Sadly, another NFL player is in the headlines, facing charges of rape. The NFL, after a series of inappropriate and criminal behaviors on the part of some of its star athletes, has taken a bold and decisive stand toward ending domestic violence and sexual assault. This is a courageous move and the NFL needs to be applauded for bringing to the light those shadows of our culture that have been largely ignored and cast aside.
PSAs and promotions such as the “Speechless” campaign are powerful in their ability to bring attention to this national epidemic, and they need to be supplemented with realistic training for men who so often find themselves in the midst of conflicting cultural messages. Sexuality itself is a difficult conversation for us to have in our culture.
The No More Campaign is groundbreaking in its insistence that domestic violence and sexual assault are inexcusable, and that to stay silent about such actions is to contribute to the problem. But it is not enough.
While the NFL is sending a clear message about what not to do, there needs to be follow up conversation that recognizes what men and women should do when it comes to healthy decisions about relationships and sexual activity. We need to provide the information and tools for people to make wise decisions about being sexual in the today’s culture.
Conversation is the beginning, but without providing clear direction, actions are unlikely to significantly change. Men and women must be empowered to make wise decisions regarding their own sexual choices. Empowerment begins by having the right information and the right skill set to use that information. It means celebrating sex while treating it with moral integrity: Sextegrity.
It is a confusing terrain to maneuver in. One minute our culture is seeking to exploit sex, demean it and turn it into a sport. The next minute our society is trying to repress it, even vilify it. How do we find our own way through the confusing and contradictory messages of our time? Negotiating our sex lives can be incredibly difficult. In our encounters with desire, we might entrust ourselves to someone who is not careful with our bodies or our spirits. Bad sexual experience is so wounding, so difficult to recover from.
Hence, it is long overdue that we develop and live by a sexual ethic. Crafting a sexual ethic requires us to bring intentionality and discernment to our sexual decisions. We cannot create a sexual ethic in the heat of the moment. We need to take time to reflect on how we will be sexual beings in this world. We need to create a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desires, needs and pains of our bodies.
Defining a sexual ethic is the purpose of Sacred Sex: Replacing the Marriage Ethic with a Sexual Ethic. This creates a platform for starting the conversation and then moving from conversation to making healthy sexual decisions. The book and information on workshops is available at http://www.thesexminister.com
Sexuality is normal. Human beings need to be touched. All human beings. Yet for some reason we tend to think of people with disabilities as being asexual. We decide they aren’t interested in sex and if they are, it’s probably an unhealthy interest.
Sexuality is the same basic drive for everyone. It is emotional, it is social, and it is physical. Our sexuality involves how we feel about ourselves, our understanding of ourselves as men and women, and what we feel we have to share with others. Our sexuality is an aspect of our relationship with other people. It includes feelings of affection and approval. And it includes the whole panorama of physical sensations and desires, of which genital activity is just a part.
Depending on the disability, some people are very vulnerable to manipulation and abuse and need particular help developing a sexual ethic that protects them while also giving them the opportunity to experience the fullness of human sexuality. Contradictory messages about sex can be particularly confusing to those who have cognitive and emotional barriers to understanding.
I have met women and men who thought that the fact that they were having sex with their partner meant they would always be together and were heart broken when their partner moved on to a different relationship. I worked with one man who was overly warm and complimentary to women. He believed he was “just being nice” and needed a lot of redirection to understand appropriate social interactions in public and in the work place. I have encountered both men and women who were desperately searching for an intimate relationship in which they could share their most vulnerable self, just like most of the abled bodied people I have encountered in our society.
Everyone is a sexual being with sexual desires and sexual needs. All of us, disabled or not, need to know and abide by appropriate boundaries. Different relationships include different levels and kinds of touch.
One of the ways in which we experience the gift of sex is in the act of self-touch. Masturbation is a perfectly natural and normal way of learning about our bodies and giving ourselves pleasure. This is no less true for those who have emotional, cognitive, or physical barriers. Unfortunately, there are still places where the differently abled are shamed and punished if they are discovered to be masturbating, even in the privacy of their own rooms. To punish someone for expressing their sexuality this way is an assault to that person. There is no reason not to welcome masturbation as a healthy part of any of our lives, particularly those with barriers that might prohibit them from engaging in a healthy sexual relationship with a partner.
Sometimes those barriers are purely physical. Through genetics, accident, or injury, there are many people in this world today that carry physical scars that affect their sexual abilities. The recent movie The Sessions illustrates this reality when a man in an iron lung seeks out a sexual surrogate in order to feel the sensational height of orgasm with a partner, an experience that many of us take for granted.
Most people with physical disabilities still need to experience the joy of sexuality, even if they are not able to achieve orgasm. This can involve something as simple as the feel of skin against skin and can include the ability to give the gift of orgasm to another.
The good news is that stigma and stereotype are lessening, and many people with disabilities are experiencing the joy of an intimate relationship with another. Those who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation need us to help them define healthy relationships and to guide them on appropriate private and public expressions of intimacy and self-touch. And they need us to help them work through their own sexual ethic so that they, too, are making wise choices about how they will express their sexuality in a way that is joyful and life giving to them, and to their partners.
I welcome your comments and feedback!