I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade with my sour attitude (okay, maybe just some people’s parades), but that got me thinking. (Yes, thinking, you pervs.) I think that conservative Christianity has a love/hate–or maybe fascination/repulsion–relationship with orgasms.
I spend a lot of time writing about sex. Hopefully not as much time as actually having sex, but still, quite a lot. I suppose that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in conservative churches, so I’m fully aware of the strange kind of importance sex and sexuality play in Christianity. I had to do a ton of deconstructing on the subject after I started questioning conservative theology in general.
American culture (I can’t speak to any other) seems to have a fixation on the male act of ejaculation while maintaining a slight fear of actual orgasms. It’s hard to say whether this stems from a particular stripe of American Christianity or whether American Christianity has absorbed the attitude from the culture or whether there is some biological root (orgasm is not technically necessary for procreation). It doesn’t really matter. The result is the same–a religious culture that is both terrified of and reverent towards the magic power of the Big O.
It’s so pervasive it affects every aspect of the church’s instruction on healthy sexuality. Some of the most conservative teachings instruct people not to experience any orgasms whatsoever until properly married. Others churches have varying degrees to which they rank sexual experiences and their acceptability both within and outside of marriage.
It may all be down to one’s starting point. If a person believes that marriage is the earthly representation of God’s relationship with the Church, then all aspects of marriage and sexuality are somehow part of that metaphor. There are hundreds of articles all about why nearly every aspect of sex other than man + woman = missionary position is wrong. (That, or it should all feed into heterosexual male sexuality–see Mark Driscoll’s opinions about blow jobs and anal sex. I don’t recall him suggesting that men should go down on their wives, and God forbid giving het men anal pleasure.) The vast majority of Christian writing about sex has to do with the underlying emotional connection between the partners. I recently read this article over at Relevant Magazine, Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex. (I believe I’ve linked to it here before.) While the article doesn’t specifically mention the theology of Sex as Metaphor for Spirituality, that is at least in part the tone underlying the message. Christians must put up with lousy/unsatisfying sex because marriage is more than that and wanting sex to feel good is self-centered.
Some Christians have suggested that a desire to have pleasurable sex (more specifically, to reach orgasm) is sinful because that’s about “using” one’s partner selfishly rather than “giving” oneself to a partner. Strangely, I’ve heard that even from more liberal people who are less fixated on the context (marriage) for appropriate sex. At the same time, there is also a common teaching that the experience of orgasm is in itself some kind of crowning achievement that indicates you and your partner have reached the highest level of spiritual connectedness. If you have done everything right according to the church’s teachings, then you are magically guaranteed this most mystical of experiences as a reward for good behavior. In this narrow view, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
I agree that there are many aspects to healthy sexuality, including emotional and spiritual connection. But just like high school sex ed doesn’t get very far by threatening teenagers with babies and diseases, religious sex ed doesn’t get very far by threatening psychospiritual breakdown. I’m convinced that in both cases, some fear of the intensity of sexual pleasure is to blame.
Fear absolutely plays a role in secular sexuality education. It’s obvious in campaigns against providing condoms in schools with sentiments such as, “But if we give them condoms, they’ll have sex!” Well, no, they’re going to have sex anyway; the condom is not the conduit to discovering that sex feels good. I see the same issues in religious circles, only it seems to carry over into married sex, too. “If we tell people orgasms are important, they’ll stop having spiritually enriching and/or baby-making sex and only have sex because it feels good!”
I don’t even know what to do with that. Biologically, sex is typically how we get more humans. Of course it’s supposed to feel good! If it felt bad, no one would do it anymore and the human race would die out. And since we’re biologically wired to find sex pleasurable (with some individual exceptions; I’m speaking generally here), that can’t be switched off just because we don’t happen to be trying to make babies every time. Conservative Christians who don’t necessarily view sex as merely procreative want to find a justification for continued lovemaking that isn’t pregnancy-centric. So instead of accepting sex for its own sake, they feel some need to attach spiritual significance to every sex act, policing what we’re allowed to find enjoyable and when and where and how. It’s no wonder so many people have to navigate their way out of destructive views of sexuality.
Here’s my advice for today, and you can have it for free: If you are medically, physically, and psychologically able to have an orgasm, then go have one. Do it in whatever way you want to. It can be a spiritual experience or not, with a partner or not, penis-in-vagina-missionary-position or not. Whatever. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t analyze it, just do it and think about the meaning you want to ascribe to it (or not) later.