Wednesday, September 14, 2016

There is one subject I would like to see separated from the religious discussion...

I write here about how I see the world and its concerns through the lens of my Buddhist spirituality, and with the understanding I’ve gained about other religious viewpoints through my work as an interfaith advocate. For my next two posts, I chose a topic that I would actually like to see separated from the religious discussion. 

I read two great articles last week in the Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith” series, expressing opposite opinions about the religious emphasis on sexual chastity before marriage, which compelled me to present my ideas about my wish that we would just unhook the subject of sex from religion. Sexuality certainly is spiritual, but I don’t agree that it has to be regulated by religion. 

This doesn’t mean I don’t believe there are valid points being made by people who see it differently than I do. Kate Bryan describes her premarital chastity as a 32-year-old virgin as being liberating and feminist. Her article’s overall tone is upbeat and nonjudgmental, implying that if people experience lapses in their commitment to their “sexual integrity,” they shouldn’t just give up, but should keep practicing until they get it right. 

Her argument is compelling, and she makes an excellent point that “a condom doesn’t protect the heart”—Meaning that casual sex comes at a heavy long-term cost, even for people who work hard to convince themselves they are immune to the emotional charge of sex. 

On the flipside, Liz Lenz describes the negatives she’s experienced within the “purity culture” and its patriarchal notions about the role of sexuality in people’s lives. 

She states that “purity culture presumes that giving and receiving love breaks you instead of builds you,” and that the basic ideology, and the approach of even the most contemporary advocates of it, is based on fear rather than on empowered choice. 

I wholeheartedly agree with Lenz that too many “moral” decisions are based on fear these days—Fear of terrorism, of God, of excommunication, of public shame, and so on. Even if you’re Christian, does making your sexual decisions based on your own ideas of what’s best for your life have to equate with disrespect for God or your religion’s moral teachings? Do you have to wait for what your minister or church or temple decides about your sexual allowances? Why not trust yourself enough to make your own? 

Until people learn to do this, I don’t think society will ever become sexually healthier or sexually safer by continuing to argue “do”s and “don’ts” as interpreted from various Scriptures. 

What I’d like to see is more dialogue about making our sexual decisions based on our own intuition. My virginity at age thirty-six has absolutely nothing to do with any religion I’ve ever practiced; I didn’t need the Bible, or Kitab-i-Aqdas, or any references to sex in Buddhist Scripture to inform my sexual decisions—I had already made them on my own. I have never tied my sex decisions to my self-esteem, my spiritual faith, or even my morals. I see sex as an act of love to be shared within a committed relationship; if I’m not in a committed relationship, it’s simply not worth it to me to risk the consequences of having sex with someone I don’t trust enough—or love enough—to have a committed relationship with. 

Our religious practices are supposed to teach us how to cultivate the wisdom to make the best choices for our lives—not dictate to us what choices we should make. As such, I think we’d have far more sexual integrity out there if we make our sex decisions from an intuitive place within ourselves rather than from a religious moral code dictated from outside ourselves. 
In my next post, will go deeper into this subject, including an exploration of the idea of developing more meaningful and holistic definitions of the concepts of “purity” and “virtue” that have long since been reduced and sentimentalized to equate almost exclusively with sexlessness. 

Image: “Elemental Woman #2,” by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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