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Uninvited Guests in the Bedroom?

The question on the index card read, “I have never had an orgasmic experience…I am Catholic and the church frowns upon masturbation. How do you recommend moving past that negativity?” I immediately had the vision of the Pope in his big pointy hat and white robes standing at the bedside wagging a judgmental finger. My response was, “You have to get the Pope out of your bedroom!” For those of us who were unfortunate enough to have a strong religious background that included much sexual repression, the Pope may well be joined by a minister or priest or teachers from parochial schools. All of these visitors have a tendency to crowd into the bedroom and proceed to have a noisy conversation about heaven and hell and the utter nastiness of the body and its functions.

Years ago the New Yorker magazine had a cartoon of a man and woman lying stiffly in bed on their backs looking up at the ceiling. Over the bed hung four portraits; his parents and her parents. Because that bedroom obviously included six people nothing was going to happen of a sensual or sexual nature as long as that crowd was present!

Therapists call this challenge “spectatoring.” It is paying attention to what is happening through the eyes of a third person rather than being fully present in one’s own body to one’s own experience. Needless to say, this distancing from the immediate moment does not enhance pleasure but distracts and usually prevents it. So what do we do when all these people, parents, and pastors and even the Pope gather in our bedroom? When the question was handed in anonymously to the panel at the program “Meditations on the Sexual Body” my response was that we have to escort each and every one of them out of the bedroom! “Take them by the hand out to the living room. Sit them on the sofa and tell them they have to stay there! Tell them in no uncertain terms they are not welcome in your bedroom.”  We have to learn to shout a loud “No” to those voices in our head that say when we are sexual we are dirty, shameful, guilty, stained, sinful, imperfect, etcetera ad nauseum.

These visitors, however authoritative they may represent themselves to be, are sexually wounded people who are themselves deeply conflicted about, if not terrified of their own sexuality. They are not voices that embrace the goodness of the sexual body as created and blessed by God nor will they say that pleasure is a good in and of itself, a divine gift that imparts not only joy and delight to our lives but also a meaningful doorway to intimate connection.

Any teaching, however religious it purports to be that makes us feel guilty or shameful is out of sync with a Jesus who led a sensuous life (Matt 6:28), told jokes (Matt 23:24), and spent time at parties (Matt 11:19). If such visitors want to remain celibate or restrict their own sexuality, then that is their choice. But they have no right to connect our pleasure and sexual choices to their repression either in real life or in our heads! So if you find such busybodies invade the bedroom, show them the door!

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