In Defense of Promiscuity; In Defense Of Chastity
IN DEFENSE OF PROMISCUITY; IN DEFENSE OF CHASTITY
IN DEFENSE OF PROMISCUITY – PART 1
IN DEFENSE OF PROMISCUITY – PART II
IN DEFENSE OF CHASTITY
In Defense of Promiscuity; In Defense Of ChastityFeb 23
IN DEFENSE OF PROMISCUITY; IN DEFENSE OF CHASTITY
By David Sunfellow
Sex is volatile. And complicated. Who among us truly understands the depth, breadth, and power of this primal force? Who among us dares to claim that we have mastered this elemental force so fully that we can say what is appropriate, and what is not, for every person, in every situation?
And yet, in spite of our limited understanding, this force must be wrestled and regulated. Most of us agree, for example, that children should be protected from adults who wish to exploit them for sexual purposes. Ditto for people, mostly women and young girls, who are forced into sexual slavery. And family members should avoid sexual relationships with one another. And so should tweens and young teenagers. And it’s unseemly for people to be involved sexually with people who are decades older, or younger, than they are. And if you are a fundamentalist of one stripe or another, then homosexuality, in all its forms, is aberrant and evil. And speaking of religion, Catholics obviously shouldn’t have sex with Jews; Jews shouldn’t have sex with Arabs; and black, brown, white, yellow, red people shouldn’t have sex with people who have skin colors different than there own.
And oh yes, masters, teachers, and other authority figures definitely shouldn’t have sex with their students.
Or should they?
Is sexual attraction driven primarily by the need to wield or submit to power? Or is it primarily a force of nature, hormones, and genetics? Or past life connections and karma? Or a subconscious effort to recreate and heal childhood wounds? Or projection — we are physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally attracted to others according to how much we have disowned our own light and darkness and projected it onto them? Or…?
In yet another attempt to understand the dynamics of this primal force, I have included three articles below. The first two are written by Jun Po Denis Kelly who founded the Buddhist Hollow Bones Order. The third article is by Emily Ann Baratta, who is a former Peace Corps volunteer, a practicing Roman Catholic, and a teaching assistant at OneTaste San Francisco. While all three articles are addressed to an integrally-informed audience, I’m sure all of you will catch their drift — and find them interesting.
At the end of the day, I have three things to say about this topic:
1. Sex, in all its many manifestations, is still a mystery to me;
2. While agreeing on common sense rules (such as protecting children from sexual predators), I also think it is important to have an open mind, ponder specific issues, as much as possible, on a case-by-case basis, and maintain a compassionate attitude that thoughtfully honors the profound diversity of life;
3. For me, the Pathwork Lectures of Eva Peirrakos continues to be the best, most balanced and insightful information I have ever come across on this complicated topic.
If after reading these articles you have something you would like to add to the discussion, you can post your comments at the end of this post.
I also encourage you to visit the links below which will carry you to the host website, Integral Life, where many people are lending their rich life experiences and nuanced philosophical perspectives to the discussion…
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jun Po Denis Kelly began his Buddhist practice at Zen Center San Francisco in the early ’70s, later becoming a student of Eido Shimano Roshi in New York and subsequently a monk. He received his Zen Master recognition in 1992. Interested in bringing his Zen lineage (Rinzai tradition) into American culture without the Japanese cultural bindings, Jun Po left the monastery and founded the lay Buddhist Hollow Bones order, of which he is abbot. A yoga instructor as well, he traces his lineage to BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. He established the Hollow Bones seven-day Zen retreats for the Mankind Project.
Emily recently completed an MA in Integral Psychology, specializing in sexuality and ethics. She is a former Peace Corps volunteer and teaching assistant at OneTaste San Francisco. Emily is also a practicing Roman Catholic and a volunteer with San Francisco Sex Information, striving to bridge traditional, modern, and postmodern perspectives on sexuality and spirituality.
IN DEFENSE OF PROMISCUITY – PART 1
By Jun Po Kelly Roshi
February 7th, 2011
Should spiritual teachers sleep with their students? It seems this is a question whose time has come.
