From time to time I receive questions about a body or sexual issue, always about the male body, perhaps a general question or even a personal issue. This is because of the number of articles on my blog that deal with the body, sexuality, and even yoga. These articles might raise issues in the minds and experiences of the readers that they’d like to ask about. I have, in fact, answered questions that arose from a previous article with another article. But some questions can be answered without writing a long article. I have been reluctant to take on personal issues on this blog because I’m a theologian, not a counselor; a liturgist, not a psychotherapist; a pastor, not a physiologist. When I took the required pastoral counseling course in seminary some 50 years ago, it was recommended that the pastor should know enough to know when to refer difficult cases (unless he or she did advanced work in pastoral counseling). I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t do that online. I think it’s also important to observe that a lot of body issues people have come from a religious upbringing and I’m happy to sort out those issues if it helps questioners and readers to be more accepting of their bodies (that is, of themselves).
I have several other blog posts dedicated to giving brief answers on specific topics (like Christmas and Communion). So I will offer this post to give brief answers to questions related to body and sexual issues that are within my competence to answer. I will post questions and answers in the order in which I receive them with the most recent on top. Questions that are sent through the blog platform come to me anonymously. So you are invited to ask and readers may, as always, respond with comments.
Is it morally okay for a single gay Christian to use sex toys?
Erection on Massage Table
Young Man Desires Older Men
Sex With Family Nearby
Is it morally okay for a single gay Christian to use sex toys?
June 15, 2020
I’ve enjoyed your blog and had a question so I thought, why not? I’ll get right to it:
Question: I am a single gay Christian man, a young adult, and am wondering what you think about using sex toys for masturbation. Part of me feels intrigued and curious about using them but another part of me feels that they are unnatural, hedonistic and indulgent. Will they be addictive and make me incapable of or less desirous of a relationship with another man or are they more harmless than I think? I am unsure how to determine whether their use is something morally/theologically sound and whether my desire for exploration in this area is something good or errs more on the side of sin.
I find it difficult to cultivate a God-honoring relationship with my sexuality when there are many loud and, in my opinion, extreme voices in the secular world and at times the theological academy on matters of human sexuality. I am suspicious of progressive Christianity’s overly positive view of sex but also reject the Catholic Church’s rigid and harmful teachings on it (e.g. homosexuality, sex only for procreation). My uncertainty on a question like this stems from the above tension.
Thanks for reading.
Answer: First of all, I would say that Christianity in general should have a positive view of sex because it is part of God’s creation, which God pronounced very good. But many of our attitudes about sexual practices are socially normed and culturally conditioned, and Christians have bought into these views thinking that they are biblical. Masturbation is one of those issues. The Bible says nothing about it. “Onanism,” as it has been called, is attributed to Onan in the Book of Genesis who spilled his seed instead of impregnating his deceased brother’s wife to produce an heir for his brother according to Levirite law. He was stoned to death for it. But that’s not masturbation, it’s coitus interruptus. Nineteenth century science tried mightily to suppress childhood masturbation and attributed it to such conditions as obsessive-compulsive behavior, nearsightedness, and pimples. So much for science. Now, of course, we’re taught that it’s completely natural and a safe sexual release.
Protestantism has had a more positive view of sex than Catholicism because of its protest against enforced celibacy and emphasis on marriage and family as Christian callings. Did you know that there are Christian sex toy stores owned by evangelical Christians or that evangelical women have Christian sex toy parties? Evangelicals are into promoting satisfying Christian marriages and they apparently think that sex can be enhanced with the use of sex toys. Women especially are very interested in using dildos, vibrators, rubber penises and other sex enhancement equipment. I know gay men use sex toys too, although I don’t know about straight men. Since the claim is that these devices enhance actual sex, I guess the test is if the sex is better after using them. I know a gay guy (who writes to me occasionally) who likes anal sex and has been using a dildo since the COVID-19 pandemic has precluded getting together with a live partner. My guess is that he will be more than happy to experience the real thing when they are able to get together again.
I’ve never used a sex toy and don’t really have a desire to do so. The sex I’ve enjoyed has been with my wife for 40-some years. But I admit that I did my share of masturbating before I got married, and occasionally within marriage. (Married couples can turn to mutual masturbation during pregnancy and the post-partem period). What I’ve learned about sex is that it is physical, emotional, and spiritual. Our sexual desire is a biological urge (certainly useful for procreation). It is a way of expressing intimacy with someone you love. And in the act of orgasm there is a kind of mystical union in which you lose control of yourself and become one with the other. Can some of these same attributes apply to masturbation? I think they can.
