Recently, I made an appearance as a guest musician at my best friend's church. This has happened once before, and the experience was pleasant enough that I was looking forward to doing so again. This proved to be the case this time as well. I find the people there to be friendly and welcoming; I find them to be almost overwhelmingly so at times, actually, but that's mostly because I am very much an introvert, and I think that a more extraverted person would enjoy it more. And the kind of music that they tend to have there (some classic hymns make appearances, but most of what they sing is modern "praise music") is usually quite different from the music that we usually have at my church—it is not at all unusual for us to sing compositions by Tallis, Byrd, Batten, Elgar, or Mozart—which makes for an interesting change.
That said, the sermon made me feel like rolling my eyes much of the time, though out of respect for my friend and for people who have always been welcoming and kind to me, I refrained from doing so. The minister was preaching on 1 Corinthians, chapter 6—the passage that talks about the body not being made for sexual immorality. (This had been one of the day's readings, and the reader made a rather amusing mistake that nobody but B. and I seemed to notice—the reader claimed that "the body was not made for sexual immortality" and urged us to "flee from sexual immortality!" It's probably a good thing that neither of us could make eye contact with the other, because we would have laughed. Probably loudly. We set each other off like that sometimes.) I'd already been aware that this would be the minister's subject, and I'd braced myself for all sorts of statements that I would personally find to be offensive and wrong. This was good, because I ultimately ended up disagreeing with practically everything that he said.
Suffice it to say that my definition of "sexual immorality" is quite different from the traditional definition.
First of all, I felt quite exasperated when the minister claimed that NO SPOUSE EVER has been glad to hear that their husband or wife has been taking a sexual interest in somebody outside of the marriage. I mean, I can understand being upset that one's spouse has been sneaking around, because it's deeply important to be able to trust the person you've married, but although I'm monogamous by nature myself (a conclusion to which I came after a great deal of thought and a bit of experience a couple of years ago), I do not understand why so many people think that monogamy is the only constructive form of romantic and sexual relationship. In fact, I can see how it can be very decidedly destructive when its participants cling to the notion that once you've paired off with someone, it should never even cross your mind that anybody else is at all attractive. And given society's current attitude towards opposite-sex relationships of any kind (and of course the minister only spoke about heterosexual couples, presumably cisgendered heterosexual couples), this means that even the slightest interaction between a woman and a man suddenly becomes suspect if one of them is, or both of them are, married, even if the marriage is known to be a happy one. The default assumption is that people are ruled by their hormones, so of course if a woman and a man are friends, at least one of them is going to fall in love (or at least in lust) with the other, and this will be a BIG HAIRY DISASTER because OMG!FEELINGS and YOU CAN'T BE FRIENDS WITH SOMEONE WITH WHOM YOU WANT TO HAVE SEX BECAUSE OF HORMONAL AND EMOTIONAL REASONS!
All things considered, you can probably guess what I think about that idea.
But the thing is, polyamory exists. And while it hasn't always been perfect, I know at least one married couple who, because they are polyamorous, do see other people and are each glad to hear when the other has connected with a potential new partner. Among other things, their relationship works because they don't sneak around. Not everybody was made for monogamy.
Not everybody was made for marriage, either. And while this was not at all a surprising thing for him to say, the minister explicitly said that any sexual contact that takes place outside of the bonds of matrimony is sexually immoral. It doesn't matter if you love each other, or if you're in a stable, long-term, monogamous relationship. Sexual contact is evil until you're wearing a wedding ring. End of story. Again, I deeply disagree. There are some people who dislike the institution for various reasons, and of course there are places where certain couples cannot be married. I don't think that they should be decried as "immoral" when they choose to engage in intimate physical contact with each other. It is their choice, and as long as everyone involved wants it to happen, it's nobody else's business, really.
I also took exception to the way that the minister twisted the words "do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody." That's very close to one of the sets of words by which I try to live. Although I'm not a Wiccan, part of my spirituality is influenced by Wicca (particularly solitary practice, of course), and I have always had a fondness for the Rede, especially its best-known line: "An it harm none, do what ye will." I like it because it allows for a freedom of conscience, but because it also contains a rather important stipulation that you must not harm anybody or anything in the course of following your own desires, it also contains a powerful reminder: other people matter too, and so does the world in which we live.
But he made it sound like the only possible interpretation of "do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody" is "do what you want; it isn't hurting anybody." That was sloppy logic at best. And then he applied this interpretation to examples of people who just did what they wanted to do and ended up hurting other people through their carelessness or outright malice.
Given that I'm not at all opposed to homosexuality or to sex that does not take place within a married relationship, or that will not result in the conception of a child, or to anything that takes place between people who are of sound enough mind to make informed decisions about their sexuality and who actively consent to what is taking place between them, what constitutes sexual immorality to me, then?
As far as I'm concerned, where sexuality becomes sexual immorality has nothing to do with whether the participants are married (to each other or to other people) or whether they have opposite sets of genitalia (which is really none of my business), or whether one or both identify as having the gender that they were described as having when they were born (which is likewise none of my business). To me, sexual immorality is sex or sexual behaviour that ends up having destructive fallout in one way or another.
The person who cheats on their spouse isn't being sexually immoral because they're having sex with someone to whom they are not married; they're being sexually immoral because they are doing this without their spouse's knowledge and consent, and are therefore potentially exposing them to disease, or at least to the pain of knowing that their spouse has not been honest with them, and the possibility of at least one awkward and/or painful encounter with their spouse's lover. They are abusing their partner's trust and love.
The person who pokes holes in a condom or otherwise sabotages birth control measures with the intent to facilitate a pregnancy is being sexually immoral because they are using sexual intercourse as a tool to create a result that their partner does not want.
The person who contracts a sexually transmitted disease or infection and then continues to have unprotected sexual contact with others without telling them that they have this kind of health problem is being sexually immoral because they are directly endangering the health of their partners—and they are doing so without their partners' knowledge or consent.
The person who continues to make unwelcome sexual advances is being sexually immoral because they are ignoring the other person's lack of consent and, more than likely, are making them feel unsafe. Furthermore, the person who makes unwelcome sexual advances and then insists that their targets should feel "flattered" because "I was just giving them a compliment" is being sexually immoral because they are deliberately ignoring the fact that this person did not want this form of attention.
The person who insists that rape victims were "asking for it" for any reason is being sexually immoral because they are insisting that unwanted sexual contact is the fault of the victim, not the perpetrator, because the person who committed the rape was simply too inflamed by lust to be responsible for their actions, and is excusing the rapist's actions—which at least potentially implies that they would not be averse to making use of their own sexuality as an excuse for violence, too.
I have to admit that aside from that last point, I'm a little unsure of whether I should include rape in my definition of sexual immorality, because in many cases, there's so much more at play than simply the use of one's sexuality, and because people who are raped respond to it in many different ways. Rape is violence that tends to involve at least one person's genitals, this is true, but is that enough to make it a form of sexual immorality? It's sexual assault, of course, which I consider to be something that's worse than mere "immorality" in many ways—the word doesn't seem strong enough somehow. (But of course I don't believe in that "blurred lines" bullshit. Rape is rape, and that's not what this post is supposed to be about anyway.)
Bottom line: just about the only thing that I agreed with this minister about is the idea that sexuality should not be abused or misused. Everything else pretty much annoyed me. And this served as a particularly powerful reminder of one of the reasons why I can never really call myself a Christian again in any traditional sense—a fundamentally destructive image of sexuality is too enthusiastically embraced by traditional Christian thought, and I disagree with most of Christianity's teachings about sex with equal enthusiasm.