Every worldview has a very strong option on this. Red says “Of course!” Amber usually says “No!”, but on occasion “Yes!” if the mythology permits it. Orange will say “yes,” but that decision is related to “status” (both the teacher’s and the student’s). Green screams “NO” and points to the lack of a “level playing field”, lecturing about the (im)balance of power, especially if the teacher is a man (oppressor) and the student a woman (oppressed). So what says the Integralist?
Let’s start with the act itself. Sexuality is sacred. This is where the genders, the two faces, little god-man Adam and little god-woman Eve actually touch faces, and through that embrace reincarnate. Magical thinking and mythic beliefs tell us that our egos will continue through the Law of Karma — good boys and girls get to be reborn as spiritually-aware people, bad boys and girls are forced into painful rebirths to burn and purge their sins.
The real truth of reincarnation is not based on subtle-state fixation or the ego’s desire to perpetuate itself beyond its death, or on Amber superstitions that promise an eternity of rebirths and ever-increasing happiness to True Believers. Reincarnation is the sacred sexual act of divine union, where sex leads to pregnancy, pregnancy leads to birth, and birth leads to a newly embodied spirit that is not your son, not your daughter, but rather is two-who-have-become-one.
As above, so below. In a true Tantric embrace of sexuality with a partner, the small self is transcended as you become one with the Divine — there is no separate self, no isolated ego, no other. And out of this real-world karma a child can be born, a child who is literally two-who-have-become-one, a combination of genes and impulses passed down equally from each parent, karma in-action.
Dance, dance, dance and lose your small selves within this passionate emergent sexual embrace that promises such powerful real-world karma! Divinely, unconditionally love, surrender your egos, dance and coming together, disappear into your wondrous mini version of that first big bang orgasm. This is part of what makes sex so sacred, but many things stand in the way of us seeing it.
We are blinded to the sacred nature of sexuality because of many different obstacles: our animal nature, tempting us to do all manner of reckless things; Puritanical ideas about monogamy and self-sacrifice; greed and selfishness that tempt us to hoard lovers and experiences; lust that takes us out of our divinity and out of our hearts; denial of our sexual and deeply sensual nature; jealousy’s distortions that turn love into a spasm of need and contraction; the politics of sex, where power and control reign supreme; and ignorance of the truth of the ephemeral gift of life, which is nothing less than Unconditional Love manifest.
All of these distortions of the sacred nature of sex are rooted in the belief that our egos are real. We believe that our reactions to external stimuli are who we are; we believe that we have permanence in this world; we believe in a future for ourselves and our desires. What we do not see is that our egos — us — are wholly conditioned, Pavlovian responses that are triggered without consciousness or free will. Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you get pissed off and think “this is who I am”. “I’m someone who gets pissed off in traffic,” goes your story. The truth is that no one made me angry, getting pissed off is merely a valuated, unconscious conditioned reaction, and this reaction prevents you from experiencing who you really are.
A pretty woman talks to you, and you feel desire, lust, curiosity, and ten other emotions arise within you — and then a conditioned reaction occurs. Or you sit in front of an attractive spiritual teacher, emotions arise, and a conditioned reaction occurs. In both cases, there is an emotional stimulation that is too often followed by unconscious chosen response. Our conditioning makes the choice instead of us making the choice, and compassion, love, and wisdom are left outside the door.
What we need is a different philosophical construct to redefine our neurolinguistic reaction to the most powerful stimuli in our lives, the places where conditioning binds us and those we love. We first need to understand how we can react differently, and then we must begin to practice reacting differently. If we remember that we are not real or permanent, that we are simply a figment of Divine imagination, we will begin to understand the exquisite joke that God has played. The good news is it really is a joke. The bad news is you’re the punch line.
How do we transform and let go of these conditioned blockages, of these egoic reactions that prevent us from living in the truth of the Divine Love that surrounds us, that penetrates us, that is us? To start we need to experience a deeper truth, not just believe a deeper truth. We need to have genuine insight into who we really are, and be able to frame this insight in the correct way.
