Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pleasure is a holy thing

For several days I've been thinking about writing about sex. (That seems either fitting or nuts for someone about to give birth, no?) A few things prompt my reverie. (1) A recent conversation with a close friend that reminded me, yet again, how many couples of long standing aren't having sex, and how surprised I am every time I hear something like this. (2) Several recent articles and comment threads (at Salon, Jezebel, and the NYT) about the documentary Orgasmic Birth. (3) Jason's ongoing excellent coverage of the Pagan dimension of the struggle for gay marriage; in particular, his fine argument that legally forbidding same-sex marriage is a violation of Pagans' freedom of religious expression.

Paganism is, at its most cohesive, a family of religious (or spiritual) traditions (or practices) with some views or practices held in common. None of the Pagan religions are religions of the book (will someone come along to dispute that "none"?); as a rule, we're not doctrinal. So there is no one Pagan view on sex or sexuality, and certainly no one view is prescribed. Our views on sex and sexuality are as various as we are.

At the same time, we tend to be a libertarian and unconventional bunch, or to fancy ourselves as such, so individual Pagans' views about sex often do fall outside those of the mainstream. One example, prompted by Jason's most recent post, is that mainstream culture is heteronormative; that is, there is a pervasive cultural belief that heterosexuality is to be preferred to homosexuality or bisexuality, mostly for moral reasons. (Even those who argue that heterosexuality is better because it's more natural are, at base, usually making a moral argument.) Pagans, on the other hand, tend to eschew heteronormativity. We don't value heterosexuality any more than other expressions of sexuality; we don't think it's better or more natural than anything else. Wiccans often point to those words from the Charge of the Goddess--"all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals"--to make the point.

Are people attracted to Paganism in part because it doesn't condemn unconventional views about sex, and it even welcomes such views? I know I am. My own views about sex, and my own exerience of sex, fit within a Pagan worldview; they don't fit within the confined doctrines of the church I was raised in. At the same time, I often feel like an alien in the dominant culture more generally: my reaction to some women's claims that they experience orgasm during childbirth is, "cool! I should be so lucky." Yet many commenters in the articles I point to above responded either with "they're lying," or "ew, gross, orgasms and children shouldn't have anything to do with each other, that's incest." (Presumably such people do know how babies are usually made.)

In the healing tradition I study, sexual energy is just one manifestation of energy or the life force. In anti-sex, Puritanical cultures where we're encouraged from a very young age (birth? pre-birth?) to block, hide, and disavow sexual energy, we're literally blocking, hiding, and disavowing our life force. The result is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual illness. The result is disconnection from the earth and from each other: pain, isolation, alienation, addiction. These are the results of living in a culture where sexual expression is permitted or endorsed only within very narrow norms, and where sexual autonomy isn't valued at all.

The reason to support same-sex marriage is because we live in what is supposed to be a secular nation, partial to no one religion, in which adults have equal rights and protection under the law. But the reason I haven't married is because I believe the institution of marriage puts narrow constraints on what's morally and socially acceptable, and that these constraints are harmful. Even if we loosen the constraints a little to allow same-sex couples to marry--and I think we should do at least that much, because people's lives and wellbeing are literally at stake--we're not challenging many aspects of traditional marriage that should be challenged. I have no problem with a couple's choosing monogamy, for example, but I have problems with a social system that removes most of the significance from that choice by making it normative.

(Actual same-sex partnerships do challenge the norm of monogamy far more than opposite-sex partnerships do; monogamy is less likely to be a long-term expectation for same-sex couples, whether they consider themselves married or not, than of married straight couples. I don't want to claim that same-sex marriage isn't highly transgressive, and in a good way. Clearly it is, or people wouldn't get so worked up about it. I also don't think that monogamy is any better or worse than polyamory. I value honesty to oneself and one's partner most of all. My own choices have varied at different times in my life and with different relationships, and my only regret is when I've failed to be honest, to embody integrity.)

All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. "All acts of love and pleasure" is a wide rubric. Give thanks and take pleasure in the expression of life force in its wide and various forms: sex and dancing, swimming in hot springs, getting a massage, laughing or crying with your best friend, eating a delicious meal, breathing mountain air, planting a garden, getting sloppy kisses from your pit bull, gazing at the moon, being present with your emotions, giving birth to your baby, making art, falling asleep under the stars. Feel it. It's not always easy. We hold ourselves back from pleasure. But pleasure is a holy thing. So practice.


LaSara FireFox said...

Great post. Pagans should get out there on this issue, as well as others.

There is bound to be dissent - just like there was in the feminist movement when certain feminists wanted to add the right to divorce to the suffrage movement. The mainstream feminists thought the divorce issue would further marginalize the movement. (Read my article, Outrageous Roots and a Bright Future, on the topic here: http://cli.gs/articles.)

I wish I could say that argument wouldn't be used by Pagans, but I am afraid that is not true.

Safety for all is the goal. Freedom of choice - religion, personal liberties both physical and mental, and the security that marriage law affords citizens of this country. Raise the banner!

Thanks so much for listing my site as a resource, too.


Lavanah said...

Great post! It must have been the week for discussing sex, since you and I had a wee bit of talk, too. I can't speak for orgasm during childbirth, I certainly wasn't that lucky, either. But wait-breast feeding is up there with getting a massage, in addition to all the lovelies you get for providing your child with sustanence. All Acts of Love and Pleasure, indeed.

xJane said...

Right on! I love your definition of "acts of love and pleasure". Sometimes I need to be reminded that enjoying a hot pot of tea and the internet is just as sacred as a walk on a windy beach.

Brian Charles said...

"Pleasure is a holy thing. So practice"

So true and so easily forgotten. A very good post