We know from the Gospel parables that Jesus conceptualized the Kingdom of God as an unexpected infiltration that brings renewal from the margins. In a sweeping act of rewilding, a weed diversifies a monocultural wheat field; an unclean culture infests and transforms a hard cracker into something more satisfying. Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew (13:31-33), “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come make nests in its branches.” He then tells another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” That which has been excluded, including non-normative sexual experiences and people of marginalized identities, is often a crucial missing ingredient for realizing the kingdom.
I have a pretty simple view of “sex-positivity.” To me it comes down to freedom + mutuality + safety. That is, the freedom to dream up and follow whatever sexual and emotional relationships you desire in mutual (honest, collaborative) relationships which are (emotionally, physically, spiritually) safe for everyone involved. I can imagine many different holy, responsible, loving sex-positive relationships existing within the trinity of freedom + mutuality + safety. Without these elements, I think we shift into what I think most Christians hear when they hear the phrase “sex-positive”: indiscriminate, irresponsible, unsafe, cheating. Especially problematic is the misconception that “sex-positive” is the same thing as being sexual or having sex. Freedom (+ mutuality + safety) to dream up and follow whatever sexual relationships you desire includes the freedom to abstain from sex, to express asexuality, and to have awesome monogamous sex within marriage- and giving others loving support in dreaming up what works for them! (Cis-gendered female bisexual married, in monogamy, to a heterosexual cis-gendered male)
Well, I’m still not sure what sex positivity is or would look like, but I’ve learned a bit about what it’s not. One example that stands out for me is a communal rule at one community I lived in which basically went like this: “Heterosexual couples can only stay in the same room if they are married. Gay or lesbian couples can share a room because we are going to pretend they are just friends.” I’d love to see communities where we can talk about our joys and struggles around sexuality without feeling judged. This can be challenging in places where much energy is devoted to protesting what’s “wrong” with society and empire. I remember years ago when a good friend came out in our radical Christian community. His courage and willingness to be open and vulnerable to a community of people who hadn’t necessarily seemed like that much of a safe space brought many of us a deeper understanding of sexual oppression and our part in it. Years later, this friend related a story he’d been told by another friend of ours: After working with a resistance community in Nicaragua for some time (in the 80s) this young man came out to his friends there. He was very nervous about it. Their response: “Brother, people are trying to kill us. Love whoever you want. It is hate we are worried about.” This story also serves to remind me that sometimes our struggles around sexuality can get a bit academic … People are trying to kill each other and the earth. Our work needs to stay real. I strongly recommend checking out Southerners On New Ground for anyone interested in an incredible group of GLBT grass roots organizers in the rural south who never lose sight of the big picture. (Bisexual female in a heterosexual monogamous marriage)
I was born in New England to middle class, white collar, married, heterosexual parents. I was raised in an atheist/agnostic community that was generally affirming and sex-positive and when I came out as queer, at the age of 14 or 15, it was not much of an issue. I moved to the South East when I graduated high school and have lived all of my adult life here. Living in a big city, I did not feel any less safe as a young queer woman than I had in New England, despite the South East’s reputation for being unwelcoming to LGBTQ folks. I met my partner there and, together, we began exploring a life of radical discipleship. Having so little experience with Christian communities, I was shocked by how unwelcoming and unaffirming so much of the Christian community (even the radical anarchist spaces) could be. Though I saw my path of discipleship as being one that sought to be in solidarity with those marginalized by our society, I was taken aback at the pain of suddenly finding myself marginalized by radical communities that I so desperately wanted to find my home in. I’ve found that my sexuality, something that I never saw as being so very central to my personhood, has become a huge part of my conversation in Christian spaces. I certainly don’t have the answers as to how to “do better” in our communities, but here are some things I would like to see. As Christians, I would like us to start talking about sex and sexuality. Period. We need to admit that sex/sexuality is something that is a part of all of our lives (yes, even of those who choose to remain celibate) and start learning how to have healthy relationships, helpful counsel and honest communication. I have heard some concern about sex becoming an inappropriately dominant conversation topic, and that is not what I am suggesting. I would like to see sexuality and sex be discussed in the same way that we discuss so many other aspects of our lives. How does discipleship shape the way we eat, work, play, spend, talk, give, take, love