Visions of Daniel

The Human Core of Spirituality
Mind as Psyche and Spirit

see also The Nature of Spirituality and Its Connection with Sexuality

see also Sex as a Spiritual Experience


Papers link

  Chapter Eighteen

Sexuality and Spirituality

Part Four of this book is about human integration, and the even broader concern is to understand spirituality. Granted that spirit is one dimension of the human, wholesome human integration is actually spiritual integration. So this discussion of human integration is a discussion of spirituality. One way of filling out the matter was to consider the interaction of body, psyche, and spirit in the dynamic unity that is a human being (Chapter 16). Another way was to compare Freud's tripartite modelof the human—id, ego, and superego—with the tripartite model of this book (Chapter 17). Still another approach now follows consideration of an increasingly popular topic, the interrelationship of sexuality and spirituality. The goal remains to understand human integration. The result actually constitutes a spirituality of sex. This being so, what follows also stands as an extended example of spirituality as a scientific study.

The Novelty of this Topic

Until very recently, elaborate discussion of "sexuality and spirituality" was an impossibility—simply because so little was known about sexuality. Its systematic study is barely a century old. This study has exposed myths which, in some cases, controlled sexual attitudes and practices for centuries (Crooks & Baur, 1987; Hyde, 1979; Katchadourian, 1985; Tannahill, 1980). Examples are numerous….

Realizations astoundingly recent in human history have raised questions about the role of sexuality in the human quest for wholeness. Relating "sexuality and spirituality" is one way of addressing these questions. Under the impact of modern psychology, a major shift has occurred on this topic.

In former times, certainly in Western civilization since the decline of the Roman Empire, sexuality and spirituality were thought to be antagonistic (Boswell, 1980; Foucault, 1978; Noonan, 1965). Sex was a dark, secret, and often guilty thing, a condescension to the body. Sex was to be contained in licit marriage and was always to be controlled, and people truly dedicated to the "spiritual" were to avoid sex altogether. Such was the attitude that prevailed until the twentieth century. The former spirituality (in the second sense introduced in Chapter 2) approached sex in terms of suppression and control. Recent psychological understanding recognizes that approach as unhealthy and looks rather toward the integration of sexuality in the mature person. The sexual and the spiritual are to serve one another. The contemporary concern is to retrieve an appreciation for the beauty and value of sex and to explain how sexuality and spirituality complement each other (Carr, 1988; Chavez-Garcia & Helminiak, 1985; Donnelly, 1984; Fox ,1987; Haughton, 1972; Helminiak, 1986e, 1987a, 1987e, 1989b, 1994b, 1995a; Keen, 1983; Kelsey & Kelsey, 1986; Kraft, 1989; Monick, 1987; Moore, 1980; Nelson, 1978, 1983, 1988; Ohanneson, 1983; Whitehead & Whitehead, 1989; Woods, 1988)….

Sexual Ethics and the Spirituality of Sex

Most current approaches to sexuality and spirituality still actually avoid the issue. They turn spirituality into ethics or religion and end up proposing the familiar sex-negative vision. One account, for example, insists that, because God's love is passionate, God is actually sexual. So to integrate sexuality and spirituality means simply to love God properly—and to deemphasize the importance of physical sex itself (Peck, 1988)!

The key to the matter is one's understanding of "spirituality." As with all other topics, here, too, no sooner does "spirituality" enter the picture than belief in God is on the scene. Then sexuality is understood easily enough as God's good creation. And to reconcile sexuality and spirituality is simply to appreciate that goodness, to cherish the richness it can bring to life, and to exercise one's sexuality in accordance with God's good will. So this matter of spirituality quickly becomes theological and, what is more ominous, ethical. Sexual morality supplants sexual spirituality, and the morality is societal or religious prescriptions attributed to God.

The present account takes a different tack. It stays focused on spirituality and understands this to be an account of human integration that accords with the dynamism of human spirit. The divine is not the focus. Neither is the focus an ethical prescription for living. Rather, the explicit focus is an understanding of the human and its general possibilities. Of course, authenticity is central to this understanding, so ethical implications cannot be avoided….

In summary, the matter of reconciling sexuality and spirituality is simply a specific question of integration in the human being. The exigencies of organism as female or male and the exigencies of psyche as feminine or masculine need to find harmony with the common exigency of spirit, authenticity.

That one-sentence summary is the core of the matter. What follows is the detailed exposition of the matter: human integration whose focus is sexuality. That is, in line with the general argument of this book, what follows is a discussion of "sexuality and spirituality." This discussion stands here as another delineation of what human integration entails and, at the same time, as an example of an important facet of a comprehensive systematic spirituality.

Horniness, Romance, and Caring

It is difficult completely to separate the specific exigencies of organism, psyche, and spirit in the unified human being. Yet these different exigencies do show themselves in detectable ways. When sexuality is the focus, popular language even has terms that can apply to the three sets of exigencies.

Because of the exigencies of organism, one might say, "I'm horny." This phrase baldly refers to sheer physical desire for sex.

