The Meaning of Human Sexuality
Surely, I must be joking? Thinking I can take on the herculean (adam-evesques) task of explaining the meaning of human sexuality? That would be like climbing Niagara Falls or trying to explain the theological significance of Viagra;-).
First a good example of “love” from Sherman Alexie:
Roman and Grace are a married Spokane Indian couple. He is standing close to her with his basketball between them, as if the ball represents the expectant infant they will soon create…
“Michael Jordan is coming back again,” he said.
“You can’t fool me,” said Grace. “I heard it. That was just a replay.”
“Yeah, but I wish he was coming back again. He should always come back.”
“Don’t let it give you any crazy ideas.”
Roman pulled the basketball away and leaned even closer to Grace. He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing. Other people claimed that you can't choose who you love—it just happens!—but Grace and Roman knew that was a bunch of happy horseshit. Of course you chose who you loved. If you didn't choose, you ended up with what was left—the drunks and abusers, the debtors and vacuums...
Damn, marriage was hard work, was manual labor, and unpaid manual labor at that. Yet, year after year, Grace and Roman had pressed their shoulders against the stone and rolled it up the hill together.
In their marriage bed, Roman chose Grace once more and brushed his lips against her ear.
-From “Saint Junior” by Sherman Alexie
Since sex only has three letters, how did it become a four-letter word (the selfish, often angry "plow" word versus the kind, romantic "love" word)?
“Sex is like pissing. People take it much too seriously.
Painter Diego Rivera
“If I ever loved a woman, the more I loved her, the more I wanted to hurt her. Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait.”
Painter Diego Rivera
“Chastity: The most unnatural of the sexual perversions."
"I think I could fall madly in bed with you."
“To me heaven would be…two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.”
"The [marriage] vows should be written like a dog's license that has to be renewed every year…I think vows should be changed because they've been in existence for 600 years when people used to live until they were only 35. So they only had to be with each other for 12 years, then they would die anyway. But now it's a big commitment because you're going to be with someone for 50 years. It's impossible…It's such a rarity for people to stay together that 68% of marriages fail. I don't want to urinate on the party, but one must consider that before getting married.
Rock Musician Rod Stewart
How does an instinctive procreative act characteristic of all humans (and most forms of life down to fish and below) come to mean everything from the degrading and sadistically obscene to the uplifting and creatively divine?
From the violently aggressive to the joyfully receptive?
From one-sided self-centeredness to intimate communion of two lives?
Regardless of one’s worldview, most humans* think humankind has reached a state in evolution
wherein individuals of our species can creatively use human innate characteristics,
adapting them for many different purposes and in very different ways.
This “plasticity” of human abilities enable billions of individuals to use their physical and brain skills, not only for time-immemorial practical acts such as plowing a field or constructing a building,
for transcendent goals.
Humans can use their brain consciousness and muscles to do acts that have no practicality at all such as play suspenseful sports in the Olympics or dance in complex moves across theater stages or construct beautiful poetic songs.
This “plasticity”—for good or ill--is, especially, true for human sexuality as shown by the wide variety of statements about sex by famous individuals in the first installment of this series.
Here is another striking example:
Alan Watts, a former Episcopal minister, became a prolific writer and famous transmitter of Buddhism to the American cultural scene. (When I was a teenager, and still a Baptist, I watched his show every day on PBS at 6 pm, marveling at his spiritual points and esoteric philosophical explanations.)
So far, so good, it seemed.
But then I read his shocking, repulsive autobiography, In My Own Way.
Alongside such spiritual gems as “The cross is at the heart of the universe,” which Watts quotes from a mystic,
he then describes his view of human being and sexuality.
“…Deep down inside, almost everyone has a vague sense of eternity. Few dare admit this because it would amount to believing that you are God..."
"My own sexual mores...I do not believe that I should be passionately in love with my partner...and still less, married."
"For there is a special and humanizing delight in erotic friendships with no strings attached..."
"My life would be much, much poorer were it not for certain
particular women with whom I have most happily and congenially committed adultery...”
Most of us aren’t too surprised by the sludge coming out in the media or by so-called red-necked vulgarity.
