Being Sexy, Being Whole

The blogosphere, not just the Christian blogosphere, has made much fuss over Christian purity culture and the damage it does to women in particular (here is a good primer on the subject); however, where much of the discussion has focused on misogyny, which is a good thing for us to recognize and condemn, there are other damaging effects to consider. Specifically, purity culture has fractured the human spirit into self and sexuality as though they are two separate things, and we should strive against this in order to achieve true Christian virtue and wholeness.

I happened across an enlightening post on Christian chastity over at Bad Catholic’s blog on Patheos. It echoed some of the sentiments which I had come to in my own thinking, but it had fleshed them out much more thoroughly. Here is a highlight which will be the focus of my thoughts in this post:

“Unchastity in dress is to dress like you are primarily an erect penis or an aroused vagina, that is, in a manner which highlights your sexual nature at the expense of the entirety of your person. … [But] here’s what often gets missed. I am also a sexual self. To say I am only sexual — which is the definition of sexual objectification — is a dishonesty, and thus unchastity. But to say I am not sexual at all is similarly a dishonesty.”

As a Christian virtue theorist, “goodness” for me means wholeness of being. If I am missing a part of myself, whether physically or spiritually, I am unhealthy. Christian purity culture has indeed deprived us of an integral part of ourselves: our bodies. We have shamed it out of sight and tried to diminish its importance. In a sense, I am arguing that Christianity needs to be more fully sexual.

“But Chris!” you say, “Our culture is already hypersexual! Why would we want to promote sexuality even more?” Good question. The problem is that at the same time that we have suppressed our sexual natures, we have remained sexual.

Let me reemphasize: we are still sexual, no matter our efforts to diminish this aspect of our natures.

What I believe has happened is that we have essentially outsourced this portion of our being to other venues to compensate. Pornography is a common replacement-of-sorts for a sexual partner. And, of course, there is prostitution and the sex trade. How tragically ironic it is that the churches which fight so desperately against sex trafficking may also be assisting the trafficking market by promoting unhealthy sexuality. Should we expect otherwise when we have worked so hard to fragment self and sexuality? A fearful, fragmented sexuality can only express itself in the dark corners of society where the self is free from the judgmental eye of purity culture. In those dark corners are lots of unsavory alternatives. Instead, we need to be courageous and acknowledge our sexuality in spite of those who would shame it.

I am getting married in four days from the time I started writing this. I love my fiancee dearly. However, I am discovering all of a sudden that I need to look at her and appreciate who she is physically just as much as I do the rest of her. When I think of sex, I should think of her and her beauty, and I should not be ashamed. I am not saying that in four days I need to get on Twitter and start abusing the #myhotwife hashtag; that would commit the same sort of dishonesty that the article at Bad Catholic condemns by putting my then-to-be-wife’s sexual appeal forward as her prominent feature. It would also commit a similar offense in putting forward something private as something public, denying the essential intimate nature of the relationship. Virtue is right being, and we cannot be prideful about our personal relationships; people, especially wives, are not trophies.

But as we try to reintegrate our sexuality into who we are, let us not pretend there is some objective way in which sexuality must be. For example, the neo-reformed movement, especially under the instruction of Mark Driscoll, has taken to using such books as Song of Solomon as a sex manual (though it would not be very comfortable with the suggestion that the man and woman in the book don’t appear to be married). Driscoll has said, and I quote him verbatim, “The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God’s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical.” The same thing happens a lot of times when men (or women) have their expectations for sex set by pornography: the husband goes into the relationship expecting the wife to be a certain way with regard to sex, be it in regard to blowjobs or anal sex or anything else.

What Driscoll and others fail to grasp is that sex and sexiness is not a particular thing. It is being comfortable, healthy, and honest with one’s body, and that takes many forms. My wife-to-be and I are aiming never to force one another to be something that we are not, never depriving one another of being our true selves. Yet in the ways which we are comfortable, we will enjoy each other to the fullest: our sexuality will grow from our companionship. When we look at sex and sexuality as an objective thing which is independent from our being, particularly in this case our being with a sexual companion, then we fragment ourselves. Sexuality is subjective and grows out of sexual companionship. I’m not going to judge a couple’s sexual practices so long as they are loving, physically safe, and non-abusive. Blowjobs may be totally fine for some couples; however, that sort of sex grows out of the relationship and is not an objective sexual standard.

