Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sex is how I pray?

On a list serv for members of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, someone asked people for their reactions to a new phrase he has coined for advocacy and education, "Sex is how I pray."

I understood that he is trying to affirm that one way people can know God or the divine is through our intimate relationships, including our sexual relationships. Throughout time, people have reported erotic feelings during spiritual practice (think the writings of the mystics) and spiritual feelings during sexual relations.

But, I find the expression "Sex is how I pray" troubling on many levels. I believe it could lead someone to infer that the speaker is engaging in some type of cultic sexual practices, a practice decried in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. It has the potential for minimizing or indeed mocking the importance of prayer in people's lives. And it seems nearly CERTAIN to anger rather than inform those who hold conservative beliefs about sexual justice.

I'm wondering what YOU think about this slogan -- and I'd especially like to hear from the more conservative readers of my blog (you know who you are.) I'm taking a bit of a beating on the AASECT list serv at the moment. You would think that after all these years I would be used to be attacked from both the secular left and the religious right -- but I'm not.

I do believe it is in our relationships with others that we come closest to knowing God's intentions for us. I love this quote from Meister Eckart -- "all that God asks of you most pressingly is to go out of yourself -- and let God be God in you."


Philocrites said...

Two thumbs down from this religious liberal. I don't know what the phrase is supposed to suggest, beyond conveying how very highly the originator of the phrase thinks of sex. It's a terrible slogan for "advocacy and education" because it says nothing about advocacy or education, exacerbates tensions between health educators and religious people, and overstates the importance of sex. It comes across as demeaning hype.

Chalicechick said...

I don't like it either.

Sex is, for me, ultimately about giveing and getting pleasure. That's perfectly fine, but it's not at all about focusing on that which is greater than myself.


eric said...

Well, I definitely fit the "Liberal" side of the spectrum. And there is definitely, for me, a spiritual context to sex with my partner. I've certainly known the presence of God in sex. That said, I don't like it either (the "slogan".)

To the extent that prayer is entering the presence of God, SOME sex MAY be prayer. However, I do not engage in sex in order to pray. Nor is sex inevitably a way for me to pray. Those experiences are exceedingly rare.

I'm in agreement that this slogan diminishes the importance of prayer and ultimately says little of substance.

I would, however, say that when I consider the modalities of personality (emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual, etc.) that sex is as important to my sexual modality as prayer is to my spiritual. And the sexual is an equally important aspect of my life as the emotional/psychological, physical, etc.

Cassandra said...

I suppose you're waiting to hear from me, right Reverend Debra? ;)

It evokes more of an eye-roll from me rather than anger. It's the same reaction I have when I see a pastor trying to be cool and connect with his congregation whether it be by sporting leather, riding a motorcycle, or through ear piercing ( all of which look even more ridiculous over the age of 65). The message is powerful enough for me. I don't need you to sell it to me by wrapping it up in gaudy packaging. In fact, I find it a bit demeaning.

Z said...

Advocacy and education of what? How people "pray" is relative and individual. If someone, like eric, sees the spiritual context in sex, cool. Others may see sex differently, or see it differently under different circumstances. I think such a slogan would harm the spiritual context in sex more than it helps.

Sparki said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, IMHO sex is sacramental in nature, a restatement of our marriage vows (which are a Sacrament in my faith tradition) and a chance to be a reflection of God the Creator as we create a new life through the marital act (when we're fortunate enough to have that happen). So I find it to be a deeply spiritual experience, and one that can be marked by prayer and worship, but I'd still never say that sex = prayer.

I wonder if the fellow who said this actually means that he's replaced prayer with sex?

Steve Caldwell said...


I would not use the phrase "sex is how I pray" to describe the mystic reaction that sexual expression often elicits.

I suspect that your colleague is attempting to to intentionally shock others by putting "sex" and "pray" in the same soundbite.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being shocking if it makes people think and question their assumptions.

There is a long tradition in religious thought of some religious teachers using the shocking and scandalous to awaken the listener. I'm thinking of Jesus' scatalogical reference in the 7th chapter of Mark ("What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.'"). I'm also thinking of the Parable of the Samaritan in 10th chapter of Luke.

Both of these examples shook up commonly held assumptions and violated social norms.

However, I suspect that for most audiences "sex is how I pray" going to provoke more anger than thought in our sexuality-negative culture.

I do think we can start looking at sexuality as "spiritual practice" in some instances.

Wikipedia provides the following less-than-helpful definition of a "spiritual practice":

" ... any activity that one associates with cultivating spirituality."

In the Our Whole Lives for Adults Workshop Four ("Discovering the Sexual Self") has a discussion activity about masturbation and the cultural attitudes surrounding it.

Some of the questions for this activity are the following ones:

"What messages [about masturbation] did you receive when growing up?"

"What do you think about society's attitudes about masturbation?"

"What do these attitudes about masturbation say about sexuality as a positive or negative force?"

So far, these discussion questions about masturbation are not surprising and they haven't explicitly talked about spirituality.

One question does stand out by suggesting a spiritual connection between masturbation and spirituality:

"Can people experience spirituality through masturbation?"

And the Unitarian Universalist Sexuality and Our Faith supplement to this adult sexuality curriculum has the following questions related to religion, sexuality, and masturbation:

"What did you learn about masturbation from the religion(s) of your childhood?"

"Did anyone receive positive messages about masturbation from their faith community?"

I suspect that it will be mostly Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals who were raised with the Our Whole Lives adolescent curriculum or the earlier About Your Sexuality curriculum will report receive positive messages about masturbation.

With the Unitarian Universalist emphasis on pursuing a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, one often draws on the "direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life" in this search.

To obtain direct experience, it's common to hear about Unitarian Universalists who journal, pray, and meditate to discover more about themselves.

