I wrote this as part of Queer Theology’s 2015 Synchroblog on Sex & Bodies. Check out all the entries here.
I learned about agape, God’s self-sacrificing love from a hookup. Actually, a few hookups. Actually, a lot of hookups. I could count, but we might be here awhile. I think a better use of our time would be for me to share what I learned. Because there’s something valuable for you to learn from promiscuity.
What comes up for you when you think sex?
Desires? How much or how little you’re having? Whether it’s OK to want certain types of sex? What your desires (or lack thereof) “mean” about you as a person?
If you’re anything like me, the intersection of sexuality and Christianity is a fraught one. Conservative churches tell you not to have it — it’s a dirty, sinful thing until you’re married — and many progressive churches don’t have much to say about it. Sure, it’s ok to have sex, but it’s not something our faith has much to say about.
Have you ever heard someone talk about sex as “being bad,” even in a playful way? “Oh yeah, we were bad and I took her home after our first date.” “Well you know, it’s Vegas so I let myself be a little naughty.” Even said with a wink and a nod, for too many of us, sex is still a dirty little secret.
But it doesn’t have to be. Sex can be holy. Not just in a sex-with-your-spouse-is-awesome sort of way (though, sex with your spouse can certainly be awesome). And not in a “I’m trying to recruit you to a sex cult religion” sort of way either (though if that’s your thing, power to you!).
I think that, much like all of our experiences, sex has something to teach us about ourselves, about each other, and about God.
Back to a hookup teaching me about God’s self-sacrificing love.
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
You’ve probably heard of the idea that when two people have sex, they become one flesh. There’s some something beautifully poetic about that. I sometimes feel like one flesh with my boyfriend of seven years. That metaphor rings true for me.
But that metaphor has been perverted, too.
In youth group, I was taught that sex is like duct tape. The first time you put duct tape on something, it’s super sticky. But if you rip it off, it sorta hurts. And then bits of whatever you stuck it on are left behind. Skin cells or lint from your sweater or whatever. And each time you stick it on something, it becomes less and less sticky.
The object lesson is that every time you have sex, the sex begins to matter less and less. That you begin to matter less and less. That you’re less useful. That if/when you find a lifelong partner, your sex sticky tape won’t work anymore.
Your love is not finite.
Your body is not polluted, or dirtied, or worn down by connections with others.
Your love is infinite.
Your body is powerful.
I used to think about sex in all sorts of weird and unhelpful ways. It was scarce and if I didn’t find the right person, I would miss out. It was scary and dangerous. It was something that needed to be controlled. In youth group, we were always parsing out what was ok and what was “too much.” My 7th grade girlfriend and I were basically attached at the hip. Like, we literally stood next to each other with my arm around her waist and hers around mine. That was usually ok, but even still we sometimes got jokes-that-maybe-weren’t-jokes about it. Be careful about getting too close to the edge—whatever “the edge” is—or you might fall over. Sex was something to be controlled.
Even as I got older, and stopped going to church, the things I’d been taught about sex were still embedded within me. The messages I’d received about sex continued to affect me and my relationships. I would end otherwise really healthy relationships because went “too far’ (whatever that was). I’d sabotage relationships that were going well by not allowing myself to have the sex we so clearly wanted and was appropriate for us. And all of this focus on whether to have sex, when to have sex, what type of sex to be having was ultimately a distraction from the real issues that build a relationship.
Now, I see sex completely differently.
Sex is holy. Well, it can be. Consensual sex can be holy if you want it to be. There’s no right way to “make it” holy … it’s what you (and the other person/people) bring to it that make it.
I see God’s love reflected in sex—even, perhaps especially, sex with hookups.
Buckle in, because I’m about to get woo-wooy on you. And take it all with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, we’re talking about fucking. Bodies and sweat and sex. I don’t pray at the altar of sex, but I do think there’s something we can learn from it, if we want to.
Something about welcoming the stranger—into your home, or the backseat of your car, or even your body.
Something about seeing, really seeing, another person.
Something about being vulnerable. And intimate. And perhaps sharing a little part of yourself that you don’t get to share anywhere else.
Something about the abundance of God’s love. Something about our love being abundant. You can have a one-night stand after a night dancing with friends and you can still have mind-blowing sex with your future spouse (in fact, if it fits within your relationship parameters, you can have a one-night stand after dancing with friends and mind-blowing sex with your current spouse).
Earlier this year, we read Radical Love by Patrick Cheng as part of Sanctuary Collective’s book club and in it he describes the trinity as an orgy. I highlighted that passage, took a picture of it, and sent it to half of my phone book.
If the trinity is an orgy, what does that say about actual orgies? A few of my good friends want to have group sex but it’s not something they talk about. It’s something they do in secret. It’s something succumb to. It’s something they think they’re supposed to feel bad about.
But if the trinity is an orgy, maybe we don’t have to feel about our sexual desires (regardless of whether we’re acting on them).
In Unclean, Richard Beck talks about how a drop of urine in a swimming pool of wine will ruin the wine but a drop of wine will do nothing to make urine drinkable. He proposes, though, that Jesus has a purifying effect. That Jesus wasn’t made “unclean” by touching people that society said should make him unclean, rather he made them clean (or, perhaps helped to break down the idea that they were ever unclean to begin with).
We have the opportunity to do the same thing with sex. To go proudly to that sex party, because God is an orgy. To say “we want to spank each other and that feels good and draws us closer together and we will not be ashamed of it.” To have sex in all sorts of beautiful, messy, complex ways.
You can also experience God in solitude, amongst close friends and chosen family, with your family of origin, in nature, in service, or in any number of places. Sex isn’t the only place to discover God’s love. And not having—or not even wanting—sex is OK to. But so is having it. And having lots of it. God is there, too.
Something powerful happens when we let go of shame and step out into the light. We are stronger, more powerful, more connected, more alive than ever before. That sounds like good news, that sounds like “life to the fullest,” that sounds like grace and reconciliation and resurrection. That sounds like God’s love.
And I learned it all from hooking up.