess religions. I have also encountered polyandry in Philippine history texts. They speak of moments in history when women (and men) were not properties. When women and their sexuality were not possessed by one man or privatized in family. In some of the texts, these moments were described as more ‘peaceful’ and ‘inclusive.’ Women were not sex objects, while being able to embrace their sexuality.

      Today, there are child brides, child prostitutes and child labor. Women are raped even in family settings, are prostituted and enslaved, and continue to be diminished in worth.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is women’s sexuality is not evil. It’s men’s inclination to dominate and possess women that hurts humanity.

      Every now and then, we encounter wives, whether Muslim or Christian, who accept the need of their spouses for other women. Some of them continue to have happy family lives. We also encounter “the other woman” who accepts or even makes a conscious choice on being the “other woman.” But, NO! This can never be for a woman. A wife must only have one man. And any woman who commits this ‘evil’ will be condemned.

      I am not proposing free love here or anything like that. I am just saying that women are condemned where men are not. And this has a direct connection to our understanding of our bodies and sexuality. Sadly, the Christian faith, or the Church, as we know it today fails to provide a safe space for these matters of life and death.

  5. Perhaps, I have overly exaggerated the difference between Levi and myself. If there is any “center” to my own perspective, it is the metaphorical–and therefore tensive/dynamic–relationship between (radical) freedom and unequivocal obligation held together by love (eros). What I try to avoid, however, is to implicate this almost perichoretic/trinitarian understanding in some kind of normative singularity that comes before this “center” (which is probably what monogamy is about–singularity), that is, a-priori. To do this, however, is to put the cart before the horse. For me, monogamy is probably the result/consequence of radical freedom and unequivocal obligation in love–rather than its origin. And, in this context, patriarchy has “hijacked” this singularity by insisting on its application to marriage–but only for women (as Lizette clearly points out). For me, the genuine measure of “equality” is its reversibility, that is, if it is applicable to men, then, it should be applicable to women. Thus a truly “equal” relationship between human beings needs to be reversible: radical (freedom), unequivocal obligation, in love. And as Levi puts it so well, this needs to be exercised in close proximity to righteousness, truth, equality, mercy and kindness, as well as choice, contingency, and self-imposed limitations–and yes, honesty.

  6. a lot to do! a lot of unmasking the understanding of sex being an expression of radical freedom to limiting it to just simple intercourse, an urge, a release. so many men think that way and many married men, too. making their wives as sex objects and freely look for other women!. what a shame, “Christian teachings” twisted its sacredness by many religious professing to be celibate but have lovers during the night! whoaaa…. yes, I agree with you, Lizette, we are not promoting free sex but we need to re-orient one’s understanding because when we talk of sex it always relates to women as dirty… for goodness why women cannot enjoy it to the full as a gift of our sexuality? hahaha.. why sex is lessen into child-making only? or being commercialized? during my seminary days had worked with BAGWIS before, an organization of women prostitutes. they spoke that they were both victims and survivors of a society who can never help them to live decently? When they gyrate their bodies to the widened eyes of men, yes they smiled but never, never they were happy what they were doing! i caught many times, tears were coming out silently while men imagined them as sparkle of their make-ups. and YES i agree with Levi…. enjoy reading from great minds 🙂 THANKS!

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