Insight alone is not enough. There have been many Awakened teachers who did not have the correct view to understand their insight in the face of their relationships, their sexuality, their emotions, and their cognitive understanding of the world. Because of this, we need insight, but we also need a philosophical re-indoctrinate that allows us to develop emotional maturity and mental stability. From this disciplined state of mind, intelligent compassion enlightens passion. It is only through the insight of meditation, the mental discipline of philosophy, and the emotional work of uncovering our psychological shadows that we can reform our heartbreaking and restricting ignorance that obscures the sacredness of sex.
Should Teachers Sleep with Their Students: A Case Study
Once upon a time, during my bachelor monastic training years, I completed a period of celibacy. Three years before I took on the mantle of lineage holder, 83rd patriarch in my ethnocentric patriarchal sexist tradition (when I became a Rinzai Zen Roshi), I had the opportunity to be instructed and subsequently enlightened and liberated to a deeper truth about sexual union.
This was kindly, rudely, and playfully demanded by the Sacred feminine I encountered. The year was 1989 and I was serving as head monk and vice abbot at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York State. I was at Syracuse University giving a dharma talk to perhaps 150 interested Green and Orange altitude seekers and state junkies. I wasn’t always a Zen priest and abbot, and in a former reincarnation had been a rather infamous name in the underground world of the counterculture. So I was wearing one of my leftover Armani suits over a silk shirt and exquisite tie, all wrapped somewhat ironically in my Buddhist rakusu.
At the end of my talk on the integration of Rinzai Zen into American culture, I opened the floor for questions. A delicate hand came up from an absolute beauty in the front row, a young Swedish coed whose blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin had already caught my eye, more than once.
“May I ask a personal question,” she said.
“Of course,” I replied from the lectern.
“Well,” she said, crossing her legs, “Considering your position, can you be with a woman?”
I smiled. “That depends,” I said, baiting her (or so I thought).
“Upon what,” she responded.
“On what you’re doing later.”
Everyone laughed. The Zen priest made a joke. About sex. Funny stuff.
The lecture ended, and I made small talk with people until they eventually left. Only the Swedish coed remained. She walked up to me, smiled, and asked, “So where are we going?”
I blushed and laughed.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Nineteen, huh? What’s your story?”
“I study physics, speak 5 languages, have a passion for Arabic poetry, have lived all over the world, and now am very interested in Rinzai Zen.”
“You like Rumi?” I stalled.
She did, and it turned out we both had his poem “The Guest House” committed to memory.
She paused. “So where are we going,” she repeated.
I looked down at this young Goddess. Teachers and students must have boundaries, I told myself, feeling my stern inner Amber judge lording over me. Thou shall not! he breathed.
“We’re not going anywhere,” I said. “Not if you want to learn from me. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
She laughed, took my hand in hers, and bid me to come close to her. I leaned in.
“I thought you were Awake,” she said, shaking her head with laughter in her eyes. “You fool — I’m not trying to hurt you, nor will I ever hurt you.”
I stared back, at a loss for words.
“I’ve slept with every teacher I’ve ever respected and that could meet me here.”
“Oh,” I managed.
Now that I have your attention, know that I do not in any way support unconscious, lust-driven sexual relationships. When the Integralist asks the question, “Should a spiritual teacher sleep with a student?” you can bet the answer is going to be complex. And incredibly simple. And if you don’t understand that, you should probably stop here.
IN DEFENSE OF PROMISCUITY – PART II
By Jun Po Kelly Roshi
February 22nd, 2011
“So where shall we meet,” asked the Swedish girl, firm in her conviction.
“I live at the monastery,” I said, “In the Catskills. Beautiful land, beautiful space. Have my own cabin on the property one mile down the monastery drive, though,” I added with a smile. “Perk of being the vice-abbot.”
“And you’re not celibate?”
“I never sell a bit of it”
She laughed. The Zen priest made another joke.
“Seriously,” she pressed.
“I’m single and uninvolved with anyone right now,” I said. “I’m celibate by choice only, not by vow.”
“That’s good,” she said.
