Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Should we, or shouldn't we?

Got a couple of intriguing questions recently from some of my married readers.

  • 1. What are Christian Scientists supposed to do for birth control?

  • 2. What is your take on oral sex?

I'm going to tackle the second question first, because frankly, that's where my attention went! I'll probably write on the first question tomorrow.

And, just to reiterate, both my answers will address the issues within the context of marriage. The people asking are married, so let's assume that. Possibly I'll write another entry covering some of the non-married issues.

So, oral sex—right, or wrong? The issue tends to come up when one spouse enjoys being on the receiving end, but the other spouse isn't too keen on providing it. What to do?

When I work as a practitioner with people regarding anything to do with their marriage, I try to orient the discussion toward the marriage itself. Meaning, there's you, there's your spouse, and then there's this third thing—your marriage. The idea is to make the *marriage* happy and strong. It's not about making each other happy and successful, it's about the two of you working together to make the marriage happy and successful.

I'll also pull out a few passages from Mary Baker Eddy, just to put us all on the same page, so to speak. People were asking her this kind of question all the time—it's amazing how obsessed Christendom has historically been with sexuality.

When asked by a wife or a husband important questions concerning their happiness, the substance of my reply is: God will guide you. Be faithful over home relations; they lead to higher joys: obey the Golden Rule for human life, and it will spare you much bitterness. It is pleasanter to do right than wrong; it makes one ruler over one's self and hallows home, — which is woman's world. Please your husband, and he will be apt to please you; preserve affection on both sides.

Great mischief comes from attempts to steady other people's altars, venturing on valor without discretion, which is virtually meddlesomeness. Even your sincere and courageous convictions regarding what is best for others may be mistaken; you must be demonstratively right yourself, and work out the greatest good to the greatest number, before you are sure of being a fit counsellor.

--Miscellaneous Writings, p. 287

Apparently there were some wives in the early days of Eddy's movement who felt they had "overcome" sexuality, so were denying it to their husbands. I've always felt her short essay "A Christian Science Statute" was in response to that. Here are two passages from that essay.

A man or woman, having voluntarily entered into wedlock, and accepted the claims of the marriage covenant, is held in Christian Science as morally bound to fulfil all the claims growing out of this contract, unless such claims are relinquished by mutual consent of both parties, or this contract is legally dissolved. …

When causing others to go astray, we also are wanderers. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Ask yourself: Under the same circumstances, in the same spiritual ignorance and power of passion, would I be strengthened by having my best friend break troth with me?

--Miscellaneous Writings, pp. 297, 298

The question of which sexual acts are "right" or "wrong" to me is too narrow a question. When you're dealing with a marriage, the issue is much bigger than a laundry list of "this is okay, this isn't." In fact, I believe one of the fallacies of Christendom has been to try to delineate and then enforce the prohibition of external behaviors, supposedly as a way to lead to greater spirituality. I don't think it works that way. I think it's the greater spirituality that leads to the appropriate external behavior. The behavior is the result of spiritual growth, not the cause of it.

So, as Eddy says, "God will guide you." The oral sex decision is one you can actually take to God, moment by moment. What will make the marriage stronger? What will express the most love? What will increase the harmony between the spouses? Can this be an opportunity for the spouses to communicate honestly and work together on their issues, sexual and otherwise?

Orienting yourself within a marriage toward God can bring some perspective to "should I or shouldn't I" questions. God will guide you moment by moment, and you can trust that that will add up to years. We make the mistake of thinking each decision is a policy statement for all time, when in fact we're only responsible for right now.

Fill your "right nows" with God, and let His loving guidance motivate your actions. I'm convinced this applies even in the most intimate of circumstances.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 12/27/2006 12:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Laura. Great entry.

I've had some great discussions with my practitioner about various sexual issues, and he once did a riff about how women -- who traditionally have played the role of gatekeeper on sexual matters, ensuring that moral standards are enforced -- have been shirking their responsibilities in the past 30 or 40 years.

He blames the organized feminist movement, but I think it's much simpler than that: You aren't going to go out of your way to do something you don't enjoy.

