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A few random points...

(Assume Christian POV)

- How do you know what is, or is not, againt any God's will?

- Could Tantric and similar knowledge not be planted by (say) Satan, given that it's coming from a non-Christian source? After all, this entire world was created by God, along with its temptations and distractions - Christians need to pick their way around the temptations, including those of the flesh.

- John Paul II stipulated that there must be a reason not to procreate before the choice becomes allowable. The default position, therefore, is that Catholics should procreate unless there are reasons not to. The question, then, is around the allowable reasons for not procreating. Which of the following might be allowable? a) there's a chance that a pregnancy will kill the mother; b) the family can't afford the food for another child; c) the family *can* afford the food but doing so will cause other Catholics to starve; d) ditto but causing non-Catholics to starve; e) we need to quarter the population of the planet if we want to keep the resource consumption sustainable and allow future generations of Catholics to exist at all.

(Remove assumtions about Christian point of view)

- Since we're already challenging assumptions here, let's examine another one: there's a repeated statement in this piece that Abortion Is Bad (although it may be the least bad action in some cases). With my stirring spoon firmly in hand... is this necessarily so?

Why can't everything be stupid-proof? I just killed my really long comment, so here's a synopsis.

Liberal view: do what you like, with who you like, as long as it’s consensual.
Problem: how many people are really affected by the act, and thus need to consent? If no one that you are responsible for is affected, should you take responsibility for your partners' responsibilities - should you cuckold someone you don't know, or even worry about it?

The Pope: an old man, with no life experience combarable to that of his flock, and no chance of knowing every scientific and societal fact pertinent to his decisions.
There is the potential to change, but not in a timely fashion or with sufficient foresight.
This system causes grevious harm with its prohibition on condoms. It is unrelenting and unrepentant (how many priests have spoken out about the medical necessity for condoms? I'm curious). There is the potential to change, but hardly the will.

"since those who hold Liberal sexual beliefs have no restriction on masturbation, shouldn’t all such people learn to be the master of their sexual urges through direct, personal action"

Boo hiss, Chris. I call that poor insight.
Masturbation almost certainly already does as much as it can for the sexual liberal. Who doesn't masturbate? People who think its a sin.

Besides (and more importantly), sex isn't even the point. It's more about the game that's played on the way to the sex. The process is the point, not the goal. It's an ego trip, but in the best possible way. It's a validation of oneself as a human being, and forcing that to be a constant search for long term partners isn't necessary.
High-achievers have often been (wo)manisers, not because they need an extra hit of ego-stroking, but because it's hard to maintain a stable process of mutual validation with just one person when your ego is so large to begin with. I would say...

The degenerative cycle of liberal sexual relations is, I think, really more about lack of insight into, and respect for, other people. It's the idea that someone is less worthwhile because they agree to sleep with you within hours or days of meeting (minutes may or may not be pushing it :D ).

If I had to, I'd point the finger for that tendency at deep-seated conservatism clashing with surface liberalism, so deep-seated that the person in question isn't even aware.

If I had to, I'd say just gnothi seauton.

Hey Chris,

It's not often that I post on your blog for once! I like your consideration of sex beyond Christian bodies of belief. I have these points:

1. We were raised Catholic; they told us in sex education that 'this is the Catholic view'; they said that if we decided otherwise it is ultimately our choice, but either way, we must always accept responsibility for the consequences. Responsibility for sexual conduct is important; consider here the underlying power relations between subjects in sex.

2. Your conceptions and intuitions about sexual expression seem quite limited to: marital vs. nonmarital sex, contraception, adultery and emotional relationships enacting sexual relations. You need to think wider, my friend...

(I'm not giving you any hints to made you think wider...I might scare your readers)

Sexuality is a very wide concept. Perhaps even wider than my intuitions about sex. Perhaps problem cases or irregular cases will highlight this:

i. Feeders
ii. BDSM
iii. Male mutual masturbation (circle jerking)
iv. Snuff
v. Fantasy enactments
vi. Fuck buddies

Better still, consult S. Morgan's "Sex in the Head" sometime. It has quite interesting insights on our construal of sexuality.

