Sex, God, and Our Longing for Intimacy (Part 2)
Just as spirituality is an expression of our desire to experience an authentic, meaningful relationship with God, sexuality is the expression of our innate desire to connect with others and to know and be known intimately and completely. Certainly, in our closest, most satisfying non-sexual relationships, in knowing the other we discover more fully who we are.
For instance, a woman supports a recently divorced friend by meeting her at a coffeeshop for lunch, and her friend tearfully tells her that she has always been a calm, steady presence in her life. A groom exchanges a silent look with his best man that communicates the depth of his appreciation and love after many long years of faithful friendship. In such relationships, we encounter ourselves while encountering the other in unexpected and sometimes challenging ways that solitary self-reflection does not afford. However, even in these relationships, we, to quote the apostle Paul, “know only in part” (1 Cor 13:12), and we long to know and be known fully.
Knowing fully another person—and being fully known—only occurs within the context of a relationship characterized by emotional and sexual intimacy. Sexual intercourse with a beloved other is the pinnacle of the vulnerability and intimacy inherent in mutual, loving relationships. During sex, we are naked, fully exposed and without the protection afforded by our clothing. Our absolute physical vulnerability renders us fully emotionally vulnerable as well, and as we seek to creatively please the other while experiencing the apex of physical pleasure and the other seeks to please us in the ways that we enjoy, we realize that we value the uniqueness of the other and that he or she prizes our emotional uniqueness. Little wonder, then, that the speaker of the Song of Solomon pines to have him whom her soul loves with her in her bed at night (3:1-4).
Our culture frequently attempts to divorce sexuality from our drive toward intimacy in the context of intimate, loving relationships but with painful results. Use of online pornography is correlated with feelings of loneliness. Dissatisfied spouses that seek emotional intimacy by pursuing extramarital affairs often end up more lonely and hurt than before. Films often depict casual sexual activity as exciting and pleasurable, though the recent film “Shame” accentuates the chronic feelings of emptiness, guilt, and loneliness that can result from engaging in sexual intercourse that does not recognize and celebrate the humanity and uniqueness of one’s sexual partner. Often, whether we realize it or not, we pursue sexual activity outside of meaningful relationships in order to experience the emotional intimacy we long for, but as long as we do not value the uniqueness of the other, the other will likely not seek to recognize ours. Thus, in casual sex, we fail to encounter the uniqueness inherent in our humanity and in the humanity of another, and our emotional life, despite our deepest longings, remains unknown. To revisit Coldplay from Part One:
My song is love, is love unknown
And I’ve got to get that message home
Indeed, our desire for intimacy, our drive to “get that message home” is expressed both in our spirituality and in our sexuality. When our desire to be seen and valued by the other in an intimate relationship is unfulfilled, it hurts. We may turn to painful, destructive expressions of spirituality and sexuality to try to get our needs met, but healing begins when an interested other notices our pain and at last gives ear to our whispered pleas for someone to care for us.