Sex and Revolution II: Eros, Theology, Revolution

Sancta Colloquia Episode 307 ft. Mason Mennenga

In this episode Mason Mennenga (@masonmennenga) joins me and we talk about the need for a new theology of sex. As I mention in my introductory thoughts, there’s a need to reevaluate the current and negatively pervasive theology of sex. It’s notable and not farfetched to say that our conceptions of sex and marriage coming in from both media and the church are inherently flawed and warped by historic misconceptions and fear of eros. In simpler words: there’s a rampant fear of desire that is woven through the Church’s doctrine of sex and in the culture/media. Both church and culture are bound in the extremes. We need to take seriously that as whole human beings we are wholly spiritual and wholly material and do not divide well. What we think about capital and production will impact our intimacy will impact our spirituality will impact our existence. The sad thing is that, as Mason said, we don’t reimagine constructs but just try to fit new things into old paradigms. Mason makes a really good point: we must go beyond merely speaking of revising or recreating a sex-ethic, we need an actual theology of sex that undergirds this new sex-ethic. One of the ways in which we can go about doing such a necessary revision is to actually…get ready for this…think of Jesus as a sexual being. According to Mason, in making space for thinking of the sexuality of Jesus’s context and Jesus as a sexual being, we allow ourselves or open ourselves to being confronted. Referencing Marcella Althaus Reed, Mason drives home the need for us to be confronted, interrogated and provoked by radical images that draw theology and sex in tighter alignment. Mason also brings up the need for revisiting liturgy…we both agreed, liturgy has plenty of erotic imagery embedded in it. The church may stress (too much, in my opinion) the agapic love of God, but both the scripture and our liturgies scream erotic love. So, why not begin with re-understanding eros and going back into a theology of eros, and, wedded to this need is this one: letting the voices of the oppressed speak and determine for themselves what sex is and what sex is for. It’s time for a regime change. It’s an excellent episode, if I don’t say so myself.

Excited? You Should be. Listen here:

Interview with Mason Mennenga

Mason is a youth worker at Solomon’s Porch, Master of Divinity student, aspiring theologian, podcaster [A People’s Theology], and writer. He enjoys conversation over a drink, being a music snob, stand-up comedy, scrolling through Twitter, and a good read.

Further reading/learning:

Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics by Linn Marie Tonstad

The Queer God by Marcella Althaus Reid

Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics by Marcella Althaus Reid

Sex and Revolution I: Intimate Embodied Dance

Sancta Colloquia Episode 306 ft. Nicole Perry

In this episode, I had a very interesting and engaging conversation with Nicole Perry (@danceNdrama1) about intimacy, vulnerability, body, and relationship. It feels like we touched on all the aspects of what it means to be intimate with another person. Intimacy is such an interesting thing and something that humans being crave. Intimacy and the desire for intimacy is very natural. Yet, it seems that in one form or another external institutions (the Church, culture, media, etc.) love to dictate to us what this intimacy should look like. The problem becomes that in the pendulum swing from the Church to media sexual penetration is the primary focus. But what Nicole demonstrates throughout this dialogue is that intimacy is what *we* make of it. Nicole, an intimacy director/choreographer, deals with intimacy on the stage in dance and performance. There are ways, according to Nicole, to perform intimately that isn’t just playing to the normal trappings of “sex-sells.” In other words, you can express intimate moments on the stage in ways that do not employ actual kissing and actual acts of sex. Part of the power of a well-performed intimate scene on the stage is built around the idea of alterity: “…your body is your body, [your] boundaries are your boundaries…” This ability to say no and to be present in the no means that you can then be present in the yes, as Nicole says, “Yes only means yes if you can say no.” Now, this isn’t just about acting, and Nicole makes that really clear. One of the highlights of this discussion is that obtaining substance of self on the stage with and among others translates into real life presence. This means we can now talk about consent if there is an ability to say no and be present, we can now talk about intimacy in boundaries (this relationship exists here and has *this* intimacy) without having to devolve into penetration as the only means by which to express this intimacy. In fact, we could argue that the church and media destroy the concept of intimacy and thus sex by making sex the ultimate and glorified cow of intimacy. In this way, the person is never allowed to cultivate confidence in her intimate-talk and intimate-actions and thus falls into the trap that a sort of desire, like, love, and attachment must become sexual. It was such a pleasure to speak with Nicole and hear how much her life on the stage causes her to be a substantial person in real life. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here 

Nicole Perry is an intimacy director/choreographer, as well as director and choreographer in South Florida. Recent credits include Imagine: a Journey in Dance at the Kravis Center, choreography and intimacy direction for the US premiere of The Glass Piano at Theatre Lab, and intimacy choreography for In the Heights with Measure for Measure Theatre, where she is the resident intimacy choreographer. Nicole is a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst through Integrated Movement Studies. She is a member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and an apprentice at Intimacy Directors International. Nicole founded Momentum Stage, a non-profit providing resources for performing artists.