“And you’re not married or engaged or planning on getting engaged or any such things my dear?”
She shook her head. “I’ll see you in a week,” she said coyly, and left. I watched her lean, long form walk away, and felt into both my desire and the deep sense of play she had invoked. Who was this beautiful and bold creature who so skillfully struck at the heart of my ego, while reminding me of my deepest self? Who, I wondered, was teacher, and who was student? Was it possible a 19-year-old girl could teach something to a Zen priest nearly 30 years her senior? Was it ethical?
A week later she appeared at Dai Bosatsu, the monastery run by my abbot, Eido Shimano Roshi, 82nd Patriarch of the Rinzai Zen school. In my cabin, she sat on my bed, barefooted and crossed-legged. The physical attraction, our pheromones, and our deep mutual curiosity were perfectly aligned, sniff sniff.
“So what are our terms of endearment,” I asked her. My desire for her was palpable, but my years of mind training allowed me to sit with it, although I admit it was not a comfortable sit. In order for the relationship to be clean, we had to agree on some terms, I knew, to ensure we were able to stand in and stay in integrity. What would be our terms of endearment?
She intimated she was drawn to my playfulness, wisdom, fierceness, and clarity, and I shared I was drawn to her beauty, intelligence, certainty, independence, and sexuality. Sitting and looking into each other’s eyes we both saw that we could and would fall in love.
“My intention,” she said slowly, chewing on the words, “Is to fall in love with you, to make love to you, and to see you whenever our schedules line up for as long as it makes sense for the two of us.”
“I know I’ll fall in love with you,” I admitted. “But I won’t fall into confusion, fear, jealousy, co-dependency, hyper-autonomy, or fantasy.”
“Fantasy?” she asked.
I laughed. “You’re nearly 30 years younger then me. We will take no prisoners with our love, stand outside of social convention without apology, not hide what is happening between us from our community, and will respect each other’s independence. This is a sexual embrace as an investigation into divine union and what it means to love another as one might love God.”
“Freedom. Clarity. Honesty,” she said. “I’m all chips in, Jun Po, at least until the game’s over.”
Over the next two years, we met 9 times. We rock climbed in the New York Shawangunk Gunk Mountains and Chamonix in the French Swiss Alps, swam in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, dined on the streets of New York and Paris, and made love passionately and with a total commitment to our agreements to one another.
We met as Zen priest and Divine Goddess, as archetypal masculine and feminine, as lover and loved, as divine and human, as giver and receiver of love. Those roles changed fluidly and frequently as we played in our divine embrace, and together we did touch the very face of God.
Yet it was not always equal, for I was her Zen Dharana concentration, her Dhyana meditation, her Asana Yoga teacher, and 30 years her senior with a lifetime more experience under my belt, and far greater insight into the Non-dual nature of our minds. In those places, I was her teacher even though she was never a formal student of mine. We were each other’s sexual Tantra teachers. She spoke 5 languages, was absolutely brilliant, had lived all over the world, and she taught me about Arabic, poetry, international politics, far greater and more liberated European ideas on sexuality, and just how powerful and grounded the feminine could be. She taught me about impermanence, for while we tend to view a nearly 50-year-old man as the “lucky” one when he’s with a woman half his age, that man must also live with the knowledge that such things are not meant to last. As such, she kindly and gently taught me how to love without condition, and as a true expression of Spirit. She was, then as now, never angry, nor injured, nor disempowered, nor getting from me something she could not find within herself. Our dance was a Tango of unconditional loving, a conscious mutual affair that breathed the fire and love of God directly into our hearts.
When she ended our sexual union, I was 50, she 22. She broke my heart wide-open, and when it was time for her to go, we wept — together. I could not keep her or possess her, and our dance had come to a close. She said she was “all chips in until the game was over”, and so it was. She returned to her culture and family, married her first sweetheart, and is this day back in Sweden living a chosen life of monogamy with a husband and two lovely children. I still feel her in my heart, and feel gratitude for all she gave me.
Sexuality between a spiritual teacher and a student can be experienced and shared in the light of unconditional loving and as divine play. Ours was.
