Guest Post: I Hugged Dating Hello, Part IV: Casting Out Fear at the Intersection of Emotional and Sexual Intimacy

A guest post by Molly

Part IV of An Open Letter to Joshua Harris

“…I have no business asking for a girl’s heart and exclusive affections if I’m not ready to consider marriage. Until I can do that, I’d only be using that girl to meet my short-term needs, not seeking to bless her for the long term. Would I enjoy having a girlfriend right now? You bet! But I wouldn’t truly be loving her and putting her interests first” (19).

“In most cases, especially when we’re younger, dating is short term, serving the needs of the moment. We date because we want to enjoy the emotional and physical benefits of intimacy without the responsibility of real commitment” (29).

“The starting point of my relationships was what I wanted instead of what God wanted. I looked out for my needs and fit others into my agenda” (21).

Dear Josh,

In Part III we talked about how Christian purity culture fails to prepare individuals for coping with loss in healthy ways. While these quotes make substantially more sense knowing you’re coming from an upbringing that’s told you that love is a finite resource and that “dating” is committing emotional adultery, it’s frustrating that I Kissed Dating Goodbye doesn’t really get into how to healthily cope with breakups beyond roughly recommit your heart to Jesus and try to see your singleness as a divine blessing. [1] Spiritual reflection is only a single facet of self-care, and self-care following the end of a relationship is only one type of self-care. We need to talk about the type of self-care that occurs during a relationship.

Self-care does not equal selfishness. It should not wait until a relationship ends.

Josh, I agree with poet Audre Lorde that taking care of oneself is not self-indulgent, but an act of survival, and I would argue that you can’t really have healthy relational intimacy without each individual taking time to care for him or herself, to make sure each is in a healthy state of mind to fully reciprocate another person’s trust and vulnerability. Thus, I appreciate your commitment to not entering into a relationship until you can “bless someone for the long term,” and be considerate of another person’s needs; I agree with you that knowing when not to date is a mark of maturity. Unfortunately, if we focus entirely on meeting another person’s needs at the cost of ignoring our own—see Debi Pearl’s Created to be His Help Meet for the most extreme example of this—the relationship will sustain itself at the cost of our personal maturation.

I’m pro-dating and don’t believe in “emotional purity,” so I don’t think it’s selfish to examine the interpersonal dynamics of a current relationship (romantic or otherwise) to determine what I want (and need) from a future partner in order to be happy. Being mindful of your own desires does not have to come at the expense of your partner’s wellbeing or happiness. Indeed, I would expect my partner to be thinking about what he wants and needs to be happy as well. All relationships—sexual, emotional, or otherwise—carry a certain level of responsibility towards the other person. Think of it as a spectrum that ranges from “obtaining enthusiastic consent from a one-night stand” on one end and “signing a marriage certificate” on the other. While the latter example requires stronger commitment, all types ofethical intimacy carry a responsibility towards the other person.

Each person in the relationship must be mindful of his or her own emotional, intellectual, spiritual (if relevant), and sexual (if applicable) needs while respecting—and actively working to better understand—the needs of the other person. Josh, both of us are arguing that an individual’s personhood is a valuable, vulnerable thing to be handled carefully. [2] Both of us see intimacy as sacred; our perspectives diverge on how we put this reverence into action.

The meaning of fear

Josh, I mentioned in Part I that I wasn’t going to drag I Kissed Dating Goodbye’s outlook on sexual mores into this letter. I lied. It turns out that you can’t make a purity culture omelet without breaking a few secular sex education eggs. One of the stereotypes about Christian purity culture is that it teaches a fear of sex that cuts deep enough to handicap an individual’s ability to develop intimate relationships, including the development of emotional intimacy. Honestly, I don’t think that’s entirely fair to you.

Yes, there’s a clear fear of sex in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but it’s a fear that is equal parts terror and reverence. The former is driven by the latter, and, to an extent, that’s a good thing. I would argue that sex-positivity, on a purely emotional/intellectual level, is an attempt to fulfill 1 John 4:18—there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. Both of us respect sexual intimacy and see our partners as fellow children of God [3], yet while purity culture preaches abstinence and fleeing immorality, sex-positivity teaches a reverence for sex that is driven by careful attention to the vulnerability of all parties involved. And I never thought I’d say this, Josh, but I don’t think I Kissed Dating Goodbye goes far enough in its discussion of sexual immorality.

According to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, “it is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.” Josh, you seem to interpret πορνεία—frequently translated as sexual immorality—as meaning against promiscuity and pre-marital sex. Given Paul’s fixation with chastity, this is a perfectly valid interpretation. But it’s an interpretation that can be taken further.

