Safer Sex Magic: Let’s Talk About (How We Talk About) Sex, Baby

Safer Sex Magic: Let’s Talk About (How We Talk About) Sex, Baby February 4, 2018

Hello, beautiful creatures, and welcome to another episode of Misha Sticks Their Face In A Blast Furnace! Today, I wanted to open a conversation about one of my favorite topics: sex magic! Sounds fun, right? After all, sex is never controversial, and neither is magic! It’s a surefire recipe for success! I’m so excited to get started that I can’t stop ending my sentences with exclamation points! Besides, as I sat down to write this, the immortal Marvin Gaye classic “Let’s Get It On” started playing on the radio! It’s clearly meant to be!

Except, well, there’s just this one little problem: No one can seem to agree on what words mean.

In a world with dictionaries and search engines and Wikipedia and such, you wouldn’t think that would be such a problem… and you would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia drops us immediately into a big ol’ pile of confusion. There’s the page for sex itself, which the header helpfully informs us “is about sex in sexually reproducing organisms,” and a whole ‘nother page to untangle all the ways we use the term that don’t mean “the biological distinction of an organism between male, female or intersex.”

Moving on, we have the top-level page for magic, which at least disambiguates between “the use of paranormal methods to manipulate natural forces” and “the art of appearing to perform supernatural feats.” We know we’re not talking about stage magic, so let’s click that “paranormal” link and see what happens, shall we?

Magic represents a category used in the study of religion and the social sciences to define various practices and ideas considered separate to both religion and science. […blah blah blah…] Various different definitions of magic have been proposed, with much contemporary scholarship regarding the concept to be so problematic that it is better to reject it altogether as a useful analytic construct. […blah blah blah…] The concept of magic has been an issue of debate among academics in various disciplines. Scholars have defined magic in different ways and used the term to refer to different things […blah blah blah…]

Yeah, it’s like that.

I’d draw things out further, quoting definitions from the Dictionary of the Resistance, but you get the idea. The point is, both terms are veritable rabbit holes of psychological, philosophical, theological, anthropological, and sociological confusion… which is bad enough on its own, but gets really ugly when we combine them. The trouble is, we have to know what both “sex” and “magic” are before we get anywhere near “sex magic,” discursively or practically, and coming up with universally-accepted definitions for either term is a fool’s game. Then again, I’ve never been especially shy about rushing into rhetorical situations where even angels are giving each other dubious looks and muttering something in Enochian that probably translates to, “I dunno, man, that looks sketchy to me.” If I’m going to talk about sex magic, it behooves me to start by sketching out the definitions I’m using for these terms…

But First, an Important Note!

Except where otherwise explicitly stated—i.e., unless I’m quoting or directly citing something—the following comprises my own personal opinions solely. These are not the dogmatic stances of any traditions of which I happen to be a initiate, practitioner, or adherent, nor do they reflect the opinions of the Patheos Pagan channel, the queer community, the nonbinary contingent of the transgender community, or my long-suffering life partner.

Now with that out of the way, let’s have some vocabulary fun, shall we?

Sex: The First Word in Sex Magic!

Ah, sex. We all know what sex is, right? Making love. Quality time. Fucking. Getting busy, bumping fuzzies, knocking boots. The wild mambo, the hunka chunka, the wild rumpus. Doing the nasty, doing the deed, doing… you know, it.

I’m far from being the first observer to note that the ways in which we talk about sex are less about what we do sexually and more about how we feel about it. It’s worth noting that in English, there are far more euphemisms for sex than there are discrete sexual acts. Either we really, really like getting creative in how we talk about sex or we really, really don’t like just coming out and saying what we’re doing with (or to) ourselves and each other… or, as is so often the case, both. The pressure to preserve social norms of “discreet behavior” provides a strong impetus for not using “obscene” language, as with George Carlin’s famous “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV” (warning: NSFW language, obviously), but social norms have never-I-repeat-never stopped people from talking about sex, much less having it. We just learn to hide what we mean, to protect ourselves from social opprobrium.

It’s also worth noting what gets lost or hidden when we euphemize our sexual activities and desires. For instance, many of the terms we use to talk about sex as a category refer to sexual intercourse, specifically to cisgender, heterosexual, penetrative, penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse. This framing calls into question the sexual validity of anything that doesn’t fundamentally reify the characteristics of PIV intercourse as norms: oral sex, manual sex, solo sex, sex using toys, and so on. This might be well and good for folks whose sexuality fits comfortably within the bounds of, say, Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” but I don’t think it’s overreaching to suggest that Pagans, polytheists, and practitioners of magic would do well to develop a broader, more inclusive definition of sexuality than the Catholic Church.