and engage in sexuality? How does discipleship guide who we live with, eat with, talk with, become friends with, become family with, have sex with? Because sexuality is something we have both repressed and used to oppress for so long, we need to be extra conscious about how we engage with this conversation. I would like to see the communities I find myself in recognize both sexuality and gender to be a spectrum rather than a dichotomy. I’d like to see these communities recognize that sexuality and gender are fluid and can change, grow and morph as we do. I’d like to see these communities really struggle to recognize that, as long as the ways in which we engage our sexualities and genders are safe, consensual, transparent and emotionally healthy, the ways in which we do that may be very very different from each other. I think a good way to begin this process is to start with individual conversations. Some of the most moving conversations about sexuality for me recently have taken place between me and a friend who recently married into a beautiful, loving heterosexual marriage. Though our experiences are so different, I have found so much clarity and counsel in being able to share our experiences, struggles and joys within our respective partnerships, discuss our decisions regarding sex and her and her partner’s decisions about birth control (something unnecessary in my partnership). Even though our needs are so different, we can listen and empathize with each other and learn from each other’s experiences. Most importantly, we are able to see how our desires, needs and choices, though so drastically different, serve us, help make us whole and put us in the best position to be the partners, friends, individuals and disciples that we seek to be. I would like to see more conversations like these happen in Christian communities. I have a hard time envisioning broader conversations and more concrete steps that communities mighty take, but I imagine that as more of those conversations are had, we will become better at hearing each other’s needs and responding to them appropriately.
In order for there to be an accountable and anti-oppressive collective project around sexuality in a community, there must be a basic level of competence and/or shared understanding that any community that does not engage gender and sexuality intentionally is likely to lack accountability and be oppressive to its members. Once this basic level is achieved, a community might participate in an anti-oppression training focused on gender and sexuality. There should be a safe space for all members to hear one another, allowing especially for the ‘invisible’ to become visible to all members. One example of this might be addressing the dynamic how femininity in terms of dress is discouraged while a more masculine look is affirmed in certain communities. Consistent discussions should take place around how gender roles are exhibited in the community, in addition to addressing what community norms may be mirror reflections of oppressive norms in society. As a European-American heterosexual male, “Sex-positivity” means being accountable to all peoples in realizing that a hierarchical system has been in place for centuries that moralizes gender identity and sexual orientation and behavior. Moreover, it is my responsibility to not perpetuate sex-negative forms of expression (e.g. gender binary system), but to help facilitate an environment for all persons to freely express and process their own gender identity and sexuality. (European-American heterosexual male)
I identify as a woman, but I am often “sir’ed” and feel comfortable blurring gender lines. I use the word “queer” to describe my sexual orientation, which resonates for me as a cousin of “wild”—something that defies and transgresses normative categorization. Concretely, it means I am attracted to people regardless of their gender. Again, this organic, spontaneous, natural, untamed, heart-deep tug is something wild. I am currently in a cross-cultural relationship with another woman. Growing up, I understood sexuality as a life-urge expressed in myriad ways: in deeply committed friendships, in the bond between myself and my mother, through my spirituality, and through creative and transformative projects, such as writing, organizing, and living in community. I chose to remain celibate but simultaneously began to explore my physical sexuality as a young teen, something which remains taboo for women, especially in Christian circles. My choice not to express my sexuality in the normative system of “dating” seemed to negate my sexuality among many peers and family members. I felt that many people treated me as asexual, which was very frustrating. I found affirmation when I lived in community with religious sisters who embraced both sexuality and celibacy. Up until recently, I believed I would remain celibate until I committed to a long-term partner. However, I realized that this decision was based not in sex-positivity, but in a history of sexual violence. My mother, whose wisdom I deeply cherish, continues to live with the trauma of past sexual abuse. I believe this experience has shaped her counsel to me on physical sexual expression. Identifying my own fear of sexual violence and reaching for healing has freed me to explore new definitions of sex-positivity in my own life, while still respecting my mother’s experience. Addressing our wounds and trauma around sexuality is pivotal to any project seeking to untie the knots of oppression and move toward accountable freedom.