Sex is far beyond morality; for some, it is life itself (not for me unfortunately, Kant is life itself... :()

I like this post. It reminds me of our own writing at NR.

Michael and Sinistre

I'd like to challenge your claim that a liberal stance results in more incidences of abortion. Studies suggest that abstinence campaigns have no effects on sexual behaviours, which implies that there is the same amount of sex being had on the liberal and christian sides of the fence.

I don't have the study link to back it up, but I would suggest that a liberal sexual perspective would result in better uses of contraceptives, and less (not more) need for abortion, due to fewer unwanted pregnancies.

Also, you seem to argue that if you're going to sin, you may as well sin big, which seems a rather weak argument in favour of contraception - clearly there are gradiations of sin - I can't imagine any sane human, religious or otherwise, agreeing that taking the lords name in vain is really comparable to murder or rape.

Overall, yet another thought provoking article, though I fear that reason and religion are like oil and water.

Also, you seem to argue that if you're going to sin, you may as well sin big, which seems a rather weak argument in favour of contraception

That's assuming you consider contraceptives to be a worse sin than having sex outside of marriage. I would put it the other way around -- if you're going to murder someone, you might as well take his wallet, too. Not like he needs it.

On another topic, a lot of what we have is people with liberal views wearing conservative t-shirts -- or, I think more likely, we have people with no particular views (but various t-shirts) who want to have sex. There's no logic or reasoned morality behind it, just want.

Hmmm... lots of interesting comments, but light on feedback from the Christians, to whom this piece spends most of its time considering. Anyway, here are some quick responses.

Peter: while obviously you could dismiss other religions as "satanic" - and some ignorant people do - I think it would be a waste of my time to try to fight this battle here. Some Christians do read me, and I clearly have a syncretic attitude to religion, so I'm assuming any Christians who read this will at least accept the premise of this attitude (which of course, I like to link to the Sufi, but it exists in many different religious traditions).

I liked your "reasons not to procreate" and have nothing to add here. :)

As for "is abortion necessarily bad?" - in strict comparison between not becoming pregnant in the first place and having an abortion, clearly yes! Even if you only take into account the woman having the termination procedure, it is a physically and emotionally distressing process - no one likes it, as I've said before.

Thanks for getting the ball rolling!

zenBen: nice commentary on the consent issue - liked that.

"Boo hiss, Chris. I call that poor insight... Who doesn't masturbate? People who think its a sin."

You are mistaken, my friend - there are many, many people with Liberal sexual values who do not masturbate because they consider it dirty, or weak, or unpleasant or just simply not as good as sex. There are many people who engage in casual sex more often than they "need" to because they do not masturbate. It is a grave error to assume that everyone who is not a Christian masturbates.

"The degenerative cycle of liberal sexual relations is, I think, really more about lack of insight into, and respect for, other people."

Nice observation.

Sinistre/Michael: thanks for sharing this perspective - much appreciated!

"Your conceptions and intuitions about sexual expression seem quite limited to [list clipped]"

I assure you, they are not. This is a post about Christian attitudes towards contraception, therefore I have focussed on what was necessary to approach this issue.

I could waffle on about the many strange sexual beliefs I have encountered in my time, including but in no way restricted to the list you provide, but it wouldn't serve my purpose here. ;)

Thanks for the book suggestion!

Jules: "I'd like to challenge your claim that a liberal stance results in more incidences of abortion...."

Nice catch! Yes, I remember this report. However, consider this: how many people under the Christian sexual beliefs would even *consider* abortion? That sexual behaviour doesn't significantly change between the two sexual beliefs is only half the equation in this case. ;)

Trevel: "That's assuming you consider contraceptives to be a worse sin than having sex outside of marriage."

This is definitely the point here. Adultery is in the ten commandments; contraception is not.

"There's no logic or reasoned morality behind it, just want."

Yes, I agree with this. There is a certain point of view that says that the Liberal sexual belief is simply a post facto justification mechanism.

