Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity (Lauren F. Winner)

The first Lauren Winner book i read was Girl Meets God, which i don’t recommend.

One thing i didn’t mention in my discussion of that book was how when Winner talks about going to Confession she mentions her two big personal sins and one of them was sex and how i just boggled. Having grown up in a church, i think it would take far more effort for me to have sex than to refrain from doing so. Like, lots of stuff feels negotiable, but actually having sex felt fullstop-no. Though obviously lots of my raised-Catholic (and Protestant) peers in high school were having sex. In college it seemed more like the sexually active kids were the ones who rejected Christianity, though that was certainly far from across-the-board-true. And admittedly i got to cheat because i wasn’t involved with anyone so the whole thing was a sort of a moot point for me. My conflicts with Christian sexual ethics were more about fantasy, about Jesus talking about how you can commit adultery of the heart -- the idea that sinning in thought but not in action is still sin. But even then it was more in the context of “What about fantasies of stuff that you know would be wrong were they to happen in reality?” rather than feeling like masturbation per se was wrong.

Of course, college introduced the complication of how you define “sex” when both parties have the same parts, and just more generally the issue of where you draw lines. And i got introduced to polyamory, to the idea that you could be committed to more than one person in a sexual/romantic relationship. And of course i just spent more time sexually desiring people than i had before, had a lot more moments where no-strings-attached sex sounded really appealling. Except that after about a half a second of thought, i knew that wouldn’t work for me. But what about sex in a mutually caring relationship? Could i do that outside marriage? Could i sanction other people doing that? (Libertarian that i am, of course i would never support legislation against it, but it did seem important to figure out what my personal moral stance on the issue was.)

And i still really don’t know where i stand on all this. And since i’ve been hesitant about claiming Christianity for the past... years and years... i haven’t exactly taken the time to really hash out what an appropriate Christian stance on this would be.

So that’s where i’m coming from on all this. [Note: This was written before i started reading the book.]

Early in the actual text of the book (Chapter 1 is “Why am I writing this book?”) Winner talks about how God created us as bodied individuals and thus bodies != inandofthemselves bad. I was reminded of assorted sk8eeyore posts. I thought about how my big body conflict is the fact that i know i pour so much junk into my system and don’t exercise enough, so i’m really not being good to my body. Not that this actually leads to any improvement of action on my part, but it’s, ya know, a concern. (That whole “your body is a temple” thing.)

     Paul assumes that his readers value and care for their own physical bodies. Indeed, when trying to explain to the Ephesians how much Christ loves the church, Paul draws an analogy between Christ’s love and each person’s love for his own body: “No one ever hated his own body; on the contrary, he keeps it nourished and warm, and that is how Christ treats the church, because it is his body, of which we are living parts.” Paul takes for granted that bodies are good things, to be nourished and loved. He assumes his readers share his perspective and can begin to see that Christ tends to them just as carefully as they tend to their own bodies.
     But Paul does not assume that bodies are morally neutral. He understands that bodies are the sites of longings and temptations, of desires that can sometime trump reason and rectitude, of powers and passions that can be glorious but can also be dangerous. Bodies, Paul knows, are complicated. Though they were created good, their parts and impulses, their desires and leanings were corrupted in the fall, just as human emotion and human intellect were corrupted.
In her response to my response to Winner’s other book, my mom talked about the importance of "a God wot's got arms" and pointed out that "Since Jesus is no longer physically present, we need to be the arms of God when people are suffering." And of course there’s that poem she sent me a while back.

And dude, this makes me actually kinda like Paul.
     Bodies are central to the Creation story. Creation inaugurates bodies that are good, but the consequences of the fall are written on our bodies—our bodies will sweat as we labor in the fields, our bodies will hurt us if we bear children, and, most centrally, our bodies will die. If the fall is written on the body, salvation happens in the body too. The kingdom of God is transmitted through Jesus’s body and is sustained in Christ’s Body, the church. Through the bodily suffering of Christ on the cross and the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, we are saved. Bodies are not just mirrors in which we see the consequence of the fall; they are also, in one theologian’s phrase, “where God has chosen to find us in our fallenness.” Bodies are who we are and where we live; they are not just things God created us with, but means of knowing Him and abiding with Him.
This is really interesting.

However, lack of footnotes = You lose! You have to go to the Notes section of the back of the book and find the reference you are concerned about by page number.

