Sex Is A Good Thing

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Photo by Sheep”R”Us, via Flickr

Whenever somebody talks about sex, ears perk up and strong reactions—both positive and negative—ensue.

For a long time, I saw that as a sign that there was something fundamentally wrong with humanity, something inherently sinful. But I’ve come to realize that I had it backwards. We have this reaction because there is something fundamentally right with us. No matter what hangups, dysfunctions and sexual wounds get piled upon us over the course of life, something at our core still recognizes sex and sexuality as the ultimate expression of our identity as human beings; it is the thing we hold closest to ourselves and the gift we take the most care in sharing.

This shift in understanding has come to me courtesy of Theology of the Body.

I was asked by Sarah Reinhard, an author friend, to share the impact TOB has had in my world. That turns out to be a harder question to answer than I thought, because it’s an ongoing process. TOB first opened up my mind to the interconnectivity of all subjects—the fact that everything we do, all our reactions, all our thought processes, are based upon a foundation of our identity as man and woman. More recently, TOB, and the ongoing will he-won’t he discussions about Pope Francis and birth control—have caused me to take a step back and try to see the issues surrounding sex with mercy as well as passion.

Blog CK2But in practical terms, the most obvious impact has been in my marriage. I entered marriage with some pretty enormous hangups about sex. There were personal struggles to reconcile belief and experience, which I’d always been too afraid to bring into the open and thus they became monsters in my head. There was the fact that I was highly physically developed and extremely socially underdeveloped, and the resulting encounters with boys over the course of childhood and adolescence left me some pretty good-sized emotional scars. There was guilt for things I had done and knew I shouldn’t have.

And then a couple of years into marriage, of course, infertility piled a whole lot more dysfunction onto the fire. Your brain automatically labels infertility as a punishment, even though you know better.

So it was the Theology of the Body that began to help me put out fires, toss rubble away, and find at the core of my soul a healthier, more enjoyable and joy-filled approach to intimacy. This process is far from over, but I am in so much better a place now than I was then.

A few other posts I’ve written that show the impact TOB has had on my total world view:

Sexuality for a New World

A Christian Mom Talks Sex Ed

Sex, Love, And Women’s Fiction

Chores, Sex, and Marriage

Sex Always Has Consequences

What It’s Like To Practice Natural Family Planning

These Beautiful Bones

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PictureFor the last couple of years, I’ve had a project in the back of my mind. I’ve been thinking of writing a book or at least an article to lay out the idea that the Theology of the Body is not just about sex–it’s really about everything.

About two months ago  I got assigned to write the article, and I found out someone already wrote the book.

Emily Stimpson’s These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body is a book everyone should read–Catholics especially, but it has a lot of value for anyone who professes to believe in Christ. You can sum up the philosophy of TOB in these words from Stimpson:

“Our bodies are us. Your body is you. My body is me.”

“Through our mouth, our hands, our eyes, and our feet, who we are and what we love is made known to others. Every look we give and every action we take in some way communicates the inmost mystery of our being to those around us.”

“Thought and feeling, belief and unbelief, virtue and vice–all of it, one way or another and one day or another, writes itself on our bodies. None of it stays hidden. None of it remains invisible. The body eventually expresses it all, enabling us to be present to the world.”

(These Beautiful Bones, p. 27)

Emily Stimpson makes a deeply practical case for applying that truth to every area of life, even areas we don’t see an overt religious connection. If we believe in God, that belief ought to shape every part of our life: work, manners, modesty, food, technology use.

This is a great, great book, drawing connections I hadn’t thought about before. For instance: why do we get so much satisfaction out of building toyboxes, making scrapbooks, gardening, and so on? Because we’re made in the image of God, the consummate creator. Most of modern work, Stimpson contends, is not physically demanding. We were built with a need to work at something tangible, using our bodies. Which is not to say modern work is without merit, but it does suggest that when we get home from work we need to do something active and useful with our leisure time instead of more sedentary screen time.