Perhaps it's time for masturbation and other sexual expression to be considered another pathway for insight, self-knowledge, and awareness of the spirit and the forces that create and uphold life as well?

Perhaps it's time for our sexual expression to be something more than just a giving and getting of pleasure?

Steve Caldwell said...


Another example of using a shocking phrase to shake up conventional thinking is the following:

"The Body of Christ has AIDS."

This has been used by UK Methodists and Anglicans to describe us as being connected in community where the suffering of one leads to suffering for the entire community.

The Dougster said...

I am the author or first known user of "Sex is how I pray" and before I will speak to any of the points made I will provide some history:

1) I have a saved Google search showing no hits for "Sex is how I pray."

2) I have a dated, later Google search showing one hit for my own use of the phrase.

3) I have the latest saved Google search showing no hits again.

4) The use Rev. Debra refers to was my first in advocacy with one of an opposing view. I wrote to my representatives about an anti-abortion bill. I receieved a respectful reply from my pro-choice representative. Yes, it was intended to shock, it did, and nobody got hurt. I can provide that text.

I'll let this additional information cook with all y'all for a bit and reply here when I have a chance about me, my history, and your points. I'm sure there will be common ground there.

"The Dougster" is my Usenet handle. Doug Goncz is my real name. Replikon Research is my business name. I live in Seven Corners, VA.

Anonymous said...

Sex may be how Doug prays. (And that's cool --- I hope his prayer time is awesome!) But it is a divisive or insulting phrase that trivializes the prayer experience as it is conventionally understood.

This is troubling in a time when many people are trying to move beyond divisive ideologies.

And this is coming from a big time liberal.

Steve Caldwell said...

The concern expressed in this thread is related to the concerns expressed in a thread on Rev. Scott Wells' blog about a congregation with poor web site design:

This thread mentions that the congregation in question sold clothing with their religious logo on it. Several disapproved of selling thongs with the religious logo on it.

Wednesday-Girl said...

Personally, I don't have a problem with it. For many, spirituality and sexuality/sensuality are one and the same in the sense of a passionate, spiritual connection that you feel when engaged in a religious/spiritual/sexual activity.

Personally I am trying to integrate all those areas of my own life, meaning no part of myself is necesarily compartmented and separate. I am a whole person, which encompasses everything I do, whether spiritual/religous/sexual/sensual.

Perhaps this is the manner in which the coiner of the phrase meant it to be taken. I definitely don't think it diminished either sex OR prayer OR religion.

It's more important that we all believe in SOMEthing higher/greater/better than ourselves - the manner in which we practice our own brands of religion or spirituality are just details next to the larger issue.

Wednesday-Girl said...

Hmmm, makes more sense to read it in context now - that the logo was pasted on a pair of thong panties. I'm sure it was just meant to be cutesy and not taken seriously....but it has generated some good conversations, nei?

Doug Goncz said...

Let's not get the idea from the discussion of the-worst-web-site that "Sex is how I pray" is what appears on the tasteless thong. What appears there is "Unitarian Slut" and the store that sells the song also sells other Slut-positive merchandise like "Cribbage Slut", "Bingo Slut", etc.

I am relieved that I did trial "Sex is how I pray" on a clsoed list. This blog is the only mention of the phrase. Perhaps it's most important to vocalize the phrase with the correct intonation for the speaker, and not use it in print much.

Certainly "Sex is how we pray" is s phrase worth considering. It represents the congregation of people who pray that particular way. It's less self-inflating than the first version. Google still reports this is the only place on the web the phrase is in use, and this thread is almost a year old.

I'll repeat that for those of us who, like me, have very little access to any other form of religious experience or expression, sexual spirituality is the only thing left--aside from drug use, and I, for one, turned away from that many, many years ago.

Anonymous said...

Good sex IS a prayer, but it is not the only prayer. The phrase is more likely to result in derision and knee-jerk negative reaction than thought.
Any creature (created thing) that is doing what its Creator intended it to do, is worshipping. I was once at a men's (religious) retreat, where my most worshipful act was to go out into the woods and masturbate, with my member proudly erect, at one with the trees, being what it was created to be.

Adam said...

This slogan is a fascinating cultural artifact. Of course it will rise anger. It is something else to say that this anger will be unproductive. I guess I know even some conservative born again types who would be curious enough to have a good, productive conversation about this slogan and gain some communal affirmation of their God-given sexuality.

The liberatory/political agenda here mimics that of the evangelical movement so well that it is construed as a mockery. I wonder though, if evangelist learned their enticing arguments and flashy claims about spirituality from sexual liberationists or if liberal activists such as this one are self-styled sex-positive-evangelists. In a post-modern, post-Madonna world, this slogan is even more pro-religion than pro-sex. So many people today are disillusioned with the idea of religion because of the constraining, forced and often immoral sexual agenda that has accompanied traditional religious practice as it piggy-backs across the world on the shoulders of imperialism, militarism and capitalism. A political move to re-orient sex and spirit should be supported before it is criticized, and should be constructively rethought. Points about the implication that sex is the only way to pray, and that prayer is the only form of sex are well taken. Barring any implicit universalist claims, the author of this slogan has made for his/herself a place for sexual and spiritual expression, and if it is meant purely to help others unite and enjoy these parts of themselves, then it is a good thing. Some a bit less snappy suggestions: "Sex can be prayer. Kneel down." "I make love to God in you" "God made love so I can make it with you" "Sex and prayer go hand in hand, hold me honey" "God made sex, enjoy"

For my sexual/religious positivist activism, it is enough to say to my friends as a gay man that there isn't anything hotter than a man you can go to church with. I guess it would be nice if he knew what was printed on my panties as well.