Sex, men, and “giving”

Yesterday we talked about what it means when evangelicals and fundamentalists speak of a woman “giving” in the context of sex – namely, that it involves a woman “giving” sex to her husband in order to fulfill his sexual needs. Well, I was recently pointed to an article called Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex which speaks of the man “giving.” It made me realize that this is something I’ve seen before. Let’s take a look, shall we?

First, note that the title of the article – “Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex” – suggests that sex should glorify God. In fact, I’ve heard it said before that sex should be an act of worship – not worship of each other or of hedonistic pleasure, but worship of God. (Personally, I always found that idea unsettling.)

Anyway, I want to focus on the article’s second point (the first is that sex should only occur within marriage, because that is the only time when sex is glorifying to God – outside of marriage sex makes a lie, because it is taking something that is a sign of the marriage covenant and performing it where no such covenant exists), “the necessity of complementarity.”

2. The necessity of complementarity:

God’s story is about the union of two complementary entities who fit together like pieces of a puzzle. God-glorifying sex requires the coming together of one male body and one female body. Physical complementarity is a necessity. The parallel images I sketched out in my last post demonstrate why.

Which brings up a critical point: Complementarians believe that the physical differences between male and female speak to who God created us to BE. They address our core ontological identities. Complementarity is more about who you ARE than it is about what you DO. If you try to reduce complementarity to a “he-does-this-and-she-does-that” list, you will get it wrong.

Parenthetically, if you’ve been hearing the word “complementarianism” and wondering what it means, the above is a decent explanation. Complementarianism holds that men and women are fundamentally different and that those differences both affect one’s role in life and should be celebrated rather than minimized. They often use the puzzle analogy. Note that the author of this article is trying to distance herself from straight-up patriarchy (and honestly, the difference is only a slight rhetorical one) by saying she’s not talking about a list of who does what, but rather about who you are. As we’ll see in a moment, this distinction is pointless.

Both man and woman bring the totality of who they are into the marriage bed. In the act of sex they connect as counterparts on every possible level—physical, emotional, and spiritual. God designed the two pieces to fit. It’s the complementarity that facilitates a perfect union.

Though I hesitate to state the obvious, all heterosexual sex is fundamentally “complementary” in nature.

You can see how gay sex makes no sense in this paradigm.

So, is authority and submission an erotic necessity for God-honoring sex? No. Absolutely not, if you’re defining those terms as something a husband and wife “do” (for example, he’s on top/she’s on the bottom)—but in a way, yes, if you’re alluding to the essence of who they “are” as male and female.

Sex is the union of two complementary beings—a male, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to lovingly and self-sacrificially bestow and give, and a female, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to actively and joyfully welcome and receive. “Authority” and “submission” are flat-lettered, black-and-white words that hint at, but are woefully inadequate to express the color, depth, wonder, and mystery of who God has created us to be as male and female.

A man is at no time more “manly” and woman is at no time more “womanly” than in the act of sex. (Sex as God intended it, that is.) His body “gives” in a way that hers can’t. Her body “receives” in a way that his can’t. Sex is where complementarity reaches its apex and is eclipsed by the “oneness” that ensues at the joining of the counterparts. It is the place where complementarity and mutuality kiss.

Remember how I said that emphasizing that complementarianism is about who you are rather than what you do is a sort of pointless distinction? Well, here we see why: because they believe who you are dictates what you do. Saying that men and women are to perform different roles in sex isn’t a check list, they insist; rather, men and women perform these different roles in sex as a reflextion of who men and women are.

Anyway, what you see here is a nod to Doug Wilson’s writing on dominance and submission in the marriage bed. Not merely a nod, really; it’s more of an endorsement. It’s a welcome embrace of the words “authority” and “submission,” and an attempt to explain any negative connections with this away by suggesting that these words are simply “flat-lettered, black-and-white words” that are “woefully inadequate to express the color, depth, wonder, and mystery of who God has created us to be as male and female.” You see all those words. Those are all just fancy words that say “I know evoking words like authority and submission in marriage and in life in general sounds bad, but it really really really isn’t we promise!”

Let’s look back at how this passage uses the word “give”:

Sex is the union of two complementary beings—a male, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to lovingly and self-sacrificially bestow and give, and a female, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to actively and joyfully welcome and receive.

In other words, this passage suggests that in the act of sex it is men who give and women who receive. This is interesting because it seems on face value to be opposite to all of the other voices saying that men need sex and that wives have an obligation and duty to provide it. I mean, it’s saying that men are the ones who give! But just what does “give” mean here?