This was a simple case, though. After all, neither of us were married or in relationships. We set our conditions consciously and lovingly. And when it was time to end, it did so cleanly and definitively, both the wiser for our encounter.
What happens when things are not so clean? What happens if the teacher is married, or his student is? What if both are single, but the student is a formal one who has taken vows? How much responsibility lies with the teacher, and how much with the student? And what of the “other” parties, the collateral damage of sexuality in sanghas? The lied-to wives, the cheated-on husbands, the wider sangha that can feel used and abused by a teacher that is having trouble staying true to the very vows they expect their students to keep?
Before we answer this, let’s get straight on what love is, and is not.
Should spiritual teachers sleep with their students?
Let’s start with this abstract question, often asked, and get into the thornier other points in a moment. As an Integralist, perhaps we can see how all of this ranting and raging within our community about sexual behavior is missing the point. We’re asking the wrong question. The Integral question is not “should teachers sleep with their students”. The question is: How do we take a compassionate and firm stand on the Truth, which includes sexuality between consenting adults?
It should be noted there already are Amber vows that a priest or roshi (or lama) must take. There already is a prohibition on sleeping with students, cheating on spouses, and lying about sexual activity. And yet these rules don’t seem to amount too much more then a hill of beans with the dozens of teachers who have been unable to keep them. If you came here looking for a different list of “thou shall nots” and “thall shalls”, you are in the wrong place. The Integralist must, by definition, offer answers that speak to the complexity of the issue, not issue decrees that tell us how to behave.
I tell my students, with only a hint of humor, “If you can’t tell which students to sleep with, don’t sleep with any of them.” If you cannot tell the difference between lusting and loving, if you cannot touch in with your own Enlightened mind that is always Clear, if you cannot see that it is not just about you, keep your pants zipped.
Perhaps we need to find a way to put a warning label on our teachers, “Touch with caution, Unenlightened! This teacher is a horny old dog or bitch who cannot discern the difference between love and lust: BEWARE!” Those immature teachers that cannot tell the difference, risk lawsuits and scandal, toxic gossip that undermines the power of their teachings, easy attacks on their integrity, and never ending charges of hypocrisy that, it must be admitted, tend to stick. The spiritual teacher is like the captain of a Navy vessel: ultimately, s/he is responsible for what happens on their ship, no matter the circumstances.
Because of Enlightened but unwise teachers, who are not fully Awake, tantric and beautiful sex between consenting adults need not end. Eros is not here to be feared and denied but understood and celebrated. Yet she is not kind, and will tear to pieces those who treat her lightly or foolishly. The rule no sexual activity between mentor and mentee is necessary in an ignorant, mythically-bound culture. It is necessary in a culture where sex is interpreted as power politics. Yet to the Integralist, sexual union can be a healing and enlightening practice free of these arbitrary mental categorizations.
We, as Integralists, need to hold a more Enlightened view. When and where is sexual union part of loving interaction permitted? Where within Integral can we study this? Why is sex taboo even here, the one place where one would expect to find a nuanced and honest take on sex that could see things as they really are? Perhaps ISE 3, we could have sexual union as a sporting event: ISE tantric coitus competitions, demonstrations, and events? (That’s a joke, people.) Perhaps not, but perhaps we could begin to bring light to this huge shadow, and bring our mental and emotional sophistication to bear on this too-long ignored topic.
A Better Perspective on Sex
Sexuality is about honesty and responsibility. Sex is playful, delight-filled. Anger, as projected violence toward those who do not understand the sacredness and responsibility of sex, is just rape of another order — do you get that? We are not here to argue about what mature sexual expression is or to condemn other’s personal sexual preferences and missteps; we are here to embody mature sexual expression in our own lives.
Conscious mature sexuality is loving, not lusting. To withhold to deny sexual communion to gain control (over oneself, or one’s student) is cruel and self-defeating. To offer sex as trade is prostitution. Sex is only and always Love’s divine play.
