Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Really Need You Tonight

There is really nothing more to say--except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye.

The traditional teaching of chastity to our teenagers goes something like, "Sex outside of marriage is wrong." Then, it's followed by a laundry list of things one mustn't do so that you couldn't possibly have sex before marriage: touch any area covered by a swimming suit, be alone with a boy in the basement watching movies, be alone with a girl in a car with a bench seat, look at pornography on the Internet, and (this is my personal one) listen to and see any Shakira videos (Have you see the She-wolf video? It's depraved. And I'm desensitized). The repercussions of such activities are dread: Illegitimate children, sexual disease, immorality, loss of virginity. All those things that might possibly happen and which would spell the end of life as you know it. And so, sexual intimacy is run through with a thread of fear, colored with the forbidden, and becomes a place to either run from or to peer around the edge at with the morbid curiosity of children, forbidden to eat sugar, looking into the pantry of their friend, whose mother apparently owns stock in General Mills.

But then our children notice images, sounds, lyrics, dialogue that portrays sex generally--inside and outside of marriage--as really rather fun. During their first forays into sexual intimacy, the feelings that accompany their exploration are exhilarating. Those feelings don't feel wrong, in and of themselves. How does something supposed to be so wrong feel so good? There's a disconnect between what they hear at church and possibly at home and what they feel within themselves.

For the sake of my children, of my almost-adult Julia, and my three boys who are charging into sexual maturity and therefore sexual interest, there must be a better way to teach the principle that sexual purity, even waiting until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse, is a better way. Not the only way, we have to recognize, but a better way than the satisfying of an appetite that is commonly portrayed. And, teaching a better way must center on principles, not laundry lists of what actions are wrong, until you both say “Yes,” and then the whole smorgasbord is open for business (Because that in and of itself is a little confusing; at least it was for me).

What reason is there for reserving physical intimacy for marriage, besides, the Lord forbade it? In all honesty, the logical reasons that WERE given for maintaining moral purity aren't as convincing anymore.

Traditionally, I would think, the concern for children born outside of marriage and their accounting for in the legal system drove much of the proscriptions against extra-marital sex. However, given the development of science and technology, some of the traditional reasons for abstaining from sex until marriage don't apply anymore. Birth control prevents the conception of unwanted children. Thus, careful people (adults and teenagers) can engage in sex 99.5 percent of the time without getting pregnant.

If birth control should fail (real birth control, taken regularly, every day at the same time, not like the 7 out of 10 pills I took before our July 7 wedding which method resulted in Julia Rose due April 8 of the next year) and a child is conceived and delivered, then science can now take care of prickly legal issues. The fetus can now be aborted in relative physical safety to the mother--one option. Or the child can be delivered and adopted out--another option. Or, the child can be kept without many of the legal and social ramifications that used to haunt "illegitimate" or "bastard" children.

Blood and DNA testing allows one to establish paternity even if the parents are not married to each other. This allows children born outside of a marriage to lay claim to inheritances, land, and other benefits of identifying their biological father. This also allows the mother to lay claim on support for the child from the biological father.

If, as we read in law school, a wife, married to a husband, should have sex with a man outside of her marriage that results in a child, prior to DNA testing, the law recognized the child as the husband's, even though he didn't contribute any DNA to the child. The law still does recognize that child as legally his. But, if that frisky sire was really rich, then, today, the child could establish the identity of its biological father through DNA testing and lay legal claim to a share of its rightful inheritance. Or, as in the case of Anna Nicole’s child, if the child turns out to be really rich, the father could use DNA to establish it was his contribution that spawned the child and so get at the family jewels that way.

So, children born without the legal identity of a father can now inherit. Women who give birth without the financial protection of a husband can now lay claim for support. Sex does not generally end in pregnancy. Sexual diseases can be treated, although not entirely cured so one doesn't have to watch one's nose rot off as used to be the case with syphilis. But, the prohibition remains: no sex outside of marriage.

Traditional science would have us believe that actions of the body are separate actions. Descartes theorized that the world was like a clock, made of separate parts, and all science/philosophy had to do to understand existence was to break apart the pieces. In his theory of dualism, the mind and the body were distinct entities. The mind exists apart from the body, and does not exist in space. Likewise, the body exists but does not think. In a theory like this, one could, I suppose, engage in repeated sexual acts without them having an effect on the mind or the soul.

In the middle of the century, quantum mechanics challenged the theory of separation. Quantum mechanics views the world as being in constant dynamic interaction; nothing, no event nor action, is independent of all others and exists in and of itself. In a world interpreted by quantum mechanics, separate events are not really separate. All events are interconnected and interdependent. Every part of the body knows what the other parts of the body are doing and responds accordingly. Every part of the soul is aware of what the body is doing, and responds accordingly.