His body “gives” in a way that hers can’t. Her body “receives” in a way that his can’t.

Oh. I see. “Give” means “penetrate.” I suppose you could take it a step further and say that the man is giving the woman his seed, and that she receives it. This reminds me of the (fake) Bible verse Saffron quotes in Firefly:

On the night of their betrothal, the wife shall open to the man as the furrow to the plow, and he shall work in her, in and again, till she bring him to his fall, and rest him then upon the sweat of her breast.

I’m not completely sure what to make of this. When evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about women “giving” in the context of sex, it generally means a woman choosing to sublimate her own desires and have sex with her husband (out of a desire to meet his needs) even if she’s not especially in the mood. And yet when they talk about men “giving” in the context of sex, they mean penetrating. When men “receive” that means they’re being given the pleasure of sex by their wives. When women “receive” in the context of sex that means they’re being penetrated.

I want to be clear here that I know I am talking in generalizations. It’s much more common to hear evangelicals and fundamentalists talking about a woman “giving” her husband sex than to hear them use the terms “give” and “receive” to refer to penetration. And it’s also true that there is being more emphasis on female pleasure in evangelical and fundamentalist circles than in the past. Hopefully in the future evangelicals and fundamentalists will move towards seeing sex as being about egalitarian mutual pleasure.

But that doesn’t negate the reality of this talk of penetrating as giving and being penetrated as receiving. It’s not just this one blog, it’s the same sort of language that Doug Wilson and his supporters used. Interestingly, they seem to see it as very natural. The man penetrates and the woman is penetrated, the man bestows and the woman welcomes, the man leads and the woman submits, all flowing into each other.

What I don’t understand is, why can’t we speak of the woman enveloping the male? The language need not be one way, but I don’t think these particular individuals realize that.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Louise Broadbent

    ‘What I don’t understand is, why can’t we speak of the woman enveloping the male?’ Or the man being swallowed up by her. It is a more literal description of what goes on. Also, what if the man gets pleasure from a dominant woman – a role-reversal – should the woman give him this pleasure or deny him it because it would go against God’s way of a woman and man being ‘womanly’ and ‘male’ in the bedroom? But if she denies him, she’s suggesting she knows more than him. What a conundrum! But that’s what happens when you dictate a right and wrong way to do something as personal as sex.

  • Saraquill

    Even in heterosexual intercourse, there are more options than tab A into Slot B.

    • Steve

      A man going down on a woman falls outside their worldview entirely

  • jose

    I don’t even… just how disconnected from reality are these people?

    • Steve

      Completely. They live in some kind of parallel universe

  • Makoto

    “God’s story is about the union of two complementary entities who fit together like pieces of a puzzle” – I’m sorry, when I hear this all I can think about is a pair of “novelty” keychains that a friend had at college, which were shaped so they could be in various sex-like positions. Amazingly, you could fit two of the ‘male’ pieces together or two of the ‘female’ pieces. Go figure, nothing broke, there was no earth-shattering kaboom when we checked.

    And I’ve always felt using sex as a form of worship was really creepy. I certainly don’t want a voyeur in the room being pleased by what I may be up to up to with my significant other in bed.

  • smrnda

    I think this has less to do with sex and more with the evangelical or fundamentalist idea that religion should permeate every part of life; they want it to be impossible to even have sex or think about sex without the thoughts really being about the Christian god and the Christian faith. Because of this, they have to force every activity to turn into a metaphor for some theological principle.

    There’s also a problem with ‘give’ and ‘receive’ – these words are being applied as if they unambiguously fit what goes on in the sex act. If I work, I give work and receive money. But it seems like with sex, you could make a case that both parties are giving or receiving just since it doesn’t quite fit those words so well.

  • perfectnumber628

    Yeah, this is why complementarianism just doesn’t make sense to me. They try to say “no, it’s not about telling you specific rules about roles you need to do” but then they DO say women are supposed to do this and men are supposed to do that.

    I agree that men and women are different (as a Christian, I also agree that men and women were designed by God to be different and complementary), but those are just generalizations, and what works for one couple may not work for another- you need to take into account the specific personalities of the people involved- you can’t just say the woman HAS TO do this because she is a woman, and the man HAS TO do that because he is a man.