For me, sexual justice starts with not being afraid of my body and not being afraid of falling in love. I’m exploring celibacy, so the love I’m seeking is a radical mutual love relationship with God, with nothing held back, no part of my – or God’s – body or soul. I want my whole self and all my senses be taken with God, to be wrapped in the texture of God’s justice and freedom and life and beginnings and scream-it-out-loud strength. For this sort of love to be real and not escapist, I feel it needs a physical level, in my own body as well as in my love relationships with other people. It needs not to be afraid of crossing gendered and sexual boundaries and taboos. It needs to embrace the emotional, spiritual, and physical creative chaos that comes with falling in love. My community engages in nonviolent civil resistance for peace and justice. I believe that to the extent that we are faithful witnesses, it is because the power of our life force – our eros – allows us to stand nonviolently unafraid in the face of evil. Because we are in love. With life. (Queer, cis-gendered woman, celibate)
Between the ages of 12-14 I had sexual intercourse and oral sex with other boys my age. I was ashamed of that part of my life for a long time. I started to believe in the Judeo Christian narrative by the time I was 16. My new faith made me feel even worse about the homoerotic acts of my past. I never felt safe enough to tell anybody. I never felt safe enough to explore my own sexuality. I started dating women because that was normative, even know I might have been sexually attracted to people of both genders. I pushed my past aside. I even started telling people lies about my sexual past. I told them that I started having sex when I was twelve with women. I didn’t dare tell them the truth. I eventually started to believe being gay was wrong in God’s eyes. I always believed gay/queer folks deserved civil rights, but I learned to love the sinner and hate the sin (homosexuality). By the time I was 18 I started to believe in concepts of anarchy and still had homophobic ideas. Not until going to Glide Church in San Francisco and living in New York City for a while did I understand that I couldn’t be radical and homophobic. I began to have many trans, queer and gay friends. I realized that I could not be a good honest friend or create a safe space for them if I thought their sexuality was sinful. It also didn’t make sense to have the same sexual politics as President Bush or the white supremacist, heterosexual, imperialistic and colonialist US Government. I prayed and prayed until the Spirit communicated to me in my heart that the Spirit wants all people to be liberated. If we as a Christian community want to have accountable and anti-oppressive collective communities around idea’s of healthy and honest sexualities this must include the de-colonial project of leaving normative sexualities only behind. We must be embracing and empowering people with different sexualities to be who they are. No one can be free if they are not able to be themselves. Now that I am in my late twenties I have told many people of my past sexual experiences. I am no longer ashamed of myself or of my acts. Jesus says, “the truth shall set you free” and believe me, it has. I am a white male now non-legally married to a woman and think of myself as a queer ally who is still trying to figure out my own sexuality. (Cis-gendered male in monogamous life partnership with a woman)
I have often wished that there were queer folks in my community who could model whole, committed romantic partnerships. Regardless of orientation, it’s important to have more seasoned couples to turn to for relationship advice and accountability during times of discord. The master narrative works to convince all of us, queer and straight, that queer people are promiscuous and irresponsible. Positive leadership from partnered queer elders would create a space that, first and foremost, nourishes love between people with marginalized sexualities. However, this guidance would also expose the strength of our commitments and help all community members to resist the divisive tactics used by the larger culture to denigrate queer people and the gifts they have to offer the church as marginalized peoples. (Queer woman, engaged)
