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Chaos or Complexity: The Dilemma of Sexual Ethics

Confession: I love the show Jane the Virgin. Jane and I have so much in common. We love grilled cheese, are Latin women, have men fawning on us constantly (at least my husband fawns on me), and we were raised Catholic.

There’s a scene in Jane the Virgin where her grandmother hands her a flower, and tells her to scrunch it up in her hands. Her grandmother then tells her that’s what will happen to her if she has sex before marriage. No one will think she’s beautiful or valuable. (Cue my sex coach self wishing I could jump through the screen to save 9 year old Jane)

This is Fear. This is Fear based sexual ethics. This is the way most Christian communities teach about sexuality. Whether it’s as simplistic as crushing a flower, or more intricate with a theology involving Augustine as the example of how crazy your life can get if you have sex before marriage—there’s usually a large dose of fear alongside an attempt to teach self-respect. As a Catholic and Sex Coach, I can assure you the fear and shame sticks, even after the God is dead.

Recently, I was reading the book The Gift of Shame by Keith Witt. In the book, he writes about complexity theory:

“Complexity theory tells us that when you have a system of connected but differentiated parts…[and that system] is open (energy enters it in some form), and capable of chaotic behavior three things can happen:

  • It will become so rigid it stops changing…

  • It will become lost in chaos…

  • It will transform into a more complex system.”

Chastity, or where your sexuality and spirituality intersect, is a complex system. The Catholic Church, and many other conservative faiths, believe the connection between sexuality and spirituality is too dangerous to be honest about. Instead, they believe without strict control the result will be chaos. They define this chaos as free love, sexually transmitted infections, rape, compulsive sexual behaviors (usually called sex addiction in Christian circles), pornography, etc.

To protect against chaos, they create a rigid system of strict ethics so that a follower’s sexuality doesn’t get out of hand. One of two things happens for people of religious backgrounds:

1) They’re of the temperament that can handle the strict rules. This is potentially because they believe sexuality is a dangerous thing they need to be protected from. When that happens, then people are okay and can manage until…

2) Chaos sets in. This chaos can be wild and potentially dangerous like a sexual bender with pornography and compulsive sexual behavior, or having an anger management problem, or being abusive, or turning to drugs and alcohol. This chaos can also be more mundane like being married and feeling extreme guilt for having sex or masturbating.

Sexual energy has to come out somewhere.

What religiously raised individuals need, and what I’m so passionate about is a way for sexual theology to transform into a more complex system. The main principles of this complex system is something I will flesh out here on my blog and on Instagram over the course of November and December.

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