    • Randy

      So men and women were designed by God to complement each other but that has no practical implications. We just ignore it. Then sex and gender have no meaning. If you do whatever turns you on then that is all it can mean. I get pleasure. Love, procreation, commitment, etc. are all reduced to things that might enhance my pleasure. The moment they begin to interfere with my fun I discard them. My pleasure is the center so nothing else can be.

      That is the modern view of sex. Feminists think it is a huge victory but men have always been OK with thinking of sex in terms of their own pleasure. Sort of. Deep down inside men and women have always known it means much more. Exactly what is a hard question but it must mean something rather than nothing.

      • Steve

        Nonsensical word salad

      • Jayn

        Am I the only one amused by this being posted under the name ‘Randy’?

      • Makoto

        “So men and women were designed by God to complement each other” – well, no. Maybe you think so, but not everyone agrees with your creation stories.

        “Love, procreation, commitment, etc. are all reduced to things that might enhance my pleasure” – again, no. Procreation has nothing to do with love or commitment. How many grandparents do you know that are still procreating? Is their commitment any less for the fact that they can’t make new kids? What about couples that have decided not to have kids for their own reasons? What about couples that can’t have kids? I’m of the right age, but I am unable to father children due to health issues. Can’t I get married for the love and commitment parts?

        “Exactly what is a hard question but it must mean something rather than nothing.” – oh, it means more than just their own pleasure. It should be a mutually pleasurable experience. It’s a deeply intimate experience. It’s fun. It’s exercise. It’s a bonding moment. It just doesn’t always lead to kids, and that isn’t a bad thing.

      • Rosa

        if God designed men and women to complement each other, isn’t each person behaving in the way that’s most comfortable and natural to them going to express God’s will and help them complement each other?

        I mean, human bodies walk upright. Crawling is harder than walking, flying is impossible. We’re walkers by nature. If God designed us a certain way shouldn’t that design express itself as naturally as walking, and no require a lot of rules and punishment to make happen?

      • Randy

        Actually I agree with you all. That is why I placed this comment where I did. PN628 accepted this premise. So I commented to her. You don’t. So argue with her (or him).

        I even agree that my name being Randy is mildly amusing in this context if you are from England or Ireland.

        There is the larger question of what sex means. You can always dismiss every attempt to talk about the meaning of sex as word salad. But do you really believe it means nothing? If so, I feel sorry for you. If not, then make your own word salad.

      • Rosa

        Randy, can you restate what you were trying to say, then? Because it did not look at all like you were contradicting PN628, it looked like you were supporting her.

        Your specific post, with the added commentary, makes absolutely no sense to me. Can you maybe spell it out a little more?

      • Randy

        I do agree with her premise that men ans women were designed by God to complement each other. Then she contradicts that premise by saying it does not really matter and do whatever works for you as a couple. That makes no sense to me. Either there is something there for us to respect or there is not. I can understand those who say there is not. I think that falls down ultimately because it makes sex completely ordinary, like playing tennis together. We kind of know that isn’t right. Still attacking every sexual moral out there is easy and fun.

        Any complete and coherent sexual morality is going to have some real hard edges. Some parts of it are going to seem insane to some people. So either God messed up big time or some people are called to say No to their sexual impulses. In the Catholic view we are all called to say No a lot. That actually seems more fair. Everyone has reason to call it insane.

      • Tracey

        Randy, you have no idea of what feminism is. Feminism is the belief (apparently a terrifying one to you) that women are human beings, with beliefs and wants and needs that are equally as valuable as those men have. So sorry you can only feel like a man by creating a strawman to be terrified of.

      • Tracey

        Randy, you forget that your particular interpretation of the Christian faith isn’t even universal among the Christian faith. 2/3 of the world is not Christian. If you want to believe that stuff, you’re welcome to it, but you can’t be surprised when people who don’t subscribe to your interpretation disagree with you, and furthermore, do not choose to act in the way you demand they act. Yours is but one path among many.

  • Kit

    All this talk of penetration reminds me of this course I took in mu undergrad on Greek and Roman sexuality. They didn’t think of people as homosexual vs. heterosexual; they thought in terms of “penetrator” and “penetrated.” Men could be both penetrators and the penetrated, and it was absolutely normal for a man to be penetrated to a certain age and then become a penetrator. Men were held as different from women because they could adopt both roles, whereas women could only ever be penetrated.

    Anyway, I find it very interesting that the same language is now being used to promote traditional marriage and traditional heterosexual sex in conservative evangelical circles, when the ancient Greeks used it completely differently.