How should we define sex, then? A simple answer might be “any activity intended to express sexual feelings.” It’s an okay definition, but it’s pretty mechanical. It also does that annoying trick of defining a thing by itself (which is the philosophical equivalent of cheating at solitaire), but at least “sexual” is a word for which we can get a halfway-decent definition: “Relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals.” Those of us who take our cues from the polytheist religions of the past might find it useful to think of “sexual feelings” in terms of eros, after the Greek god of the same name. We might likewise consider the value—and the implications—of embracing eroticism as a core component of our views on sexuality, blending sensuality and aesthetics with connection and consent. In so doing, sex can become something more than a vehicle for satisfying mechanical urges: it can be truly generative.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I hear some of you cry. “What’s all this about sex being ‘generative,’ huh? I thought you said we were avoiding Catholicism! What are you, some kind of hypocrite?”

Calm down, friends, and let me finish. Yes, I said sex is generative, and I meant it. Generative can mean “reproductive,” but a fuller definition would be “having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing.” The power of creation, in other words.

(Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.)
Sex can do all of those things. Sex can generate pleasure, originate well-being, produce understanding, and be the means by which we reproduce. Sex creates, makes manifest new things: new insights, new intimacies, new life, new outlooks on life. Sex is one of the most powerful forces we can access, and it can be terrifying precisely because it’s powerful. In the Anderson Feri tradition, sex is the means by which the Star Goddess brought the Universe into being, a supreme act of self-love and sex magic synonymous with creation. Just so for us mere mortals: through our sexuality, we can share in the same power of creation.

So, how do I define sex? For me, sex is any generative erotic activity: solitary, coupled, or multi-partnered, involving any configuration of bodies who want to be in intimate contact with one another, generating pleasure, generating eros.

Next time, I’ll take a swing at defining “magic,” then start in on what we all came for: “sex magic.” You bring the rotten tomatoes, I’ll bring the riot shield!

Until then, dear ones, treat yourselves nice. ♥

(…what, you thought I was going to close this piece without giving a shout-out to the title inspiration? You should know me better than that, dear ones. Enjoy!)

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  • Luis Gutierrez

    I think that any conversation about sex and gender should be based on the basic anthropological reality that all humans (male, female, intersex, of any gender orientation) are consubstantial in one and the same human nature. Recognition of this reality is crucial to overcome all kinds of cultural constructs, such as the patriarchal “binary” and derivative aberrations such as the male-only priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. May I share my study notes on this matter, based on the Theology of the Body and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    Sex and gender cannot be separated but can be distinguished within the concrete body-soul boundary of human nature, with each body-person being a unique point. I try to represent the overlap of sex and gender in this Venn diagram:

    • Elinor Predota

      You do understand that this is a Pagan blog, not a Catholic one?

      • Luis Gutierrez

        Yes, I do. Hope you are open to realities that transcend ideologies.

        • Hello, Luis, and welcome to my blog! I appreciate your willingness to enter into respectful dialogue.

          While I am not myself a Christian, I’ve spent several years studying the history, theology, and praxis of Christianity, with a particular focus on Catholicism and Anglicanism. I admire both the depth of study you’ve devoted to these questions and the integrity you’ve brought to your analysis. In particular, I’m impressed by the deftness with which you’ve addressed the seeming contradictions inherent in much of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and gender. Likewise, I’m impressed (and a little embarrassed) that you were able to use my throwaway quip about the Theology of the Body to make a very real and relevant point about the intersections and interrelations of gender, biological sex, the body as form, and the soul. I must confess that my knowledge of the Theology of the Body is shallow at best, being only a surface read by an interested outsider. I look forward to spending some time reading your notes on the TOB as it relates to the Catechism, when my other obligations and life circumstances permit.

          Blessings to you and yours.

  • Had me in stiches through the whole thing! On a side note with all the not binary peoples gaining a voice, hopefully having sex and sexuality along with everything that goes with it can be defined in a healthy manner for all concerned. Looking forward to the next writing.

    • Thank you so much! The next installment is out now. ^_^

      And speaking as one of those nonbinary folks, I’m doing what I can to contribute to the conversation towards defining sex and sexuality in healthy, happy-making ways for everyone.

  • Elinor Predota

    Yes! Awesome. I look forward to your definition of magic, and the following dive into the combo.

    • Thank you so much! ^_^ The next installment is out, and the follow-up is percolating now…