Should Sex Be Sacred?

The heinous killing of Dr. George Tiller last Sunday in church reminds all of us that the lack of common ground in this country on abortion has real consequences. In this case, those consequences included the ultimate violation of the sacred space of a church in what must be described as a political (or culture wars) killing. Normally we resolve our conflicts in this country through discussion and debate. That is the mark of a civilized society. The abortion fight has long threatened to de-civilize us, and it did that once again last week.

President Obama recognizes the profound cultural consequences of our nation’s unresolved fight over abortion. He has become the first president to convene a conversation of national leaders who care about this issue and who want to find common ground in reducing the need for abortion.

The most striking thing that I heard when attending a White House meeting on common ground was this phrase: "the sacredness of sex." It was named by a White House official in a list of several different kinds of initiatives that were surfacing in White House-sponsored discussions of common ground.

My contribution to that meeting was to jump on that phrase. I said something like the following: It will not be enough to offer a series of technical solutions or policy "best practices" to the problem of reducing the number of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies each year in this country. These proposals-like improving access to effective contraception, or streamlining adoption procedures, or strengthening access to health care services for poor, pregnant women-are essential. But there is something going on at a deeper values level and it must be addressed at that level. The question is whether a pluralistic, diverse nation can find common language and common vision at that deeper level.

I went on to say: That values level has been touched on with the phrase, "the sacredness of sex." Sex is indeed sacred. My Christian tradition would say that sex is a good gift from God that is deeply important interpersonally and as the means by which the next generation is brought into the world. Our society has cheapened sex and thereby damaged relationships between men and women while endangering the next generation. We need the president (and all of us committed to this issue) to include as part of any abortion reduction proposal some kind of values-laden language reminding Americans that sex is sacred, it is not just a fun game, it is not just an occasion for pleasure, and it must not just be used as a way to get something from somebody and then leave them behind. We need to emphasize the dignity of each person and the dignity of the sexual act between persons, and to call for the appropriate reverence and responsibility in this area of life. (At least, I hope I said that. I am saying it now, anyway.)

There was not really time in our meeting for any particular suggestion to be taken up for intensive conversation. So I don’t know whether this kind of language resonates outside of my own particular community or not. I do know that a common ground effort must get to the deepest sources of the problem at hand, and one of these is a society in which a widespread sense of "the sacredness of sex" has been lost.

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  • invalid-0

    To be quite honest, the “sacredness of sex” framing gives me the creeps. It’s a REALLY short step between “sex is sacred” and “if you have sex before marriage, you’re disrespecting yourself/disrespecting sex/a dirty toothbrush/etc.”

    The idea that we “need” a values-laden messaging around the “sacredness of sex” is bullshit, frankly. Okay, so it matches the values of most Christian denominations. How about the rest of us, who may or may not share your view of sex as “dignified” and inherently more than just for fun? It *can* be deep and dignified and Serious Business, but not always, and to try to push messaging related to a particular set of values on everyone is rude as hell.

    Now if we said “sex can be sacred” I’d be a lot happier. Because I know in my life there have been times that sex was a quasi-spiritual experience, a closeness and lovemaking between myself and a beloved partner. And there have been times when it was just…fun! And exciting! And felt good! Someone telling me “sex is sacred” feels like they’re trying to make me feel guilty about the times I’ve enjoyed sex purely for pleasure’s sake, and it puts those of us who enjoy casual sex on the defensive. It’s an implicit condemnation of just-for-fun sex, which is highly offensive to those who participate in such recreational activities.

    Your values are your values. Don’t try to make them my values, too. I don’t want them. I’ve got my own.

    • invalid-0

      Thank you!

      This sort of discourse is dangerous and will set us back 50 years.

      Honestly, sometimes sex is just sex, and it’s not sacred. It’s something we do as animals, for procreation or recreation, and that is all. I reject your religiously fueled implication that it should be something more to me. Honestly, we are adults and we are capable of making our own decisions regarding sex without bringing religion into it.

      Those of us who do not share your religious values are left out of the equation and personally I find this marginalization highly offensive. I expected much better and broader and certainly feminist discourse in this forum and I am sorely disappointed.

  • invalid-0

    Christians love to say that “sex is sacred,” but what they really mean is “Sex is sacred within marriage.” Marriage is not a spiritual arrangement; it’s a business proposition, meant to control women’s reproduction and ensure legitimate male heirs. It’s about controlling women’s access to sex, and it’s purely an economic invention. When Christians talk about sex being sacred, they only acknowledge sex within marriage, and that leaves out the many of us who do not hold Christian beliefs, and perhaps feel that sex can be responsibly and safely enjoyed outside of traditional marriage.