Anyway, out of time for now.

Thanks for the comments everyone! Very thoughtful.

"You are mistaken, my friend - there are many, many people with Liberal sexual values who do not masturbate"

That's as may be - I was over-stating again. Nevertheless my contention wasn't really to do with who does or doesn't practice masturbation anyway. I'm addressing the whole paragraph:
"I suggest that the Liberal sexual belief system could also use something of an overhaul. Instead of focussing on mere consent, perhaps people should consider entering into sexual relations only when there is mutual respect? Instead of pursuing sex as conquest, seeking to engage with as many sexual partners as possible, perhaps people should consider entering into fewer relationships but of greater quality? Most importantly, since those who hold Liberal sexual beliefs have no restriction on masturbation, shouldn’t all such people learn to be the master of their sexual urges through direct, personal action, rather than being a slave to their uncontrolled passions? "

The first point is valid enough - respect is vital, and again I think its the ghosts of conservatism in the liberal that deny it (hence implying the liberal can't truly respect themselves either).
The second kind of misses the point of sexual conquest. Its not really just about getting regular sex, and the term conquest skews the implication anyway. It could be seen as a meeting of minds, unless there is a denial of respect, so back to point one.
But then saying that masturbation could possibly take the place of sex in satisfying sexual urges is what strikes me as ridiculous. I've explained why in the comment above - it's not just about the sex!

zenBen: thanks for clarifying your case here; I take your point, although I'm not wholly convinced that sex can be reduced to conquest in this way. There are may other motivations behind sexual proclivity including sexual addiction, and compensation for loneliness.

But your general point, that the psychology of sex goes beyond the act itself, is well taken.

Best wishes!

What a wonderful insight. In my career as a relationship coach and tantrika, I have often had clients who were concerned that the study of Tantra might in some way be counter to their Christian religious beliefs.

I have always felt that any study or training that is helping the couple to intensify their intimacy and strengthen their bond is supporting their marriage commitment, and so is not conflicting with their religious commitment, especially since the practice of tantric techniques does not require worshipping any deity.

Thank you for adding this wonderful explanation.

Hi;
Found this entry (oddly enough) from a post about Mario Galaxy. Since you wanted to hear from more Christians, I'll bite;

You give the Catholic Church a fairer shake than most non-Catholics I've heard speak on this subject, but you are somewhat mistaken about the reasons for the Church's teachings on sexual ethics.

I'm going to take a Catholic POV here (because I am Catholic), so in order to aid reading I'm going to phrase the following as fact rather than belief:

The sexual faculty is sacred. It is the physical process through which new lives are created - in other words, through which new immortal souls are created. While man and woman provide the physical components (sperm and egg), God provides a spiritual component - if a new being is created in this exchange, the new being receives at that moment an immortal soul. This is, to understate it, a Very Big Deal.

The sexual faculty is created by God with both a unitive and procreative nature. It's a sacred gift given to us for those purposes. To strip it of either its unitive or procreative nature is a violation of the natural law: it abuses the gift by using it in a way other than it was created to be used.

This handily sums up a lot of the Church's teachings on sex. Non-vaginal sex strips the gift of its procreative nature; artificial insemination strips it of its unitive nature; masturbation strips it of both.

I pause here to mention further describe the unitive nature of the act - sex is intended to be a complete gift of oneself to the other, holding nothing back. This includes a complete giving of the body to the other. One of the natural traits of the body is fecundity, the ability to reproduce. Whether or not the woman is actually fertile (able to conceive at this very moment) does not change the fact that she is fecund (possesses the ability to conceive within her.) Similarly, the male's fecundity represents his ability to impregnate a woman, whether or not he actually does so during a given session of intercourse. To use artificial contraception is to deny one's fecundity to the other - it is not a complete giving of the self, but rather the holding back of part of oneself. (Indeed, how ironic that the trait that is withheld is one of the traits that defines our very sexuality!)