Masturbation is self-pleasuring. So one might think that using a sex toy is just an extension of that. But I wouldn’t use a device while making love with someone else. So why would I use one when making love to myself? I wouldn’t put using a device in the category of a sin. But I would say that it can’t compare with the real experience. How much better it is to build up to orgasm by touching your body all over, pleasuring yourself the way you might want someone else to pleasure you. The body has plenty of erogenous zones, not only in the genitals. Become intimate with yourself. Love your body, You might even want to anoint your body with oil, including your genitals. Rub it in. As you rub your hands all over your body, twist and turn and arch your back as you do so. Build up to ejaculation slowly so that when it comes you feel it all over your body and lose yourself in the sensations that take over your body. Then just lay there allowing your body to absorb the powerful experience you have had—and give thanks to the Lord who created you with your gift of sexuality.
Here’s the thing. How orgasm works is rather simple to understand. A greater charge will lead to a greater discharge and what determines the direction of flow of the energy is based on your attention. Energy follows attention. I’ve said this about masturbating while watching porn. Your energy goes into the screen, not your body. My guess is that using a sex toy will have the same effect. Your focus is on the toy. If your objective is to have fun playing with the toy, that’s one thing. If your objective is to give your body a powerful release of sexual energy, then focus on your body.
Erection on Massage Table
May 29, 2020
Question: I read your post about massage and I think I’d like to get one when that’s possible (wasn’t available during this coronavirus pandemic). But what happens if you get an erection during the massage? Is that normal? Sometimes I can’t control myself, and I worry I may enjoy it too much if you know what I mean…
Frank answers: You should get a massage. It’s good therapy for your body if you’ve been tense and this pandemic has created anxieties we may not be consciously aware of but are held in the body. Erections are known to happen because the massage is helping your blood circulation and, quite frankly, because massage is sensuous. You have a lot of erogenous zones throughout your body from head to foot, not just your penis, and the massage therapist is likely to press on several of them (they can be different in different bodies). If you get an erection, don’t worry about it. Professional massage therapists have probably seen them before and are used to dealing with them (mostly by ignoring them).
Anyway, why should a guy be worried about getting an erection. It’s a sign that things are healthy done there. I mean, this is in the privacy of the massage studio, not out in public, and there is therapist-patient confidentiality. There are a lot of men with erectile dysfunction who have difficulty getting an erection. You should be grateful that erections come easily to you. If by “enjoying it too much” you mean having a spontaneous ejaculation, your massage therapist might have seen that before too and it will add to the release of all the tension in your body. On the other hand, if none of this happens (which is likely), you can still enjoy the massage.
P. S. St. Augustine’s Erection
I can’t resist adding this story from The Confessions of Saint Augustine. This North African who later became the bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, went to the public baths with his father when he was sixteen. These facilities, built throughout the vast Roman Empire, combined a gymnasium for exercise, pools of various temperature for bathing, and massage with perfumed oil, and the day was spent being nude. You removed your clothes when you arrived and put on clean clothes when you departed. Augustine wrote in this autobiographical work (actually addressed to God): “The brambles of lust grew high above my head and there was no one to root them out, certainly not my father. One day at the public baths he saw the signs of active virility coming to life in me and this was enough to make him relish the thought of having grandchildren. He was happy to tell my mother about it…” (Book II, 3).
Young Augustine admits that his hormones were raging (“the brambles of lust grew high above my head’) and that his father associated what Augustine called “signs of active virility coming to life in me” with procreation. Young Augustine was clearly having an erection in the public baths. His father saw it and happily reported it to his mother. And the future saint wrote about it to tell God and everyone who has read his book over the last 16 centuries. Having an erection in front of your massage therapist in private? Nothing to be ashamed of.
Young Man Desires Older Men
May 23, 2020
Question: When I was a boy I had a fascination with older men’s bodies, such as my Dad’s, my soccer coach’s, and even my priest. Is it weird that I used to get hard thinking about my priest? I used to get hard even when sitting with him at church events or when he put his hand on my head in blessing. For some reason, even though I’ve had sexual relations with girls, I still have an interest in older men, but not in men my own age. I fantasize about a man at my gym who is probably about sixty. What do you think about this?
Frank answers: I don’t think it’s weird or unnatural for boys and youth to be fascinated by the bodies of older men. As boys go through puberty and adolescence their body is changing rapidly. They want to want to get a sense of what the end result will be like. Boys (and girls) compare their bodies with their peers’ bodies too. While they may think a peer’s body is more attractive than their own, the peer’s body hasn’t reached full development either.
It’s interesting whose bodies were of interest to you. They were all trustworthy men who had more to offer you than their physical body. They offered protection (your dad), skills (your soccer coach), and wisdom (your priest). These are qualities you would like to develop as you matured.
