Love is what “we” do; sex is what “they” do

Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network, has just written an excellent post using The Lion King to illustrate the unequal terms in which evangelical Christians (in this case, his 16-year-old self) think about sex and relationships. Check it out here:

Crumbs from the Communion Table: Can you feel the sex tonight?

In my mind, for Timon and Pumbaa to be gay would have meant that they were having sex. But for Simba and Nala to be straight meant only that they were in love—even though we see the evidence of their sexual union at the end of the film when a child is born.

For my fundamentalist church, this went beyond the gay-straight divide. Reducing other couples to their biology was an all-hands-on-deck affair (pun not intended). If you were a conservative, evangelical Christian who followed a parent-approved and supervised courtship, saved all physical contact for the wedding altar, promised to make your body a living sacrifice to your particular gender role, and reacted to the mention of birth control as though somebody were offering you bath salts, then, and only then, did you qualify as an exemplar of love. Perfect, Christian love. Everything else was just sex.

This opposition of love to sex is not the healthiest paradigm around. But it did fit nicely within the constellation of falsehoods I learned about sex as a kid. And it left me extremely confused. Sex was some nasty thing that worldly people did, right? No good woman actually enjoys it! Wouldn’t it be horrible and embarrassing to have to do that with someone you love and respect? For a long time, I believed that a married couple did it exactly once – on the wedding night – and thereafter could have a baby at any time for the rest of their fertile years. When I got old enough to realize that wasn’t true, I found another myth waiting for me – that sex is something men need and women put up with.

When we looked at “worldly” couples, we judged them in Machiavellian terms. Either they were animalistic, driven by lust and incapable of more rarefied emotions (hello, 19th century!), or they were driven by the urge to dominate one another. Worldly women used sex as a lure to entrap men and control them, while worldly men put up with emasculation in order to receive sex.

For people who professed perfect love, we were the most cynical misanthropes in the world. George Carlin would have a hard time competing with us.

It’s possible to degrade the entire human race that way. There’s even a handy formula:

Step 1. Convince yourself and others that the body is shameful.
Step 2. Pick a group to dehumanize.
Step 3. Point out all the bodily functions that group performs. (It’s different when your group does them.)
Step 4. Dismiss all motivations that group might have other than primal bodily urges.
Step 5. Sneer.

It’s funny, really, that this attitude prevailed about sex in a church with intense Pentecostal leanings. Our pastors spoke openly of crying out before God until snot ran down your chin, of falling on the floor screaming and weeping (and yes, people did all of these things in services). We washed each other’s feet. Women were almost constantly pregnant or nursing, and discussed all the ugly details of childbirth with complete candor. My church prided itself, in fact, on how different it was from stodgy Catholics or Lutherans who didn’t acknowledge the body. We were the loud, obnoxious holy rollers and if you couldn’t handle a little body fluid, then the New Birth wasn’t for you.

Except for that whole sex thing. It’s called making love when True Christians do it.

Hallelujah.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for this post. I actually come from the opposite end – I tend to see what conservative Christians do as shallow, a performance of stereotypical gender-roles where there is no real intimacy that’s just carried on to meet the approval of the group. Rather than love, it looked like relationship built on male insecurity and female subservience. I think their view on sex and marriage reduces marriage to ‘the place where you can finally have sex.’

    Either way, I’ve always found the idea of ‘sacrifice’ within a romantic relationship to be a bit problematic. For the relationship to work, 2 people have to be happy, which means that the sacrifices are going to have to kind of equal out. Of course, when you’re taught that sacrifice is part of love, you might not be totally open about your feelings because you want to sacrifice to make the other person happy. I think that teaching goes against the notion of intimacy in a relationship since it’s bound to discourage communication.

    Either way, great post.


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