    • Aniota

      Speaking of the ancient Greeks, it’s worth noting that the idea of men and women as a puzzle likely stems from Plato’s “Symposium”, wherein Zeus divides the originally unified sexes into male and female – a text endorsing male homosexuality, by the way:

      “[...]by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life[...]“

    • Saraquill

      That’s conveniently forgetting that most women have fingers.

      • Aniota

        I was actually planning on posting something about pegging (men taking a strap-on attached to their partner in the ass) and how that would defeat the whole premise of men as the ones penetrating and women as the ones being penetrated as well as the “complementarianism” that is seen as following from it (while at the same time being the premise – circular reasoning at its finest), but upon rereading decided against it because of this passage:

        “His body “gives” in a way that hers can’t. Her body “receives” in a way that his can’t.”

        I read this as meaning only penis-in-vagina sex – so I’m really not sure as to how any sexual act apart from that is to be seen within the framework laid out here, both in regards to ancient Greece and nowadays evangelicalism/fundamentalism.
        Considering the teaching of saddlebacking within evangelical-promoted abstinence only “sex ed” (which, btw, seems to be quite common in Muslim abstinence only teachings, too) I would assume that acts apart from PIV sex aren’t seen as “real” sex – which would then explain how sexually active teenagers can still be seen as virgins in this framework, as well as other unfortunate teachings stemming from it (like how STIs are supposedly being transmitted in whatever unscientific way the “teacher” espouses).

  • from two to one

    My husband and I were just discussing Kassian’s post because I think of the same questions as you — why is there this give/receive, penetrate/accept, authority/submission model that is 1) heterocentric, and 2) male-centric? The analogy I gave was that you can put the safety cover on a carving knife two ways: either by holding the case steady and inserting the knife into the slot (“penetrating”), or by holding the knife steady and sliding the cover on carefully (“enveloping”). It’s a both/and rather than an either/or or logical sequence.

    • kagerato

      You can also move both simultaneously. Oh, the possibilities! :D

  • Bix

    Having sex to glorify God sounds like a pagan fertility ritual.

    I think the use of the word “bestow” is really telling, since someone can only bestow from a position of greater power than the person being bestowed upon. It sounds like, “I bestow upon you the gift of my penis. You’re welcome.”

    • Sgaile-beairt

      lol, ‘dick in a box”

  • Noelle

    Wait. I thought once you got married, any freaky sexual activity you dreamt-up was A-OK by god, as long as it didn’t involve other people.

  • Amethyst

    “…a male, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to lovingly and self-sacrificially bestow and give…”

    If a man generally feels that inserting his penis in a vagina is a magnanimous act of self-sacrifice…um…Today is National Coming Out Day. Just FYI.

    • kagerato

      I wanted to just write “LOL”, but it’s a good point about the self-contradictory nature of those statements, too.

    • Attackfish

      You win everything. Here is your internet, use it well.

  • smrnda

    I don’t think that you have this choice where it’s either a religious, sacramental view of sex or else it’s just meaningless depersonalized fucking. Sex is fun, it’s pleasurable, but it’s also something that is part of relationships. Let me compare sex to eating.

    Eating is something we do to stay alive, but it can also mean more than that – shared meals, cooking together, special foods for special occasions are when food becomes a part of a deeper meaning. Just because it’s possible for me to wolf down a piece of cheese pizza while standing up doesn’t mean that I’ve destroyed my ability to enjoy a special food occasion. I point this out since I think it is possible for a person to have relatively meaningless, purely for pleasure sex and to have less casual, more emotionally intimate sex later. I just don’t think the either/or binary makes sense for anyone.

    Many friends of mine have taken casual sex when they weren’t in a relationship they way I might eat something out of a can when I don’t have time for a nice, home-cooked meal. To say that any sort of casual sex destroys the possibility of sex ever having meaning just seems a bit ridiculous to me.

    Also, if anyone wants to go somewhere to look at critiques of the standard ‘male approach’ that it’s all about sex and things like love and commitment are a drag, look into feminist literature and men who are studying the socially constructed norms for masculinity.

    I’d also say “doing whatever turns you on” and love and commitment seem to go together for me more than they seem like opposited.

    • ButchKitties

      This reminds me of a fantastic quote from Stephen Fry during his Intelligence Squared debated on the Catholic Church.

      ” It’s the strangest thing about this church – it is obsessed with sex, absolutely obsessed. Now they will say we, with our permissive society and rude jokes, are obsessed. No, we have a healthy attitude. We like it, it’s fun, it’s jolly; because it’s a primary impulse it can be dangerous and dark and difficult. It’s a bit like food in that respect, only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that in erotic terms is the Catholic church in a nutshell.”

