The following is adapted from a short essay written for a course on Gender & Sexuality at Fuller’s School of Psychology, responding to the prompt, “Some say that spirituality and sexuality are ‘two sides of the same coin.’ Discuss.” You may first want to read pt. 1, pt. 2., and pt. 3.
With that said, there are obvious connections between the spiritual and the sexual. As we understand our bodies and our relational capacity, we can be thankful to God and rejoice in the goodness of God’s creation. In contrast, our inappropriate sexual hang-ups keep us from enjoying God’s gifts. We also recognize that living under God’s reign does preclude us from certain sexual activities because we believe sex is intended for certain relational contexts. When our sexual selves are not in alignment with God’s kingdom values—be it through selfishness and exploitation, sexism, cut-off from our own emotions, avoidance of healthy commitment, or even denial of our sexual selves entirely—we sin, damaging ourselves and our relationships.
These connections between the spiritual and the sexual, however, do not make all of our spiritual lives mystically sexual or even all of our human relationships and quests for intimacy sexual in any sense beyond the mere fact of our inevitably possessing sex and gender. Similarly, sexuality and spirituality are not merely a semantic alternative to a dualism of body and spirit, seeing as embodiment encompasses more than the sexual and this dualism deserves our skepticism to begin with. A better answer to the question of how we understand sexuality and spirituality comes from an essay by William May (2007) on the various extremes of such thought. “Biblical realism requires us to acknowledge three ways of abusing sex,” he says—“to malign it with the dualists, to underestimate it with the casualists, but also to overestimate it with the sentimentalists and therefore to get angry, frustrated, and retaliatory when it fails to transcend the merely human” (p. 194). Instead, he hopes that “[o]nce we free our relationships to others from the impossible pressure to rescue us or redeem us, perhaps we can be free to enjoy them for what they are. Specifically, we can enjoy without shame and with delight a sexual relationship for the pleasurable, companionable, and fertile human good that it is” (p. 195). Only when sexuality is not the opposite of the spiritual as in Platonic dualism nor the equivalence of spirituality can sexuality be free to be what it truly is: a fabulous gift which, while connecting with the whole of our lives and beings, is not our whole lives or beings. In such a framework, which neither takes sexuality too lightly nor too seriously (in either a negative or positive sense), we are at last free to relish sex as God intended.
May, W. F. (2007). Four Mischievous Theories of Sex: Demonic, Divine, Casual, and Nuisance. In K. Scott and Michael Warren (Ed.), Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader, 3rd ed. (186-195). New York: Oxford.