In many societies elders who would mentor young men included hunters, warriors, philosophers, and shamans, passing on the skills and wisdom young men needed to play a mature role in their society. Male mentoring processes included sexual initiation and social education. In ancient Greece and in the Celtic culture, among others, mentors provided youth with sexual experiences as well as with hunting, warrior, political, social, and religious skills. It was expected in these societies that the young men would marry a girl once they had established their place in society, produce and raise children, and mentor a young man in turn. Sometimes a homosexual relationship with their former mentor continued even when both were married.
Of course, as Western society became more Christian these pederastic and same-sex relationships became taboo. But some of this “mentoring” may have continued in monasteries in clandestine ways. Since you’re still fantasizing about a mature man’s body you may feel that something was omitted from the mentoring you received from these men in your youth. You had erections thinking about your priest (and maybe your soccer coach?), but you received no actual sexual initiation from them. That part of the mentoring was left unfulfilled. But what you may have desired was illegal under the age of eighteen and socially disapproved of and institutional sanctioned even over the age of eighteen. Your priest and soccer coach would not want to be charged with sexual abuse of minors. Yet how pervasive this kind of mentoring was in ancient societies is thoroughly documented in the book by John Neill, The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009).
You state that you continue to have an interest in older men, but not younger men, in spite of having had sexual relations with girls. But apparently you have not had sexual relations with older men, or any men. I suspect you have an interest in exploring these unrequited desires. You should know that age differences between both homosexual and heterosexual couples is not unusual. Some women as well as some gay men prefer older men (and some younger men prefer older women). Some older men prefer younger men or younger women. So the age thing works in several directions. It is not fair to disparage these relationships. Older men have something to offer younger men, including emotional and financial stability and the wisdom that comes from added years of life experiences.
Do you wonder whether you’re gay because you’re attracted to men, even though older men? That depends on whether your attractions are exclusively same-sex. What do you feel toward the women you have dated and had sex with? You’ll have to discern in yourself where your attractions and desires lie. Putting people into sexual boxes is a result of modern clinical sexology. But as the Kinsey Institute reports indicate, most people are much more sexually fluid than that. It’s not unheard of for gay and straight men to date and develop a relationship simply because they are attracted to each other for more than the sex. Right now your sexuality seems confused. It will take having more life experiences to sort it out.
May 22, 2020
Question: You mention in your article on nakedness and modesty your boyhood experience of sleeping naked. I’ve read that there are health benefits to sleeping naked and would like to try it. Suppose your spouse doesn’t prefer to sleep naked but you do?
Answer: Yes, there are definitely some health benefits to sleeping naked. We sleep better when we’re not hot and sweaty, and sleeping naked will keep the body cooler. If you are getting too cold, just add a blanket rather than pajamas. And don’t sleep in your briefs. Your penis and balls get no airing out that way and tighty whities constrict circulation. The body’s self-repair mechanism during sleep works more effectively in a cooler environment. The skin breathes better and circulation is increased without the constrictions of bed clothing or underwear. Touching your partner’s skin might also arouse sexual desire.
I take it that you’ve been married for a while and haven’t done this before. Changing routines can spice up a marriage. Just tell your spouse or partner that you’ve read about the health benefits of sleeping naked and that you’d like to try. Invite her or him to try it with you. If your spouse or partner doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, it should be okay with you. You sleep naked and let your partner wear pajamas. If the two of you are moved to have sex in bed, removing your partner’s pjs can add to the eroticism of the moment. You might both fall asleep after sex and then both of you are cuddling naked.
In any event, spouses or partners should share their bodies with each other, so spending time being naked for each other or with each other is a good thing. Sleeping naked together is one possibility. Go for it!
Sex With Family Nearby
May 21, 2020
Question: Is it shameful to have sex near family members?
Frank answers: There are many situations in which couples want to enjoy sex when they are near other family members. The biggest one is always parents who want a moment for sex when their children are nearby, supposedly sleeping. Then there are couples who may be visiting their parents or their parents may be visiting them. Having sex with your parents nearby always raises the adrenaline, and maybe for that reason heightens the passion. But there’s nothing inherently shameful about couples having sex with other family members nearby.