    I agree, however, that sex has become cheapened in our society, and many people do not appreciate or respect its consequences. I think sex should be taken more seriously, especially by young people in today’s world. Sex can be fun, exciting, and special, but calling it “sacred” elevates it to a religious level; one that I think is misguided. Perhaps we can begin to emphasize the importance of respecting the sexual act without making it about the Christian notion of religion. I believe that equating sex with religion only ends up alienating many people, and encouraging them to further cheapen it. We can find better language to express the deep meaning of sex without relegating it to a spiritual act.

    • invalid-0

      But we, Arabs and Moslems, also should combat with false, the retroideas, concerning our religion In 1996 in the State of Arizona it has founded the program under name Silver Ring Thing for the purpose of an appeal to young Americans to abstain from sex to the introduction into marriage through their belief, that it represents illegitimate communication and represents with itself a sin.

  • invalid-0

    That’s an excellent point, and a big part of why it rubs me so wrong. I missed pointing that out, thank you.

    When we acknowledge that “sex is sacred” comes with a “PS: within traditional marriage,” it compounds the offensiveness. Now, in addition to feeling as though my more casual sexual encounters are condemned, I am confronted with the fact that, because I don’t ever plan to marry, no sex I ever have will be considered the good kind to most of the “sex is sacred” crowd.

    Though I would still disagree that we need to make sex a Big Damn Deal. Yes, we’ve “cheapened” sex in modern times. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. So long as people take it seriously enough to be safe – protection from disease (and pregnancy, if heterosexual) etc. – why burden it with Meaning? Sex is a natural biological impulse and function. Why does this act and no other receive that moral gravitas you people are trying to tack back onto it? We’ve JUST managed to shed most of the baggage of hundreds of years of religious messaging about the evil and sin and immorality of the flesh, and you’re trying to put it back. Why???

    Hell, come to that, I think the Big Deal label that’s still trying to cling to sex is part of what makes youthful sex so potentially emotionally damaging. If we acknowledge that sex is just sex, if we stop spinning fairy tales about the first time and how it’s bliss in the clouds, if we stop insisting that sex must be a deep connection to a person you love…that’s a lot less for young people to stress about if they decide to have sex. That’d be useful for people of all ages, in fact.

  • invalid-0

    I agree that sex should not be the end-all-be-all of life. Sex is not just about making babies, it’s fun and enjoyable. I do wish, though, that people took it a bit more seriously, and bothered to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease. The “cheapening” that I see is that people have sex without accounting for any emotional or physical consequences. Sex doesn’t have to be a Big Deal, but I wish we taught young people to think a bit more before they exchange bodily fluids.

    You make a good point, that sex is just a biological impulse. Making it seem sinful or forbidden only heightens its mystery. De-mystifying sex and treating it like a common and natural behavior is the best way to get people to protect themselves.

    • invalid-0

      I think there is a common ground to be found between ‘sex is sacred’ and ‘sex is part of being human’. While I fall closer to the latter group, I still feel there has to be more focus on relationships first, sex second. Sex is a key part of any relationship, but I think saying that leads people to forget that relationships are about far more than physical acts. Sex is important, but it does not define a relationship. If doing the naughty is what’s holding a couple together, they probably shouldn’t be together.

      I don’t believe in saving yourself for marriage, but you should know that you’re ready for sex with this person before jumping into such an intimate act.

      And don’t forget to bring a condom ;)

  • invalid-0

    I’m really disturbed at this coming from someone who is being held up by RHRealityCheck as supposedly a leader in the common ground movement/strategy/political posturing/whatever. I agree with the comments above. Good observation that when Christians say this, they inevitably mean sex within marriage. It’s doubly offensive to me as an atheist queer woman.

    This post also makes the real agenda of the Evangelicals transparent, despite the claim from another common grounder that pro life has nothing to do with sex and contraceptives. If not, why talk about sex in a forum about abortion? This is just more misogynist shaming of women for daring to have sex and still insisting on being full human beings who want to have control over their lives.

  • aspen-baker

    Hi David,


    This is a very personal and compelling post.  I am glad you shared it.


    Clearly, from the comments above, there is much skepticism about the idea of sacredness and where that may lead, but what struck me in reading your post was this: 


    "It will not be enough to offer a series of technical solutions or
    policy "best practices" to the problem of reducing the number of
    unwanted and unplanned pregnancies each year in this country…But there is something going on at a deeper values level and it must be
    addressed at that level. The question is whether a pluralistic, diverse
    nation can find common language and common vision at that deeper level."


    I agree that there are other things going on besides a policy debate and while many of those outcomes are important to many people, what is at the heart of the debate around abortion is a conflict over something much deeper.  Policy-izing-away this conflict doesn’t address it.  We must humanize it.  