Further Resources:

http://nicoleperry.org/

Dr. Robyn and Activist Theology: https://activistheology.com/ The quotes were taken from Robyn’s reflection in a class given by their partner, Erin C. Law, who is one of my Laban teachers. If they are still holding classes when we get closer to broadcast, I can send you a link. I know Robyn is on Twitter as @irobyn . Erin is on Instagram as @erin_c_law .

Further reading: ugh, so much. But, Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski was a game changer. How Emotions are Made by Lisa  Feldman Barrett is also really great to thinking about emotions in context. I’m sure I will do much more reading between now and then and can send updates!

Audre Lorde “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”

Momentum Stage: https://www.momentumstage.org and some courses:

Ethics of Touch for Teachers of Movement: https://www.momentumstage.org/arts-education/touch-course

Consent for Performers: https://www.momentumstage.org/arts-education/9xv8spp402plnz9m9bpsqwpk784jnw

Also, The Consent Awareness Network, working to legally codify what is ‘consent’.

Another Excerpt from “Passionate Marriage”

Previous post here. From chapter 11, “Two-Choice Dilemmas and Normal Marital Sadism” (bold is me):

We have the fantasy that we have the choice between being anxious or not. Unfortunately, we don’t. Our choice is between one anxiety or another. Do something scary–or face problems from not doing it. Make an error by commission–or omission. Face the anxiety that things will change–or stay the same. Do (sexual) things you’ve never done–or forfeit that taste for life. Face the anxiety of growing up–or the terror of facing life as a perpetual child. Confront the fear of differentiation or the dread of marital living death.

These are examples of the two-choice dilemmas inherent in emotionally committed relationships. Such dilemmas arise from our human nature: we are fundamentally separate life forms who value both attachment and autonomy. … Once you realize you and your partner are in two separate ‘boats,’ you understand the nature of your dilemma: you want to steer your own boat–and your partner’s, too. We call this ‘togetherness’–as longs as you are steering for both of you. When your partner does the same thing, however, it’s called ‘control.’ If you want both absolute certainty of your partner’s course and certainty that you’re not controlling him or her–you’ve just run into a two-choice dilemma.

If you check your dictionary, you’ll find the phrase ‘two-choice dilemma’ is redundant–technically, a dilemma is a situation necessitating a choice between two or more unpleasant alternatives. However, many people think of a dilemma according to the dictionary’s secondary definition: a perplexing or awkward situation. In my clinical work I use the term ‘two-choice dilemma’ to highlight that (a) we often try to remain in our perplexing, awkward, and painful situations to keep everything in check, (b) a choice is often required to solve our situation, (c) we usually want two choices but we only get one, and (d) we try to avoid choosing (by remaining in difficult situations) to avoid losses inherent in giving up one option for another (i.e., solution). While not linguistically correct in all cases, clients have found the term ‘two-choice dilemma’ a powerful tool…

There is no point in staying dead in a living dead marriage; doing so is the main reason why monogamous marriage is not able to withstand the blows of alternative relational existences. Why are we letting some of our primary relationships kill us? Why aren’t we fighting to stay alive?

David Schnarch and “Passionate Marriage”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been researching (heavily and obsessively, I confess) the concept of intimate relationships, specifically marriage and it’s variants. This week I’ve been reading “Passionate Marriage” by Dr. David Schnarch at a devouring and voracious rate. Schnarch is “a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist” (from the back cover). The book is, well, excellent; I’m enjoying every chapter. In fact, it’s even altered my view on the concept of monogamous marriage…for the better. Could marriage between two adults actually look like this? According to the book, it seems possible. Addressing the concepts of self-differentiation and the solid-self, enmeshment and emotional fusion, other-validation v. self-validation, intimacy and desire during sex (to name a few), the book offers a reconstructed idea of what a “good” marriage looks like, an idea I had not previously known was possible let alone actually existed. I recommend reading it (even tough I’m only 2/3 the way through), but not at work…he’s a sex therapist, and the case studies in the book will…ummm…make you wish you weren’t at work 😉

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 9 “Mental Dimensions of Sexual Experience” (bold is me):

We insist on being our spouse’s one and only–even in fantasy. On the surface it may seem like we’re following the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,’ but underneath it’s our narcissism demanding, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods! Worship only me!’ … We don’t want our partner fantasizing about anyone else! It’s not easy to accept, even if we do it, too. Realizing they’re doing it during sex with us adds insult to emotional injury.

