Handle with care
Q:Do your religious beliefs exalt or stigmatize sex (or both)? Is religion a useful tool for helping young people navigate the treacherous world of sex, love and relationships? Does religion present an alternative view of sex and sexual relationships to the culture at large? Should it?
Even as an expression of love, sex is about a willingness to make yourself vulnerable to another person, to be exposed, literally in your nakedness, to another. Which is why it can be hurtful, diminishing and dangerous, or it can be beautiful, transformative and sustaining. The role of religion in a sex-drenched culture is to offer some guidelines on how to minimize suffering and maximize the possibility of holiness in sexual relationships.
Jewish sources celebrate sex as an essential dimension of life. One well known teaching posits that on the Day of Judgment we will be held accountable for all of life's pleasures that we did not taste. The Rabbis of the Talmud talk shamelessly about when, where and in what position. But one of the most helpful texts in getting to the heart of the Jewish understanding of sex and relationships comes from Maimonides. There are three classes of relationships, he writes - the first of which is a utilitarian association that depends on reciprocal usefulness. Two people need each other and they engage in a way that is mutually beneficial and perhaps even mutually enjoyable, but the encounter has no lasting effect. Neither of them is changed from the experience, and the relationship collapses the moment its utility disappears because there is nothing else to sustain it.
The second is a relationship based on more than practical usefulness. Two people share moments of joy and are able to comfort one another through suffering. They are friends - counseling and listening to one another, offering support and care. This kind of relationship involves a certain level of love and devotion.
The third kind is when two people come together in a relationship that involves the whole being of both, whose spirits - like their hearts and bones - become intertwined. They see deeply into one another, and allow themselves to be seen deeply. And they are desperately invested in working together to build something beyond them, something that reflects their shared values and dreams. This, Maimonides teaches, is the highest form of human connectedness and is indeed very rare and precious. If you are lucky enough to achieve this kind of relationship in your life it may not last forever, but it will certainly change you forever.
What is sex about? Is it about reducing another person into an object in your quest to achieve momentary fulfillment? Is it about expressing care, mutual affection, shared interest? Or is it about experiencing another person in a way that is so deep, so profound, that neither of you will ever be the same?
There is no question that we are different people when we allow ourselves to enter into one kind of relationship versus another. If we see ourselves as worthy only of sex in the context of a utilitarian kind of relationship, we will never be loved deeply. If we believe that we deserve to be seen, our relationships will be imbued with holiness, preciousness and possibility.
Life becomes meaningful in the context of relationships and growth becomes possible only when we become vulnerable, which is why sex, romance and love are so dangerous and so powerful. From a Jewish religious standpoint, sex is a precious gift and the body is a sacred site - and therefore must be handled with tremendous care.
Posted by: APaganplace | April 25, 2010 1:57 PM
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