I want to let the reader know that I am going to discus topics related to sex and religion in this post. These can be incendiary topics especially when talked about together… Just FYI.
“Inside the Controversial World of Medically Assisted Sex“, is the title of a video on the Vice Channel on YouTube. The video takes a look at medically assisted sexuality for people with physical disabilities who might otherwise not have the opportunity to experience any sort of intimate touch. In some cases, not even masturbation. Sexual surrogates act as individuals who are able to aid disabled couples in experiencing sexual intimacy or be the partner in an intimate act for a single disabled person.
I came across this video about 2 years ago as I was doing deep investigation into the origins of the Bible and Christianity. I had been a devout Christian for 3 years at that point but the limitations on women and homosexuals in the church really began to bother me. As a heterosexual male, I didn’t realize just how much privilege I had in the Christian Narrative. I’m allowed to be a leader. I’m allowed to be expressive. Until I don’t agree, of course. I researched. I was introspective. I prayed. Today, I’d consider myself Agnostic. I can’t, with any sort of confidence, confirm or deny the existence of God. After digging deep into Biblical Origins I just can’t see the concrete evidence for God’s existence beyond man-made ideas. This video was a stark realization of the range of human experience that I know nothing of. These are the unique experiences that the Christian Narrative doesn’t account for. The young man in the video is in his 20’s. He’s wheelchair bound and it’s clear his arms and hands don’t operate like mine. He’s intelligent and it’s clear he is engaged with life. Again, he’s in his 20’s. He’s male. He wants to have sexual interactions with a woman and, damn it, I don’t blame him. Me too!
As I watched the video I thought, “Who am I to promote a message that tells this young man he is sinful for desiring and participating in these sexual acts outside of marriage? Who am I to say that the woman who is the sexual surrogate for him, is wrong for being willing to help him experience sex?” I know how much I want sex. I think about women all the time (not just sexually). Yes, I’m still trying to remove pornography from my life. Yes, I’m still working on getting 30 days straight with no masturbation. However, I don’t look at pornography or masturbation as sinful anymore. They are behaviors that I want to gain greater control over. I learned to use them as copping mechanisms when I was a kid and they are interweaved with my deep biological desire to have sex. I have no idea what it would be like to be limited to a wheelchair… To wonder if I’ll ever experience an orgasm… To wonder if I will ever get to have an intimate interaction with a woman… To have a deep urge to have a sexual release and physically have no way to achieve it.
I found myself incredibly moved that people who are called sexual surrogates are willing to give of themselves in such a vulnerable and intimate way to someone who would otherwise not be able to experience sex. In a world where perfect bodies are touted as the ideal and religion has confined sexual activity to an extremely narrow and specific situation, I feel that what these sex-workers are doing may be one of the most selfless and compassionate acts that I have ever seen. Christianity, as I understand it, would call it sinful and unholy. This is something that I couldn’t agree with.
As my faith unraveled I had many debates with people close to me at the time. One of the things that I found frustrating as I brought up the challenges of women and homosexuals in the church is some form of the following statement from a heterosexual male: “I understand that these are difficult realities for women and the LGBTQ community to face…”. My response was usually something like this: “You and I might be able to recognize that it’s challenging to be a woman or be gay in the church, but we don’t ‘understand’. We have no clue…” Now, I don’t fully agree with my own statement here. I think we can conceptualize another person’s experience and achieve greater levels of understanding with time, observation, conversation, and critical thinking. However, for this to be effective, you have to loosely hold your own ideas about life. When I was deeply committed to The Christian Faith, I found myself conflicted whenever I was talking with a friend or acquaintance who was gay. It was tough to reconcile the idea of loving another human being yet condemning their ‘lifestyle’. I use quotations because that’s often how the church, in my experience, would refer to a gay person’s life. Being gay was a lifestyle choice. It’s funny because we wouldn’t call a straight person’s sexuality a lifestyle choice. ‘Straight’ is simply a part of who they are and it’s not to be suppressed or corrected. In the same since we wouldn’t say that a person who has autism or cerebral palsy is choosing a lifestyle. No, they have unique needs compared to most people. If I have already determined that a certain set of beliefs are absolutely true and immovable and I met a person whose existence sits outside of that set of beliefs, then how much room am I going to make in my mind to truly understand that person?
When you are a devout religious person, God is everything. At one point in my life I started everyday with prayer and reading the Bible. I could quote scriptures and craft messages from the Biblical Stories. I sought to relate everything to God because that’s what I believed in. For a time, religious belief seemed like the one absolute truth, but to see the harm that it was causing in the lives of people who don’t fit the archetypes of the religious narrative caused me to question all of those beliefs. My willingness to question comes from my willingness to allow my beliefs to not only be challenged, but totally upended. I understand that there are tension points in life that will totally flip how we organize reality. I think this has to happen in order to have an expanding view of the world and make room for people who are not like ourselves. Not everyone is willing to engage that level of deep disorientation. I liken it to when we try to tell a friend about a cheating significant other and they simply won’t except it, though the signs are everywhere. It’s just too painful and confusing to accept that this person who you are so intimately tied to, may not be who you thought they were. That same idea is why I think people hold on to religious beliefs so tightly. If religious claims are not absolutely true, then you have to question everything because faith informs everything. For myself, in questioning everything, I’ve realized that there is so much I don’t know and that’s fine.
I’m fascinated by what makes a person who they are. In my mind there is no such thing as a boring human being. There is only a lack of courage to talk about who we really are and how we really feel because it has repercussions. However, if we don’t start to work though complex topics then they have the potential to explode on us later. I am certain that Medically Assisted Sex, if it continues, will have it’s pitfalls but ignoring (or marginalizing through faith) the needs of others doesn’t make those needs any less important or any less present.
Let’s assume that we all project our own beliefs and experiences onto to others. In what situations do you do this and how does it limit communication and understanding between yourself and others?