      • smrnda

        If we did food the way that the church (and it’s all of them as far as I’m concerned) dealt with sex, we would be forbidden to think about food except at mealtimes. How would anything get cooked?

        I just get sick of the belief that either every single time you have sex it is charged with the deepest of meanings or else every time you have sex it’s just meaningless and only for the pleasure of a moment. Those aren’t two mutually exclusive categories.

  • Rae

    “Complementarians believe that the physical differences between male and female speak to who God created us to BE. They address our core ontological identities.”

    “God designed the two pieces to fit.”

    So, then, what happens to a couple that doesn’t fit the “man is larger and buff and strong because those are *masculine* things, woman is all soft and squishy and weak and smaller because that’s *feminine*” ideal? Particularly, couples where the man may have a disability that leaves the wife to be the physically stronger and perhaps even physically larger one? Are their marriage and sexual activities now incapable of glorifying God? And what about couples for whom the two pieces physically, literally, simply do not fit? Or maybe they were born with genitals that weren’t quite the sexual binary norm that we think of? Given that about 1 in 1000 babies are born with “ambiguous” genitalia, this also leads to the implication that one can be born into a body that’s inherently incapable of glorifying God in terms of marriage.

    • Rilian

      So just don’t get married, apparently. I bet that’s what they’d say.

    • Liberated Liberal

      Anybody born with ambiguous genitalia are treated exactly the same as homosexuals (if they are not ignored completely) – they are not deserving of love and companionship and family if that is what they desire. Instead, they must live lonely, chaste lives. Apparently God made them different so they could miserable and hate themselves; which was very kind of him. Only those with perfect genitalia deserve happiness, but even then the pieces don’t always fit together – I’d hate to be already married to find that out!

      My favorite book of all time is “Middlesex,” by the way. Very moving.

  • krwordgazer

    Randy, if you’re going to insist that men are designed for authority and women for being under authority, then please take the complementarian insistence on ontological equality and throw it out the window. You can’t have it both ways. Either men and women were designed equal in dignity and status, or men were designed with higher status and women were designed with lower status. If you make it about design, it’s no longer about “roles,” and the constant repetition this is is a “roles” thing is nothing more than a smokescreen. It’s a caste system. Men on top, women beneath. With the bedroom reflecting the same.

    • Randy

      Christ taught something called servant-leadership. It seems contradictory but it is not. The leader uses his authority not to impose his will on the other but to submit to her. We tend to see headship as abusive. It does not need to be. It has room for communication and compromise. It just does not get stuck when the two are at loggerheads. The man makes the choice not because the nature of man is ontologically superior to the nature of woman. He does so because that is the nature of marriage. A single man is not better than a single woman. When they enter into marriage they agree to submit to each other in an asymmetrical way. That is the submission given by the man is not exactly the same as the submission given by the woman. The man is called to a submission of love. The woman is called to a submission of respect. Both find it hard but very rewarding to give that to their beloved.

      • Tracey

        Shorter version of what you said: Men and women are equal, only men are more equal.

      • Carol

        I beat you cause I love you.

        Headship does not need to be abusive? How nice of you to say. Really, just sign me up, I’m totally convinced. I don’t “give” respect to my husband. He earns it because he is a swell fella. But having someone just give you respect and you call that hard? Sounds like you guys are just lazy spoiled brats.

      • smrnda

        Why not just be equal parties in the relationship? Why any submission or headship at all? Why is it necessary? What’s wrong with equality?

      • Karen

        Umm. do you mean that respect is not part of the love a man has for a woman? Women don’t need to be respected for our abilities?

      • smrnda

        “We tend to see headship as abusive. It does not need to be. It has room for communication and compromise.”

        I should say that egalitarianism avoids these pitfalls rather nicely, since rather than ‘room’ for communication and compromise that’s the whole basis.

      • Maggy

        Randy, I appreciate the idea of servant leadership. But I don’t think your description is quite accurate. Why would the man in a heterosexual relationship get to be the one to make sexual decisions?

      • Pauline

        Actually Christ didn’t teach something called servant-leadership. That term is not in the Gospels or the New Testament, which seems odd if it’s meant to be a core concept Christ taught. What servant-leadership is, is an extrapolation–in a particular direction–of something Jesus said which is pretty open to other interpretations.

