on the paradoxes of sexuality (thoughts on wrapping up a course on sexuality)

fresco in Pompeii

The more I study human sexuality, the more I am convinced that it is a uniquely beautiful gift largely because of the range of paradoxes that are (or can be) integrated through it.

The sexual part of being human is magnificent and deeply passionate. It is also odd and messy. It drives us and frightens us, drawing us together and pushing us apart. The bodily experience of sex can be like a symphony orchestra or something like a middle school band practice. Lousy sex is often selfish and occasionally selfless, while good sex weaves together the pleasure of oneself and another.

Our desires for sex are, in part, deeply regressive but in the best sense: we long for the kind of nurture, skin contact, bodily comfort, and deep acceptance that we had (or should have had) as infants. But we also desire sex to demonstrate our potency – to attract another, to nurture and give pleasure to another, to create new life.

Impositions, pressures and fears are the enemies of integrated sexuality because everything to do with sex is naked and vulnerable. Yet it can be wild and strong and free. What helps make this possible are communities of fidelity and commitment that celebrate sex while respecting the vulnerability and diversity of all their members. What helps make this possible are exclusive relationships of fidelity and commitment that don’t pressure, shame, exploit or betray each other. fresco in PompeiiThere is much that can and does go wrong. Those who are sexually violent and abusive are, I suspect, those who are too angry and frightened to let themselves be naked and vulnerable. Imposing our judgements on others may be another form of abuse which also grows out of fear – and these abusers are even less aware of the harms they cause. Most of us aren’t abusive, but there are still a lot of false starts. The woundedness of all of us requires forgiveness and second chances – learning from our mistakes.

Identities, bodies and communities are all inter-related. Our identities are shaped in countless ways, only some of which have to do with our sexuality. Our body parts and our hormones shape us whether we like it or not. We sometimes strain against and sometimes accept these embodied gifts, but we are shaped even by the strain or by the acceptance as well as our bodies themselves. Traditions, roles and rituals also shape us. When they are flexible and when we remember that “Sabbath was made for humanity,” they can give life; when rigid, however, traditions leave scores of casualties.

Finally, (firstly?), our sexuality integrates spirit and body. This is mysterious and fraught with problems – like being irresistibly drawn to dancing in a minefield. (Yet, to separate spirit and body is to lose our humanity, regressing to the violent and meaningless innocence of animals.) When spirit and body are integrated, our sexuality is both energized and restrained – bringing life to both our inclusive and exclusive relationships. Can we hear a voice that guides us through the minefield? Can we become part of a harmonious chorus that helps guide others? Is there a unity much greater than that between two people which is somehow enabled by the depths of our sexuality and humanity?

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