Wake Up or
Break Up

Were You Told Sex is Holy or Nasty?

One of the saddest things I've ever heard from a counseling client is when I was told by a young man in his 20's that his family drummed into him that sex is nasty. The resulting sense of guilt, shame, sneakiness, and dishonesty around his sex life ever since had severely hampered his life and relationships.

In a similar vein, you might recall Colorado Senator Gary Hart who was running for President in 1988 but was put out of the race when he was discovered having an affair with Donna Rice. He said afterward that one of the reasons he couldn't stop himself from having an affair (and harming his marriage and political career) was that he was raised in a very strict household where sex was considered nasty and secretive (which made it all the more compelling and hard-to-resist for him).

I raise this issue of holiness or nastiness because it seems to make an impact on so many men and women who want to enjoy the beauty and closeness of sensuality but who are filled with thoughts and images that sex is bad or guilt-ridden or sinful. Does that sound true about yourself or someone you care about--were you raised with negative images and harsh ideas that sex is wrong or bad or sinful?

Sometimes you hear people say that these harsh ideas about sex come from the bible. But nine years ago I researched and wrote a book called "The Ten Challenges" about the deeper meanings and original Hebrew wordings of the Ten Commandments. For instance, even the original Hebrew words for the Ten Commandments don't say the word "commandments." The original biblical words from Exodus 20 say "Ahseret Hadibrot," which mean "the ten things" or "the ten words." You can sense immediately that those translations read more gently and lovingly. In the King James version the Hebrew words that got mistranslated into Greek then got mistranslated into English as harsh "Thou shalt nots" and rigid commandments. But it's quite possible that in the original version they are more like profound and wise principles for living rather than harsh "thou shalt nots" for which you get struck down if you mess up on one.

I spoke with hundreds of experts, scholars, linguists, and clergy from a number of religious and spiritual traditions about how they translate The Ten Commandments, especially the ones about sexuality, such as Do not commit adultery, Do not covet your neighbor's partner, Do not steal (which literally means "lo tignove--do not be sneaky or trick someone with a false impression of who you are"), Do not bear false witness or lie or gossip to create a false advantage.

What I found out is that the original Hebrew word for sexuality is "ya-da" which means to know someone fully. Rabbis and scholars explained that if you keep your sexuality superficial or focused on body sensations or getting your way with another person, you never really get to know someone fully and you never get to be known fully. So what holiness is about with regards to sexuality is to let yourself be fully honest, vulnerable, and trustworthy with another human being--to get to know and accept each other's deeper selves, including their complicated sexual selves.

Several Christian, Muslim and Buddhist scholars and clergy also agreed with this sense of sex as holy in so far as it lets us fully know the richness of God's gifts to us. To appreciate the beauty of the body, the beauty of a deep relationship, and the joy of connecting with someone you love is a holy act. When it becomes sneaky, manipulative, dishonest, or exploitative, that is when it becomes nasty.

In other words, sexuality is one of the greatest opportunities for finding your way into the powerful holy energies of the universe--but it has to be treated carefully and in a deeply honest relationship with someone you truly know and appreciate at all levels, because otherwise it can easily slip back into sneakiness, dishonesty, manipulation, or exploitativeness which go against the awesomeness for which sexuality is intended.

Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs (or even if you are completely allergic to religion altogether), I urge you to examine whether you are carrying guilt-ridden or shame-filled thoughts into your sex life. If so, you are much less likely to be able to deeply enjoy these holy moments of fully being at peace and in a state of joy and surrender with another human being. If your mind is filled with desires to conquer, manipulate, score, or trick someone, you are very far away from the pleasure of being fully known and fully appreciated for who you are.

If you start to view sexuality as a holy and wonderful part of life that gives you awe about the greatness of God's creation (or the beauty of nature if the word 'God' is uncomfortable for you), you will probably find it enhances your sensuality and the strength of your relationship. Instead of feeling like a "bad person" who is about to get caught and punished, you will begin to experience sexuality as a "good person" who is growing closer to your true essence through your exploration of profound intimacy with another person.

©2009, Leonard Felder

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Leonard Felder is a licensed psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles. As a popular lecturer and recognized expert on how to improve personal relationships, his books have sold more than 1 million copies. His latest book is Wake Up or Break Up: The 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship He has appeared on more than 200 teleivsion and radio programs, including Oprah, The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, AM Canada, NPR, and ABC Talkradio. He and his wife, Linda, have been together since 1980, and they hare the parents of a 12-year-old son, Steven. E-Mail or www.wakeuporbreakup.com

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