        The quote is: “the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest [meaning, in that culture, subordinate], and the leader like the servant.” Given that Jesus didn’t actually add “but, you know, the leader still has authority unlike the servant,” this is actually *more* open to being interpreted as egalitarian.

  • Karen

    In the beginning… well, at the beginning of life on our planet at least, it reproduced asexually. At some point, some pond scum somewhere figured out how to exchange DNA, rather than just replicating it. Evolution ran with the idea, and created all sorts of schemes for sexual reproduction. Ours (humans) is one of them. But we’re a big-brained species; we have all sorts of emotions and evaluations tied in with sex such as love, affection, bonding, along with the pleasure that brings many people to start families. And because we get so much out of sex that isn’t relative to reproduction, it opens the door for many kinds of sexual relationships, even between/among people who can’t reproduce, don’t want to reproduce, etc. That’s our species. That’s who we are. I, personally, can’t believe in any deity who could conceive of such an amazing, complicated, sexual, emotional, collectively dependent species, let alone create one, and then put sharp limits on who an individual can have sex with and when. THAT deity or deities would epitomize my definition of “asshole”.

  • smrnda

    Randy, you seem stuck with this idea that either every single sex act is am amazing, sacramental experience, or else it’s all meaningless. Let’s take your analogy of a game of tennis.

    If I play tennis, I suck at it, so it’s no big event from a skill perspective. However, it was at one time in my life a deeply significant ritual in that I played tennis with someone I was very close to several times a week. These days I have no interest in tennis since there is nobody in my life that wants to play, but since my current partner recently expressed an interest, now I’m back into thinking of tennis as something special and fun instead of something dull and un-special.

    Sex is a lot like this. Sometimes it’s going to be more special than others.

    On the other hand, the only worthwhile sexual ethics I’ve ever encountered were based in consent.

    • Randy

      I would say sex is either sacramental or it is self-centered. Self-centered sex does not mean you don’t care about the other person. You might. The point is you are using the other person for physical and emotional pleasure. It is about you. So you want limits. You want to be able to get out of the relationship if need be. You want to avoid having children. You want their body but you don’t want their whole person. They might be totally fine with that but it is beneath their dignity as a person.

      Think of prostitution. There is mutual consent there but it is beneath the dignity of sex to be exchanged for money. The real truth is that it is beneath our dignity to exchange sex for anything except everything. That means marriage with no divorce, no contraception, no limits. Anything less is just making prostitution more expensive.

      • Tracey

        Thus we see the result of fundamentalist religion on the brain. Randy literally cannot see that most of the world is capable of loving, partner-focused sex, and boisterous, joyful, playful sex, and quiet, sleepy sex, and all the variations beyond. Randy, I feel sorry for you, I really do. How sad your life must be.

      • Carol

        Task, task, so true, prostitution is so demeaning. Why do so many men, including religious leaders insist on engaging in it? Really, when it seems so many parishioners are so willing to offer their sweet daughters to the “headship”, because, you know, it does not need to be abusive.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Fundamentalist Christian teachings very explicitly tell women that part of their duty as wives is to “give” sex in return for certain things–protection and material support among them. Sex in this paradigm basically just becomes part of a bargain that needs to be upheld if you want to get your share of it. That sounds way more like prostitution to me than sex between two people who respect each other as equals and are dedicated to mutual pleasure and satisfaction. It’s fundamentalist Christian sex that seems vulgar and demeaning to human sexuality to me.

      • smrnda

        You missed my point. Sex is *sometimes* one and *sometimes* the other, and an individual person can experience both shallow, for pleasure only sex and deeply meaningful sex in the context of a serious committed relationship.

        And on contraception, I can see it being ‘selfish’ if you are arguing that one party is not wanting to have kids and the other is not, but many couples decide together that they both don’t want to have children, so I can’t see anything wrong with that. In a case like that nobody is asking the other person to give up anything.

        If your view is that it’s rejecting the body’s reproductive capacity and that is wrong, I don’t see why. I can love someone and dislike things about their body, it’s only an issue if I’m picking on features in a hurtful way. If someone doesn’t like their body’s reproductive capacity, and I don’t like it too, then we’d both be on the same page.

        I actually see nothing different between prostitution and what churches consider marriage – the woman sells out her body to the man, and now he owns her as her ‘head’ who is, of course only using his power for her own good (every pimp would tell you the same deal.) The religious view of marriage is that it’s play-acting gender stereotypes and for nothing but reproduction.