She also connects the idea of showing who we are by what we do with behaviors we all know are right, but frequently fail to put into practice:

“When we honor one another through the gestures of common courtesy, we don’t honor one another as mere creatures. We honor one another as other Christs. … Moreover, in honoring one another as images of God, we honor God.” (p. 80)

There are times when I think the argument gets carried too far. In her chapter on clothing, Stimpson suggests that going to the grocery store in sloppy clothes and/or unshowered is a sign of a lack of respect for human dignity. I think that’s overstating the case. There are many reasons why I go out unshowered in my workout clothes:

  • I am on deadline and carpool with kid appointments, and the only way to get a workout in and also fulfill all obligations is to skip the shower until late in the day.
  • I am waiting for the lawn to dry before I mow, but the groceries have to be bought, too.
  • I have errands to run in the vicinity of Jazzercise, which is at the opposite end of town, and to come home and shower in the middle will involve unnecessary extra trips, which runs counter to environmental stewardship.
  • I can also think of my husband’s situation: dressing in a suit five days a week, and choosing to go with lounging comfort for Saturday errands.

Stimpson makes exceptions for these sorts of situations, but she implies that they are the exception, and in my life that isn’t really the case. Modesty is important, and it is a good thing to show one’s respect for one’s body by dressing it nicely when possible. But looking nice is a preoccupation of humanity that, in my opinion, is one part image-of-God related and four parts vanity and opportunity for judging others.

Still, the simple fact that she’s making these connections and asking us to think about not only what we do but why–what it means–makes this an incredibly important book for all of us to read and internalize. I highly recommend it.

These Beautiful Bones

Standard

PictureFor the last couple of years, I’ve had a project in the back of my mind. I’ve been thinking of writing a book or at least an article to lay out the idea that the Theology of the Body is not just about sex–it’s really about everything.

About two months ago  I got assigned to write the article, and I found out someone already wrote the book.

Emily Stimpson’s These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body is a book everyone should read–Catholics especially, but it has a lot of value for anyone who professes to believe in Christ. You can sum up the philosophy of TOB in these words from Stimpson:

“Our bodies are us. Your body is you. My body is me.”

 

“Through our mouth, our hands, our eyes, and our feet, who we are and what we love is made known to others. Every look we give and every action we take in some way communicates the inmost mystery of our being to those around us.”

 

“Thought and feeling, belief and unbelief, virtue and vice–all of it, one way or another and one day or another, writes itself on our bodies. None of it stays hidden. None of it remains invisible. The body eventually expresses it all, enabling us to be present to the world.”

(These Beautiful Bones, p. 27)

Emily Stimpson makes a deeply practical case for applying that truth to every area of life, even areas we don’t see an overt religious connection. If we believe in God, that belief ought to shape every part of our life: work, manners, modesty, food, technology use.

This is a great, great book, drawing connections I hadn’t thought about before. For instance: why do we get so much satisfaction out of building toyboxes, making scrapbooks, gardening, and so on? Because we’re made in the image of God, the consummate creator. Most of modern work, Stimpson contends, is not physically demanding. We were built with a need to work at something tangible, using our bodies. Which is not to say modern work is without merit, but it does suggest that when we get home from work we need to do something active and useful with our leisure time instead of more sedentary screen time.

She also connects the idea of showing who we are by what we do with behaviors we all know are right, but frequently fail to put into practice:

“When we honor one another through the gestures of common courtesy, we don’t honor one another as mere creatures. We honor one another as other Christs. … Moreover, in honoring one another as images of God,w e honor God.” (p. 80)

There are times when I think the argument gets carried too far. In her chapter on clothing, Stimpson suggests that going to the grocery store in sloppy clothes and/or unshowered is a sign of a lack of respect for human dignity. I think that’s overstating the case. There are many reasons why I go out unshowered in my workout clothes:

  • I am on deadline and carpool with kid appointments, and the only way to get a workout in and also fulfill all obligations is to skip the shower until late in the day.
  • I am waiting for the lawn to dry before I mow, but the groceries have to be bought, too.
  • I have errands to run in the vicinity of Jazzercise, which is at the opposite end of town, and to come home and shower in the middle will involve unnecessary extra trips, which runs counter to environmental stewardship.
  • I can also think of my husband’s situation: dressing in a suit five days a week, and choosing to go with lounging comfort for Saturday errands.

