Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Just Sex

"Judas Kiss" by Becki Jayne Harrelson.
Have you felt betrayed by a kiss?

Given the attention sexual harassment (and worse!) has been getting recently, this is a relevant post! “Just sex” may give rise to thoughts of sex without concomitant expectations, like love or commitment or responsibility. But it might also suggest sex that is “just”: fair, mutual, and non-exploitive.

Years ago I moderated a panel on justice activist concerns for a reunion of Yale Divinity School alumni and alumnae. I had invited Professor Margaret Farley, R.S.M., Ph.D., a Roman Catholic sister and Christian ethicist, to participate.  By coincidence, her new book, Just Love, had riled up the Vatican, making her book an instant best seller.

In my introduction, I asked, tongue-in-cheek, if she had sent the Vatican a thank you note for free publicity.  Either I had a “brain fart” or I was influenced by hostile reactions to the book, because I accidentally referred to the title as Just Sex. I fear she may have thought I was having fun at her expense, but I honestly made the mistake, which she quickly corrected, after the packed auditorium let out a boisterous laugh.

What prompts this recollection is that I will be moderating a conversation at the upcoming LGBTI Rolling the Stone Away gathering in St. Louis entitled, “How Sex Has Shaped Our Movement and Our Theology.” (Click on the link if you wish to see any of it live-streamed.)

I laughed when I realized the irony of my assignment. During one of the initial organizing conference calls for the meeting, I had pointed out that spirituality was not included among the topics different panels would be discussing. I’ve written that, in my pursuit of ordination, the church was more interested in my sexuality than my spirituality. My books and this blog have mostly been written to enhance readers’ spirituality.

But, given the caliber and friendships of the other panelists, I happily agreed to serve on the panel. And as my readers know, I do love and value sex! Multiple e-mail exchanges and two conference calls have surfaced questions we will be addressing in our conversation, which is to be videotaped for posterity.

One of those questions, as presently worded, will be, “Does sex need to have any spiritual dimension or can sex just be sex?”

Regular readers of this blog can probably guess my answer. When I was writing my book on same-gender marriage and its sacred nature, I attended a dinner party given by a Body Electric instructor and therapist. This is important, because Body Electric, founded by a former Catholic seminarian, has given body- and sex-positive courses for decades for gay and straight alike.  

I had advised him when he decided to lead a Christian Body Electric weekend, though I declined assisting, given a major vote pending in my denomination on LGBT ordination, and I was afraid what our opposition would make of my participation. But I did co-lead the next year or two later. It was easy, given how body-centric Judaism and Christianity are, and we used the following exercises: footwashing, healing touch (massage) while retelling the biblical narrative, re-baptism (in a hot tub!), laying on of hands, an informal Communion, and a reenactment of the beloved disciple on Jesus’ chest.

So I was stunned when my dear friend, who helped me through a rocky time of my life, said matter-of-factly, “There’s nothing sacred about marriage.” Granted, his words probably meant something entirely different to him, not wanting to elevate a heteronormative model, perhaps, or something else.

As readers of this blog know, I am more in line with Celtic Christianity in which everything with the potential for good has a sacred dimension. And I believe every one of our acts and experiences shapes our souls; everything that is done to us and everything we do has spiritual dimensions.

That’s why I believe sexual harassment as well as sexual intimacy have spiritual ramifications. I long ago wrote that sexual abuse (and all forms of abuse) is also spiritual abuse. And sexual pleasure uplifts the soul, but for me, only when fair, mutual, and non-exploitive.

A Presbyterian sexuality task force came up with the term “justice-love,” a helpful corrective to justice without mercy and love without justice. At the time I lamented that the words now required hyphenation, that they had become so far removed from one another that they needed to be joined in this marriage of words.

“Does sex need to have spiritual dimensions or can sex just be sex?”

Even in the most tawdry of expressions, I’ve never been able to separate sex from the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

I’ve endured and resisted unwanted advances and unintentionally I’ve made unwanted advances, but the sexual experiences that pleasure me are those that have one or more of the above ingredients.

Relevant Post: Judas Kiss 
And a post for Halloween: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

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Painting Copyright © by Becki Jayne Harrelson, used by permission. Text Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use of text with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 


  1. Glad my question resonated, Chris.
    You might want to look at the book edited by Patricia Beattie Jung, Radhika Balakrishnan and myself, GOOD SEX: FEMINIST PERSPECTIVES FROM THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS and my essay in it entitled "Just God Sex" in which I connect the goodness of sex with other forms of goodness.

    1. Thanks, Mary, for the question and the book recommendation! Looking forward to our conversation next week in St. Louis!