Sex education in America sucks. And, not in a good way. Many women, rather than embracing and celebrating their feminine sexuality, are suffering with feelings of shame and disdain because of distressing religious judgment and crappity-crap cultural conditioning. These women are then expected to enter into long-lasting relationships and marriages and react as authentic sensual beings. Shyuh, right! Not only is this an unrealistic assumption, it is a likely recipe for an unhealthy esteem, unhappy relationships, and relentless intimacy discontent. Is it any wonder the divorce rate in America is so abysmally high?
Together we can educate and liberate women from all walks of life. Together we can help our fellow human beings overcome shame and improve and deepen their intimate connections. Let’s do this.
Engaging in sexual fantasy to heighten our sexual desires is a good thing. But, I know, there are some readers who would disagree with me for a variety of reasons, and this is why this article will be a tad lengthy, hence in more than one part. As a practicing Christian, I know from experience that this topic is a hotbed of controversy for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, so I’d like to address their concerns first. And then, we can get to the fun stuff of fantasy.
Fantasies come from our imagination and imagination is a God-given gift. It is part and parcel of who we are as human beings. Fantasies by definition are imaginary, make-believe, about scenarios that are, if not completely impossible, at least improbable. Fantasies are, in and of themselves, morally neutral. What becomes of our fantasies is up to us. We are not always responsible for our thoughts. We are, however, responsible for our actions. That said, are we in Mister Roger’s “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” or are we on Mr. Rourke’s Fantasy Island?
Christians and Fantasizing
YES! We Christians are allowed to fantasize and I’m happy to tell you why. There is no edict in Sacred Scripture that forbids desire or fantasy. Did you get that? It’s important. There is no edict in Sacred Scripture that forbids desire or fantasy. No, not one.
The scripture that you’ve likely had drummed into your head since you were pre-pubescent to shame you away from healthy sexual desire and fantasy is Matthew 5:27. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Often, pastors and priests use this verse to warn against adultery — and rightly so. Infidelity is bad whether you’re a Christian or not. But, some people interpret this verse as meaning Christians aren’t allowed to even think sexually about someone they are attracted to. Yikes. All too often Church teachings are interpreted to equate sexual thoughts with actual sexual sin. And this idea, my friends, is wrong and incredibly harmful to the mental health of too many Christian men and women.
The problem with that translation of Matthew 5:27 is that the word translated as “lust” in this passage is the same word used for “covet” in The Ten Commandments. “[Y]ou will not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17). Coveting is so serious a sin because it is wanting something that already lawfully belongs to someone else. It is not wanting something like what another has; it is wanting the exact thing. Imagine reading the tenth commandment as “Do not lust after your neighbor’s house; nor lust after his wife, nor his servant or maid, nor lust after his ox, nor his donkey.” Should we really equate the word “covet” for “think about sexually” here? No.¹ There is a difference between natural sexual desire and coveting (wanting to possess what belongs to another as your own).
I could discuss poor theology and really crappy translations all day, but one only need contemplate the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of different denominations all under the same Christian umbrella to know that poor theology and really crappy translations exist. Besides that, it’s not my intent to prove how wonky centuries’ old translations of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic are. My intention is to tell you, quite truthfully, that Christ Himself never condemned being “horny” — through arousal, desires, fantasies, or otherwise. In fact, even a cursory glance at First Corinthians, chapter seven, proves that Saint Paul assumes we’re going to be sexually aroused and desire others. Of course we are! It’s how God designed us. As sexual beings. And while we’re discussing chapter seven, it’s interesting to note that Saint Paul admits in verse 25 that “Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord.” Mull that one over for a minute or ten.
Christians and Masturbation
I bring up masturbation here is because it is usually accompanied by desirous thoughts or fantasies. Masturbation, or stimulation of one’s own genitals for sexual pleasure often, though certainly not always, to the point of climax, is a perfectly normal and natural act. However, another tradition that is taught, but not once mentioned in Sacred Scripture is that of masturbation as sin. Early church fathers used the story of Onan in Genesis 38 to preach against believers using coitus interruptus [the “withdrawal method” of birth control] in particular, and masturbation in general. According to the church, every sperm possible — because the church had no control over what happened with nocturnal emissions of sperm — was to be implanted into the wife’s womb. Keeping in mind that the mission of the early church was to encourage its members to “go forth and multiply,” it makes sense that they thought this was a really great scripture to use to scare the hell out of people from wanting to limit their family size via contraception.
So, the early church preached against what it called the “Sin of Onan” — and many Western churches still do, although they do not all agree on exactly what that sin is. The Catholic Church still preaches today against onanism which is, in the strictest sense, contraception, as well as against masturbation to climax. When Protestant denominations started branching out, they too continued preaching against the “Sin of Onan” as against contraception and masturbation. It wasn’t until Protestant denominations determined that contraception was no longer sinful (circa 1930), that they dropped the contraceptive concept of onanism to be an edict against masturbation alone. Because sperm was no longer sacred, masturbation as a “selfish act of lust” became the focus of the sin; but as you will see, these views are slowly but finally changing, too.
