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What is sex positivity? In Less than 1000 Words

It never occurred to me that people would not understand this idea, but then again, we are so surrounded by symptoms of sex negativity that perhaps positivity about the sexual body is simply too rare to see. Others have defined sex positivity but how can Christians do so? The Incarnation Institute for Sex and Faith teaches an inclusive, science-friendly, and sex-positive Christianity by intentionally disallowing misogyny, homophobia, and erotophobia much of which has its roots in 2000 years of Christian theology. The IISF frames sex positivity in three ways: sexual pleasure, diversity, and freedom.

Sexual pleasure

Much of the fear in the church about pleasure is that we have not differentiated between irresponsible hedonism and our god-given ability to sensually and sexually savor the tastes, smells, sounds, sights, and touches that bring joy, wonder, and yes, gratitude. As a result, the church historically looked askance at those who would take too much pleasure in their body or the bodies of others and assume the worst, that is, profound narcissistic hedonism.  But a sex-positive faith understands that pleasure is good for us. In fact, recent research from UC Berkeley found that having “awe-inspiring experiences, such as viewing works of art or overlooking a scenic vista, may have physical as well as mental health benefits.” (The Week Feb. 20, 2015) Further, there are huge health benefits to an active sex life some of which are alleviating pain, slowing the aging process, boosting the immune system, and reducing stress.

In reality, every Christian knows that the world and all that is therein belongs to God and is under God’s watchful and compassionate providence and thus has God’s blessing, that the incarnated God known as Jesus instructed to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and that the Creator pronounced all of creation, and, presumably, that includes our sensuality and our sexual body parts, to be “very good.”

Sexual diversity

Secondly, a sex-positive faith is one that embraces sexual diversity as a human trait to be celebrated. With wondrously diverse landscapes of color, shapes, distinctive landscapes, with equally varied animal and plant worlds throughout time, plus the widely different and interesting traits of the human family, Christians can assume God has no problem with variety. It is endemic to the creation around us and presumably is for not only our survival and for our enjoyment as well.

Science tells us that while humans are, by nature, empathic it does not extend to strangers as much as to those we know. Perhaps this explains why, as a species, we are suspicious of and go to war against those who are different from ourselves. Thus, when humanity has a problem with diversity we claim that our reality – of heterosexuality or gender for example - is God’s preference insisting that those who are different must become like us or remain an abomination or sinful etc. It is both human hubris and our fear that would turn the world into a single homogenous experience.

Yet, Jesus did not choose homogeneity. There were men AND women, employees of Rome AND rebels, uneducated AND professionals in his circle and Jews AND Gentiles followed him. Diversity is not to be feared but embraced for the wonder that it is, for the curiosity it stimulates, for the satisfaction of discovery that awaits. Not everyone wants or needs to be exclusively partnered, or desires intimacy with the opposite gender, or fits easily into a binary gendered box. Plus, our sexual interests and needs vary across the board as well; some actions are procreative but a wide variety of expressions are for pleasure. A sex-positive faith allows for and celebrates diversity.

Sexual freedom

And finally, a sex-positive faith understands that sexual freedom is to be personally discerned and responsibly exercised. The Christian church has, for a variety of historic reasons, seen itself as the entity responsible for restricting sexual freedom and confining it to certain cultural practices; marriage, monogamy, sexual exclusivity, for heterosexuals. In times past, it even restricted sex acts to be procreative teaching that pleasure should be minimized.

But the myth of the Garden of Eden is one of freedom; the first earth creatures were given the freedom to choose whether or not to eat from the tree and, upon doing so, found that eating from the Tree of Knowledge led them to the earthly existence of toiling in the soil and birthing babies rather than continuing in the innocence of the Garden. In addition, the teachings of the Apostle Paul are that we are free, completely freed from trying to obtain God’s favor or forgiveness through actions of our own. The very definition of grace, God’s unmerited favor, is undeserved compassion and forgiveness - already available and freely given. Nowhere in Jesus’ life or teachings does he reduce righteousness to rule-keeping. He himself chose to obey some rules but violated others teaching instead that all rules are summarized as love. “Love your God and neighbor as you love yourself.”

A sex-positive Christianity then does not mandate that everyone must be married, monogamous,  heterosexual, and male or female. No position is taken on the kinds of sex acts that are so-called good, normal, or appropriate, or that might have God’s singular approval. Rather, the emphasis of a faithful sexual stance is that one’s sexual life are to be guided by one’s own conscience and experience – not by politicians, preachers, or popes - and must be responsibly exercised.

Christianity, along with all other major faith traditions, is about how to live righteous lives. Living responsible sexual lives is a huge faith question but having freedom means there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Thus, faithful people pray and spiritually discern as individuals even as we lovingly support one another as a community that loves our sexual, sensual bodies and the bodies of others. Why? Because God does. And that is the basis of a sex-positive Christianity in less than 1000 words.


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