Beltane 2004, Vol 3-3
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
Sexual Liberation and Liberation from Sexuality
At Beltane it is appropriate to focus on what, if anything, a radical postmodern thealogy might have to say about sexuality and sex. For most of us who have been in a pagan community for some time, sexuality and sex has taken on a positive valence oftentimes repairing the damage of a hyper-conservative morality that passes as religion. We have come to understand that women's sexuality is a thing truncated by patriarchy. In the words of Catherine MacKinnon translating Marx, it is the thing most ours yet the most taken away. Most of us have struggled to regain some sense of power over our sexual agency. And navigating through the conflicting, sometimes bewildering, notions of sexual freedom has not been all that easy. On one hand, we have been told by the sexual liberals/libertarians/libertines that in order to regain our sexual freedom and our agency, we should have sex and lots of it. On the other hand, there have been calls for restraint and even abstinence by the conservatives/religious right/moralists.
One group says that unless we unleash ourselves and experience and accept as valid all forms of sex, or as many forms as we desire, that we are still hung up by the Puritan morality of our forebears. Almost everything is permissible and no inhibitions are worth saving from the guillotine of sexual liberation. This philosophy is opposed by those who have a more "traditional" moral code. The ills of our society are attributed by this group to more sex, not less. Instead of having more sex, they enjoin us to "return" to a more principled sexual ethic. Sex should be limited to marriage or at the very least to committed relationships.
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Most of us live our lives between these two camps. And it is to this middle group that I wish to address this article. To those of us who are not interested in playing musical beds or in joining a convent, to those of us who value committed relationships but not sexual ownership. To those of us who have sexual ethics that are not simply hedonism by another name or asceticism by another name, I think that there is a thealogical position that makes sense.
Before I go further, I might add that this is one of many thealogical positions that women could take. There is a coherent position for sexual libertarianism/libertinism and there is one for restraint and both those positions are as morally ambiguous as the one I take. But we must all judge for ourselves what we believe and sooner or later our relativism must give way to some principled belief that one thing is better than the other. This then is my normative position and articulation of a thealogy for those in the middle.
In women's spirituality movements, we worship the Goddess with a thousand faces. In a sense, She is also a Goddess with a thousand sexualities. Sexual orientations that don't fall into the binary homosexual-heterosexual ordering that we currently have should be welcome. But the tendency is to erase those sexualities that don't fit into the categories that we have in currency. Even bisexuality is a position that very often is pressured to "choose" a side. If a bisexual woman is partnered with a man, her sexuality becomes heterosexuality. If she is partnered with a woman, she becomes a lesbian. A postmodern thealogy of sexuality would unsettle these categories through the proliferation of different sexualities. The Goddess can also be asexual, pansexual, or She can be auto-sexual. What I'm trying to suggest here is that we move into ideas that go beyond lesbian, straight, bi, in ways that dislodge ideas that our sexuality neatly fall into a binary ordering (I mean, the so-called spectrum of sexuality does have two ends). A radical thealogy might change the way we are trapped in the discourses of sexuality that seem to offer no way out. Because we have a multifaceted Goddess, we can fashion a multifaceted sexuality. Being liberated from a sexuality gives us the ability to enjoy sex in a way that is not constrained by the politics of sexual identity. We can move fluidly between different sexualities to experience sex without the confines of a particular politics.
And speaking of sex, what are we to make of the mixed messages that even the pagan communities send out about the nature of sex. We understand that sex is a good thing but most of us still feel discomfited by speaking of it and of our own sexual experiences. For many, some sexual experiences have been nightmares. How do we heal ourselves of our wounds -- those that are self-inflicted as well as those inflicted by others? Do we really need to free our sexuality?
Some feminist theorists have argued that patriarchy has invested heavily in ensuring the availability of women for sexual purposes. The degradation of women is tied to the sale of pornography and sex clubs, strip joints, and prostitution. Sexual violence and sexual availability dictated by the patriarchal order (and in MacKinnon and Butler's view, homosexual sex has not escaped patriarchy's touch so my lesbians sisters cannot rest easy either ) make the notion that women should have more sex seem counterproductive to the aims of throwing off sexual oppression. By the same token, people like Jerry Falwell and those who decry the moral turpitude of the masses aren't particularly appealing either even though they are in agreement with feminists like Dworkin and MacKinnon.
Arguments that we need to have more sex and that sex is constrained when all around us at every instance we are confronted with sexual imagery and messages begs the questions, what kind of sex? and what does "constraint" mean? As Foucault argued in A History of Sexuality, the repressive hypothesis that power is exerted on sexuality from one particular direction is a myth. Sexuality is constructed from multiple points and sex is not constrained in a culture where we discuss it incessantly. Women have sex, they get labeled, they push back, challenge the stereotypes. The power is not unidirectional.
A postmodern thealogical sexual ethic is therefore one in which women exert power back on society by controlling their choices, by refusing to be shamed into or out of sex. By not listening to their sister libertarians who insist that sexual freedom means sex without discernment and that committed relationships are no more than slavery or conformity with social dictates. On the other hand, we also have the right to enjoy our senses and have the freedom to decide when we're going to have sex and with whom without being labeled as to our sexuality or our morals.
The Goddess is Maiden, Lover, Crone. In some theologies she passes from one stage to another. In the thealogy of sexuality that I propose, She is all these at one time and can be none. We can choose to go from Lover to Maiden, from Crone to Mother/Lover, from Maiden to Crone. We can abandon the linearity of the sexual spectrum as well as that of time. And we can choose to live by our own ethics for our own reasons and not simply to demonstrate that we are radicals or liberals or conservatives. The Goddess gives us the choice, and She gives us the right to change at any time without explanation. True liberation then comes from exercising power in our decisions and in making decisions that are truly for ourselves and driven by our needs and not by a fear of judgment.
Whether you leap over
the bonfire or sit by it this Beltane, as long as you are guided by your
inner desire, you are as free as this world will allow.