The reason that sex during the woman's natural nonfertile period is acceptable is because it does not change the meaning of the sexual act at all. Every sexual act is supposed to be accompanied by the sentiment "I wish to become one with you, and if this act results in a child, I willingly accept it." This message is written into the act itself by its very nature; the hearts of the participants are expected to match it. The fact that sex is reserved for times in which the woman is least likely to be fertile doesn't change this sentiment. If either spouse is unwilling in their heart to accept a child, or seeks to avoid children for selfish reasons, then intercourse itself should be refrained from (as it would conflict with the natural language of the body.)

In light of all this, it would appear that, although the Church (to my knowledge) has no official statement on it, tantric sex would be considered unacceptable by Catholic teachings. Orgasm is a use of the sexual faculty, and to deliberately avoid ejaculation would be not only to withhold the procreative nature of sex but also deny its unitive nature (as the male deliberately seeks to withhold his fecundity from the woman.)

I hope this clears up some points.

Carla Tara: glad this was of interest to you!

E: thank you so much for the comment! I really appreciate getting this detailed perspective from a Catholic angle... Shame I only get to call you by a letter, but I can live with it. :)

On the basis of what you say here, I still think Tantric sex is acceptable between married Catholic partners (at least, unofficially - obviously I am not a Catholic Pope and can't change doctrine!)

"Orgasm is a use of the sexual faculty, and to deliberately avoid ejaculation would be not only to withhold the procreative nature of sex but also deny its unitive nature (as the male deliberately seeks to withhold his fecundity from the woman.)"

Tantric sex isn't deliberate avoidance of ejaculation, but conscious delay of it. Tantric practictioners can and do still ejaculate on occasion. But, and this is key, Tantric sex is *orgasmic* even when it is not *ejaculatory* - which means, Tantric sex does not deny the unitive function.

In fact, I would go further: the unitive function of sex between a loving married couple is *heightened* in Tantric practice. I believe this is spiritual, and a God-given faculty.

The procreative function is not denied, per se, so much as it is downplayed - I still think there is a parallel here with the rhythm method, but there's sufficient ambiguity for it to be open to interpretation - especially in the absence of a Papal ruling.

Once again, thanks for expanding the Catholic position here. I appreciate it!

I have one thing to say to the Pope (and, for that matter, to the any other celibate cleric of whatever persuasion):

"You no play-a da game, you no make-a da rules."

Sorry, guys.

So, good news for heroin addicts, since only politicians who have taken heroin are allowed to make laws about it. :D

And how will we legislate suicide? ;)

A flippant reply that exposes deeper ugliness.

What's wrong with the notion that only those who have been addicted (and maybe recovered from) heroin are the ones best placed to decide what's needed about the issue?

What's wrong with the notion only those who have attempted suicide are the ones who can understand best what a suicidal is experiencing? (on the other hand, a relative of one who has committed suicide is best placed to consider issues faced by those people, etc).


So we see here the idea that these acts are a failing of a person that instantly disqualifies them from any kind of credibility.

But we dont stop generals from making war plans, and we dont stop sportsmen from becoming coaches? It's judging what people say by "sin" rather than "knowledge" - not a new thing to religious thought.

zeech: "What's wrong with the notion that only those who have been addicted (and maybe recovered from) heroin are the ones best placed to decide what's needed about the issue?"

What's wrong with this idea is simply that no aspect of any existing legislature is set up to work this way. It would require a radical reconstruction of the state apparatus. I'm open to the idea that such people could consult on such issues, but this still blows apart the jokingly-asserted argument that Ernest was making.

All I wanted to do was undermine the idea that one has to have direct experience of something to legislate (morally or legally).

I have no intention of participating in a democracy that, for instance, only allows murderers to make the rules concerning murder, and this was the (absurd) extension of Ernest's claim.

I think you jumped to some kind of conclusion here that wasn't warranted - I never said that heroin addicts or suicidal individuals were not credible, I merely pointed out that it's not the nature of our legislative bodies to require direct experience of something to rule upon it.

And why should it be?

does anyone know the name of the religious belief system that promotes sexual activity for spiritual growth and harmony?

