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Your lips are like a ascarlet thread,
And your mouth is lovely.
Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David, built with rows of stones
On which are hung a thousand shields,
All the round shields of the mighty men.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle Which bfeed among the lilies. (Song of Solomon, 4:3-5 NASB)
Our culture approaches sex in a variety of ways. For the more conservative view, sex is bad, until marriage, and then suddenly and magically, it is good with no explanation of how to make it good. It is difficult to find the proper balance here. I mean, it’s like speaking to a child about about dangers of a gun but expecting the children to, in the proper time and place, know how and why to use it, naturally. Sex, in this view, is something hidden, dangerous, dirty. In the liberal view, it is a physical act which is about expressing power and independence. No more cultural and religious barriers to hold us back; we are free to seek pleasure in whatever way is more beneficial to us. Caroline J. Simon argues that these views aren’t positive and has written a marvelous book about how to sift through these various views of sex to hone in on the proper enjoyment of it.
The thrust of Simon’s work is that sex is good. After all, it is a very physical act with immediate physical positives. However, she would argue that sex behind the physicality of it produces something vital to human flourishing, both to the male and the female. Indeed, following a certain Aquinian logic, sex is what unites two souls into one, and thus, we must move beyond the succession of lenses in how we view it if we are to be successful in appropriately focusing on sex to build up our personhood. She moves past the Roman Catholic view, or the procreative view, into what she calls the covenantal view, the highest in her estimation. In this view, sex is not just about procreating (and she is absolutely sure to make sure that her Protestant readers do not misunderstand the Roman Catholic view as solely this), but about affirming one another so that there is a certain mutual spirituality present. Her hopes, if I may put it in my own words, to achieve a mystical intimacy not just with our mate, but also with us. There are more views, including romantic, expressive, power and something she labels plain sex. Through these lens, she tackles a variety of issues including homosexuality, casual sex, using sex as a commodity (prostitution, pornography, and erotica), and flirtation v. seduction. In the seven chapters, she engages current scholarship, ethicists, and other professionals, including philosophers. Not all of these professionals agree with her, or her with them, but she takes them in an even handed approach and shows why they are either wrong, or how their work can add to hers, or hers to them.
One of the highlights of the book is her view on virginity and chastity. Here, she follows Aristotle in describing chastity as a virtue and something far different than outright celibacy, or what she labels continence. This is a key to the argument which I think many people are missing. Virginity for the sake of virginity is not a virtue. Like the philosophers, Simon sees that a balance must be achieved in order for it to be virtuous. Indeed, virginity is often an objectification of the person, generally women, which would stand against virtue. What is chastity? For Simon, this virtue is where the individual who engages in sex does so with the right person, for the right reasons, using sex to aid in human flourishing. Not only does this reflect in the debates about virginity, but it Simon’s work in this area must give hope to those who struggle to remain “faithful” to their spouses, erotic, and spiritual. Chastity is not about self-denial, but about the proper use of the self, and that comes from knowing the self fully. Finally, she notes that chastity is in fact an ideal , something to be struggled for, but it is more than the “pretense of propriety. ” (160) She encourages us to stop wasting energy on the peripherals, and instead focus on the actuality of sex. One of the most important things in this chapter is her allowance for our human condition. There are times that relationships will find themselves muddled, or that one person has started to either seek attention from someone else or giving attention, unduly, to someone else. I do think, however, that her solution, comprising this book, is more helpful than what is on the market today.
There seems to be a plethora of books about sex on the market today. From pastors to philosophers, everyone wants to write a book about sex, and generally, they are on the topics of how-to and what-for, but this one takes a different track. It’s a how-to book in the sense that it is written for the person seeking to find a proper balance for sex. Simon moves through the various topics in the book and examines then through the various lens. She arrives at a way for the individual to see sex, and the complexities which surround it, as something more than a physical act. If they take her advice, sex will cease to become a way to hold on to that special person, or to conquer the unsuspecting person, but how to be fulfilled, metaphysically, which entails the fulfillment of the other. It is still a what-for book as well, in that sex is not to be used solely as a means of physical pleasure. After all, the other with whom we seek to share these pleasures must be considered as much human as we are. So, then, what is sex to be for? Can sex be used for something more than an expression of love or liberation? Indeed. Simon’s book seeks an integration of sexuality, incorporated through the convental lens, so that both people will become one.
Are their difficulties in reading this book? For some, her approach to homosexuality will be mistaken as an advocacy of it, but she doesn’t present an answer, only a possible solution. After all, we are to be reminded that the Roman Catholic Church which advocates celibacy for homosexuals does so just as they advocate celibacy for those who do not wish to have children. In all of this, her examinations of fair. She actively seeks to present a balanced picture, which is why people will have a difficult time in this. She doesn’t advocate for the usual Christian position of “sex is bad until you get married and then suddenly….” Nor does she advocate that sex is to be just about procreation, that homosexuality is an abomination, or that the loss of virginity, or failure to remain chaste always is a life-ending event. These will present difficulties for people who simply don’t get the balance employed. To all others, however, it is a welcome breath of fresh-air on the topic. No polemics, only compassion.
Highly recommend for anyone who has, wants to have, or no longer has sex.