Sexual arousal is a subtle energy field, an expression of divine procreation, two-becoming-one in the possibility of the literal karmic creation of a child. Sex education needs to be part of Integral training. And this sex education needs to begin now, across the Integral universe, so we can stop gossiping about who fucked whom and who is guilty, innocent, a victim, an aggressor, a manipulator of women, someone who is easily manipulated. Divine sex has nothing to do with manipulation. Integralists need to understand how and why to hold teachers accountable; teachers need to admit when and where they fuck up and be willing to stay in the spotlight to demonstrate, to all who care to see, how their mistake has led to insight and transformation and shadow-becoming-light.
Sexuality needs to be a conscious and disciplined affair. Sexual union is where the individual ego can be transcended. Sexual touch transcends time. Experiencing unconditional loving in a relationship makes jealousy inconceivable — if you don’t get that, I tell you with iron certainty you have never freely loved.
Eros understood and respected will lift you to heights you can never reach alone, to the very face of God where you will be dismantled and put back together again in ways that words like gratitude and humility can only begin to express. And she will tear you to pieces if you treat her any other way.
Now that we’re straight on love: who wants to play?
IN DEFENSE OF CHASTITY
By Emily Ann Baratta
February 22, 2011
I have a great idea for a new series of spiritual practice DVDs. It’s called Goddesses Gone Wild.
Nubile coeds exposing their radiance for you, the spiritual practitioner, as you activate your second chakra in ecstatic states of mind/body bliss. You will expand your consciousness in an act of self-love, until rays of cosmic milk spew forth from your rod of creative power, bathing the universe in life force.
I’m kidding, of course, but only about this series being new. The Girls Gone Wild franchise raked in $40 million per year in its heydey, according to the LA Times. Could someone utilize Girls Gone Wild in his Integral Sexual Yoga practice? Perhaps. Is that what most of its viewers have in mind? Unlikely. Wrapping the same old story in glossy vernacular would not change that.
As a female born in 1984, let me assure you that the difference between myself and the young ladies featured in Girls Gone Wild is one of degree not kind. For those of us who were born into a postmodern cultural milieu having sex when you want to, with who you want to, for whatever reason you want to, is normal. If you are not doing it, you are obviously ashamed of your body or ::gasp:: a Republican.
This may be a positive and necessary development from the time when it was normal to think masturbation caused mental illness, homosexuality was a disease, and so on. While we know that these attitudes still prevail in much of the world, let me assure you, San Francisco is on another page. Today, in my corner of the world, Rihanna’s hot new single “S&M” is in heavy radio rotation, complete with the line, “whips and chains excite me”. This is the dominant culture into which young people are expected to grow.
Maybe we need to recall that individual development does not always correlate with specific cultural values. In other words, I can be a conformist, blindly following the dogma of political correctness or the free market or sexual empowerment and that conformity is healthy, up to a point. Today the idea that sex is a wonderful part of human expression is not all that edgy in many communities, including ours. What seem to be missing is the big bad voice of traditional values (as opposed to a conformist orientation to those values) and the virtue of chastity with it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a traditionalist text if there ever was one, calls chastity, “an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom” (2239). Self-mastery implies a degree of control over oneself, an ability to make deliberate choices. It is the difference between hooking up with drunken strangers because that is what my friends are doing and intentionally hooking up with a stranger because that is what serves me and my community. Does the second scenario exist? Definitely. Plenty of people need to cut loose and master themselves a little less to get in touch with raw desire. However, for those of us who came of age as the term “fuck-buddy” came into parlance, I would suggest that a little chastity might not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might actually show us how sacred sex is.
As a post-traditional spiritual practice community, I believe we are having the wrong conversations. Debating whether or not spiritual teachers or even we *mere* laity should engage in a particular act is not the point. If we step back, we may notice that different behaviors are good for different folks at different times and certain behaviors are not good for just about anybody, just about ever. An ethical standard creates a point of cultural orientation to which we can generally conform. Is having sex with random strangers good for most people most of the time? Probably not. Is sex between most teachers and most students a good idea most of the time? Probably not. A leader should be able to cleanly communicate a value, like the sacredness of sex, across levels of development and value spheres, maintaining both a reasonable general standard of behavior and a level of personal transparency.
