I want to give you goosebumps today.
The past year of pandemic and lockdown has been an emotional rollercoaster for me and especially for my sexuality. In the early days of lockdown, I was itching with cabin fever. I was missing friends. I was missing dancing at the gay club. I was missing flirting and hooking up and dating. I was missing new connections. I was missing old connections.
Mostly, I was looking forward to a day, hopefully soon, when we could all get back out there.
In the six or so months before lockdown began, I’d started talking with and hooking up with a new interest. We’d see each other every few weeks, sometimes more frequently and sometimes less frequently, and it was a sweet mix of sex, cuddles, and hanging out.
Then, the pandemic broke out in the USA and we all retreated to our household bubbles. We texted often, sometimes exchanging sexy pics, and imagined what we’d do whenever we were able to meet up. I was interested in having him over to spend the night, he dreamt of going out dancing together, I proposed hooking up on my balcony at night sometime and he was very interested. “Hopefully soon” was the recurring theme. Hopefully soon.
For a while, lockdown created a sense of longing. It created space for self-reflection. On a practical level, it opened up the ability for me to get back on unemployment which was a huge help.
I kept up with as many of the “sexual resolutions” I’d set as I could. I had phone sex for the first time.
In those early days, we hoped it would be temporary. “Hopefully soon” we’ll be back to dates and cuddles and parties.
Nearly a year later, we are still very much inside (at least in the United States, where I live).
Nearly a year later, we’ve all been touched by the pandemic in profound ways. Entire industries have been shut down for close to a year. Too many of us have lost loved ones to COVID (most of us know someone who has). We’ve missed birthday parties and funerals, cancelled weddings and postponed graduation celebrations.
A year of lockdown has taken its toll on relationships. Friendships have drifted. Some of us have been unable to afford rent in the places we live and have moved away or in with family. New romantic relationships that had the spark of something exciting in February 2020 didn’t have the fuel needed to sustain themselves.
Under the weight of the dual pandemics of the novel coronavirus and centuries-old systemic racism, our individual and collective psyches are taking a hit.
OF COURSE our romantic and sexual relationships, with others and with ourselves, are going to be affected by ::gestures around:: all this!
Like many others have experienced at one point or another over the past year, at some point in the past few months, something shifted in me sexually, too.
Sexting stopped being exciting. I lost some of the interest in keeping in touch with friends and flirts. I don’t think it’s just me, either. In March and April, my “close friends” stories on Instagram were full of thirsty snaps, now they’ve all but dried up. My stress has been up and my sex drive has been down.
Like, barely there down.
With that, came a whole host of feelings and questions: longing and loss, a clearer sense of my aging and mortality, stress and uncertainty about the future.
What does it mean to relate to myself sexually in a new way? What does how my partner and I relate to each other sexually, in this moment, mean about our relationship?
I know I’m not the only one: how have YOU noticed yourself relating to sex and sexuality differently over the past year?
There’s nothing good or bad our sex drives going up or down, about having more or less sex, about wanting or not wanting to relate others in any particular way.
That’s one of the beautiful parts of queer, Christian sexuality and sexual ethics: no matter what stage of life or coming out or transition or self-discovery we’re in, there is something to learn about ourselves and through that to learn about each other and the divine.
Asexual? Celibate? Monogamous? Polyamorous? Partnered? Single? An ethical slut? Demisexual? Sexually fulfilled? Sexually frustrated? Confident? Confused? Something else entirely? However you experience and practice your sexuailty, there is incredible value in taking your sexuality — and your sex life — seriously.
This moment, right in the middle of a pandemic, when maybe you aren’t having very much sex at all (or you’re having it and feel shame or judgement for that, or you’re not even sure what your sex life is “supposed” to look like), is a powerful opportunity to rediscover your body, connect with your desires, and integrate your sexuality with your faith and values.
And as it turns out, some of the most important work you can do doesn’t involve anyone else.
1 Corinthians 6:19 says,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
This is one of those passages that is sometimes used against LGBTQ+ people (and women and anyone desiring sexual or bodily autonomy). “Your body is a temple, don’t transition.” “Your body is a temple, don’t have sex.” “Your body is a temple, it is not your own.”
Your body is a temple, be grateful for it.
Your body is a temple, take care of it.
Your body is a temple, worship with it.
Your body is a temple, enjoy it.
If your body is a temple, it has something to teach you. To learn, you must attend that temple. You’ve got to pay attention to it and follow-up on what you discover.
In the Sanctuary Collective Slack community (which is also where discussion for courses like Faithful Sexuality happens), I’ve seen the ripple effect that paying attention to your body and sexuality can have in folks’ lives.
One participant shared how they’d been working through how dysphoria gets in the way of exercising but when they are able to do it, the activity of moving their body leads to some euphoria.
Another person shared how getting elbow crutches led to their body feeling “SO HAPPY” and like they could do anything. That experience then connected to messages they’d previously learned about themselves and about God: they’d previously received the message to deny their needs. What a cold, limiting vision of God! How much more fully can we experience God’s overwhelming love when our body is cared for.