However, there are situations where young couples having sex in a parents’ home is more ambiguous. Since the questioner uses the word “shameful,” maybe he or she grew up in a family where attitudes of shame were communicated about sex. Even though the children may now be married and sex is expected of married couples, they are not able to overcome the mentality that associates sex with shame with the teachers of that mentality in the next room. Could an unmarried couple bring a partner for a visit and engage in sex in the parents’ home? There’s nothing shameful about this, but you’d like to have a sense of your parents’ attitude about it to avoid a tense confrontation. This would also apply to unmarried young adults who are living at home while working and would like to bring in a boyfriend or girlfriend for an overnight visit. Are you’re parents okay with this? What about a gay son bringing his partner home for a visit? Frank family discussions about these situations are recommended but may be hard to pull off. In my view even parents with traditional attitudes about sex before marriage (or types of sex) need to give adult children some leeway on this.
Finally, I should note that there are currently many college students sheltering at home during the pandemic because college and university classes are doing distance learning. In the current COVID-19 situation of sheltering in place bringing an outsider into the family residence is not advised, including girlfriends or boyfriends.
May 20, 2020
Question: I see your articles as preaching embodiment. I see Jesus’ teachings as claiming our vitality vs. much of the Church’s teachings (vis-a-vis the zealot Paul) of the body as the thorn in the flesh. Evangelical shame and disembodiment of my youth led to numbness and PTSD. How do you suggest I heal and reclaim embodied living now in my middle-aged years?
Frank answers: Let me sort out a couple of issues, make some referrals, and offer some suggestions.
First, “embodiment” has become a concept with various meanings. I take it to mean experiencing something in the body. For example, I wrote I book on Embodied Liturgy. By that I meant experiencing public worship in the body and engaging in it bodily. Embodiment has to do with taking into your body the experiences of life, social norms, cultural expressions, etc. These can be positive or negative.
Second, I will not quibble over how you see Jesus and St. Paul. I will note that Jesus called all people into abundant life under the reign of God and Paul extended this call of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) of Israel, to the Gentiles. Paul’s worldview is a tough nut to crack since he was simultaneously a Pharisaic Jew, a Roman citizen, and an inhabitant of the Hellenistic cultural world who wrote in common (koine) Greek. He had a new reality to proclaim within and over against all these cultures. His emphasis was not on what Jesus taught but what Jesus did in his body (cross and resurrection) for the salvation of the world.
Third, in my Frank Answer About Nakedness and Modesty I recommended the book by Aaron Frost, Christian Body: Modesty and the Bible (self-published, but available on Amazon.com). Aaron comes out of an Evangelical background (Baptist) and understands that mindset about nudity and modesty. He argues that Evangelical views on these issues owe more to Victorian prudery than to the Bible. A deeper and more scholarly work is by Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; revised with a new introduction 2008). It documents how deeply Greek Neo-Platonism affected ancient Christian negative views of the body and sexuality from St. Paul to St. Augustine of Hippo. It’s too bad that we lack a comprehensive study of the Reformation’s treatment of the body other than the positive views of the Protestant reformers regarding marriage and family as Christian callings over against the medieval prizing of celibacy and virginity as superior Christian callings.
With regard to your personal issues, numbness and PTSD (if this is a professional diagnosis) suggests that you experienced some trauma that resides in your body. Such traumas include but are not limited to accidents, diseases, physical, mental, or sexual abuse. This could be compounded by negative teachings about the body and sexuality in your church. Many men who “come out” as gay are ill treated by their church and even alienated from their families. Realizing this, others suppress their sexuality, but that suppression eats away at them and lingers in the body.
I recommend reading the work of Dutch psychiatrist Besser van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York: Viking, 2014). Van der Kolk has contributed to the recently-developed practice of somatic psychotherapy which is a holistic treatment of trauma that looks for the impact of trauma on the body and the need to discern what the body has to say about current mental disabilities. Most of the therapists are licensed clinical social workers with additional certification in somatic psychotherapy. If the traumas your body harbors impact negatively on your life and mentality, you might want to seek out such a practitioner who can help you become more attuned to what you have embodied from your life experiences.
I would suggest that you practice a positive embodiment by engaging in activities that keep you present to your body. These might be physical activities such as sports, workouts, running, swimming, or yoga. As far as social conditions and your comfort level allow, dress down to expose your naked body to yourself and others. Demonstrate your belief that your body is not something to be ashamed of. Accept it as it is and work on keeping it healthy by exercise and diet.
Finally, it may be important for you to love your body, that is, your bodily self, to the extent that you don’t mind sharing your bodily and mental experiences with others, for example, in a group that focuses on issues of body and sexuality. I’m going to jump to the conclusion that you are male. Many of the men who participate in such workshops or retreats are in the middle age bracket. Yoga retreats and workshops may offer such gatherings. If you find something, you can always call and press for more information about what the retreat or workshop will be like. Maybe on “Meet Up” you might find a men’s discussion group that meets regularly. I wish you the best as you seek and experience healing.