The guttural view of sex has probably been around since cavemen first spoke;-), but when a highly educated, philosophical, spiritually oriented individual such as Alan Watts glorifies promiscuous sex,
we surely know that human sexuality
is, indeed, very ambiguous with many strange variations,
and many of them destructive,
and so contrary to the Truth, the Good, and the Beautiful.
When he writes, "I most happily and congenially committed adultery...," it is clear that somewhere he took a disastrous ethical detour.
We’re all sexual, and in different ways, but, hopefully, we don't major in being unfaithful, disloyal, and promiscuous and, even worse, declare our harmful dysfunctional behavior with pride to the world.
Speaking of Buddhism, actually the latter, contrary to Watt's view, for most of its history had a very different view of sexuality.
The Vietnamese Buddhist nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, Thich Nhat Hanh, emphasized that humans seeking to become enlightened live their sexuality in enhancing ethical ways.
Other forms of Buddhism go to the opposite extreme from Watts' adultery and promiscuity. These Buddhist leaders
have a very negative view of all human sexuality and even state that women must become men before they can be enlightened!
“...a large part of Theravada texts is devoted to the depiction of women as disgusting creatures too repulsive to touch.”
--Rev. Patti Nakai
Touching--now that reminds me of my own spiritual tradition, the part I hated as a fundamentalist teenager, words from good ol' Paul:
“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
I Corinthians 7:1, New Testament
Maybe that would have been good advice for Hugh Hefner and most of the secular individuals I knew at university who argued for 'free sex.'
But Paul's extremely negative remarks were difficult for me, especially when first going out on dates with friendly Nebraska country girls:-)
Remember the famous Beach Boys song from that era, "California Girls"?
Paul's advice was exasperating.
Don’t get me wrong. I am talking about hand-holding and kissing,
not anything below the neck.
But get it, my even having to explain our particular religion’s very conservative sexual understanding shows how wide human sexual understanding and behavior is.
Why, hey;-), when I was very naive in junior high, our Christian books so warned against kissing
that I really thought girls got pregnant from smooching!!
Shows I lived in a small village and attended a very strict Baptist denomination where movies, dancing, rock music were banned,
that I didn't grow up on my grandfather’s farm where many animals did 'it' all the time.
Contrast this religiously-sheltered ignorant upbringing with the ninth grader I encountered when I moved Lincoln,
the capital city of Nebraska.
The knowing teen smirked and demanded to know if I knew all about “69.”
I knew it was 1962, and did know the “6” and the “9” weren't referring to years, but to something sexual and forbidden.
Just what I didn’t know, and tried to not think about. But sure did:-)
Enough on autobiographies from Watts to Wilcox...
From New Age Buddhism to fundamental Baptist Christianity...
Then there's orthodox Judaism with its Jewish men's prayer thanking God for not making them a woman or a slave:-(.
I’m sure you get the general point, without my bringing in many details from Secularism, Hinduism, Islam and Paganism.
Yes, sexuality is a very powerful force/drive within humanity which has been shaped like soft plastic into countlessly different configurations by humans and their worldviews.
The earlier modern quote about the basketball player and his wife catches the true spirit of human sexuality, as God intends sexuality to be—a joyous monogamous daily choice by two equals.
Sexuality is a whole life response by a couple committed to a life-long relationship, neither temporary glandular instinct nor a restricted negative necessity.
Here’s another fine explanation: “...Your understanding of love will change as you get older...I remember my second date...I totally lost my cool and told her I loved her. On our SECOND date!!"
"You know what? I recently told that very same girl how much I love her, and how glad I am that I married her...But what I meant when I really meant it 23 years ago is a lot different from what I mean when I really mean it today!"
"In 23 years, I’ve learned to put aside my selfishness more often, and I’ve learned more ways to love and cherish her...the heart of genuine love [in human sexuality] is an immovable decision to put your lover’s joy and welfare ahead of your own."
"Usually, you don’t fall into that kind of love; you climb into it. It’s not just something you feel [nor an instinctive urge]. It’s a decision you make.”
Duffy in Breakaway
Sexual love is a monogamous life-long commitment, a unique “ultimate” relationship—where two individuals give themselves to each other emotionally, mentally, and physically.
That’s true love.
True love (in the commitment sense) is unlike any other human relationship.
In the Light,
*Except, of course, for the theologically and materialistically fatalistic