“The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly.”

“You mean I shall have to become a Christian?” said Jane.

“It looks like it,” said the Director.1

It’s my favorite thing, the four of us sitting around the kitchen table, one in the morning, empty bottles everywhere, eyeballs-deep in the aesthetics of gender, or the theology of sex, or anyway something that has us alternating between cackles and chills.

“I hear Shostakovich,” says Jack P.,2 tracing voluptuous curves in the air to describe how he feels about women but also about certain symphonies, “and I want to put it inside myself. I want it like I want a woman, but I also want it inside me.” He pauses and grins at me. “Is that gay?”

“Well, we’re all feminine with respect to God,” I say, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, “so that makes sense.” If one response to beauty is the desire to penetrate, another is the desire to be penetrated.

The unspoken assumption is that music, and beauty in general, is a way to experience God, something that the present company (a bunch of Lewis-reading, Beethoven-loving, Aquinas-quoting types) takes for granted.

Jack has just been maintaining that the most beautiful thing in the world is the female body. I’d just say bodies in general, since I appreciate both kinds, even if one of those appreciations is more visceral than the other.

Paul L. questions whether beauty is the right word: if a hungry man sees a hamburger on a billboard, is beauty the right name for what he experiences? Does he delight in the curve of the bun, the pert little sesame seeds, the gentle glistening of the secret sauce?

Or does he just want to devour the thing? What do we want to do with beauty? Gaze at it? Eat it up? Impregnate it, or be impregnated?3 All of the above?

To be continued.

1 From C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength.
2 P. is, of course, short for “Pigford”. This is what happens when you let your buddies pick their own aliases.
3 Cf. also a certain passage in Voyage To Arcturus: “If you were to regard nature as the husband, and Panawe as the wife…perhaps everything would be explained.”

16 thoughts on “What Is Sex, Part I: Secret Sauce

  1. richard

    Years ago I had something of a “mystical” experience while listening to Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 3 in A minor for organ. At the time I thought of certain passages in it as a “break-through to the infinite”.

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    The Space Trilogy is like a cosmic Theology of the Body for those of us who understand its language and images better, and for those of us who had to be coaxed into the Church.

    Reply
  3. Jenny

    I was just contemplating this today! :) When I encounter beauty, I think I want all of the above- I want to be caught up in it, to breath it, gaze upon it, and live it. It makes me think of Eden, heaven, and all that we were created to be and experience as humans.

    Reply
  4. JBT

    Yeah, my theory has always been that the whole obsession with sex–which goes back, apparently, to that whole mix-up with the Fruit and the discovery of nakedness–is simply the Enemy’s most successful campaign of obfuscation. We can’t have sex with a sunset, so it’s not a temptation; but we can have sex with a beautiful person, so he makes us think that’s the entirety of what we want, whereas in reality we want to pass through that beauty and become one with the Fountain of it. Except we don’t realize that that’s what we want because we haven’t been taught, or we forget; we’re like screaming children who honestly don’t think they’re overtired (plus there’s probably almost always an element of willful blindness). And it’s even more complicated because, as with any good lie, this one sticks audaciously close to the truth: after all, the only positive command we were given in Eden was, “Now go have tons of sex.” So… well played, the Enemy. But we’re onto your tricks. (Butt-face.)

    Reply
    1. Melanie B

      “we’re like screaming children who honestly don’t think they’re overtired”

      Great analogy. That hits home just because I have to deal with such screaming almost daily.

      Reply
  5. March

    Interesting. You took us from a sensual consideration in the beginning and to considering serious principles of beauty in the end.

    There must be a connection between the beautiful and possession. And sex is the strongest way we can possess something outside ourselves.

    Reply
  6. mikell

    To me, I never associated sex with love but once in my life and that ended so bad it affected the rest of my life. Love you can have it, it destroyed me. Jesus save me.

    Reply
  7. Alexis

    I once read that the joy we feel when we experience something of great beauty is a small taste of the joy we will feel in the presence of God. I wish I could remember who wrote it.

    Reply
  8. Sarah

    These things are why I have a hard time putting sexual sins at the forefront of WORST SINS EVER like it seems we, as Christians, seem to be supposed to.

    Sex, even illicit sex, at least has its roots in Good Things: things like desire for connection with another person, a desire to be “penetrated” by beauty… There’s probably a reason that only one of sins crying to heaven for vengeance has anything to do with sex. And lust is only one of seven of the deadly sins, right up there with violence, greed, and eating too much. (The latter seems to have the most connection to lust, seeing as a desire for food is a good and natural thing in and of itself, and it’s not until you get concupiscence involved that it becomes bad.)

    This was a great post; a very beautiful illustration of part of what it is to be human…

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      Oh, and not to mention, regarding lust, you can desire to have sex with someone without it actually being lustful. That’s what attraction *is*. Most people aren’t going to go through life and never see a person that makes them think, “That person and I should make babies. Babies optional.”

      The desire for sex with someone you’re not married to is not necessarily lustful, unless it removes their humanity from the equation– making sex about you, and not about wanting to connect with THAT specific person. Which means that a married person can still feel sinful lust for their spouse.

      Reply
    2. Karen

      Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a wonderful essay called “the other six,” about the six deadly sins that aren’t Lust. She notes that three — gluttony, anger, and lust — are “disreputable,” in that it’s obvious and rather low-class to engage in them. She also notes they are the three least serious. Avarice, Envy, Sloth, and Pride are all something respectable people do, and in the case of avarice and pride, they are even commendable.

      I mention this in relation to your comment because I note that gluttony, lust, and anger are all sins that require a response to one or anther of creations blessings, food, drink, another beautiful person, or, in the case of anger, an idea. It isn’t possible to commit any of these sins by yourself, so they always entail at least the possible of a connection to God. Avarice needs things as well, although it’s still more of a cold and isolated sin. The remaining three can be committed alone, entirely in the sinner’s own head. Thus, those sins separate us from each other and from God far more effectively that sins that require an outside stimulus.

      Reply
  9. gsk

    @Sarah: The Church does not consider sexual sins as the worst, for pride has that distinction. I believe that Aquinas taught that sins related to pride are worse than those of the flesh, because the latter are usually more the result of weakness.

    Reply
    1. Joey Prever (Steve Gershom) Post author

      GSK, I think Sarah was being hyperbolic when she said “WORST SINS EVER”, and that she just meant that [some of] us Christians tend to feel an inordinate amount of guilt and fear and loathing over sexual sin — or rather, not inordinate in itself, but inordinate in comparison to the [often smaller] amounts of guilt, fear, and loathing that we feel about other sins.

      Reply
  10. bob cratchit

    the cheeseburger reference gave me a chuckle. I thought of an old tune:
    “at night I’d had these wonderful dreams
    Some kind of sensuous treat
    Not zucchini, fettucini or Bulgar wheat
    But a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat -
    Cheeseburger in paradise”

    Reply

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