Looking out the café window on a warm spring day, I watched as a short, rotund man pulled off his shirt and bared his quite large tummy to the friendly rays of the sun. “There’s a man sitting at the bus stop who’s just taken off his shirt—” I started to tell my companion, a pastor colleague thirty years my junior.
“What?” he teased. “Is that driving you to lust?”
“Uh …” I stumbled, blushing slightly. “Actually that was not at all the direction my thoughts were going,” I managed, “though I suppose that’s a possibility.” I looked again at the bare-chested man, who had thrown his arms up in the air enthusiastically, as if cheering on the sun, or worshiping it. “No,” I repeated, “he’s not really my type.” I went on to propose that most Canadians feel sun-starved after winter’s darkness, and might like to follow suit, even if modesty prohibits us from doing so. My companion and I returned to our previous conversation.
Upon later reflection, I concluded I enjoyed my friend’s flippant remark. For starters, we are sexual beings; we carry our sexuality with us everywhere we go, often as unconsciously as the air we breathe or the water we drink. When it is openly named, there is often a little frisson of energy, a reminder of the power and liveliness of our sexuality (hence my blush). It is good and necessary to acknowledge openly that we are sexual beings.
Our sexuality is separate from and connected to our sexual behaviours. Our sexuality is twinned with our deep experiences of being male or female, of how that is understood in our world and how we have lived out of being a woman or being a man. Our sexual behaviours relate to arousal and sexual touching and intercourse. We need to be honest with ourselves about our sexuality and our sexual behaviors, and we need safe, friendly places to honour our sexual selves. God forbid that entertainment avenues become the only place where awareness of sexuality or sexual behaviours occurs. Should lust be a problem, we need sisters and brothers who call us to account and help us gain sexual wholeness.
We also need places where we can tease each other about sexuality. Sex is (or often can be) funny. If we fear or deny ourselves the gift of playing with our sexuality, we are missing a big piece of the joy and delight of being human. I believe we need people with whom we can tease or flirt; we need to find ways to hold lightly the sexual attraction that pulses between humans and enlivens our interactions. And those places and people need to be respectful ones, where boundaries are understood and honoured.
I also appreciated the joke about lust because I’m old. That’s a relative term, I know, but certainly when I was a teenager, I would never have imagined my grandparents (who were “old” like I am now) could have had any kind of sex life. I now know it’s entirely plausible. To have lust suggested, in a playful manner, was a reminder that old people are sexual beings too.
The Christian church has been beset with ambivalence on the goodness of sexuality and its open expression, a legacy that is far beyond the scope of this column. I take heart in the inclusion of the sensually drenched Song of Songs in our Bible, in spite of the controversy and discomfort that has resulted from it. Surely its unabashed descriptions of juicy, loving bodily pleasure is a sign that God creates, takes delight in and blesses our sexuality.
Melissa Miller (email@example.com) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.