Form: Lecture (Transcript)
Presented: March 2016
Presented in: TCE 575B Theology of Eroticism


Dan: I had the privilege of reading Lauren’s–and I always get confused on what we call this mammal–but major–

Lauren: Integrative project.

Dan: Integrative project, and will let her talk about it, but it was a fabulous read that began looking at Augustine’s concubine and relationship he had with his own sexuality. And it just was not just good writing and good thought but really intriguing for the work we do. So I asked if it were possible that she do more than AI, that she also AI. 

[Laughter]

Lauren: I got it.

Dan: So I’m very happy to have you take us for the next however long you wish.

Lauren: Thank you.

[Applause]

All right. So a lot of what I’ll be talking about today is pulled from my integrative project, which I did two years ago. And it’s been really cool to see how that has shifted. I’ve learned more since being a student and haven’t had a chance to share exactly this content since graduating.

So I want to start by saying it’s been really cool to be sitting in this class because I’ve noticed that a lot of the categories that Dan brings has led to really similar conclusions I’ve made, but I’m coming from a very different direction, I guess. I’m coming from theology and its intersection with literature.

So I think it would be unfair to dive into a lecture like this, on sexual desire, without telling a bit of my story. I grew up well-invested in purity culture. I signed a couple abstinence pledges. I wore a True Love Waits purity ring I had given a sexy name: Susetta Lynn. (I did know then that that wasn’t a sexy name.)

[Laughter]

It was just really funny to me. But my primary take-away from purity culture was that I, as a woman, did not desire sex. But boys, oh my gosh boys, they will do anything for sex. So I needed to hide my midriff, withhold kisses, and keep that ring glued to my finger.

By the time I was a junior in college, this message was internalized: I had no sexual desire, but my boyfriend had plenty. And it was my job to manage his desire.

But by age 20, after four years of youth group, two years in an evangelical college, I was not taught what to do with desire: not my own desire, which I thought did not exist. Not my boyfriend’s desire, except to just say no, over and over again.

And how does a person learn to say no to the fury of desire she did not even know she had? (She doesn’t.)

So a few months into this relationship, I grew into a deep depression. I felt guilty for breaking the rules I had subscribed to as a teenager, leading to an internal monologue of slut-shaming. What I wasn’t asking myself was: what do you really want, Lauren? Is it sexual pleasure? Is it to feel desired, sexy, or worldly? Or is it to feel loved by your boyfriend, to be sexy-enough for him?

A year into my depression, I took a class on contemporary literature, where I was introduced to the novels of John Updike. Updike wrote really honest, almost crass, stories of human sexuality tangled with theology—stories that made so many of my classmates uncomfortable. For me, I was finally given the space I needed to ask my questions without the condemnation I felt from purity culture or from deep inside my head.

Since then, Updike’s novels and non-fiction have profoundly shaped how I do theology, particularly this work around theology. Ultimately what I’m bringing you today is my theology of eroticism, which began in my college lit classroom, reading Updike for the first time.

My objective for today’s lecture is for us to consider how sexual desire, at its best, can be “iconic,” revealing to its participants a glimpse of the divine. I use the word “iconic” playfully: what I mean is icon-like versus idol-like. Icons, we know from the Orthodox tradition, are the images or vessels through which we see God. They are not an end in themselves but a vehicle. Idols, on the other hand, are both the ends and the means. While one worships through an icon, one worships an idol.

In order to bring us to this objective, I hold to a primary assumption I have about sexual desire and all desire—that it can either be ordered or dis-ordered. This is language borrowed from St. Augustine, explicated most clearly in his essay entitled, “On Christian doctrine”:

He says, “…[L]iving a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love [or desire] things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less….” and he goes on for a while. (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28) In other words, there’s a fitting place for all of one’s desires, whether they’re meant to be fulfilled or not.