Careful reading of the story in Genesis 38 shows that the God killed Onan because he refused to follow Mosaic law for levirate marriage and give his dead, older brother’s wife an heir because he was selfish and wanted to be the firstborn heir to Judah’s fortune. In verse 9, Onan withdrew his penis from (his sister-in-law) Tamra’s vagina before ejaculation and the “spilling [of] his seed lest he give his brother an heir” occurred. In verse 10, “the thing which he did displeased the Lord” and his subsequent punishment for sinning (i.e., God slew him) was not because he chose masturbation, nor was it likely for employing the withdrawal method; his sin was more likely in disobedience to his father’s command, for not following Mosaic law, or it was due to his inordinate and unlawful greed.²
As I’ve noted, some Western churches, especially those of Evangelical origin, still preach against masturbation; but due to the abundance of scientific and medical evidence that masturbation is a medically healthy and psychologically normal act, more churches are electing to forgo the topic of masturbation altogether. Dr. James Dobson, founder of “Focus on the Family,” has even gone on record contending, “The Bible says nothing about masturbation, so we don’t really know what God thinks about it. My opinion is that He doesn’t make a big issue of it… So I would encourage you not to struggle with guilt.”³ Wow and yay! I hope this helps those of you who are struggling with shame concerning masturbation to understand that you are not alone in your struggle. Sexual self-exploration is healthy and normal and is notimmoral. You are okay.
² Read Genesis 38 in its entirety for a better understanding of the context of the story.
³ Dobson, James C. (2000). Preparing for Adolescence: Growth Guide. Delight, AR: Gospel Light.
*Compulsivemasturbation, like other compulsive behaviors, can be signs of an emotional problem, which may need to be addressed by a mental health specialist. There is no shame in seeking help from a professional. ♥
Both “humility” and “humiliation” come from the Latin root word humilis meaning lowly. Humility (humilitās) is to “lower” yourself in light of others; whereas, to humiliate (humiliare) is to “make lower” someone else. The definitions may seem confusingly close, but there is a very important difference between the two — one is a virtue; the other is a vice.¹
Humility as a modest view of oneself should make people feel good about themselves. A person who is humble is praiseworthy. Humility is a virtue that we express from our inner being as opposed to the vice of vainglory (arrogance/pride²). I find it interesting that the most humble people I’m acquainted with are also some of the most intelligent and confident people I know. Conversely, the most arrogant people I’ve had the displeasure of encountering are often the most insecure. I don’t think that this is a coincidence either. It is possible to be fully aware of and fully embrace one’s self worth without being pride-full.
Humiliation stems from feelings of the shame of being judged. Shame by definition is a painful feeling. What is the point of using shame as a weapon — whether against ourselves or our fellow humans?
Sexual humility, I would argue, offers a very wide berth to love and healthy sexual intimacy. Two sexual partners who practice humility by definition would each place the needs, desires, and joys of their partner above their own; thus, opening the door to a mutually honest, vulnerable, and loving relationship. As Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”³ A person who is confident has no need to humiliate another person, especially not their own partner.
Sexual humiliation on the other hand, serves only self. People with a deep-seated need to humiliate their partners in order to feel better about themselves will not be found in healthy, loving relationships. Healthy sexual relationships require a great deal of open communication. People who are prone to shaming (read: emotionally abusing) their partners through humiliation are not inclined to encourage open, loving communication. In fact, they are more likely to be Narcissists who gas-light their partners. In addition, humiliating someone who is not a partner about or because of their sexuality is equally cruel and abusive.
Sexual Shame is a byproduct of humiliation. Here in the United States entire generations have been shattered by sexual shame. While some people are quick to blame religion for this dispiriting phenomenon, it is important to keep in mind that the taboo of sexuality can be secular in nature.
No one is born with shame. Cultural sexual shame is first and foremost passed down to us through our parents. Later our under-educated peers take over by dictating the norms for what is considered acceptable sex — often the same peers who don’t know the difference between a vulva and a vagina. We then get Hollywood’s take on sexuality, completely outside the moral confines of any religion, where only stunningly attractive people are lustfully engaging in 180 second sex which always results in mutual orgasms, right? Oh, and don’t forget the Internet. Of course, when you consider the fact that online body shaming is practically a cultural pastime, that’s one helluva scary thought.
¹ For the purposes of this post, humiliation refers exclusively to the non-consensualact of humiliation.
² I make a distinction between healthy pride, as in being conscious of one’s own dignity and self-worth and self regard (satisfaction), and unhealthy pride, as in having an inordinately excessive opinion of one’s importance (narcissist).
This post was prompted by a friend in the Blogosphere, author Linda Hill, who is offering (“Just Jot It January”) daily writing prompts for fellow bloggers. Today’s word, “Humiliate,” originated with Jim Adams, whose own entry entitled Stitches caught my eye and inspired me to write this post.