Spirituality of Sex
Human Sexuality and Justice Between the Sheets
The first words God addressed to humans—even before forbidding eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil—was to engage in sex. Within the creation story, God, after forming humans in God's own image, told to them to copulate, the only way to "be fruitful and multiply." Not only were humans commanded to have sex, God declared it "good" (Genesis 1:31); which frankly is an understatement, for sex is really great! It is great because it fosters intimacy within relationships serving as basis for healthy and just communities. Yes, procreation allows humans to participate and continue in God's creation, for like God, humans have the ability to create new life; still, to believe the sole purpose of sexual intercourse is reproduction is both problematic and damaging.
Christianity, since its foundation, got sex wrong. For Clement of Alexandria, "to indulge in intercourse without intending children is to outrage nature" (Christ the Educator, II:10:95). Early in the development of Christianity, an attempt was made to equate sex with the forbidden fruit. According to Augustine, Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden was the consequence of engaging in sex. Adam covered his genitals with fig leaves not out of modesty, but because he was sexually aroused. By linking shame and sex to the Christian doctrine of the Fall, Augustine argued aroused sexual organs signify human will toward the flesh, over and against the spirit (The City of God, XIV: 19, 21). The erect penis symbolizes man's rebellion to God, redefining sex as the cause for expulsion from Paradise. Almost seventeen hundred years later, many continue to believe desire for or participation in sex links us to Adam, who chose the things of this world rather than God's spiritual realm.
Early Christian thinkers reduced sex to a fear-driven discourse focused not on enjoyment and intimacy building, but pregnancy, transmittable diseases, or moral turpitude. Yet, what the Genesis text describes is sex being blessed by God. Rather than some "just say no," knee-jerk reaction, the text focuses on creating relationships where sex can and should occur. Early Christianity instead established such a negative view that it led St. Paula (347-404) to concluded, "I must disfigure that face which contrary to God's commandment I have painted with rouge, white lead, and antimony. I must mortify that body which has been given up to many pleasures. I must make up for my long laughter by constant weeping. I must exchange my soft linen and costly silks for rough goat's hair. I who have pleased my husband and the world in the past, desire now to please Christ" (St. Jerome, Letter CCIII, to Eustochium, 15:1).
Frustrating our ability today to interpret a pro-sex, pro-body interpretation of the biblical text is the false dichotomy created between the sacred (spirit) and what was defined as profane (the body). Crucial to early Christian thought was the concept of the flesh and spirit (or soul) struggling. Early Christian writers, highly influenced by this antagonistic body/soul dualism, stressed the danger believers faced who succumbed to the mortal body, as opposed to the immortal soul expected to inherit the eternal. Or as St. Paul remind us, "flesh and blood is not able to inherit God's kingdom, nor does corruption inherit incorruption" (1 Corinthians 15:50).
Miguel De La Torre serves as Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He is one of the most prolific contemporary Latinx religion scholars. Since obtaining his doctoral in 1999, Dr. Miguel De La Torre has authored several hundred articles and over thirty-two books, including most recently Liberating Sexuality: Justice Between the Sheets (Chalice Press, 2016); the national award-winning Reading the Bible from the Margins (Orbis, 2002); Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004); Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins (Orbis, 2004); and the two-volume Encyclopedia on Hispanic American Religious Cultures (ABC-CLIO, 2009). He recently received a Louisville Institute Grant that will allow him to do research in Cuba for an upcoming book on the Political Theology of José Martí.