Jay: are you thinking of Tantra, a Hindu/Buddhist/Jainist meditative practice, expressly intended to build a stronger spiritual bond between couples by enhancing their sexual unity?

If so, it would be odd, since this is a large part of the subject of this post. ;) If not, I'm not sure which belief system you mean.

I think Ernest's argument, taken more seriously, is the notion that you want the person legislating on an issue to have good knowledge of it.

Or conversely someone ignorant of a topic has no business legislating on it.


I dont think you can argue against that.

zeech: Well there's a boundary here: if we are talking about good knowledge, then I don't see why the Pope (say) can't have good knowledge about sex - there's no shortage of study materials. :)

You can claim that he doesn't have this knowledge if you like (although this is far from clear), but there's a limit to how far you can push the claim that he can't get access to good knowledge concerning sex without experience of it.

The direct thrust of Ernest (joking) assertion was that direct *experience* is needed. And this is clearly farcical, as I hope my prior objections have made clear.

In fact, in modern science, we value the ability to evoke "the view from nowhere" - direct experience is in fact sometimes considered suspect. Modern scientific knowledge is supposed to be valid independent of experience, and this being so, I see no reason to block the Pope from being a moral legislator on subjects about which he has no direct experience on some kind of epistemic claim - to do so would be to disqualify a large part of the scientific endeavour from validity (I can't understand quarks because I have no direct experience of them, say).

But I'm open to this kind of argument to a certain mischievous degree, since it would amuse me to block, say, Dawkins claims to speak authoritatively on the subject of God on the grounds that he cannot speak about something for which he, as someone who has never had a numinous experience, has no direct experience. >:)

I think the thing is (and I may have misread you), that you want to disqualify the Pope because you don't believe he has the requisite knowledge - you believe he is mislead by notions of sin, say, the validity of which you reject.

Well that might be an accusation against the current Pope's knowledge (although this is less than clear), but it's not an argument against the Pope being able to morally legislate on these subjects (at least to those people for whom he is a moral leader, who are the only ones who count here). For that, you would need to show the impossibility of this being a valid approach to moral legislation, and this does not appear to be the case.

Thanks for the discussion!

Well, you're framing it in discrete terms of yes/no, allowed/not allowed.

But if you think of it as a continuum, then it can certainly be argued that direct experience is a big booster to knowledge/qualification, indirect experience also a booster, and learned opinion only a small plus.

You say the Pope's lack of direct experience does not disqualify him from morally legislating on it, in the eyes of Catholics. Well, that's probably because, in those eyes, his various other qualifications push him "over the line". But I doubt his celibacy is considered a valuable source of knowledge on the topic.

You can find seeds of when lack of experience causes such figures to fall short of the "legitimacy acceptance line", in topics like when certain hardline priests forbid abortion under any circumstance, even if the mother is underage and pregnant from rape etc. You'll often find people who would fail to recognise moral authority here, due to the priests' lack of understanding on the issue. (the implication being that, if they had direct experience of such a thing, they could not hold such a position.)


However, I wont argue too hard against you, since I'm a person who loves to comment on things I have absolutely no experience or knowledge of, and have no wish to undercut my own moral authority :P


And of course, when it comes to these things there's always the disconnect between perception and some sort of imagined higher truth. Catholics might be perfectly fine with a celibate Pope giving decrees on sexuality, but "should" it be this way? Is this morally correct, as decided by logic, science, philosophy, the laws of all the Gods, the feelings of Gaia and other such sources of Ultimate Truth? A rainy-sunday-discussion indeed ;)

zeech: I enjoyed our discussion here, but I feel (and you seem to sense it too) that we have run our course without another interlocutor to re-energise debate. (If we wait a few months, someone may well pipe up!) ;)

I'll just end with the point I make quite often, which is that the great majority of modern Catholics do not follow all the moral imperatives stated by any given Pope. Taylor comments on this in "A Secular Age", and sees no contradiction in this state of affairs. More on this later in the serial, I imagine.

Best wishes!

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