It is my hope for all couples, specifically those affected by a culture which shames them for their sexual natures, to reintegrate the appreciation of sexiness in their loved ones. Those who are sexy should not feel ashamed of this fact. If you have a nice butt, a curvy figure, or something else attractive, don’t feel like you need to hide it, but don’t make it who you are. If you don’t fit the model set out by Victoria’s Secret models, guess what? You’re still sexual. You can still be sexy, but again, don’t turn yourself into your sexiness. Figure out what that means for you in your life. Be sexy; be whole.

Even further — let us not feel ashamed for recognizing attractiveness in others who are not our loved ones. Why should we deny what is plain to see? We should appreciate beauty in a healthy way. When appreciation moves into a stage where we are lying to ourselves mentally about our relationship to a certain person — that is to say, we imagine ourselves in sexual/romantic liaisons with people other than our lovers — we have moved from virtue to vice. In your mind, let them be sexy; let them be whole. People with a healthy relationship to their bodies should make us happy and should inspire us toward such health, as well.

We should encourage our theology and ethics to take into our account our whole being, including our sexual natures. Again, let us remember the words from the Bad Catholic article: “To say I am only sexual — which is the definition of sexual objectification — is a dishonesty, and thus unchastity. But to say I am not sexual at all is similarly a dishonesty.” We should be honest about who we are.

Christian sexual virtue is about being sexy while being whole.

About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
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8 Responses to Being Sexy, Being Whole

  1. Morgan Guyton says:

    Great thoughts. I read that Amy Turner piece too about attractiveness vs. lust and I was going to respond to it but haven’t had time. So here’s my serious question: are you able to notice female beauty without imagining physical intimacy? It’s very hard for me to separate the two, so I usually just look away. I never know what other men experience. If I followed Jesus literally, I would have ripped both eyes out a long time ago.

    • So I have been thinking about that lately, and I feel like that response of feeling shame for appreciating the sexual features of someone else other than one’s significant other is unnecessary. We are in part biological creatures with built-in responses to certain stimuli. Let’s face it: a woman walking in with huge boobs is going to alert the brains sex centers. We’re wired to recognize a healthy mate.

      When we start to shame that portion of ourselves, we start rewarding ourselves mentally by sneaking peaks at it. This might be what leads to the almost-uniquely-American problem of seeing nudity — either in public or on TV or elsewhere. If we were to be like, “Yup, it’s a nice set of boobs over there,” and not treat it like a mind-blowing, penis-exploding revelation, perhaps we would be more comfortable with our own sexualities, as well.

      • Morgan Guyton says:

        So you would say the taboo aspect of it is what makes it not just noticing but noticing + brief fantasy? I just don’t think the latter two can be separated except in feminist ideology which isn’t built upon the empirical first-hand experience of the male brain.

  2. Seems like the issue is one of maturity over biology, right? Or spiritual fruit of self control? So, the biological response isn’t bad, nor is the recognition of beauty, but it needs to be met with an overriding maturity that says, “She is a person, she is loved by God, she deserves respect and not objectification.”

    Morgan, I also think the idea of looking away when it comes to women we are not personally conversing with, etc., is a good practice – I mean, staring is rude! And a biological attraction or recognition of beauty turns to lust if we are just dwelling on it, staring, mulling it over, etc, etc. It starts to get creepy/weird at that point anyway.

    So yeah, I get recognition of beauty and not wallowing in shame, but respect is respect, and it requires maturity.

  3. Pingback: What are atheistic sexual ethics? | The Discerning Christian

  4. Jason says:

    Sounds to me that you are basically trying to justify your lust nature. The truth is you just plain like to look at women. Partial obedience is no obedience.

    • You will have to explain that, because that is the last thing I am doing. Your sexual nature is part of you. The trick is not to pretend otherwise in the course of your obedience.

  5. Yanna says:

    You put into words what I never could. What humans rights activists, especially feminists, have been saying for ages, but rarely through Christian lens.

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