This one is, i think:
Susan A. Harvey, “Embodiment in Time and Eternity: A Syriac Perspective,” in Eugene F. Rogers Jr., ed., Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings (London: Blackwell, 2002) 9.
And the last sentence gets a citation for pages 3-4 of that article. So, she took the idea from Ms. Harvey but you would never know it unless you were already looking up who this “one theologian” was. Academics are professional thieves, and i’m fine with that, but just use bloody footnotes lady. You can do endnotes or whatever it’s called where you put all the actual citations in the back, but put the little superscripted numbers in the actual text.

Winner talks a lot about the Yes of sex-within-marriage, which makes sense. The tendency of churchy talk to do the sex=bad thing is really frustrating. And really, giving horny young people the impression that they never get to have satisfying sex is so not the way to win them over to your side.

Winner talks about the obligation of members of a Christian community to keep each other from sin. Now i’m a big ole libertarian, so the knocks on the live-and-let-live culture of individuality grate, but given Scripture, it makes total sense for a Christian community. (And real libertarianism would be happy to let you do that, just so long as you don’t try enforcing your code of behavior on nonChristians.)

I went to UCN for the first time in a while last Sunday, and they said the Covenant (which i think they do every Communion Sunday) and one of the few parts of this four-paragraph Covenant that i am still willing to say is: We will hold one another accountable to the discipline of Christlikeness, and we will ground our lives in Christian doctrine. [...] We will be sensitive to each other’s feelings and respectful toward one another in our communications. Together we will pursue the ways of forgiveness and reconciliation, and as Jesus taught, do it as quickly as possible. Finally, we promise that if the day comes when we are led of God to leave this congregation and i don’t actually say the end -- “we will unite as soon as possible with another congregation where we can continue our commitment to the spirit of this covenant and the teachings of the Word of God)” -- because they broke the spirit of the covenant when they railroaded the changes so many Januaries ago and i’m not willing to promise a commitment to Christian Scripture as Word of God. And very unChristlike-ly, i say most of it with bitterness recollecting that wrenching period in which UCN firmly ceased to be “my” church and the people who took over did not exactly abide by these statements, but the point is that i am unrepentantly bitter that societal enforcement is an important thing, and i think in a Christian community it is entirely appropriate

And to Winner’s credit, she stresses the importance of being in community with each other in all matters, not just about sex and not even just about sin.

“Nor will I tackle issues like adultery, homosexuality, and divorce; though those areas are all topics that a comprehensive account of Christian sexual ethics would need to address” (24).

I understand her decision, but the fact that she is all about marriage makes readers who are at least a little bit homosexual rather uncomfortable, since marriage basically isn’t an option -- at least not in most churches, most countries, or most U.S. states. And it also problematizes the whole “procreation is a major part of sex/marriage” thing. I mean, she mentions issues like sterility kind of in passing, but it is clear that the norm is sex which has the potential to lead to procreation. Which would make me uncomfortable if i were sterile. And given that i have no desire to bring biological children of my own into this world (for a variety of reasons) does in fact make me uncomfortable once i get past being uncomfortable because of the whole queer thing.

I’m not sure how i feel about her insistence that sex not a casual thing, that even if you think of something as a casual encounter, if you had sex this profound thing happened. Talking about two people who claimed to have had casual sex, she writes: “their bodies united themselves in a mysterious and profound, if imperceptible way” (88).
[Lewis Smedes, author of Sex for Christians talks about Paul’s view that] sex “involves two people in a life-union; it is a life-uniting act. This is what sex is, not necessarily what sex seems to be. It may seem casual, but in fact it is, always, profound. As Smedes explains, “it does not matter what the two people have in mind. . . . [Sex] unites them in that strange, impossible to pinpoint sense of ‘one flesh.’ There is no such thing as casual sex, no matter how casual people are about it.”
But earlier in this book, she made the interesting claim that:
Indeed, one can say that in Christianity’s vocabulary the only real sex is the sex that happens in a marriage; the faux sex that goes on outside marriage is not really sex at all. The physical coming together that happens between two people who are not married is only a distorted imitation of sex, as Walt Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort is only a simulation of real wilderness. The danger is that when we spend too much time in the simulations, we lose the capacity to distinguish between the ersatz and the real.
And of course there’s the obvious “What about rape?” question.

“Women’s bodies (like men’s bodies) are wired for sexual pleasure. Women (like men) crave the emotional connectivity that sex seems to offer.” (93)

I really like that succinct and yet still comprehensive boiling down of the situation.

