“But if we accept homosexuality, what then? It will be anything goes.”
The Bible (as interpreted by a certain type of Christian) was the only guidebook for life she’d ever been given — “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”
If “the Bible” was “wrong” about “homosexuality,” then what? How would we live? What will guide us?
My response left her speechless: “I mean, I have a sexual ethic too.”
She had literally never considered that a gay person might have a sexual ethic.
I can’t tell you how many times some anti-queer person has said to me “We all struggle with temptations. Sometimes I want to steal or hurt people or cheat on my wife but I don’t because the Bible says it’s wrong” and each and every time I’m the one that is left speechless.
If the only reason you aren’t punching people in the face and breaking commitments you made to your spouse is because you’re worried God will punish you, then I’m not sure I want to be your friend.
The blessing—and the challenge—of being LGBTQ is that we get to create our own sexual ethics. The script we’ve been given—one man and one woman who wait until marriage to have sex and never get divorced—just doesn’t hold up anymore. In fact, I’m not sure it ever held up. What about the patriarchs of the Bible with many wives (and concubines and slaves)? What about Paul’s insistence on celibacy, with marriage as a last resort for those who weren’t strong enough to be celibate? What about the admonishment that rapists marry their victims?
I wish I could say that as soon as I came out I put together a healthy sexual ethic, but I didn’t.
At first, I tried to apply the same one my evangelical Christian faith had given me, with just the one minor adjustment of “it’s OK to be gay.”
Wait until you’re married to have sex (or at least until you’re in a really serious relationship)
- Don’t look at pornography
- Masturbation is sketchy at best and sinful at worst
- It’s bad to be sexually attracted to someone, that’s lust. You should only care about their heart.
When that became unsustainable, I would break but I didn’t have anything to fall back on. I’d have sex and even though he was nice and we cared about each other and had a safe, fun, consensual experience, I would come home and sit in my shower ashamed at myself for “giving in.”
This inability on my part to come up with a holistic sexual ethic put me in vulnerable situations:
- I often had sex late at night when I was worn down or tired or lonely. That wasn’t good for my mental health: it created an impression that sex was secretive and shameful.
- I often had sex when I was intoxicated. Would I have chosen that partner? Would I have engaged in all of those activities?
- I cut off otherwise healthy relationships if they got sexual “too soon” because I felt like that wasn’t what God wanted but then, later, I would have sex with people I knew less well.
It’s tough to look back at your life and say “I’m not sure I would have made those same decisions today.” I’m the type of person that wants to live without regret. I want to be able to reclaim all of my experiences—even the less than ideal ones—and learn from them, to own them as part of my journey, to choose to not be a victim. At some point though, I looked back and said “I want to start making different choices.”
Here are some of the guidelines I’ve put together for myself:
- I want to have relationships founded on honesty, communication, consent, and trust
- Sex is good and natural. It can also be used maliciously or take up more space in my life than I’d like. I want to be in communication with my sex life.
- I want to see each sexual and romantic partner as a full person and I want to respect their agency and autonomy.
- I want to honor the commitments I’ve made to my partners.
- I want to have sex only while sober so I’m in the best position to make responsible choices for myself and my partners.
- I want to take steps to keep myself and my partners mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy
That’s where I’m at right now; ask me again next month or tomorrow and it might be different. The Bible says all sorts of messed up things about sex and relationships—most of those are products of their time and place and authors. Jesus does say to “love your neighbors” as yourself though; what it might it look like to make that a guiding principle in search of a sexual ethic?
Whether a relationship lasts a lifetime or only a few minutes, what might it mean to see the Christ in each person we encounter? For some people that will look like decades of monogamous togetherness, for others that might mean a kinky romp in a dungeon complete with paddles and consensual name-calling.
I come back often to the words of Paul,
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
When I was a child, everything was black and white. The Bible had one consistent message and it was from God, the world had another message and it was from the devil. Sex before marriage was always wrong. Divorce was always wrong. Masturbation was probably wrong so let’s just not risk it, okay?
A world structured like that is easy to live in. Or, at least it seems easy to live in. Of course, we know through research that evangelical Christians have sex and affairs at the same or higher rates than their secular counterparts and that Christian youth who take “abstinence pledges” are more likely to have unsafe sex.
Still, it’s comforting to think that God has a perfect plan for my life written down for me somewhere.
Reality is messy though and life takes work. Our sex lives are no different. Fr. Shay has chosen to be celibate and I’m confidently sexually active before marriage. Those are two different ways of interacting with sexuality but what we have in common is that we (eventually) came to those positions from places of honesty, vulnerability, confidence, love, self-worth, and power. Most importantly, we both we feel free to make other choices if we determine that’s what we need.
It’s exciting, isn’t it, to be in charge of our own sexual ethic? A little scary, but exciting nonetheless… kinda like faith (and sex).
Photo by Matt Kulisch. Used with permission. All rights reserved.