My mom came from the working class, my dad from the middle-class. I was their fourth offspring, raised in the late 20th century with some sex-negativity, based on religious dogma and my mom’s ongoing un-guided healing from having been sexually molested as a child. Sex has been used so much as a tool of violence in our extra-violent culture of the USA, that it’s hard to escape sex-negativity that comes from ubiquitous unhealthy or abusive sexuality. “Sex-negativity” is the normal result of religious or psychological baggage hindering the natural ability to celebrate the goodness of sex. “Sex-positivity” is the innate honoring of sex. Civilization and religion are the main methods of transmitting patterns of respect for other people, keeping a safe distance whereby we don’t objectify others or sexualize our relationships non-consensually. Other alternatives of blessing others with sexual liberation outside of civilized/religious norms require extra dialog and energy. It’s easier to stick with the main methods. Understanding the respectfulness of Jesus and his sexuality is the best way to create patterns of respect for others while simultaneously being sex-positive—it’s an alternative method. Anyone interested in alternative methods should cast the invitation wide to get together to conspire in an egalitarian forum. (Male, Hetero, Monogamous, Poly-Curious, Committed/Married)
I am a middle-class white woman with both a bachelors and masters degree. On the spectrum of sexuality, I am more often attracted to men than to women. Currently I am in a monogamous relationship with a man. A handful of years ago, after the end of a dysfunctional relationship with a man, I moved into a Christian intentional community. We were a household of six people, two men and four women. I knew 4 of my 5 housemates before moving in. I remember on that first night, I was feeling quite awkward and dejected, mostly because my boyfriend had broken up with me and so much of my identity had been wrapped up in him. After a brief house meeting, one my housemates invited me to share her bed that night. We had been friends since high school and she said that she was missing a romantic partner who had recently moved. As we lay in bed, I told her the story of how my relationship ended and what had been so painful about it. She listened and offered supportive words. Eventually we fell asleep. I remember sharing the bed with her as a caring and welcoming gesture. This woman and I have never been in a romantic relationship with each other, have never kissed each other or expressed our care in sexual ways. But he have often shared a bed. This was the case with 3 other housemates that year. One housemate would lay on my bed with me and stroke my hair on days when I quite depressed. Another housemate asked if I would share a bed with him (in a non-romantic way) because he was feeling particularly lonely and disconnected from people. For a brief period of time with another housemate we decided to have sexual connections. We made out a few times and chose to have oral sex once. We then decided, for the good the household relationships, we would not continue relating in that way. Since we didn’t feel compelled to be in an ongoing relationship with each other, we did not want our sexual activity to isolate us from our housemates. We lived together for 6 months after that and held to that decision. In each of these cases, I felt valued and loved by those with whom I was interacting. In the cases when I chose to share a bed with another person (male or female) without a sexual encounter, it was a mutual affirmation of recognizing that needs of people to be close to each other while not reinforcing a stereotype (both cultural and religious), that sharing a bed = having sex. During the year I lived with these 5 housemates, I learned to honor my body in sexual and non-sexual ways. I learned to detach the need for closeness from the need for sex. I learned to honor the bodies of others and to be comfortable with platonic closeness. These experiences and learnings are examples to me of being a sex-positive community.
Chelsea Collonge is a member of the ministry team of Hosanna! People's Seminary, an online community for peer-to-peer theological education. After several happy years in the nuclear abolition movement (www.nevadadesertexperience.org), Chelsea is in seminary through the distributed-learning program of the Episcopal Divinity School, researching the intersection of kink sexualities and Christian spirituality. She lives at Trinity House Catholic Worker in Albuquerque, NM.
Liza Minno Bloom currently resides in Albuquerque, NM, where she is pursuing a Master's Degree in American Studies at the University of New Mexico. Her work focuses on the intersections of indigenous studies, queer studies and environmental history. She is also a member of the Black Mesa Indigenous Support Collective, a grassroots, all volunteer run collective dedicated to solidarity work with the Diné peoples of Black Mesa who are targeted by and resisting unjust large-scale coal mining operations and forced relocation policies of the US government.