I am careful to use this language of ordering rather than calling any particular desire good or bad, because I believe at their core all desires are really, really good; they tell us something essential about who we are as humans. Theologian Sarah Coakley talks about desire as being ontological, something fundamental to our humanity and fundamental to how we relate to the Trinitarian God.

So if desire can be ordered or disordered—if it can have a proper position in one’s life or an improper position—then we know that managing desire must be important. And part of that process means knowing which desires are best not actualized. Your desire to have sex with someone who is not your partner is probably best not actualized, and nor is your desire to drink a whole stinkin’ bottle of wine after class.

I can say it like this: One of our primary tasks as humans is to negotiate our unmet desire. When we come to the juncture of deciding how our desires ought to be ordered, it’s here where we negotiate our unmet desires.

(And I see this in line with what Dan said yesterday about having curiosity around our arousal—not indulging or feeling shamed for that desire, but being curious about it. Negotiating it or considering it, I’m using this language really similarly.)

I also–this would be this whole other lecture, but I feel obligated to say that this is the area where I see the Holy Spirit at work, helping us negotiate our desires.

So in the context of sexual desire, many of us have been presented only two options for how to negotiate our desire. Again, we talked about this earlier. One given by the Church as purity culture and the other by American society, or at least contemporary American society. I see the extremes of purity culture and hookup culture are both offering not a chance to negotiate unmet desire but to either cut oneself off from desire completely or indulge it carelessly.

But I think there is a harder, but more fruitful middle ground.. Updike in an essay on the etymology of the word lust argues that asceticism and promiscuity both lead to irreverence toward sex. To him, the task is to bear the complexity that sex does not only serve as a way to “[step] out of our skins into a kind of selflessness and into a sense of beauty” but it also “bind[s] us to this transient, treacherous world.”

In our class texts, Freitas talks about abstinence as a way for students to step back and reexamine their desires. And I’d say there’s a similar sentiment buried in the scriptures from Song of Songs, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Our task is to negotiate our unmet desires.

And for my last meta-thought–I know we’ve been in this for 10 minutes–before getting to the meat of this lecture: this is my methodology. This lecture roots itself in the Christian tradition while challenging its primary assumptions about sexual desire, primarily that it’s either good or bad. And finally, this lecture is influenced by my own story as well as by the stories I love.

So let’s jump in.

Perhaps you know this quote. “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” And I always heard it described as that “God-shaped hole” in my heart.

This is attributed to 17th century theologian and mathematician Blaise Pascal. But what’s funny is it’s actually either a misquote or just a summation of what he really said, which is arguably more eloquent, which is this. I’m not going to read it; it’s really convoluted. But it’s essentially this same idea.

So I want to start here, because I think many of us were given this quotation as young Christians regarding our desire—though maybe it feels too simplistic now. While I agree that it is indeed simplistic, to just talk about this hole in our hearts, I also want to challenge the extent of that simplicity.

To do that, I want to introduce you to two friends. One is fictional, and one has been dead for 1,600 years. Both of them live out a more complex version of Pascal’s Pensee and in that complexity get us closer to our objective: to consider how sexual desire can function as an icon.

Two Friends

First, I want you to meet Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. He is my favorite Updike character. He’s the one I met when I was in college, who helped me ask my questions. In his genre, Rabbit is an antihero—not fully good, not fully bad. He’s an everyman. He’s an ambivalent Christian boy from Middle America. He is you, and he is me.

Updike wrote four books and a novella about Rabbit, chronicling every 10th year of his story from when he was 26 to 10 years post-mortem. I feel like there’s something Updike is trying to work out in Rabbit, which is why Updike spent 40 years of his career writing about him. I think in some ways Updike is trying to work out his own theology of eroticism through Rabbit—he’s working through his own affairs, his own unmet desire, his hunger for God to be caught up in the mix.

I could tell you a lot about Rabbit, but here are a few things you need to know: he has a God-shaped hole in his heart, and he is always trying to fill it.