In Chapter 6, she talks about boundary drawing, about the importance of making decisions before the heat of the moment, and i might actually recommend reading this section because she makes good points and does a good job of making them. (Are my low expectations showing?) She also talks about physical-sexual involvement with a person as being a way of growing comfortable in our bodies -- with the freedoms and the limitations, plus it feels good.

She talks about porn, including stuff like the Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs, and her talk about the unrealisticness reminded me of discussions in fandom about what obligations we have to portray things realistically -- though admittedly our concerns are usually about what’s physically possible with the human body and Winner’s concern is more about actual relationships (or at least people relating to each other in sexual contexts).

“Pornography is destructive because it communicates a tacit narrative about physical gratification without saying a thing about how sex really happens” (112).

Who wants to claim this as a way of differentiating between “pornography” and “erotica”? :)

“Masturbation: It Teaches You that Sex Happens Outside a Relationship” (113)

I have a healthy relationship with myself, thank you very much, bitch.

Blessings upon her for not reiterating the misinterpretation of the Onan story, though. And she actually talks sensibly and groundedly in her pages on masturbation, stating matter-of-factly the potential benefits while also stressing the dangers of becoming too centered on our own individualistic desires to the exclusion of being able to negotiate relationships with others.

Talking about “premarital” sex, she talks about the expectation that sex will always be exciting, which i think is a valid concern, though i think she overstates the appeal of “instability.” I know lots of people having sex outside of wedlock who value stable comforting “domestic” sexual experiences with their partner.

We were made for sex. And so premarital sex tells a partial truth; that’s why it resonates with something. But partial truths are destructive. They push us to created goods wrongly lived. To borrow a phrase from Thomas Cranmer again: they are ultimately destructive to our selves, our souls and bodies.
While i’m still not entirely convinced of the extramaritalsex=bad, this makes a lot of sense, and we know i love an intelligent, thoughtful, consistent argument. And i find myself strongly wanting to be a better person, whereas Winner’s other book found me, well wanting to smack/shake her and possibly convert to something not Christianity out of spite.

I love the point she makes about the tendency to get hung up on the idea of “calling,” especially the idea of lifelong calling, and that we should focus on what we are called to do/be right now. She also quotes Paul Evdokimov talking about how even though certain things seem particularly renunciatory, all choices mean renouncing certain things.

“Single Christians remind the rest of us that our truest, realest, most lasting relationship is that of sibling: even husband and wife are first and foremost brother and sister. Baptismal vows are prior to wedding vows” (146).

Oh come on, Lauren. You were doing so well. Given that on pages 142 and 143 you just cited Mark 3 and Luke 9, pointing out that Jesus was not exactly a poster child for modern conventional “family values,” this statement seems rather ridiculous.

One gets the sense from the sentence that follow the semicolon that you’re prioritizing chosen community over chosen individual relationships, and i can get behind that (at least as a solid theory; not necessarily something i would adopt for myself) but oh, where was your editor?

And she talks about the Jesus-Church relationship is talked about as using the marriage analogy but how in Matthew 22:23-30 Jesus says there will be no marriage at the resurrection, so she talks about the marital relationship on earth as a practice for the afterlife relationship with Christ and how singleness also prepares us for that relationship, which will trump all other relationships. ‘Tis interesting.

In a completely unrelated context (well okay, it did have to do with sexual relationships), ann1962 described a particular narrative intent as follows:
"you have to understand why you do what you do. If you can live with that, well, fine. If you can't, and it is causing you pain, you might want to check out why you are doing what you do."

I really like that as an idea about how to live your life.

After i wrote all this up, i read sk8eeyore’s (flocked) response, which was far briefer than mine, though touched on some of the same issues. sk8eeyore also focused on some issues that i didn’t.

She said that this review (linked to by marketsquare a while back) formed most of her preconceptions about the book. I read said review before i read the rest of her entry and i think the reviewer definitely overstates some of Winner’s arguments, though wow, i hadn’t realized that, “As far as I can tell, Lauren’s brief flirtation with chastity encompassed the one-and-a-half year period of her courtship with her now-husband.” Not that that necessarily precludes her from being able to argue for chastity, but it does add some light of doubt.

The reviewer later says:
Actually, she seems to have a history of flip-flopping; a devout Orthodox Jew, she converted to evangelical Christianity, and got a lot of journalistic mileage out of that role reversal. A year later, she published "Mudhouse Sabbath"—"a book about all those things I miss" about being Jewish.
This (a) made me giggle, (b) made me wanna read Mudhouse Sabbath for the possibility of falling in love with Judaism.
Tags: books: read, lauren winner, religion: christianity, sex: sexual ethics

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