Research indicates that, of all sexual fantasies, thinking of someone other than your partner is the most common. These are called ‘partner replacement’ fantasies. When confronted about their fantasies about other partners, many people assume it’s better to deny everything and be glad it’s hard to prove they are lying. They think partner replacement fantasies belong to the category of ‘the few things not said each day that improve a marriage.’

Wanting to be our partner’s ‘one and only’ in fantasy is not just an extension of the principle of monogamy. It has to do with being dependent on our partner’s validation. Our mate’s sexual fantasies play havoc with our reflected sense of self. Validation from our partner evaporates while he or she fantasizes about someone else. We can tell ourselves we don’t have to take it personally. But if we’ve spent our lives pursuing validation from others, we don’t really have much choice but to take it personally when we are not the focus of our partner’s fantasies.

What I’m describing isn’t a problem if you handle it properly. Granted, ti doesn’t feel good at first. But it’s part of marriage’s people-growing machine. You can persist in hating the fact that your spouse’s fantasies don’t always include you, or you can develop a more stable sense of yourself.

For several chapters we’ve look at what happens to marriages dominated by other-validated intimacy. To review the general characteristics of partners in these marriages: (a) they have difficulty introducing novelty into their sexual relationship, (b) they experience anxiety and resist change when their partner does something new, and (c) they have difficulty with maintaining a clear sense of self when out of synch with their partner. More important to our current discussion, they are likely to tune out their partner during sex and focus on body sensations to reach orgasm. Over time, they are more likely to experience sexual boredom and resort to partner replacement fantasies for sexual variety.

Here’s the paradox: the very thing that makes poorly differentiated people go crazy over their partner’s sexual fantasies predisposes them to do the same thing themselves! People wounded by the discovery that they are not their partner’s ‘one and only’ are likely to be fantasizing about someone else. Being dependent on validation from others, they have to lie about it even while they are complaining about their partner. And in the midst of all this, they want their partner to validate them and make them feel secure. Like the exercise wheel inside a squirrel cage, this process drives marriage’s people-growing machinery.

If this pattern rings true for you so far, consider the impact during sex: desire to fuse with your partner actually increases the likelihood of experiencing less intimacy during sex. Your heads are inevitably in different places. you can  feel your partner tune you out even if you’re ‘in synch’ enough to grind.

I’m not saying that there is anything ‘wrong’ with mind-wandering and partner replacement fantasies during sex. I’m putting them in context so you can use them productively. Mind-wandering during sex is probably inevitable–but you can reduce it significantly and increase the intimacy and potency of your sex. The benefit can generalize to the rest of your life, because it involves increasing your level of differentiation.

Humans will always fantasize; that’s not necessarily a problem. The difficulty is that the way we fantasize (and hide it) interferes with intimacy and wall-socket sex. Like hugging, kissing, desire, and monogamy, fantasies operate differently depending on your level of differentiation.

While predominately about sex, the concepts discussed above apply to a number of other aspects that often plague monogamous marriage. And, good Lord, let us hear lest we cease to sense the something-fierce need to overhaul and reconfigure monogamous marriage.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. III:1 Cor 7:1-7)

1 Corinthians 7:1-7:

Principles for Marriage

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

v.1.  Paul, in response to the questions of the Corinthians, writes, “‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’”  Johnson writes about the expression translated as “not to touch a woman”, “…the expression…is not the equivalent of ‘not to marry.’ In Hebrew and Greek it is a euphemism for not to have sexual intercourse with woman (Gen 20:6; Prov 6:29)” (108).  Johnson continues by adding that the expression does not necessarily belong to Paul but is a Corinthian colloquialism: the Corinthians were rejecting sexual intercourse with their wives in order to achieve a more intimate relationship with Sophia (Johnson 108-9).  Bruce adds this scenario, “…[Paul is] deal[ing] with ascetics who, partly perhaps in reaction against the libertines, argued that sexual relations of every kind were to be deprecated, that Christians who were married should henceforth live as though they were unmarried, and those who were unmarried should remains so, even if they were already engaged to be married” (Bruce 66).