At 26, when the first novel begins, he is 8 years out of high school where he was a basketball star. He’s always trying to relive that glory. He’s trying to fill that hole in his life as a husband with a worthless job, a, quote, unquote “dumb mutt” of a wife, and a son who will never play sports. And this hole is literal for Rabbit. Updike describes Rabbit’s desire, lived out on the basketball court: “There was you and sometimes the ball and then the hole, the high perfect hole with its pretty skirt of a net.”

And of course holes have sexual relevance. Rabbit is always leaving his wife to have sex with other women—affairs that, as Updike describes, become more mature and more destructive as Rabbit grows older. In book two, Rabbit ponders the creativity of sex, how so much can be done with just “two hands, three holes.”

Late in life, he fills his holes with another sport, golf; then with fatty foods, an indulgence that eventually leads to a fatal heart attack. And it is no coincidence that Rabbit is named for an animal that lives burrowed in holes.

But the thing about Rabbit is, which I’ll get back to in more depth later, he is always looking for God. There is something admirable about his faith, how he never gives up, as one of his lovers describes. But because of the way he indulges his desire, through lust and violence—through idolatry—the grace of God is never fully realized. Rabbit, instead, discovers how deep is the hole inside him.

 

Next I want you to meet another friend of mine, St. Augustine of Hippo, whose life straddled the fourth and fifth centuries. Augustine wrote extensively on sexual desire—though I know some of us wish he hadn’t. His writings have a continued influence on the Church’s understanding of gender and sexuality.

As a bit of a caveat, I want to take a second to separate Augustine the man from the tradition that follows him. Though Augustine himself is responsible for writing some harmful things about women, for instance, and forming some zany sexual ethics—he is more nuanced than where his tradition has led us.

I’ll start by saying that Augustine was a man of his time; he could not escape his culture in the same way we cannot escape ours. Scholars argue that every major shift in his life—from his youth to his stint as a Manichaean to his conversion to Catholicism—all of that colored the way he did theology. And to this I say: of course.

When Augustine was a young adult, he practiced a gnostic heresy known as Manicheanism. Manicheans believed that the material world was evil while the spiritual world pure. Thus, the highest order of Manicheans preached against reproduction (the creation of more matter), insisting on a life of celibacy and singleness. Those at Augustine’s level of Manichean, however, were permitted to take partners as long as contraceptive methods were practiced. (And we know that while he was practicing this sect, Augustine took a concubine.)

Augustine never quite left the Manicheans behind. After conversion, he wrote several treatises against the heresy and preached against the use of contraceptives specifically. It’s as though Augustine was looking for something completely the opposite of what he knew as a Manichean. So if Manicheans thought birth control was good, then Christians must reject it.

Scholars also believe Augustine also had a more complicated relationship to sex than the average person—he was an addict. (And I know Dan mentioned this yesterday.) Augustine writes that as a youth he “cared for nothing but to love and be loved.” So when Augustine converted to the religion of his mother, he could not do so without completely converting his sexual ethic.

Augustine scholar Margaret Miles writes, “[T]here are pleasures that addicts must deny themselves in order to maintain equilibrium in their lives. For Augustine, sex was consuming, totalitarian. As an addict, it was not possible for him to enjoy a sexual relationship in freedom.”

Rereading Augustine

Most of us know this story of Augustine, thanks to his autobiography, Confessions. When I first read Confessions, I admittedly did not care for it—for Augustine’s woe-is-me attitude, for his elaboration on stealing pears yet brushing over his sexual exploits. I do think there is a deeper, more nuanced story Augustine’s trying to tell, however, one that gets us closer to answering how sexual desire can be iconic.

My reading of Confessions a second time was transformed by pairing it with the work of Margaret Miles and her book called Desire and Delight, which re-reads Augustine’s narrative as a being primarily about pleasure. She argues that Confessions is an account of Augustine negotiating his desire for pleasure, often indulging those desires, though with little satisfaction. Augustine is on the prowl for what Miles calls “true pleasure,” pleasure that is both long-lasting and intense.