I interpret πορνεία as its literal meaning—to sell off—to compromise one’s own integrity past the point with which one is comfortable, to deliberately present a false level of commitment to one’s partner in order to take advantage of his or her trust and physical and emotional vulnerability. Since πορνεία also carries the connotations of idolatry—Hosea 1:2 uses the Hebrew זְנוּנִים (zenunim) to describe the defilement incurred by eating a sacrifice offered to an idol—I propose that true sexual immorality is anything that wrongs another person created in imago dei. Sexual immorality is, therefore:

1. A failure to be in control of one’s own sexual urges.

2. A failure that leads to violation of another person’s personal boundaries   (because ignoring a partner’s consent is a failure to see them as a God-given equal), which leads to

3. Taking trust and vulnerability that you don’t have permission to take. [4]

As Julia Feder, an author at Women In Theology writes, preaching only sexual abstinence to young adults is missing a huge opportunity to talk about the violation of one’s personhood as serious sin.

Yes, sin. The churches have language to bring to the discussion of sexual violence that secular society does not. We can talk about gravely harmful behavior without having to resort to legal definitions and loopholes. We can claim that sexual activities, in every instance, should embody love and respect for oneself and the other.

I don’t think we’re ever going to agree on the timing, frequency, or flavor of sex people should be having, Josh, but I’m glad we at least agree that relationships should be treated with reverence. Indeed, a healthy emotional intimacy depends greatly on a mutual understanding of sexual intimacy. And if you’re still reading this letter, you’re actually practicing the final form of relational intimacy we still need to discuss!

Molly

————–

Gentle (and Not-So-Gentle) Readers: Come back soon for Part V of I Hugged Dating Hello, where I will write about the importance of intellectual intimacy~ Molly

—————

[1] Don’t get me wrong—being single can be beneficial. But to someone who’s just ended a relationship, being told “I guess God just wanted to bless your time as a single!” reads like “I guess God just needed another angel!” does at a funeral—cliché, self-righteous, unhelpful, and, unless God’s signed off on a producible notarized form, inaccurate.

[2] And I would add “regardless of the longevity of or degree of commitment to the relationship.” I don’t know if Josh would.

[3] I’m using “children of God” because both Josh and I are writing from a religious perspective, but I’m always on the lookout for more “terms of egalitarian affection” (for want of a better label.) And since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, list me your favorites in the comments?

[4] I find it vaguely ironic that Christian purity culture makes sexual immorality about violating standards of sexual intimacy, while sex-positivity makes sexual immorality about violating standards of emotional intimacy.

—————

Molly grew up in southern Louisiana and, after spending college partially (emotionally and physically) frozen in Iowa, somehow ended up in seminary where she’s cuddling her inner demons by moonlight and wrestling her faith by daylight. She likes bellydance, historical combat, 80s cartoons, Pema Chodron, and wants to use her M.Div to found the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. She doesn’t have a blog yet, but maybe Libby will be generous enough to provide trackbacks when she does?

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.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred H

    I interpret πορνεία as its literal meaning—to sell off—to compromise one’s own integrity past the point with which one is comfortable, to deliberately present a false level of commitment to one’s partner in order to take advantage of his or her trust and physical and emotional vulnerability.

    This is beautifully said!

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I’m happy to see churches address sexual violence, but I strongly disagree with Julia Feder when she says that secular society has to “resort to legal definitions and loopholes” to discuss it. The concept of sin isn’t the only way to ground violence as being profoundly unethical. Non-religious people–particularly secular feminists and humanists–do talk about sex, love, respect, personhood, and ethics (and power dynamics). They don’t tell people not to rape because it’s against the law, they tell people not to rape because that’s a terrible thing to do to another human being.

    I know that’s a small quote in the piece, but I just wanted to point that out.

    • Steve

      A huge problem with the sin concept is that a lot of activities are labeled as sins that don’t actually hurt anyone or violate anyone’s rights.

  • smrnda

    As an outsider to Christianity, I notice that, given the Christian idea of sacrifice, things that other people would just consider the normal things people do for their own well-being can be turned into horrible sins. The problem with making sacrifice such is that it creates a way of thinking that cannot distinguish between the pursuit of a legitimate human need and selfishness.

    • Rosie

      THIS. I lived that not being able to distinguish between the pursuit of a legitimate human need and selfishness. Truth be told, I’m still trying to sort it out.

  • http://www.ikdg.wordpress.com Steve240

    You might find my blog of interest where I critique Josh Harris’s IKDG book. Sadly Harris mentions all the problems he sees with dating but doesn’t admit the problems his approach has caused.

    http://www.ikdg.wordpress.com

    Hope this helps.

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