      • Steve

        Unlike churches, prostitutes are actually honest about what they do

      • ButchKitties

        Some of us don’t want to have children because a pregnancy is likely to cripple or kill us, and those same medical conditions require use to take medications that are known to cause major fetal defects.

      • Anat

        Personally, I want both myself and my other to enjoy sex greatly whenever we engage in it. For assorted reasons having another child now would be a serious bummer to both of us, so the thought that sex might lead to pregnancy would be a serious downer and diminish enjoyment. Therefor we use contraception. (Yes, we have a child, who was planned. When we were trying to conceive sex was not better, or in any way different.) Your arguments sound like coming from an alternate reality.

      • Rosie

        “The real truth is that it is beneath our dignity to exchange sex for anything except everything. That means marriage with no divorce, no contraception, no limits.” That sounds to me like Christian Gray’s contract (according to the Wikipedia article on 50 Shades; I have no intention of reading the actual book). That sounds like an abuser’s wet dream. That sounds like a hell I’d do anything up to and including suicide to avoid. I’ll not willing to exchange sex for anything, ever. It’s either an egalitarian and mutual pleasure party, or I’m not doing it.

  • Karen

    Sex means what we make of it. Tracey (#41) covers the best parts of it, but sometimes sex really is just for something else in return. Even the fundies tell women to give their husbands sex when they want it or they’ll be tempted to stray… isn’t that a classic example?

    • Anonymouse

      The fundy view of women is that they’re chattel, to be owned by their fathers, sold to their husbands, and doomed to a life of quiet desperation as baby-making machines, maids, and doormats who prostitute themselves to their men–giving them sex-on-demand in return for a crumb of stale bread and a pat on the head.

    • Randy

      That is the crux of it. If “sex means what we make it” then it is inherently meaningless. It has to import meaning from somewhere. The truth is sex means agape. That is a total, self-sacrificing love. If we engage in sex that does not mean that we are just lying. So we blame the fundies for making us feel bad. In many countries they blame the Catholic Church. The church does not have the power to make people attach deep meaning to sex. It comes built in. Of course we are capable of “loving, partner-focused sex, and boisterous, joyful, playful sex, and quiet, sleepy sex, and all the variations beyond.” That is another level. But the deeper level needs to be truth and not lies.

      • smrnda

        Could you tell me what is wrong with my point of view?

        1. Sex is sometimes just for fun.
        2. Sex is sometimes deeply meaningful.
        3. A person can have sex both of type 1. and of type 2.

        If a person engages in type 1 sex, it does not mean that type 2 sex is impossible for them. It just means that’s not the type of sex they are having right now. If I am eating fast food it does not mean I can never eat or appreciate a gourmet meal. It just means that right now I settles for fast food.

        If I make an analogy, cinema can be art. It can also just be entertainment. I’m not going to bash a Disney animated movie because it fails to be as meaningful as an Ingmar Bergman film. They have different purposes. Does the fact that you can make a silly cartoon for no purpose other than entertainment mean that there is no meaning to cinema? To a studio, a film is just a way to make money, but it can at the same time be a deep expression of meaning.

        It seems like your basic point is that it’s wrong to have type 1 sex but you haven’t made an explicit reason why. Should everyone be holding out for type 2 sex? If so, why. If having type 1 sex compromises the ability to have type 2 sex, where is the evidence for that?

      • Eamon Knight

        Bad news, Randy: *everything* is inherently meaningless, ie: the universe does not come to us with built-in meanings. “Meaning” is something we impose on the raw stuff of experience, at all levels from basic perception to the high-flying existential philosophy. And yet, we can live lives of joyfulness and significance — to ourselves, and to other humans. The universe doesn’t care, but *we* do.

      • smrnda

        I wanted to also add, I don’t have sex, but I feel good about it, especially the permissive sexual attitude kind. If I did have sex, even casual sex, I would not feel bad about doing it. I am very aware of religious attitudes on sex and I think they are all ridiculous, so the idea that I or anyone else is feeling guilty about our sex choices (since deep inside we know we’re wrong) and blaming religions for pointing out the truth just isn’t the case. I think that the religious teaching about sex and marriage I’ve heard are degrading and I believe they cause real, genuine harm.