The kind of pleasure Augustine is after does not fade in a few seconds like an orgasm or after a few hours like a good meal. Its satisfaction lasts forever. Pleasure that’s intense, then, is pleasure worth pursuing; it’s pleasure one would want to have last a lifetime.

Augustine writes that a child begins this search for true pleasure at infancy. When a child does not get what she wants or needs, she cries, flails her little arms and legs. Miles writes that this, quote, “anxiously grasping objects” does not completely go away in adulthood, even if the object of one’s desire changes.

One scholar writes that for pre-conversion Augustine, “Desire, not reverence, becomes the fundamental form of relationship to sensible objects, whether other persons, foods, or sights. A wish to be filled up, again and again, predominates. … Augustine treats each modality of experience—sexual, gustatory, visual, and later aural—as involving an effort to be filled up by or centered on an object of experience, an effort that must inevitably, addictively, be repeated once the object has been consumed.” I hope you’re remembering that language of filling the hole. I think that’s ultimately what Eldridge is describing.

The insatiability of one’s desire remains. No object of desire, no earthly delight, can bring about the kind of true pleasure Augustine is seeking, that pleasure that is both long-lasting and intense. And that is because the need itself is too large, too infinite. Desire only leads to “pseudo-nourishment,” leaving one grasping again. The hole is too big to fill.

Another way of saying this is: all earthly desire is unmet desire. Our desires for love, for security, for success, for whatever, can never be met to the degree we want them to be. And this, too, we need to negotiate. Augustine argues that true pleasure can only be met in God.

To find pleasure in God means orienting oneself toward God. And in this orientation, the object of one’s desire no longer functions as the end goal—as the idol, as a way to fill that hole—but it functions as the icon through which one worships God.

Miles puts it this way: “[Finding true pleasure is in] the ordering of all the pleasures of a human life so that those associated with enjoyment of objects in a sensible world would not usurp all of a person’s attention and affection. When pleasures are constellated around a single object of love [God], [Augustine] said, they can be enjoyed without fear of distraction.” This is another way of saying when desire is properly ordered.

In other words, desire can be ordered or disordered, bring us closer to God or farther from God. I think this actually opens us up to enjoy pleasure even more. I don’t expect my partner to completely meet my desires—because I know he cannot. The hole is too infinite.

Sex Icons and Holey Hearts

I want to give you all a picture of how this theology looks embodied. I do this to help us understand the theoretical, but to also challenge the theoretical—because humans never behave as simply as we’d like them to.

I want to turn back to Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom as someone who attempts to live out Augustine’s theology of eroticism—yet is ultimately unsuccessful. Unlike Augustine, Rabbit never has a life-changing conversion where he can transform his desire from idols to icons, not completely.

Scholar Richard Eldridge calls Rabbit Angstrom an Augustinian character, and it’s hard to disagree. Rabbit lives out a modern version of Augustine’s Confessions, though painted more vividly with Updike’s verbiage.

As I said earlier, Rabbit has a lot of holes, and he tries to fill those holes compulsively. He does not learn to order his desires, to “constellate” them around God. And yet, even in his “compulsive pursuit of pleasure,” Rabbit does get short glimpses of God through his desire. He’s just unable to integrate those experiences into his life in such a way that they change him. He has no Milanese conversion like Augustine.

Eldridge calls these glimpses of God God’s grace. Grace exists as a possibility for Rabbit, though often it’s not fully realized.

Eldridge writes, “[Rabbit] is … stopped or struck, but never moved, by the possibility of a grace that might lend his life shape and meaning. … His experiences of grace are more interruptive than accumulative. Jill’s breast ‘had been soft enough in his mouth, quite soft enough, and abundant, as grace is abundant, that we do not measure, but take as a presence, that abounds’ (Redux, 301). In Voyager Two’s ‘feeble but true transmissions across billions of miles … Harry feels a fine excessiveness, … a grace of sorts that chimes with the excessive beauty of those crystalline late-summer days” (Rest, 412), but he never integrates these intermittent feelings, never quite responds to their dim messages.” He gets glimpses of God, but cannot integrate them.

