Spirit and Sex

Spirit and Sex

Susy Carryer

Thoughts by Susy Carryer on sexuality, spirituality and healthy relationships.Sexuality and spirituality don’t always appear to be natural or easy companions as a topic of discussion. Yet the literature of spiritual experience relies heavily on the language of sexual and romantic love. There is a very good reason for this.

Spirituality refers to our engagement with “otherness”; the acknowledgement that there is a way of viewing the world that goes beyond human perception. In terms of Christian spirituality, that equates to engaging with God, who is both creator and lover of humankind.

Sexuality is the way we experience attraction to other people, the aspect of ourselves that draws us into relationship. It is much broader than sexual activity, which refers to one physical expression of our sexuality. I also use it to refer to the way we experience our own body, as attractive or otherwise, as a delight or a burden.

Both sexual and spiritual encounters, when experienced in the context of healthy relationship, are the most intimate, vulnerable and transformative experiences of human existence. Equally, in the context of unhealthy, manipulative or abusive relationship, we can be badly damaged by both of them.

We come to understand and appreciate our own sexuality and our own spirituality primarily through relationship, and all our relationships are affected by both. Most importantly perhaps, for those of us who take some responsibility for walking with others as they explore and discover these aspects of themselves, neither can be fully understood without reference to the other.

Deep and Meaningfuls

In talking about sexuality with groups of young adults, I have found exploring their perspectives on what constitutes a healthy relationship a really great and non-judgemental way of looking both at making decisions about appropriate expressions of sexuality, and discussing the connections between sexuality and spirituality.

Here are some of the qualities I would want to include in any list, though a group of young people will probably suggest others as well. I include the questions relating to each quality raised either by myself or by the groups of young adults with whom I have had this sort of discussion recently:

Intimacy - can be physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. How interconnected are the different sorts of intimacy? Can you have one without another? Does one automatically lead to another?

Commitment/Faithfulness - what degree of commitment or faithfulness is needed for different contexts of healthy relationship (colleague, friend, classmate, youth group member, boyfriend/girlfriend)? How does this relate to levels of intimacy? What is the difference between faithfulness and commitment? Does the level of commitment matter if both people have the same expectations?

Vulnerability - can you be fully in relationship with another without risking getting hurt? How are communication, trust and honesty experienced in the relationship?

Equality and mutuality - can a relationship of unequal power – with a pastor, youth leader or teacher – be mutual?