3 Sex Positive Lessons I Learned From The Bible
Author’s note and warning: The author is Catholic and a former seminary student. While it is commonly called the “Old Testament” in Christian parlance, the author uses the more accurate terminology the “Hebrew Bible” out of respect for its sacred place in Judaism. The following essay includes a mostly light-hearted discussion of sex and the author’s Christian faith, which may be an uncomfortable read for the many people who have been deeply and unconscionably wounded by the Christian Church.
The prevailing narrative about Christians is that we're huge prudes, and that our faith requires that of us. But I am an erotica writer and a Christian who learned much about sex positivity from the Bible.
I remember speaking to a married couple, who were good friends of mine at the time. I even attended church with them. They were Pentecostal but not the snake-handling kind, just the speaking in tongues kind. One evening we were doing something Christians do a lot, even though we don’t have much of a reputation for it. We were talking about sex. The wife half of the couple was wondering out loud if there were things even married couples weren’t allowed to do sexually.
“Like what?” I’d asked. “Anal sex? Spanking?”
“Yes, stuff like that.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” I’d ask. “You’re married.”
“Still,” she said. She worried about that sort of thing.
That was 15 years ago. The last time we talked, I learned they were divorcing due to infidelity.
Somehow, somewhere, many Christians have gotten sex very wrong and are paying the price for it in lingering shame, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy relationships. I know firsthand from the many confused, searching, heartrending emails I get from the readers of my Original Sinners erotica series. Many of my readers had been led to believe they had to choose between their sexuality and their faith. They are stunned by reading about my characters who are not only sexual (mostly bisexual and kinky) but also religious, some even church-going. But this is easy for fictional characters. What about real people? What about me? How can we be people of faith who are also sexual and sexually fulfilled? Surely there was a way. God invented sex after all. Maybe, just maybe, he wanted us to enjoy it?
Trying to glean any coherent ideology/theology from the Bible is an impossible, futile task, like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle of a cat together with pieces from dog and horse puzzles. Throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, God appears at one moment as a broken-hearted lover (Hosea 1:2), then a caring father (Isaiah 64:8), and often a bully and a sadist, little better than a celibate Zeus (Book of Job).
As it was written and compiled over thousands of years by thousands of writers and scribes, it’s hardly fair to demand ideological coherence from something that isn’t a single book but an anthology of short stories, history essays, pithy advice columns, and poems. Since everyone picks and chooses their favorite parts of the Bible and ignores the rest (case in point: the dude who had the anti-homosexuality Leviticus verse tattooed on his arm when, in fact, tattoos are also explicitly forbidden in Leviticus), I went looking for the people and the stories in the Bible that spoke to me as a woman of faith and a sexual person. Amidst all the thou shalls and thou shall nots, I found them.
1. Tamar (Genesis 38):
After Tamar’s first two husbands — an eldest son followed by the middle son — die and leave her without children, she demands another husband from her father-in-law, the tribal chief Judah. By law, Judah’s third son also belongs to Tamar but Judah is not willing to lose his youngest son and refuses her. Tamar, not pleased by this denial, takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a veiled prostitute, waits by the side of the road for Judah, and when he hires her for sex, she demands he give her his ring as a promise of payment. Tamar gets pregnant by her father-in-law during this encounter. Hypocrite that he is, Judah demands Tamar reveal who the father of her illegitimate child is and promises to have Tamar killed for her sins. She produces the ring and Judah is chastened. Not only that, but he gives her his third son in marriage. Even better, however, is that Judah declares Tamar righteous, more righteous than he.
Righteous, meaning just, meaning blameless in God’s eyes, being the one in the right. So much for purity rings and “true love waits.” In this case, true love puts on a veil and screws her father-in-law. Now that’s righteous.
2. Ruth (The Book of Ruth):
Ruth is a Moabite woman, not of the Hebrew tribes or religion, married to an Israelite (inter-faith marriage was not too frowned upon apparently). When her husband dies, she accompanies her mother-in-law Naomi back to Israel. A rich man named Boaz sees the lovely widow Ruth gleaning barley from his fields (an ancient version of welfare) and takes an interest in her. Naomi, wanting Ruth to secure this good man as quickly as possible, sends Ruth to Boaz’s threshing floor by night, tells her to uncover his feet while he sleeps and when he wakes and finds her there, he will desire her and make her his wife. Spoiler: the plan works. Though Ruth marries Boaz, the friendship between the two women is the primary story in The Book of Ruth and Boaz a secondary character. A woman need not cast off the important women in her life to have a relationship with a man.
Naomi and Ruth’s relationship might be the greatest mortal love story in the Bible.
One professor at my seminary, an expert on the Hebrew Bible, had an intriguing theory about The Song of Solomon. Some scholars, she said, had dated its writing to around the same time India’s Kama Sutra entered the culture. Perhaps The Song of Solomon, she theorized, was ancient Israel’s answer to the Kama Sutra. True or not, the book is undeniably erotic and though many evangelical Christian churches want to pretend the book is metaphorical, about God’s love for his bride the Church, it’s hard to buy that interpretation with verses like, “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle” (So 4:5). If that verse is about the Church, well then, apparently the Church has a nice rack. The book is undeniably a love poem about erotic and sensual love, glorifying it and celebrating it.
At no point in this book does the woman say to the man, “Are you sure we should be doing this?” Instead the couple makes love shamelessly, i.e. without shame.
I also found inspiration in Rahab the Harlot (please call me Tiffany the Harlot as it is the greatest epithet ever), glorious Queen Esther, even the Virgin Mary, who — to quote Gloria Steinem — was the first girl to need a man as much as a fish needs a bicycle. Fascinating women, all of them, who were powerful in their bodies and used or didn’t use sex to improve their lots in life or to save their people. Reading about these women freed me from any lingering guilt I had contracted through the church’s often misogynistic teachings. My own marriage has been happier than I deserve, and if I jump my husband later today, I will at no point worry we’re doing something we shouldn’t be.
The question I am asked most often is this—how can I be both a practicing Catholic and a writer of erotica?
Answer? Divine inspiration.
Tiffany the Harlot
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