What I find intriguing about Rabbit’s interaction with his desire is that it often leads to feelings of death or nothingness—he can actually experience the abyss as he pursues the object of his desire. In bed with his lover Ruth, he asks her to describe her orgasm. She says, “Oh. It’s like falling through [to] … Nowhere.”

Eldridge writes that it’s easy to read Rabbit as a “passive failure,” who can never get past his addictions to see God; he “refus[es] the possibility of grace” time and time again. And yet, as I stated in the beginning of this lecture, Rabbit is a more complex character than this portrayal of him suggests.

He is deeply flawed, but he bears a kind of strength and tenderness in him, that, quote, “at least momentarily outweighs his demand for self-satiety.” He is so kind and playful with his grandchildren. He chastises his son for hitting his wife, for his cocaine addiction. And Rabbit always, eventually, returns home to his wife.

“Above all,” writes Eldridge, “Harry is alive. As a human subject he intensely notices and recalls and looks and feels … objects.” (He has all these erotic experiences.) This is huge. In moments, Rabbit sees beauty in the world, not as something to consume, but to honor, to revere.

One of the most erotic texts I could read you from Rabbit’s life comes near his death, when he’s eating the nuts his doctors says might clog his veins, kill him. (And they do.)

Updike describes so poetically: “[Rabbit] takes a few macadamia nuts into his fingers. Nuggets, they are like small lightweight nuggets with a fur of salt. He especially loves the way, when he holds one in his mouth a few seconds and then gently works it between his crowned molars, it breaks into two halves, the surface of the fissure smooth to the tongue as glass, as baby skin.”

Going back to the language I introduced many slides ago, in these brief moments, Rabbit’s desires convert from being idols to being icons. In brief, transitory moments, he is able to see God.

Conclusion

I want to end this lecture by suggesting that though our desires will never be fully met on earth, I don’t think we’ll ever stop hoping and acting like they will be. If we are given just a taste of the eternal God in a fleeting moment, then of course we’ll keep grasping for more, whether our desires are ordered properly or not.

This is the complexity of being human. John Updike puts it this way: “Such is the confusion of this fallen world, where sins lie intermixed with the seeds of being.”

I do think our task as healthy, integrated persons is to recognize when certain desires are best left unmet—when instead they must be acknowledged, and grieved even, until our desires can be met in God. To Augustine we give the final word, “Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you, O Lord.”

[Applause]

Questions and Answers

Student: Something I was wondering as you were talking about Augustine in particular, and correct me if I’m mishearing your argument, but I didn’t perceive–what I know of Augustine, which isn’t a lot, to be honest, but I don’t know if I would say that he has rightly ordered his desire. And the main case for that would be the complete 180 he seemed to do with his views of sexuality. So I don’t know. I kind of want to hear you talk a little more about that.

Lauren: Yeah. I think that that’s the sad reality of Augustine is that–and this bit about ordered desire and this theology of desire has persisted and has been, I think, adopted in many ways in really beautiful ways. While the reality is Augustine didn’t live that way. And I wouldn’t call myself an Augustine apologist by any means, but I think it’s important to see where he’s coming from and not maybe ignore or look over the fact that he didn’t live that way and he did say things that were extreme and weren’t necessarily extreme for his time even. But the fact that some of his sexual ethics are still being adopted and used today, like I want to hold him accountable while also seeing the broader culture he is coming from and kind of maybe give him a little grace for that.

But I think you are speaking to something that’s really true, that yeah, he got it, but he didn’t get it. And I think that that’s ultimately why I think it’s important to bring in a story like Rabbit who he’s kind of the same tragic character. There are times when he gets it, and you’re cheering him on, and then the next page he’s sleeping with somebody else and he is just trying to fill this hole inside him. Thank you.