Stimpson makes exceptions for these sorts of situations, but she implies that they are the exception, and in my life that isn’t really the case. Modesty is important, and it is a good thing to show one’s respect for one’s body by dressing it nicely when possible. But looking nice is a preoccupation of humanity that, in my opinion, is one part image-of-God related and four parts vanity and opportunity for judging others.

Still, the simple fact that she’s making these connections and asking us to think about not only what we do but why–what it means–makes this an incredibly important book for all of us to read and internalize. I highly recommend it.

Sexuality For A New World

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Performing Womanizer

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I read two books back to back by women writing from a liberal feminist perspective: Bad Mother and Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Both books came highly recommended, and while reading, I found myself sometimes nodding my head emphatically, and other times shaking it in despair. The part I want to address today is the inconsistency in contemporary attitudes toward sex.

Both women recognize, rightly, that sexual expression and self-image are intimately entwined: that abuse in one area will lead to abuse in both. Ayelet Waldman talks about sleeping around—she uses the words “double digits” to describe her college partners. “I cannot recall ever rejecting an advance, and I know I never felt good afterward. On the contrary, I felt used and dirty, at once manipulative and manipulated. I hated my reputation; I hated the sex.” Peggy Orenstein spends an entire book fretting about the inevitable progression from beauty-centered innocence (Disney princesses) to beauty-centered sluttiness (à la Britney Spears & co.). It bothers her to see women objectified this way.

If you haven’t been exposed to Theology of the Body, that word, “objectification,” may be totally unfamiliar. The idea is that instead of seeing a person to be loved and valued, you see an object to be used. And yet Orenstein emphasizes that she hopes her daughter will have sex—“lots of sex”—before she’s married. That was the point where I wanted to pull my hair out.

What these women, and all who express the same frustrations, don’t get is that when you hold up multiple partners and child-proof or premarital sex as a standard of behavior, you automatically reduce women to objects of lust.

Maybe you think I’m overstating the case. But consider: this culture has spent decades training people to view sex as the ultimate sales tool, the ultimate goal of every romantic relationship. You can’t spend that many years using women as sex objects to sell products without the women themselves becoming an object. Last night, I was walking up to the pool with my boys after dinner, wearing the only bathing suit I own that actually fits right now, in this weird time between regular and maternity wardrobes. This swimsuit fits because it is badly stretched by three summers as a nursing mom. As we approached the 4-way stop, a youngish guy at the intersection sat in his car and stared brazenly at me for a full five seconds. I was frizzy-haired, wearing Coke bottle glasses, carrying a bag and two towels and hauling a wagon with a two-year-old in it. Folks, he was not marveling at my dazzling wit and caring heart.

Almost universally, women—regardless of political, religious or philosophical persuasion—agree that the treatment and portrayal of women in advertising and media is infuriatingly unjust. Bare a woman’s breasts in a movie, and it gets an R rating. Bare a man’s genitalia and…come on, when’s the last time you actually saw that happen? They just don’t do it. This culture respects the male body (at least nominally), but the woman’s body is an object, one that is expected, by cultural norm, to be available to men.

But ladies, you know what the worst part is? We’ve let them do it. We even encourage it. We call it sexual “liberation,” but it has chained us to the philosophy that we are only valuable as far as we are beautiful, as far as we are willing to hop in bed without having to worry about the long-term commitment of a child resulting from the union, as far as we are willing to conform to an ideal body type that cannot be attained by a healthy individual.

Ladies, it’s time to take back our bodies. I’m not advocating a return to pre-sexual revolution ideas, because frankly, they were unhealthy, too. But it’s time to respect ourselves by saying:

My body is not your tool of pleasure. My body is a holistic part of me, and you will respect it as such. I will respect myself, and you, enough to treat the gift of sex and sexuality as exactly what it is: the ultimate expression of the best humanity is. This is not a gift that can be given to a dozen different people and retain any semblance of its original beauty. It is a gift that can be given only once. And only when we express it in a way that embraces the total package, unhampered by chemicals and barriers and surgical procedures, does it achieve its full potential for bonding people together and lifting them up.

This is what I will teach my children—both the boys and the girl(s). This is how I will live my life. And whether or not I make any difference in the culture by doing so, I can at least hold my head high and know that I am doing right by my children.