*post migrated from medium*
The process of dating and exploring relationships has forced me to examine my thoughts and feelings towards sex and relationships. While exploring relationships with different guys and exploring the topics in my last post (re sex and marriage), I noticed myself being really uncomfortable with acknowledging sex and my own sense of sexuality.
Praying about it, I realised that over the past few years I had put anything to do with sex and my sexuality in a box and buried it deep in a garden outside of myself and left it there, because at some point I began to believe that to be sexual was not something that was for me if I was going to be a spiritually minded person. As I’ve been exploring dating and relationships however, I have felt a leading in my spirit to go and dig the box up and to make space for what is on the inside of there and to open myself up to that side of myself. What I’ve now come to understand, is that part of my spiritual practise is to honour God with my body, and I can’t do that if I insist on burying parts of it away.
Unpacking the contents of the newly dug up garden box I found the denial of my sexual nature rooted in the following unconscious beliefs:
Sexuality is equal to carnality and is therefore not part of my new creation in Christ
Engaging with my sexuality means that I deserve to be reduced to it
Sexuality is not for single people
There is no point engaging with my sexuality if I can’t have sexual intercourse, because sexual intercourse is the ultimate expression of sexuality
Engaging my sexuality will awaken uncontrollable desires in me
Addressing these ideas was the first step towards rebuilding a positive relationship with my sexuality. First, I started with exploring what sexuality is. I found some interesting books and articles that describe our sexual desires as being made up of multiple desires, such as our desire to create, to be intimate, to express, to be felt, to feel. As such, it was described as fundamentally a part of our being human.
It was freeing to read in the article ‘what is the purpose of sexuality if I’m single’ that God did not just create sexuality for marriage. Where we limit sexual desire to simply an expression of the flesh and lust or something only relevant in marriage then we cheapen it. We don’t suddenly enter into relationships and all of a sudden become sexual beings, or suddenly have our desires be made pure as soon as we say ‘I do’. We are sexual beings within our singleness too. How and where do we acknowledge and channel those feelings without repressing them? When we limit our conversations about sex to only marriage within our congregations, we remove the opportunity for people to engage their sexuality in healthy ways in singleness. We make it seem as if sexuality should only be acknowledged where you’re going to engage in sexual intercourse, when the two can exist as separate.
I realised that the unconscious belief I held that sexual intercourse is the ultimate expression of sexuality simply wasn’t true. If our sexual desires are more than a desire for sexual intercourse, then sexual intercourse can’t be the ultimate expression of it, reaching orgasm, can’t be the fullest expression of it. If it is made up of multiple things it can have various forms of expression. There is something in there as well about the fullest expression of it being our union with God that is difficult to put into words. Oneness with other people is the likeness we have on this earth to oneness with God. Oneness with others, of both body, soul and mind, brings intimacy, connection, new creations, which is reflective of the fruit of our union with God. Our desires to achieve these things through our sexuality expresses our desires for them and our desires, ultimately for God.
Within our Christian culture what I’ve noticed is that people are often afraid of their bodies and their desires, feeling that their emotions and their desires will always overcome them, and I realised I had adopted that too. It is both an unhelpful and unnecessary fear in consideration of the power over our desires that the spirit of Christ gifts to us. There is no desire that can have power over you, and yet we act as if they can. There was that sense in me that if I engage my sexuality, if I acknowledge it, if I give space to sexual desire, then the desire for sex will take over my whole being and lead me into the bed of the next available man who will ultimately leave me sexually satiated and emotionally confused — and it’s just not true. That scenario is actually more likely to pass if I don’t give myself the opportunity to learn about my desires and exercise self-control over them instead of pushing them away.
It doesn’t mean that we should always expose ourselves to situations where our desires may be inflamed and lead us into a direction we don’t want to go down, sometimes fleeing is wise, but the general fear of desire and of being sexual that I discovered in myself isn’t healthy. In the same way that I can’t honour God with something I deny the reality of, I also can’t honour God with something that I fear. Sometimes the thing we fear isn’t even the thing in itself. Sometimes I feel a sexual desire and what I actually want is just to be close to someone, but I can’t discern these things if I bury it in a box somewhere and deprive myself of relational intimacy because I can’t discern it from sexual desire.
The other thing that this process has shown me however, is that I was not only trying to avoid my own sexuality out of fear but also out of fearing the sexuality of others. I have been afraid that if I made space for my own sexuality in my life, it would awaken sexual desire in someone else and I would be held responsible for any destructive sexual behaviours that followed. I’ve also been afraid that it would open me up to being devalued by others who are unable to respect those expressing sexuality, or by people who would see me as sexual and claim my sexuality as a thing that exists for themselves. It’s typical in the society we live in for women to be blamed for acts of sexual assault that they have experienced, for their actions to be policed because of how men might respond, for women to be labelled as seductive for simply existing as themselves. I realised that in burying my box part of me was trying to avoid ever hearing ‘well it’s your fault for wearing that’, when in reality we find that in most of these instances the issue is less to do with sexual desire and more to do with power and insecurity.
Sexuality isn’t inherently lustful or demonic, it isn’t something that can shoulder the blame for the destructive sexual acts of men, it isn’t something to be feared. It is simply part of our nature, and part of our nature that can express one of the purest desires that we have, which is the desire for spiritual closeness with God.
I’ve been asking myself, what does it actually look like to engage with and express my sexuality from this place as someone who is not actively having sex? What does a healthy relationship to my sexuality look like? The days look different. Some days it looks like conversations with people I trust not to dismiss, demonise or over-sexualise me. Where before I couldn’t have conversations about sex without feeling like I was compromising my spiritual growth, I now feel a sense of integration. Some days it looks like creating or listening to music and allowing that side of me to be present. Some days it looks like discerning that my sexual desire is actually a desire for intimacy, and then seeking that through being close with my friends. Other days it looks like dancing and letting myself feel inside of my body and connecting to a sense of sensuality without being ashamed of it. Most days it looks like just being present with my now open box, existing in the knowing that I am a new creation in Christ and that creation is also sexual, and letting myself be okay with that.