In my opinion, chastity is a good starting point for post-postmodern sexual ethics. Breaking free from blind conformity, whether that be to the postmodern sexual free-for-all or to rigid traditionalism, requires self-mastery: an ability to choose for oneself. While we may not be unduly swayed by traditionalism, the lure of union with the Divine Other (who invariably fits dominant standards of beauty, oddly enough) in his/her various guises is enough to keep us defending promiscuity as a general lifestyle choice. Chastity requires the masterful exercise of sexual energy in service of my own soul’s highest calling, my community, and God. While that mastery can occur irrespective of the number of partners I have or the types of acts we engage in, the more variables in your sexual equation the more mastery required.
Why does sexuality seem to be a stumbling block for so many of us? There is no other domain in which the collective allergy to traditionalist notions of sin is more pronounced, but if you want to talk about Good Sex, you have to talk about Bad Sex.
We seem to get stuck in a rigid conception of sin when we are talking about sex, even when the traditions themselves hold a more nuanced view of the issue. The Church’s teaching on chastity stands in stark contrast to the sex-positive edict that all desires are created equal. Only by gaining some control over our sexuality are we able to deliberately exercise it. That deliberate choice is a requirement for sin to occur. In other words, if we are sexually compulsive, slaves to every desire, or merely falling into cultural conformity, we are neither sinning nor behaving virtuously. Remember, conformity occurs in Berkeley just as much as in Iowa. Conforming to norms set by self-authoring folks, does not make you self-authoring; it makes you conforming.
Let’s look at an example. I live with my fiancé. In my cultural context, this is completely normal. In fact, for us to get married without living together would be downright bizarre to most of the people around us. We are not living together because we made a deliberate inquiry into how cohabitation aligned with our highest purpose or God’s plan; it’s just what people like us do. This is a case where we are not heroically individuating from outmoded traditionalism, we are just conforming to the dominant culture around us. It is only by going back to Church that I even realized just what a big ol’ conformist I am in this regard. In parts of San Francisco, hanging out at sex parties and dungeons is not all that transgressive, but praying the rosary is.
Values are distinct from levels of individual development. Ascribing to postmodern values, does not necessarily indicate a capacity for self-authorship. It very well might mean that I grew up in a postmodern value sphere and I am a die-hard conformist. Where the dominant cultural message is open sexuality at all costs, chastity is a move away from conformity. Maybe we can call it pre- vs. trans-chastity. Having sex before marriage because everyone else does is not the same thing as really inquiring into what is right for you and then having sex before marriage. Chastity is a prerequisite for mature, responsible sexual expression as well as sexual sin. The Catechism makes clear that you need “full knowledge and complete consent” to be in mortal sin (1860). In other words, you must recognize you are doing the wrong thing and do it anyway. If you can’t control yourself, you can’t make a choice in either direction.
For those of us who were born into modern and postmodern milieus, a dose of traditionalism may be required to get us to truly self-authoring levels around sex. This is not to say that any tradition is correct in every sexual teaching, but that an unexamined acceptance of sex-positivity is just as immature as an unexamined acceptance of any other ideology. For those of us who are deeply embedded in postmodern sexuality, a virtue like chastity can be the detox agent we need to truly reflect on what is right and wrong regarding sexuality.
We need to sober up when it comes to sex. That sobriety, that ability to choose should be the starting point of post-postmodern sexual ethics. Rather than claiming that particular behavior patterns demonstrate the sacredness of sex, we ought to recognize that only the deliberate, fully conscious enactment of those behaviors make it sacred. While it may be possible to view Girls Gone Wild as Goddesses Gone Wild, most of us are not at that level. Leaders must consider that when they defend particular sets of behaviors, they are defending it all the way down the chain of being. They are establishing the doctrine and dogma of the movement to which we all conform to some degree in order to call ourselves members.
It is time for us to quit defending the trappings of postmodern sex-positivity and start doing the hard work required to embody the virtue of chastity. Only from that place of including sin are we able to truly transcend it.