Tonight as Jews around the world celebrate Shavu’ot, a holiday honoring the giving of the Torah, my congregation, Kol-Ami, will be holding a special study session at 7:30 PM to discuss Judaism and sexual ethics. Please join us at 1200 N. La Brea for what promises to be a fascinating and insightful discussion about an issue I believe we gay people should discuss with greater frequency.
On this holiday, many Jews engage in all-night study sessions, considering the meaning of Scripture and its various commentaries, often relating those lessons to struggles we face in our daily lives. Thus, this discussion fits right into this ancient Jewish tradition.
As those who regularly read this blog know, I have occasionally weighed in on the struggle gay people (particularly gay men) have in trying to draw the boundary dividing appropriate from inappropriate sexual behavior. It seems that all too often all too many believe that sex is okay provided we play safe, that the conversation ends there.
But, I believe sex should be more than that, more than just pleasuring ourselves with another as we satisfy this natural human instinct. It should serve as a means to connect us in a deeper way to our fellows. Note the use of “should” in this paragraph. This is my idealistic notion of sexuality, my recognition of its potential.
As part of the category I created, (Gay) Male Sexuality & the Monogamous Ideal, I penned a series of posts last year (here and here for example) encouraging gay men to engage in a serious conversation on sexuality and sexual ethics.
I offer further thoughts on this topic (in many ways just rehashing points I have made previously) below the jump:
For my part, I, like many gay men, continue to wrestle with the issue. I know that when find a boyfriend, monogamy will be nonnegotiable. Indeed, I won’t take any advocate of gay marriage (or any marriage for that matter) seriously if he contends monogamy is a negotiable aspect of the marital bond.
But, where do you draw the line when you haven’t found that special someone? Should we be celibate, seeking sexual intimacy only with those individuals with whom we have formed an intense and intimate bond or where potential for such a bond exists? Or should we let ourselves go and “play the field” as some have counseled?
The answer lies somewhere between.
I believe we should tie our sexual expression to some kind of human connection that transcends the physical pleasure of the act, that we should strive to see our partner as more than just someone who titillates him, to recognize the person beneath the desired body. To that end, we should at least get to know the individual before we have sex with him.
But, yet, some of my friends have reported, oftentimes when entering into a liaison merely because they are horny, after having resolved the sexual tension, they become more relaxed and thus better able to relate to the human being whom they had met out of desire. A mere moment of horniness so serves as the means to a deeper connection.
And men being men, sometimes such a “resolution” provides a means (otherwise not readily available to those of our gender) to a more intimate connection, but too few of us, alas, seem to recognize that.
This has become my idealistic vision of what sex should be, a means to forge a more intimate connection with another human being.
This idealistic vision, however, can sometimes prove quite limiting. Our sex drive does not always correspond with our need for human connection. We find our urges come on strong when there is no ready means to satisfy them and no explanation for their sudden strength. That’s where the discussion of ethics comes in. What do we do in such situations? Should we always elect restraint? Does Scripture offer any insight into these dilemmas?
I hope tonight’s discussion will help us clarify this issue.
As I conclude these thoughts, I want to offer an anecdote, a story which helped me realize how limiting my idealistic vision could be. I mean, if I only saw “good sex” as that which enabled individuals to connect on a deeper level, would I then be calling all other sex “bad” (as I once did, but no longer do)?
What about those cases where sex provided a release which enabled us to go on with our lives, that the pleasure it afforded removed (or helped remove) some obstacle which prevented us from accomplishing?
So, here’s the anecdote. About ten years ago, while sitting with some friends at a coffee shop in Washington, D.C., an acquaintance joined us, relating how a friend, after hooking up with a man he had met at a local watering hole and falling asleep in his bed, woke in the middle of the night to find him intensely typing away at his computer. A few days later (just before the coffee-shop conversation took place), the friend was watching TV with my acquaintance where he saw his recent hookup offering perspectives on politics.
My acquaintance related this story as a means of “outing” this talking head. Yet, while my friends were more interested in the tale’s revelatory aspects, I was fascinated by the man’s post-sex productivity (havinglong been aware of his analytic gifts even if I didn’t always share his insights). A hookup couldn’t be bad, I pondered, if it helped this thoughtful man find inspiration for his work.
Perhaps some will fault me for insisting on seeing sexuality as more than just a means for two individuals to pleasure each other. I will acknowledge the observation and say in my defense that I find this hedonistic reduction tends to diminish sex, objectifying each partner. Indeed, in the aforementioned situation (which I cite to show a potential beneficial aspect of a random hookup), the pundit used my acquaintance’s friend as an object to help remove a creative block.
All this just illustrates my point about the complexity of sexuality and the need to discuss this issue and to try to find an ethical framework in which to express our sexuality, a framework which both recognizes the potential of sexual intimacy to foster a more deeper spiritual intimacy between human beings and acknowledges the “necessity” of sexual expression as a means of release.
Having thought deeply about sexuality during the period last year when I elected celibacy, I learned that while celibacy may serve us well for a period of time, we human beings are designed to express ourselves sexually.
At the same time, sex is more than just a drive for pleasure and procreation. Those who try to dismiss the feelings of shame that often accompany sexual activity as nothing more than a cultural (or religious) creation attempt to rewrite human nature. Such shame is a human reality, encountered among individuals in countless cultures and in nearly every age of recorded human history (or at least after humans started recording our emotions).
I guess what I’m just trying to say that when we consider our sexuality, we need to recognize both things, the naturalness of our sexual drive and the reality of sexual shame, to find, as I put it in a previous post, “the proper balance, that ancient Greek concept of moderation and harmony.” I’m far from the first to say this.
Perhaps, my thoughts today are not as well-organized as I would like. I know I’ll take these topics up again in future posts, but do hope they remind you to consider these fundamental issues as I invite you to join my congregation tonight for what promises to be a stimulating discussion.
If you don’t live in LA and do, but can’t make it tonight, I encourage you to use the comment thread to build on the points I made here or take issue with them, to, at least, keep the conversation going. Perhaps it will have reverberations beyond this blog — or perhaps it will help you find a deeper meaning in this natural human instinct. Such is my hope.