Given that, I believe that our body and spirit respond in kind to when the body and heart move toward intimacy. A heart that begins to love will move the body to press forward. A body that becomes intimate will inspire a heart to long for sustained, emotional intimacy. When one happens without the other, the physical and spiritual pathways get confused and work against each other.

Remember Julia Roberts as Vivian in Pretty Woman? Her rule was she did not kiss on the lips. She could do all other sexual acts, but kissing on the lips, requires an intimacy and an honesty that disturbed her. Kissing requires face time; it's a moment of truth: the moment in which you smell him, taste his breath, his skin, and you look into his eyes. The moments where you find out, in a precursor, whether you fit together. I imagine Vivian thought that if she did not kiss, then she did not have to engage in the soul-seeking and -identifying behavior that accompanies kissing. Because, in a very real way, a kiss is always a question: Who are you? Will you? Can I? Under the influence of the kiss, the body and soul, working in awareness of each other, respond according to design.

I realize that not all cultures kiss like Western cultures do; but there must be some other method of intimacy that precedes intercourse itself and that serves as a gateway to the assessment of whether this body fits with my body, and thus this soul with my soul. Eskimos stand nose to nose. Still she breathes him in. Other cultures press forehead to forehead. Another moment to stop, to breathe, to smell and to wait for him to register, like a bolt sliding home, or a lock tumbling open.

Like kissing, physical intimacy is the portent of a promise. When a woman opens herself to a man and takes him into her body, she opens the center of herself to him. The opening of her body mirrors the opening of a soul. I know there's sex when the grocery list is running through your head, but, then there are other times. Those times when your eyes are wide open, and you can see, as you can feel, through his and through him to the very center, not just of your own union, but almost to the meaning of us all.

In traditional Episcopalian wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom vow: “with my body I thee worship.” This language of betrothal promises that each party will use their body to reverence the other. In this vow, physical intimacy becomes, in a very real way, the reverencing of your spouse. The use of “worship” also suggests that physical intimacy is more than just a linking of bodies, but is instead an activity of both body and soul. When joined, the bodies become the physical evidence of the emotional and spiritual commitment. It's this act, fittingly, that has the potential to give rise to another human being.

Some try to characterize sexual intimacy as just the fulfilling of a bodily appetite, like urination or hunger. The teaching of sex as an appetite, and talking about it as “having” ignores the interconnected body/spirit reality in which we live. This thinking returns us to the Cartesian duality of a separate body and mind. In my life, spirit, blood, and muscle are all connected. I cannot promise with my body and renege with my spirit without causing an effect in my life, in the life of the person I join with, and in the lives of those who follow me and him. The lie at the center of that impatient act colors everything.

How many times can one open one’s very center to another person and another person and another person without being torn apart? The incongruency between the intimate body and the uncommitted heart and mind would lead, I am convinced, to a broken idealism. Each encounter of bodily intimacy would call out to a wary heart, begging it to follow, promising, like the boy who cried “Wolf,” that this time it’s for real. If that were me, and I’m speaking only for me, I would fracture under the duplicit hopefulness of it all.

Because it is tied, at the heart of its function, to the creation of another human being, and to the clothing of a soul, sex is more than just appetite. Because it has the capacity to open worlds, and to allow men and women to participate in the creation of another world, sex is more than just biology. Because physical intimacy, not even sex, can leave you feeling discarded and utterly bereft, it's better entered into body and soul. Because I have been there and been part of it when it has taken me to the very center of myself, and my husband, I recognize and will teach that sex is always about the body and the soul—mine, his and the ones that will be.

For me, physical intimacy is, literally, about “making love”; it’s about giving and about receiving. It’s not about “having” sex, like having a drink of water or a swig of condensed milk. It’s an act of building, of repromising, and of closing the gap. It can be worship of the most poignant, tender kind that fills body and soul with wonder. Those moments are more likely to be found with the one with whom you fit, whose breath and smell you know and love, whom you have vowed to stand by and to support and to whom you have returned time and time again.

For all these reason, I will teach my children it’s better to wait.

From: Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"


  1. This is exactly the way I think. I have long wrestled with the dilemma of how to convince kids that do not yet have a testimony to avoid potentially damaging behaviors. You can't expect someone to obey God's laws when they're not so sure about God. Even amongst people who have strong testimonies, obedience for obedience's sake is pretty rare. What child wants to hear "Because I said so!" as the answer to every "Why?" Not this one.