Because of the exigencies of psyche, one might say, "I'm in love." Here "in love" is taken to refer to an intense emotional state. The emphasis is on feelings and imaginations, on romance. "Infatuation" or "limerence" (Tennov, 1979) might be other terms for the same thing. The desire is for the comfort, the bliss, perhaps even the emotional ecstasy, elicited by the presence or thought of the other person. And absence of, or rejection by, the other results in emotional agony. Expressing mostly psyche, which mediates organism and spirit, "being in love" or romance can be the most powerful of interpersonal forces. It can overshadow thought and knowledge, good sense and social repute. It can be sustained apart from physical sexual expression or even physical presence. It can dwell in fantasy, in imagination, for its locus is psyche.

Finally, because of the exigencies of spirit, one might say, "I cherish you" or "I care for you." Here "caring" implies understanding, knowledge, and concern for the person as a person (Fromm, 1956; Mayerhoff, 1971). Here caring is the actuation of the fourth level of consciousness, sublating the other levels, expressing itself in decision, in choice, in self-dedication to another person because of her or his value or goodness, that one appreciates. The fourth is the level of consciousness most directly associated with love.

So horniness, romance, and caring result from the three sets of exigencies at stake in the integration of sexuality and spirituality.

The Possibility of Imbalanced Emphases

In practice, those three are not necessarily harmonized. To some extent they can be separated and isolated….

Not only physiological considerations suggest some possible separation of horniness, romance, and caring. The peculiar human capacity for self-determination may induce such separation, too. That is, we can choose, establish, and confirm our own lack of integration. This effect is especially obvious and common in the case of sexuality. Sexual integration is not widely achieved. A culture uncomfortable with sex sends out mixed messages: "Sex is dirty" but "Save it for someone you love" (Livingston, 1989). So, many people grow up at odds with their sexuality.

In a sex-negative culture, unintegrated emphasis on different aspects of humanity becomes easy and sometimes unavoidable. For example, the sheer power of the physical drive in some and the enticing pleasure in most can lead to a habit of indulgence in bald physical sex acts.

That is to be the case stereotypically among men. Certainly, it is not to be held up as an ideal. Nonetheless, such behavior might legitimately satisfy a need. In fact, while sex holds no interest for some people, others—especially as adolescents and young adults—have an intense and irrepressible sex drive. Their sexual need may be merely but urgently biological.

Casually satisfying that need, perhaps most expeditiously through masturbation, would hardly be geared toward the lofty and normative human goal of interpersonal relationship. Yet resisting that biological urge at all cost, like ignoring the need for eating or elimination, could likewise be counterproductive. Such a constant resistance would leave one preoccupied with sex, expending tremendous energy in self-control, and perforce compromising more important aspects of one's life.

For others, and sadly so, mere biological sharing of sex may be their only real opening to possible intimate contact with another person. In such a case, ought not that opening be explored? Art and literature hold many accounts of "salvation" that comes to a person through sex with, for example, a prostitute (Uris, 1984). Still, if the contact remains ever merely physical, the possibility never leads anywhere. In contrast, Bertrand Russell's intense love affair at age 39 with Lady Ottoline Morrell helped him break out of the world of sterile mathematics and open himself to deep human feelings and broad social concern (Russell, 1967).

Next, a desire for belonging and closeness, for being wanted and feeling loved, for delight in another person, may lead others on a relentless pursuit of "falling in love with love." Then romance, affection, infatuation, and the melodrama of love affairs become a preoccupation. This experience is said to be the case stereotypically among women.

Once again, the pursuit of romance may fill a need and at times productively, for one's emotional world is opened up and one's life has a gripping cause, yet this one-sided experience is exhausting and, repeated without growth, is ultimately fruitless.

Others, finally, following some dualistic philosophy or misguided religious ideal, seek to be "spiritual" in their love. So they eschew all physical and emotional involvement and go about "willing good" to others. They are committed to "humanity" in general but feel for no real human beings in particular. They practice "charity" on others or, rather, turn others into objects of "benevolence."

Of course, here again, such behavior may well be legitimate. There are times when one does need to give selflessly to another, to sacrifice one's own best interests, simply because that is good and is required (Psalm 15:4). But if such caring becomes one's sole and unbroken pattern, just like those other one-sided emphases in the human attempt to love, the result must be another kind of cul-de-sac.

All those one-sided emphases are possible, and people do pursue them. Of course, none can be simply and purely itself, for, like it or not, the human being is all three: body, psyche, and spirit. One does not love "spiritually" except in the body, while those who would "love" with only their bodies still have emotions and are committed to values. So sometimes a love that was to be merely platonic ends in romance and sexual sharing, and sometimes an encounter that was to be casual sex results in a relationship of tender emotion and genuine caring. That is, the human need for integration sometimes asserts itself despite ourselves—especially in matters of sex and love….

In this chapter there follow sections on

Integrated Human Love,

The Priority of the Interpersonal,

The Spiritual Thrust of Human Sexuality, and

Themes in Sexuality and Spirituality:

  • Sexual Arousal and Orgasm: Focus on the Individual,
  • Loving another Person: Focus on the Couple,
  • The Pollyanna Effect: Focus on the Human Family and the Cosmos,
  • Loneliness, That Endless Yearing: Focus on the Infinite,
  • The Goodness of Creation: Enter the Theist Viewpoint, and
  • Sexual Fulfillment in God: Enter the Theotic Viewpoint.