    I think you address the humanity piece here: 


    "We need to emphasize the dignity of each person and the dignity of the
    sexual act between persons."


    There is nothing here for me that speaks to this dignity only happening in marriage, or this dignity not being enjoyable or pleasureable. Sounds to me like it is about respect, and, that, I think is the ultimate common ground. 


    Thanks for bringing it up!

  • invalid-0

    BDSM sex, too.
    There probably isn’t one kind of sex that fits all of us all of the time. Obviously, sex without love is lacking something vital. Sex is fun, sex is dirty, sex is a binding experience, sex is intense, sex is loving, sex comes in every flavor and orifice. Sex has all the dirty words included, which they’d censor if I dared type them here.
    Sex is THE most uncontrollable force in the universe.
    I’d love to get laid! Women and men are so beautiful.
    You are sexy, and so am I. The world is sacred and erotic.
    Even Congressmen get horny. Incredible, that!
    I mean, ever see a Republican get an orgasm? NOBODY worries about whom you voted for at THAT moment. Ha ha….

  • invalid-0

    Could we at least agree that sex shouldn’t objectify? Even some mutually agreed upon practices are exploitative.

    You know, if we understood the concept of human dignity a little better, we might be more willing to bear the material consequences of an unplanned pregnancy with greater trust and hope for the future.

    • invalid-0

      In the spring of this year we with my student-diplomnitsej carried out the research devoted to the relation of youth to a situation of not planned pregnancy and a problem of abortions. So, abortion as a way of the decision of a problem in case of not planned pregnancy this decision of all for 7,6% of the interrogated women, among men such relation was expressed by 18,5% of respondents.

  • invalid-0

    Why do we have to agree on this?

    “Even some mutually agreed upon practices are exploitative.”

    Who decides which of the mutually agreed upon practices in which people engage should be banned or are exploitative? This is another attempt to control sex and sexuality.

  • invalid-0

    Well, think I’m gonna agree with you that we should restore the sacredness of sex in society. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for falling into extremes that we had or have now. The first extreme was before sexual revolution, when sex wasn’t discussed at all, parents didn’t talk to their kids about sexuality, and even the word “pregnant” was rarely used on TV… The second extreme- was after the hippies came: no rules, no prohibitions… And we aren’t still comfortable with sex theme, are we? So, when I’m talking about sacred sex I mean that it should be set apart, set aside in a place of honor, somewhere in the bedroom…

  • invalid-0

    I don’t know that sex is “sacred” but I do agree that it should be taken as a serious step and not something you do without a serious and committed relationship. I did not wait for marriage and I wish that I had and that is what I hope for my own children.

  • invalid-0

    Allibird, your comment about marriage being “a business proposition, meant to control women’s reproduction and ensure legitimate male heirs” is quite possibly the most rediculous thing I’ve heard in my lifetime. You obviously don’t understand the joy of relationships, of a partnership, of uniting with truly your best friend. You don’t understand the personal growth and the joy that come to both spouses in that relationship. I don’t care if you feel sex is sacred or not. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable. But when you bring this comment into the argument, you are way off base.
    As for the article, I liked your points. As in all issues, we should be attacking the root of the problems, not just the symptoms. Thanks.

  • crowepps

    I assumed that Allibird was talking about ‘traditional’ marriages, which were arranged by the FATHERS of the couple involved, with a contract setting out the financial arrangements, and ‘traditional’ patriarchal inheritance systems wherein the eldest LEGITIMATE male got the goodies and any other children got nothing.


    All that terrific modern stuff about relationships and partnership and best friends and personal growth is an extremely recent creation, occurring as a by-product of individualism.


    The problem I see with the ‘sex is sacred’ meme is that as the traditional normative worldview, it actually meant ‘sex is sacred when marital FOR WOMEN but men get both kinds: sacred marital sex and in addition men can indulge in profane sex.’

  • invalid-0

    You really need to define sacred if before any imposition of religious beliefs.
    Basically, I’ve been reading a lot of “don’t impose your values on me” stuff, which is cool. From a practical standpoint, sex is for procreation i.e. baby making just as work is for making $ to support oneself just as leisure is for having fun. Just because sex can be fun isn’t the end of the means, it just is what it is. Work is fun (for some people, but that is not why we work). If you can boil it down to sacred meaning, sex is for making babies, period the end: which is really true, otherwise you wouldn’t need a condom or other contraception. In that we can all find common ground, I believe. Start there where everybody can agree.

  • invalid-0

    This was such a great blog to read. I dont really know how I feel Im kinda torn in the middle. Everyone made some really good points and its hard to completly take one sidE!