Fifty shades of Grey is being released to widespread criticism. It’s pretty amazing how it’s managed to produce criticism from both ‘sides’ – some feminists hate it, conservative Christians hate it. It’s been termed ‘mommy-porn’ because it’s supposed to appeal to young/middle aged women and unsurprisingly, some people are shocked that women could enjoy such graphic sexual fantasies. Could it be? Is it true? Do humans with XX chromosomes actually have very potent sex drives? Apparently they do.
I haven’t read enough about Fifty shades of Grey to offer any informed critique of it, but what is apparent to me is that sex and sexuality, particularly female sexuality is still a big deal. We are living in a liberated, sexy age with access to sex or images of sex pretty much all the time, but ease of access has not necessarily made sex less controversial – we’re just more able to talk about the controversy openly.
In Western society, the traditional Christian sexual ethic is fast becoming legendary. Saying you believe that sex should be saved until marriage in a room full of 20 year olds is almost like saying you believe that you believe in leprechauns. Weird. But the Christian sexual ethic is more than just no sex until marriage. That’s what it is best known for, but ultimately, abstinence-if -you- can-then-hot-wild-sex-forever-with-your-spouse is a completely inadequate description of it.
It leaves out those who are called to celibate lives. It leaves out the disabled who cannot engage in the same sexual acts as those of us who are able bodied. It leaves out Christians with same sex attractions who accept their orientation but have decided to remain celibate. It leaves out singles who do not feel that they are called to celibacy but find themselves at 30, 40, 50 unmarried and frankly, horny. It leaves out those who thought they did everything right but end up divorced often with children, trying to grapple with the newness of not having a partner to share their sexuality with. It leaves out all the wonder and beauty and excitement and often deeply frustrating and downright difficult path of of those of us who will get married but have to steward our bodies up till that point. It focuses on the denial of sex rather than engaging with,understanding, and being comfortable with ourselves as sexual beings.
Christian sexual ethics are rooted very deeply in the creation story – the idea that God formed humanity himself, personally, body and spirit which together form a ‘living soul’, and that what we do to our bodies cannot be disconnected from our spirits. And that He knows what’s best for our bodies. That’s a frightening thought in a world where women’s bodies in particular are policed, and pushed and shoved and manipulated – in a world where women are told their bodies are not their own. It smells of a misogynist plot to yet again control female sexuality.
And yet, John 1:12 says of Jesus
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
The principles of sexuality I see in the Bible are:
1) Our sexuality reflects the desire of God to give us good things.
The reason I find the focus solely on abstinence so worrying is because it focuses on God’s no instead of God’s yes. The fact that we can have orgasms suggests that the desire for pleasure is in built. God is saying yes to sex in an environment which should be replete with complete commitment, acceptance, and love. In essence, safe sex.
2) Our sexuality is broken.
Every single person is affected by the brokenness of the world we live in. Every single person has some element of sexual dysfunction. From the man who is promiscuous because he has a thirst for conquest, to the church girl who thinks that her technical virginity guarantees her a happy marriage. Some of us may have experiences with sexuality that are awful and unfair, because this world is awful and unfair. There isn’t an easy solution to these problems.
3) There is a right and wrong way to express our sexuality.
The divorcing of the body from the spirit allows us to think that we can use our bodies in any way that gives our body pleasure. I think the reason our generation is so conflicted about sexuality is because we are trying to deny this connection. We say that it is socialised, that we are conditioned to attach morality to sexuality, and so we are constantly trying to find a way to mesh that belief with the reality of our emotions. It doesn’t work – you are a living soul. No society has found sex morally neutral- we will try and fail.
3) Our sexuality is only part of our humanity.
There’s a show called The Virgin Diaries on MTV – it seems that are fascinated with sexlessness as much as sex because we hinge far too much of our humanity on it. “Sex is a human right, like food and water”, I’ve heard people say jokingly. Sexuality is definitely present in all humans, But sexual intercourse as we know it? No, not necessarily. Part of the problem with the emphasis on waiting till marriage is that it suggests this waiting to become adult, normal and fully ourselves. You are adult, normal and fully yourself without having had sex. The Bible is full of great characters – some of them had sex and some of them didn’t.
What do you think? What are some of the things you find weird/ hard to understand about the Christian idea of sexuality? Christian and non-Christian opinions welcome.