When I was in the 6th grade, our teacher at that time was a nun probably in her 50s. One day she came in and sent all the girls to the 7th grade classroom. We guys looked at each other smiling. This meant, we were certain, that we were about to receive a SEX TALK!
Sister (who also used to regale us with rants about what great men Joe McCarthy and Francisco Franco were because of how they fought the Communists) then went into a lengthy diatribe about “the occasions of sin”. This was a popular concept in those days. Occasions of sin were circumstances that got us into trouble. We assumed we were about to be told about the evils of Playboy magazine.
After a long pause, Sister told us that the worst occasion of sin for boys our age was — treehouses! Her intent probably backfired. Given that none of us had a treehouse, her comment only made us curious. What were we missing out on?
I now realize that her comment probably reflected some personal trauma; however, it also represents to me how many religions place great emphasis on so-called sexual sins at the expense of far more important moral matters such as poverty and war.
Contrasted with this view was a comment made by an old-timer in a 12-Step meeting: “If God made something better than sex, He/She kept it for Himself/Herself!” Amen to that.
I believe we are called to integrate sex and sexuality into the fabric of our spiritual world but in an affirming way, not in a way that speaks only of guilt and shame.
As with all of nature, we can come to see our bodies and our sexuality not as impediments to a relationship with God but as a doorway! Through sexual pleasure and intimacy, we celebrate connection and true communion. Is this not a way of celebrating God’s creation?
As with anything pleasurable, we can become out of balance, even addicted. So the enjoyment of sex needs to be balanced by a morality based not on guilt and shame but on respect and responsibility. Thich Nhat Hahn gives us a clue: “Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings, Broadway Books: New York, 1998, p. 94)
Sexual lovers then are attentive to one another, talk openly about likes and dislikes, act responsibly as far as making sex safe, act responsibly regarding the procreative potenial of sex, and practice fidelity. This I think comes closer to treating our bodies as”temples of the Holy Spirit”.
And, no. I never did have a tree house.
Reflection: 1. In what ways, positive or negative, has sex and sexuality impacted your spiritual journey?
Wow Rich, you really know how to pick these topics! Well, sexuality impacted my spiritual journey at the age of 19 when I fell madly in love with another woman and was kicked out of a famous fundamentalist Christian religious school as a result. It took me at least another ten years to integrate sexuality and spirituality. Today, I’m very happily single after having a number of very enjoyable sexual experiences and after being in a couple of long-term relationships. I’m grateful for those experiences, but today, I’m tremendously content with my relationships with friends and of course, my dog. However, Eros is very present in my life, not in the form of sexuality today, but in the form of sensuality and delighting in nature and beauty. I did have a tree house when I was about 11 or 12, and I loved it!
The relatively few responses on this topic speaks to what a powerful force sex is in our lives, both in a positive and a negative way. Discussing sex is a risk, because we risk revealing our greatest wounds as well as our greatest joys.