I’ve previously shared about learning more about God’s love through casual sex:
These days, I’m exploring how God can be experienced in waiting, in longing, in a slow-burning desire, in a home-cooked meal by someone who cares about you.
I’m looking forward to hearing how the divine is reflected in the lives of the newest cohort of Faithful Sexuality students — monogamy, polyamory, marriages between queer folks and straight people, blended families, sexless relationships, celibacy, and more. God is in all of it! Waiting for us to explore and discover.
This pandemic has peeled back a lot of the pretense and illusions of our lives. We are confronted with ourselves on an individual and communal level. What are you discovering? How might you grow and thrive?
Here’s what I want you to do:
Take 5 minutes to pay attention to your body
To do that, first we need to change things up and break you out of your un-attentive habits. Notice your shoulders: what are they doing? Curved forward? Shrugged up? Cocked crooked? How do they feel? Now change something in them. What do you feel now?
That was the warm-up! It’s time, in just a moment, to put your phone down or get from your desk.
First, if you are able, sit directly on the floor, in any manner that feels comfortable. If there’s a rug or a cushion on the ground, you can sit on that too.
Next, touch the floor. What do you feel? What is the texture? The temperature? What else, if anything, happens to your body when you touch it?
Then, add in some movement. Run your fingers through the carpet, scrape your nails along the wood or linoleum, maybe trying pressing down against the floor.
Next, touch your body. Run your fingers over your forearm. Scratch your scalp. Feel the texture of your hair, your stubble, your skin, your scabs.
What happens when you squeeze a body part? Flick it? Pinch it?
Try closing your eyes and playing with the above prompts. Or putting in headphones and turning on some rhythmic, lyric-free music. How does that change your experience?
If you haven’t already done so, pause and do this right now. If you really can’t do it right now, set an alarm or put it in your calendar to remember to do it later today.
What does any of this have to do with sexual ethics?
Our bodies are incredible and we spend our whole lives in them but it can be easy to take them for granted or not even really knowing what is going on with them. This is true about our sexuality too — attractions (or lack thereof), our drive, our desires — we live in relationship to our sexuality constantly but it’s easy to not notice that. To think of sex as something we do or get or avoid or aren’t interested in.
Regardless of how much sex you’re having or not having, whether you are allosexual or asexual, romantically inclined or aromantic, whether you’re horny or mellow, whether you’re not really sure at all, we all relate to sexuality in some way. This little practice is a small step toward paying attention to ourselves again: noticing our bodies and how we can use them and how that feels for us.
I invite you to repeat this practice tomorrow. You’ll be in a different place — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. What new sensation will come up for you then?
Then, I invite you to continue playing with the practice.
What else could you use as you explore the sensations of your body? An ice cube? A heating pad? A big fluffy quilt? A feather? The tip of a pen cap? Introduce some curiosity and play. As you return to this practice, you’re invited to expand it: what happens when you bring an intention of pleasure to it? Sensuality? Celebration? Rest? Relaxation? Strength? Boundary-pushing-ness? Is there someone you want to invite to explore with you?
There’s no goal. No finish line of orgasm or pentration or “sex” or anything else that needs to be crossed. The practice is only about reconnecting with your body, with what it feels and how it responds. Attention is the intention.
From that small seed of attention to the physical sensations of our body, we can spread the practice of attention to all areas of our lives.
Imagine what changes if each one of us knew ourselves deeply, lived boldly with integrity, and approached every relationship — friend, family, lover, or something in between — with sacred care.
As humans who live in community with other people — and especially who live in cultures swirling with sexual and romantic messages — figuring out how WE want to relate to sex and sexuality is a life-giving project for each of us.
In 1962, Robert Anton Wilson wrote for the Mattachette Review,
Sex denial is very close to being absolutely impossible, and — as the subtle Jesuits knew long before Freud — even when the would-be ascetic thinks he has “triumphed” over the flesh, it sneaks up on him from a new direction and takes him by surprise. Thus, the inevitable consequence of sex denial is guilt: that special guilt which comes of continual failure to accomplish that which you consider “good.”
Claiming our sexual freedom is an important step in the process of claiming our whole freedom.
As we get more in touch with — and more comfortable with! — ourselves, we are able to relate to others with more intentionality, more precision, more grace, more gentleness.
Imagine parents and children being able to talk openly to keep kids safe, from both disease and asbuse.
Imagine the potential if we directed all the energy we now spend on surpressing ourselves and feeling shame on healing the world.
Imagine the impact that just one “possibility model” can make on someone’s life. As you heal yourself, who in your family or friend group or church community might see that and be inspired to take care of themselves.
Healing. Community. Action. Power. And it all gains steam when you pay more attention to yourself, your body, your desires, and your relationships.
That’s something you can start doing right now. And you don’t have to do it alone.
There is already a community of people who are figuring out what it means to live faithfully and queerly, to enrich their own lives and bless their communities. We’re getting ready to go through Faithful Sexuality, an online course + community to recover from shame & purity culture, integrate your sexuality and your spirituality, and live even more boldly into both. You are invited to join us. Learn more and register at queertheology.com/faithful-sexuality