Student: I’m wondering about the partner of Rabbit that says–or when she was having her orgasm and was falling into–what was it again?

Lauren: Nowhere.

Student: And with that, she’s saying that in a positive light? You know, that makes some sense–that would feel like such a curse to him if he’s trying to fill in his nowheres. That’s where it brings her to you. But maybe she was saying that like it was opening him up.

Lauren: And you see, yeah, that’s how I would read it. I returned to that section of the book to reflect on that. I don’t remember it well enough to give a definitive interpretation, but to me, it’s the latter. It’s this expansive–without getting too into all this Updike knowledge that I have in my head–

Student: That’s why we have you here.

Lauren[Laughs] I know, I know. There’s this thing that Updike does, and I mentioned it, that he’s always playing–Dan, you actually said this too referencing someone else. But this connection between death and sexuality. And for Updike, it’s like death and life, like if sex is bringing life, it’s bringing bringing birth, but at the same time it’s the other side of the coin where it’s death. And for Rabbit in particular, and for other characters that Updike has written, they experience their own mortality in sex. They’re being awakened to it.

I’ll say that in that Rabbit didn’t take it poorly. But I think it has more to do with this recognition of his mortality and that the whole will never be filled. Thank you.

Student: I was curious how you think Updike would engage the way we define beauty in this group.

Lauren: Interesting. That’s a really interesting question. Well, I will say in the article I am referencing, the Eldridge article, Eldridge spent some time talking about Rabbit’s desire particularly around beauty and how he can’t handle when that’s fully revealed. It’s really interesting. There are passages in some of the many Rabbit books about–the only one I can think of is pretty sexual. But Rabbit is attracted to one of the women he sleeps with, this woman Cindy. And he talks about the tops of her breasts–they’re in a pool–and how that is more beautiful, that is more erotic to him, than if he were to see the whole breast. Because then it would be too much or it would lose its charm to him. I don’t know if that completely answers it.

Student: I was thinking in terms of ordering–and was it disordering? I kind of think of desire on a spectrum, right? Like my desire for pizza for lunch, if that gets met, I wouldn’t be too upset about it, I guess. Whereas if it bumps up against the desire to be loved, you know, then the fight gets a little more intense. I don’t know, teh language that I think we’ve been taught some is desire spilled over into demand, it becomes an idol. And those feel very connected and related, like many disorder has to do with my desire that become demands, demand being fulfilled. Something about relationship with God is about being able back out off of demand? But it’s also something about psychology or something about building enough of a self to sit in desire and desire. So I don’t know, just thinking through all those things, and now that I’ve thought through those with you, I don’t have a question.

[Laughter]

I don’t know, any thoughts you had about that, that would be cool.

Lauren: There’s something about this idea of sitting with or negotiating with or being curious around your unmet desire, desire that is not met, is not fulfilled, and that space of should it be or should it not be? That’s what it means to be human. That’s what we experience all the time, on like the pizza level or the bigger level.

I was talking with a friend; we were talking generally about this idea of having an affair and teh language that our churches would talk about affairs would be like, if you are attracted to another person who’s not your spouse, if you even think about it–like you shouldn’t even entertain the thought for a second. And basically if you have any attraction to anyone outside your marriage, then even entertaining the idea is a sin, that kind of extreme. But that doesn’t mean you then indulge that desire. But there’s this liminal space of acknowledging, my gosh, I’m attracted to someone who I’m not partnered with or I sexually desire them, or whatever language we want to use. But that middle space is where the work is being done. That’s the moment–we live so much of our lives in this bind, as Dan mind call it.

I don’t know. And it’s something that–that was kind of an extreme example, but it’s something that I experience when I’m deciding what to eat or anything like that.

Student: I was just struck by a comment earlier about the weight you felt managing the desires of your boyfriend and just like you felt that burden. And I was just thinking about that and even the desire one feels sometimes to fill someone’s unmet desires. I’m just wondering if Updike engaged with that at all, like bearing that burden or feeling that weight of someone else’s desire that you are responsible for managing that?

