Sex, Gender and the Sacred

The road to the sacred runs through the carnal. Not only the Bible but Life itself reveals that sexuality is more spiritual than biological. The erotic is God's poetry of love calling us out of ourselves to awareness of beauty and to an expansive creativity and giving of ourselves. We go to God through one another, via loving, not apart from one another. --Paschal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oral sex at the Synagogue, Rabbi Marc Gellman

Oral Sex at the Synagogue
Uncomfortable or not, it is time for clergy to speak out about how God wants our kids to use their bodies
WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Marc Gellman
Newsweek
Updated: 1:54 p.m. ET Nov. 9, 2005

Nov. 9, 2005 - Last Sunday afternoon I had a nice chat with sixth-grade children and their parents about oral sex. Let me assure you that when I studied to be a rabbi, oral sex was not an elective in my seminary’s curriculum, but now it seems to me of much greater importance than teaching these kids how to bless a challah bread.

I write this week, not only to both of my dedicated readers, but also to the thousands of clergymen and clergywomen who have avoided teaching their congregants and the children of their congregants about sexual promiscuity—and I know why. First of all, it is just unbelievably embarrassing to talk about this stuff. I am a fearless public speaker but my palms were sweating all through the lecture last Sunday. In the follow-up to the lecture, the main question the kids had was, “Do you really have sex?�

There is another obstacle to speaking about things sexual in a house of worship, and that is the ancient and nearly universal religious embarrassment about talking about the urges of the body. Religion simply prefers things soulful to things corporal. This is derived from Aristotle’s preference of form over matter and therefore we are regularly addressed from the pulpit as creatures who are but little lower than the angels, when in fact we are also like my guide-dog-in-training who, as I write these words, is happily humping my leg. Religious leaders today must remember that we are embodied souls, and those bodies are now being seduced by an unprecedented avalanche of sex carried by TV, movies, video games, music, magazines and beer ads. The avalanche’s roar carries a single message: love and sex do not have to be connected in any way at all. Sex can be just hooking up, this message says, and to avoid pregnancy (obviously true) and to avoid AIDS and STDS (utterly false) oral sex is seen by our kids as nothing more than an after-school snack. Many kids now consider it as nothing more than a social convention, a mark of popularity, a sign of sexual liberation and a pleasant way to pass the time in the back of the bus on the way to school.

Houses of worship have not been quite as blind to the threat of drug, alcohol and cigarette abuse because those health dangers are obvious and speaking about them does not cause your palms to sweat. However, it is time for us clergy folk to speak out in a sensitive, not hysterical, non-judgemental, but loving and firm way about how God wants our kids to use their bodies.

What is needed now is a common and loving message to our kids that they don’t have to live this way. That message, grounded in our faith and values and love for our children can and must stretch from liberal to evangelical pulpits. It can be a message offered not imposed, reasoned not dictated and lovingly shared, not bombastically ordered. Even though the religious leaders of America are theologically and politically divided on a host of topics, there ought to be, there must be, universal agreement that the national upsurge of oral sex between minors who do not love each other is not what God wants for them, even if, in a moment of boredom or passion, it is what they want for themselves. Even if such sexual behavior were not illegal or physically harmful or immoral, which it is, it would be profane. If the religious leaders of our country cannot all bring themselves to speak about this intimate and embarrassing but central moral issue in our culture now, then frankly it does not matter much if we give great movie reviews or political diatribes in our next sermon. It does not matter if our kids perfectly know the words to prayers and hymns but have no idea how to preserve their sexual virtue until a time when they are no longer children and when they no longer ride the bus, prowl the malls and play Grand Theft Auto.

I asked the girls I teach and love last Sunday, “When you offer oral sex to a boy who does not love you and may not even like you and who will most probably destroy your reputation by telling his friends what you will do, are you proud of yourself? Do you think you are making your parents proud of you? Do you think this is what God wants you to do with your body? You are better than that. You are much better than that.�

I asked the boys I teach and love last Sunday, “When you ask or beg or plead or coerce or manipulate a young girl who likes you and just wants to be popular to go down on you, are you proud of doing that to her? Do you think you are making your parents proud of you? Do you think this is what God wants you to do with your body? You are better than that. You are much better than that.�

Then I surrendered to my need to explain that this was not just me talking, but our faith talking and so I quoted the Talmud to them: “Be very careful if you make a woman cry, because God counts her tears. The woman came out of a man’s rib: Not from his feet to be walked on. Not from his head to be superior, but from the side to be equal. Under the arm to be protected, and next to the heart to be loved.�

And then I took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off my palms and watched their faces as they thought about something deeply important and difficult. Maybe I changed nothing. I think I started some important conversations at home, and all this happened in my synagogue. Last Sunday I know I did my job, and I did it without teaching anybody how to bless a challah.
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