I opened my email and saw the subject line: “Help! I thought I did it right, but it’s gone to hell!” I’d been traveling and speaking about ancient Hebrew sources of erotic wisdom and had a backlog of messages. But this one from a woman named Stacey jumped out at me.
I heard you speak recently at a women’s conference. Your words resonated deeply with me—they stirred up old pain, but gave me new hope at the same time. I knew that what I’d been told about sex in my growing-up years was counterfeit, but your naming it has helped me believe my own knowing. I grew up focusing on everyone else, believing that if I took care of others and tried to be kind and good, everything would work out. I married Tyler, the nice Christian boy, when I was very young— but before long, I found myself accommodating him in every way imaginable. Our sex life was all about making him feel good. I never thought about me. Sex was on his time, when he wanted it, how he wanted it. We were to a point where I would try to make him think that everything he was doing to me was making me feel good, just so he could feel good about himself. He didn’t seem able to handle criticism or instruction.
Stacey went on to explain that about eight years into their marriage, she began to speak up more frequently to Tyler, trying to make space for her own opinions and desires. She quickly learned, however, that Tyler couldn’t handle it without becoming defensive and withdrawing into depression.
I’d revert into caretaking and try to bolster him. I needed his help running our family, and I couldn’t afford for him to disappear physically and emotionally. But as I acquiesced into silence and accommodation, I would start to feel more and more empty inside, like I was becoming invisible even to myself, and I would eventually start to speak up again. Tyler and I were in a vicious cycle: I’d feel powerless, I’d speak out, Tyler would disappear into himself, I’d cave and try to shore up his emotions, so I’d feel trapped again, so I’d speak up—and around and around we’d go. The more times we went around that circle, the more unhappy I became, and our marriage slowly unraveled. We divorced just shy of our twelve-year anniversary. That was two years ago.
Dis-integration and the birth of shame
Stacey’s message pointed to something that countless others have experienced: the denial of our sexuality because we’ve been trained to separate our bodies from our being. Long before Jesus arrived on the scene, Aristotle and Plato cemented what has become known as the mind/body split, or mind/body dualism. They argued that the mind and the body, two different substances, occupied a hierarchical relationship in which the mind was the greater element and the 6 body more of a burden. This dualism has caused countless personal, relational, and theological problems for thousands of years, especially for women.
Because the experiences of birth and nurturing are intensely physical, it was assumed that women were mostly of the body and had less access to the mind and spirit. It followed, then, that women were only fully spiritual when connected with a man, who was of the mind. This was the beginning of the hierarchical arrangement we know today as patriarchy. It gave a framework by which men were thought of as the head over the baser, bodily women. And being bound to the body also meant that women were sources of men’s sexual temptation. Therefore, women were seen as something to be controlled and resisted—mind over body. When men failed to live up to standards of sexual conduct, they blamed women as the cause.
This dis-integration of the human experience set the stage for the fourth-century Christian church, under Constantine’s rule, to develop a distinctly sex-negative, woman-negative sexual ethic. Men, vying for position and power in the young church, demonstrated their spiritual prowess by denying the body and its natural desires for connection and pleasure, elevating the spiritual mind as master over the base body. It’s important to understand that the “skill” of rejecting physical connection and pleasure had nothing to do with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was based on the dis-integration of the human person—on severing the inherent oneness of mind and body, thereby disavowing a major part of the human experience.
This is an excerpt from the Dialogues On: Sexuality Learner Book and written by Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers. Interested in reading more? Get your copy here for only $9.99!