        The reason so many of us attack religious attitudes towards sex are that we can see the harm they cause.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        smrnda, don’t expect logic or well-constructed arguments to have any effect here. The only way anybody can hang on to this worldview is if they simply ignore the lived experiences of other people, or tell themselves that the people having those experiences are living in denial and secret shame that apparently only they can perceive. I’m one of those many, many people that has experienced both type 1 and type 2 sex and even some in between. I’ve had sex “just for fun” on occasion and I’ve also had sex that was an expression of deep (egalitarian!) love between me and my partner. I appreciated both those things for what they were and this has caused me no trouble whatsoever. But according to Randy, this cannot be true because it doesn’t fit in with his idea of the Way Things Are. Therefore, I must actually “feel bad” because I know that my sex life has all been lies, LIES, I tell you! And so I blame the Fundies or the Catholic Church or whatever. Randy can report my own, and many other people’s, feelings about our sex lives much more reliably and honestly than we can, dontcha know. I’m guessing any argument you make is just going to taken as symptom of the dysfunction that Randy knows MUST exist in the lives and hearts of all people who Resist God’s Truth, yadda yadda yadda.

        Also, I don’t even think type 2 sex would be acceptable in this worldview–not unless it’s all twisted up with all this crazy-making authority/submission drivel about sex being “self-sacrificing” and “god-honoring” (ew), and agape and a model of Christ and the Church etc. etc. Frankly, Conservative Christianity in all forms has a real dilemma when it comes to sex. An ideology that derides the physical and the sensual, glorifies martyrdom and sacrifice to a ridiculous degree, and teaches that EVERYTHING a person does must be for God is always going to be at odds with sex. Because sex is one of the most physical, sensual things that human beings experience. It’s not “self-sacrificing.” It’s just not. People are motivated to have sex by a desire for pleasure–their own and their partner’s. It’s an act that involves undivided attention and total focus on the bodies and minds involved, the physicality, the presence and closeness of another person, a HUMAN BEING. It’s about all these things that Conservative Christianity is deeply, deeply uncomfortable with–bodies, the world, pleasure etc. So of course they have to tie themselves in knots trying to find ways to make it something else, hence mucking it up with a lot of creepy stuff about making your sex life into Porn for God, and comparing a man having sex with a woman to Jesus sacrificing for the Church and loads more of distilled essence of WTF.

      • Liberated Liberal

        smrnda and Petticoat Philosopher – I want to be you when I grow up. You always say everything I want to, but much more thoughtfully and intelligently than I ever could :).

      • wanderer

        Randy, I’m curious to know if this is all an ideal, hypothetical you hold to, or if you actually live your life in a way that every single time you have sex it is deeply powerful and meaningful?

      • Rosa

        I asked this before, but not specifically to you:

        If men and women are designed by God to be complementary, and if sex is naturally deeply meaningful to people…shouldn’t we just *be* complementary and have deeply meaningful sex, without trying?

        If it’s built into the natural order somehow, it wouldn’t have to be enforced by rules. If it is an unnatural, difficult thing to achieve that God somehow demands for his glory, that’s a different thing. But arguing that something is inborn and yet must be enforced makes no sense at all.

      • Amethyst

        Actually, sexual love is eros, not agape.

      • Anat

        Meaning is something intelligent beings create. Humans are intelligent beings. They are capable of giving meaning to their actions. There may be other intelligent beings with this capacity – maybe chimpanzees or whales or elephants also give meaning to their actions, but we haven’t been able to communicate with them well enough to know. But without intelligent beings the universe is meaningless, and that is fine. Also, when people do not give meaning to their actions those actions don’t have meaning. Interestingly, person A can act in a way that affects person B, and the action would have different meaning to each of them (because B may not know the intent of person A, and A may not know how B is affected). But inherent meaning does not exist. All meaning is created within intelligent minds.

  • Charis

    What I don’t understand is, why can’t we speak of the woman enveloping the male?

    We can!

    “For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth:
    a woman encircles [compasses, surrounds] a man.” Jer 31:22

  • smrnda

    Petticoat Philosopher, as usual you’ve completely hit the bulls-eye here, particularly about the lack of logic or reason.

    I think a problem is that Christianity, for all its talk about not being ‘legalistic’ is really more legalistic than any other belief system. It goes deeper, where even if you do the right thing if your attitude and thoughts aren’t perfectly good it’s evil.

    I actually don’t think sacrifice really has a place in romantic relationships. If you find someone compatible, it’s because neither party has to bend very far to accommodate the other person. Sex isn’t going to be fun unless both parties like it especially, so ‘sacrifice’ would just mean “one person enjoying it and the other person keeping quiet about not enjoying it.”

    But yeah, one pro-Christian testimonial is worth more than mountains of statistical data, but a testimonial in the other direction is just dismissed.