v.2.  Leon Morris writes, “Since fornication was so common at Corinth it was hard for the unmarried to remain chaste and hard for them to persuade others that they were, in fact, chaste” (Morris 102).  And Keener observes, “Paul may refute [the Corinthian’s] point about a man not ‘touching’ a woman…but if he is conceding it, he applies it to unmarried intercourse only (6:12-21); he goes on to demonstrate that married people must have intercourse (7:2-7).  Contrast ‘It is well,” kalon, with ‘It is not good,’ ou kalon, in Gen 2:18, a context Paul has just quoted in 6:16)” (62).  Paul’s Jewish background would have provided him with the understanding of the  value of marriage and childbearing; but this was not restricted to Paul and his contemporaries, but was manifest in August’s legislation, “…to replenish the Roman aristocracy two generations before Paul’s time.  Augustus’s laws reward with tax incentives widows and divorcees of childbearing age who remarried as quickly as possible” (Keener 63).  On the other hand, Keener also notes that “Some thinkers…believed that marriage proved a distraction from high pursuits (e.g., Cynics in Epictetus Diatr. 3.22.69-76).  Some radical philosophers (especially Cynics) therefore eschewed marriage, nevertheless condoning the release of sexual passions on prostitutes (cf. 6:12-21)” (Keener 63).  Paul may have been dealing with the same group of people who were causing trouble in 6 as in 7 (Keener 63).

v.3.  Morris writes, “Each partner in a marriage has rights and Paul calls on each to pay what is due….Paul does not stress the duty of either partner at the expense of the other, but puts them on a level, a noteworthy position in the male-dominated society of the time” (103).  What is most striking in Paul’s language is the idea of “giving” rather than “getting”; in a culture that was obsessed with getting somewhere weather socially or spiritually, this command to give is countercultural.  “Marriage is the giving of oneself to another” (Morris 103).  Essentially, marriage is not the getting from one what one wants or thinks they deserve.  Horsley observes,

The Therapeutics near Alexandria, described by Philo, provides a striking similar example of women and men who leave their spouses and become ‘elderly virgins.’ Their motivation for spurning the pleasures of the body, moreover, is their devotion to Sophia, whom they consider to be their spiritual life-mate.  This makes the comparison all the more compelling, considering the importance of Sophia to the Corinthian spirituals addressed in chapters 1-4 (Horsley 96).

vv.4-5. Keeping in mind the discussion above about the Roman woman being the property of the husband, the first half of this verse is very much within the constraints of Roman society at that time.  However, the later part introduced by “likewise” is the countercultural statement.  Johnson writes that neither one has the right to do with their body what they want, “…because the other has a rightful claim to sexual satisfaction.  This requires mutual submission (Eph 5:21)….the principal of mutual submission and mutual consent (v.5) is very important in minimizing abuse…Paul’s view of marriage [is a] profound union that entails a shared body, the two becoming ‘one flesh’ (Eph 5:31) (Johnson 110-1).  And Bruce adds, “By the marriage vow each relinquishes the exclusive right to his or her own body and gives the other a claim to it; the verb rule over is exousiazō, denoting the exercise of exousia (‘authority’)” (67).  Horsley proposes that Paul is responding to a Corinthian-ism, “‘[a woman had] authority over her own body’” (97).  Horsley writes, “After reversing that principle, Paul sweetens his denial of authority over her own body with the reciprocal wife’s authority over her husband’s body.  This is certainly a break with patriarchal marriage patterns, at least rhetorically” (Horsley 97).

About Paul’s use of “authority”, Horsley comments, “Among the Corinthians it could have been an expression of empowerment, whether in liberation from parochial taboos such as dietary restrictions (eating food offered to idols, in chaps. 8-10) or old-fashioned customs such as patriarchal property rights (the man ‘having’ his father’s wife, in chap. 5)” (97).

In v.5, Paul makes it clear that it is okay to abstain; however, abstention was only to be for prayer and only for an agreed amount of time.  After the abstention, husband and wife were to return to intimate sexual relations with each other to avoid Satan’s temptation and the Corinthian’s lack of self-control.  Horsley writes, “Permanent abstention from sexual relations is often associated with women in prophetic or other religious roles in other New Testament cases and in the general Hellenistic-Roman culture…” (Horsley 97).  Women were able to find their way out from under Patriarchal domination by submitting themselves to the pursuit of Sophia which involved, as discussed above, devoting all their energy to toward the intimate relationship with Sophia and away from their sexual relations with their husband.  Thistleton observes,

‘With prostitutes and mistresses abundantly available (recall 6:12-20) Corinthian men unable to have sex with their wives would often look elsewhere.’…from the papyri and from Plutarch the double standards of a degree of extramarital relationships in the case of men in the Roman world, in contrast to married women.  Paul’s moral and pastoral principle remains either (a) monogamy (with a full relationship for most of the time; cf. v. 5); or (b) celibacy; but not (c) irregular physical relationships.  Paul…[is]…offer[ing] an antidote to a Corinthian desire to change everything with their new-found status” (Blomberg qtd in Thisleton 503).

(Next: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16)