    Well said!

  2. When I was in college (which was not BYU or any church school, but which did have a heavily Mormon population), I took a "Courtship and Marriage" class from a tremendously wise man, who was a bishop, a licensed counselor, and the father of 8 children. He pointed out that EVERY interaction we have with someone else--even smiling at someone in the grocery store, makes an impact on us. We take a tiny bit of them, and leave a bit of ourselves.

    The more physical the contact, the more of our self we leave (which is why we hug our friends and shake hands with a business associate). The bonds of physical intimacy--and not just the sex act, but all of the other things that go with it--create one of the strongest bonds possible.

    If the relationship is broken, it actually rips away part of your soul with it. (look at how love turns to hate in divorces, and the soul-gaping pain of a widower). The more people you are casually sexually intimate with, the more times your soul is torn. They have actually done studies that show that people who have frequent, casual sex age faster than people in monogamous relationships, AND prostitutes age about 10x faster than their peers (which explains why THOSE girls in HS always seemed so much older than I was!).

    He also gave me my FAVORITE analogy: A marriage is like building a brick wall. Communication is the bricks and sex is the mortar. Your wall will never be as strong as it could optimally be if you try to get away without either one.

    My wise mother also taught me that sex is not always "romantic" like the movies. It reflects every emotion that the human heart carries, and can be comforting, uplifting, loving or even funny. That is also why it can have such a negative side--fear, pain and terror are the other side of the coin.

    My own thought is about how much of our self esteem is wrapped up in our sexuality. Both in finding ourselves "desirable", but (as in the classic free market example) our rarity makes us more or less valuable--to ourselves as well as to others.

  3. This post has been a complete answer to prayer. Thank you for sharing what I needed hear today.

  4. Prism,

    You said exactly what I wanted to say and was hinting at with the quantum physics. I just ran out of room and reader attention.

    Physicist Fritjof Capra summarized quantum physicist Geoffrey Chew as follows: "The bootstrap philosophy declares that we must abandon the idea of fundamental building blocks of matter. There are no fundamental entities whatsoever--no fundamental constants, laws or equations. The material universe is seen as a dynamic web of interrelated events. None of the properties of any part of this web is fundamental. They all follow from the properties of other parts, and the overall consistency of their interrelations determines the structure of the entire web."

    Taking into account language that describes creation as "organization" of already existent matter, the theory of quantum physics rings through to me. Those whom I touch touch me. Their matter and parts take my matter and parts and vice versa. Each interaction is part of the web and ripples out beyond ourselves. Each physical interaction has implications, consequences and ramifications that we cannot control by just "not thinking" about it.

  5. Taking Prism's comments into account about sex is not always romantic, I would like to add another line to the second to last paragraph,

    "Because physical intimacy, not even sex, can leave you feeling discarded and utterly bereft, it must be entered into body and soul."

  6. Another side note--If I had not gotten married in the best place in the world (Washington DC Temple), and had been in the position that so many brides find themselves in--that of "choosing their own vows", I definitely would have used that wedding vow (preferably uttered to Anthony Andrews as Lord Percy Blakeny, in my all time favorite wedding scene!) Insert wistful sigh here.
    However, I do feel that that particular vow is tremendously wise.

  7. I want the trumpets that come out of the choir seats in Love Actually when Keira Knightly gets married.

  8. Trumpets (actually, any brass instrument) make EVERYTHING better! Truly! Check out this one, which is SO MUCH BETTER with a brass section!

    I loved most of "Love, Actually", and it makes me sad that they felt the need to put SO MUCH swearing in (I keep telling myself the swear words don't count if they are "in British"--but I watch so many English shows--and the words keep popping into my head, so I guess that wishful thinking is out!).

  9. I love having someone else to talk to who understands how all things fit together--so that having a conversation on the quantum physics of sex makes perfect sense!

  10. This is the best piece I have read on sex in a long, long time - maybe since Jeffrey Holland's Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments. But I love this woman's perspective. I love the honesty and vulnerability of it. It's the kind of discussion our children need if they are going to grow into sexually mature spouses. Thanks, Tessa.

  11. Hello you . . .

    I was thinking about you the other day, not prompted by anything else, just out of the blue. And wondering how you were and what you were doing. Nice to be back in the same circles again.

    In my neck of the woods ever?

  12. Thank you for this post. I printed it out and referred my daughter (adult dtr with teenagers) to your post also. I appreciate having something more to share with my grandchildren about why they should wait for intimacy. I also have enjoyed your other posts and am always excited when I find that you have posted again.