Lauren: It’s a tetralogy, so it’s four novels. And they’re not written in Rabbit’s point-of-view; it’s third person limited. But it’s always about Rabbit. It’s always about his desire. It’s never about the desires of the people that he’s with. So I’m not even sure that that’s something that you, as a reader, can even tap into. I think Rabbit often imposes his desires on other people, and he expects them to meet his desires.

The thing that I’m thinking of, so in teh first book, he leaves his wife for this woman Ruth. And that’s where teh quote on the slide came from, the one that I read and then the one on the slide. Why she likes him is that he never gives up. And so Rabbit is back and forth with Ruth and then back to his wife and back to Ruth. And then there’s this moment where Harry finds out that Ruth had had sex with his arch nemesis, another basketball player from another school. And Harry is really mad because Ruth is his, even though she is not, not really.

So there’s this scene toward the end of the book where he asks Ruth all these questions about, well, did they have sex? What did they do? And then finally Ruth admits that she had given him a blow job, so Rabbit makes Ruth give him one as like this punishment, which is obviously a really hard part of the story to engage. But I think that in that moment, Rabbit is–it’s not just that he wants his desires filled in this consensual way. But he’s demanding something of somebody else’s desire. And Ruth’s desire don’t matter in that moment.

Student: So what I hear in these examples that you gave us–disordered and desire attempting to be ordered. And I’m curious how you would define an ordered sex icon and that desire.

Lauren: Yeah. I have plenty of examples of disordered desire. This idea that Dan was talking about engaging your arousal. And I was thinking a bit about–without getting too personal–but the difference between the relationship I talked about in this introduction and the one I’m in now. There are many differences, but part of it is these conversations that I’ve had had with my current boyfriend and that we continue to have around these things. We actually talk about it, and we talk about our desire. I think that out of this work I have been able to form a sexual ethic, more of a practical this is what I’m doing, the more practical bits of it, where this is like the more theoretical.

Part of it has been actually engaging those things without this really flippant, I’m going to indulge everything or that shame of totally cutting yourself off. It’s in that trying to figure it out. I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to do it, it’s been actually engaging those things and talking about it.

Tremper Longman, III: That was great, thanks. And I think I know the answer to this many from the last answer, but I’m going to ask it anyway. You talked about high school and then you brought us through to a more mature, reflective understanding of where you are now. I’d like you to go back to high school and reflect on what you wish someone had told you then. And also, as kind of a side note that’s not directly related, not dealing with high school students directly since I teach college students, but what’s the status of teh purity movement now? You don’t hear as much about it. So, those two questions.

Lauren: And I think that technically, I was on the tail end of what would actually be the purity movement, if there are any historians in here who could tell me. Yeah, OK. I do know a few things. In high school, I felt a lot of shame and that was in teh system. The girls were always told that it was our responsibility to make sure that the boys didn’t stumble.

[Chuckling]

And I remember being uncomfortable with that then and even embarrassed about having a purity ring and all this stuff. It was this thing that I thought I should do because I was a good Christian girl but also something that I found to be a little embarrassing.

I’ve heard it said–I don’t remember where I heard this–but it’s this idea that the thing that purity culture teaches is that girls have responsibility without agency and boys have agency without responsibility. And kind of like undoing that is ultimately–I don’t work with teenagers. But I think starting to break down those structures of shame that’s built in. I don’t know the experience for boys, but as a girl, I felt guilty all the time. Even if I was dressing really modestly, like a boy could still find me too attractive and stumble and all of that. I don’t know if we have any purity culture historians who know the state of purity culture.

Related Posts

Lectures

The Intellectual as Prophet: Reframing Theological Education to Provoke Change in the World

Form: 20-minute Symposia-style Presentation for the Seattle School community and alumni Presented: Fall 2015 Welcome. Thank you for being here. My name is Lauren. I am a 2014 graduate of the theology and culture program Read more...