In Mrs. Eddy's day, women weren't just saying, "Let's wait for marriage." They were looking for any excuse they could find to enjoy sex, because they didn't enjoy it. Men were having a great time, because men's bodies are designed in such a way that enjoyment kind of happens by default -- they don't have to know what they're doing. (I could take a cheap shot here about this being necessary to the survival of the species, given men's typical resistance to reading the directions, but I won't. *LOL*)

Women's bodies, on the other hand, don't always work that way, and in a repressed society that lacked such amenities as the Kinsey report, the "Cosmo Kama Sutra," or "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask," sex for women was -- forgive the pun -- anticlimactic at best, and downright painful at worst.

Under those circumstances, why *wouldn't* women seize any excuse they could find to practice celibacy? Factor in the lack of reliable birth control, and ... well, to quote Scarlett O'Hara: "What would that get me but a passel of brats?"

Mercifully, most of us have since figured out how to enjoy sex, which is good for our marriages ... but unfortunately, we're still trying to overcome decades of silly hangups that have somehow gotten mixed up with spirituality.

At 12/27/2006 12:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops -- meant to say, "Women for looking for any excuse they could find to avoid sex, because they didn't enjoy it." D'oh!

At 12/27/2006 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Laura said...

These wonderful ideas came via email from reader Pamela:

I wanted to comment on the entry today. I appreciate your honesty and forthrightness about talking about issues that Christian Scientists will probably not get answers to in very many places. I am sure that they are so grateful for your input.

My husband and I have been married for 36 years this December. I feel that is solely because of our devotion to being humble, respectful, sovereign, individual, loving, patient and that we listen to God's direction and spiritualize our relationship. My husband likes to think of it as a relation...."ship" since he is a wooden boat builder. It is like a ship at sea.... meaning that it is not always beautiful weather and there will be some challenges, but you know that "Love is at the Helm of thought" and never need to give up or jump over the side. The ship (sailboat) rides out the storm bobbing up and down, but never tipping over. It has the heavy keel full of bountiful spiritual ideas that balances the challenge. You can
throw out a steadying anchor to slow it down. The anchor is the firm foundation that you can't see and the sails are the consciousness and connection to God that embrace and fill with inspiration that powers the ship. The rudder keeps you on track going in the right direction and the compass shows you where you are heading. And then we read the story about Jesus calming the storm "Peace be still to all human fears"

We have sailed across the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and up and down to the Caribbean. I have learned so much about letting go and letting God be in control because you have NO other choice. We just need to accept, yield, allow, let God take charge. It is all about Soul and Spirit, Truth Life and Love and Principle and Mind.

I would like to say that if a marriage partner feels that there is something that does not abide with his or her spiritual sense of relationship, then the other partner needs to listen and respect that uncomfortable feeling. It is not as if they are giving up sex. This is just a form of it that is not palatable for one of the members.

Thank you, Pamela!


At 12/27/2006 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Dear Laura....

I love this post....amazng, courageous, loving, graceful....just so you...and it is exactly the tack I take in working with patients who have those kinds of was wonderful to see that God is giving us all the answers that best align with His guidance and care of eachother....all my love...

At 12/27/2006 09:28:00 PM, Anonymous Dennis R. said...

Scripture says that the marriage bed is undefiled. In my opinion what goes on there is between the couple and God and no one else.

If something makes one of the parties uncomfortable, then this person's feelings should be respected.

I have found in 32 year's of marriage that trying to please my wife reaps enormous benefits.

The Song of Solomon is an eye-opening reading.

At 1/01/2007 09:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis says: "In my opinion what goes on there is between the couple and God and no one else. If something makes one of the parties uncomfortable, then this person's feelings should be respected."

I completely agree on both counts.

So far, my husband (who is not a Scientist) hasn't come up with any requests that made me uncomfortable. If anything, it's the other way around ... although it should go without saying that if he isn't cool with something, I let it go; the purpose of sex is to express love, and if you're pushing your spouse into an uncomfortable situation, you're expressing selfishness, which is anything but loving!

I think I've felt vaguely guilty that I am so comfortable with so many aspects of my sexuality. I've wondered if that was really appropriate for a Christian Scientist. If there's no pleasure in the body, am I compromising my ability to heal by ... well ... taking so much pleasure from the body?

I think the key is to keep your motives pure. I'm not keen on sex for the sake of sex. But if you're talking about sex within the context of a loving, committed marriage, then you are talking about expressing love for your spouse in a way that words just can't approach. And I think that is completely appropriate.


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