Presbyterian Sex

Decency and order come to mind but I am not sure you want to create a bumper sticker about how Presbyterians have sex.

Reading Emily Suzanne Johnson’s new book, This is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right (Oxford University Press), took me to quotations from Marabel Morgan’s Total Woman and Tim and Beverly LaHaye’s Act of Marriage. Morgan wrote in 1973:

For super sex tonight, respond eagerly to your husband’s advances. Don’t just endure. . . . He may enjoy making love even when you’re a limp dishrag, but if you’re eager, and love to make love, watch out! If you seduce him, there will be no words to describe his joy. Loving you will become sheer ecstasy. (75)

That’s not very graphic, but it’s way more explicit than anything that H. L. Mencken printed and that subsequently landed him in a Boston jail under the charge of publishing obscenity.

But the LaHayes discussed the subject in ways that likely forced parents to hide their book, Act of Marriage (1976), from adolescent boys:

The husband who would be a good lover will not advance too quickly but will learn to enjoy loveplay. He will not only wait until his wife is well-lubricated, but reserve his entrance until her inner lips are engorged with blood and swollen at least twice their normal size.

Yowza!

Morgan was some kind of fundamentalist, a graduate from Florida Bible College. The LaHayes were Southern Baptists (Tim is deceased, Beverly is still alive). That kind of discussion of sexual intimacy is not what I learned was fitting in the Baptist fundamentalist home and congregation in which I grew up.

Meanwhile, Tim and Kathy Keller arguably discussed briefly and more openly than I would care to do their sexual history, but the theme is restraint:

Kathy and I were virgins when we were married. Even in our day, that may have been a minority experience, but that meant that on our wedding night we were not in any position to try to entice or impress one another. All we were trying to do was to tenderly express with our bodies the oneness we had first begun feeling as friends and which had then grown stronger and deeper as we fell in love. Frankly, that night I was clumsy and awkward and fell asleep anxious and discouraged. Sex was frustrating at first. It was the frustration of an artist who has in his head a picture or a story but lacks the skills to express it. (Meaning of Marriage, 79-80)

That is still TMI for my own comfort. But it is a very different picture of sexual intimacy than what the fundamentalist Morgan and Baptist LaHayes presented.

Which raises the question: if you can be a Presbyterian in the bedroom, why not in worship?

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Evangelicals Are So Sexy

(Thanks to Alice Kinnon from Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco)

I cannot recommend sufficiently highly the interview that Ken Myers did sometime back with Robbie George about his book on marriage. The missus and I listened to it (again for me) over the weekend and I started to wonder what kind of instruction the family values evangelicals were giving about marriage low those many years ago when they took the familial high ground only now to have lured gays and lesbians up to the same summit. I further wondered whether guys like James Dobson were interested in the function of marriage or was family life (and the sex that went with it) a means toward personal fulfillment. If Jesus could be turned into my boyfriend, could marriage become one long date (with consummation at the end)?

In an older Protestant view of marriage, we don’t see much acknowledgement of the pleasures of sex:

Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness. (Confession of Faith, 24.2)

The divines may have been worried in their private lives about whether their wives were fulfilled in the bedroom, but they didn’t try to find biblical justification for the delights of love making. Instead, they kept to the point and looked as sex’s function. No fun here. Sex is duty ( turn-on for workaholics?).

This echoes the way Roman Catholics have also thought about marriage and sex (and accounts perhaps for Robbie George’s insights). For instance, I recently came across this discussion of sexual pleasure which appealed to Thomas Aquinas:

Hence it should be noted that the conjugal act is sometimes meritorious and without any mortal or venial sin, as when it is directed to the good of procreation and education of a child for the worship of God; for then it is an act of religion; or when it is performed for the sake of rendering the debt, it is an act of justice. But every virtuous act is meritorious, if it is performed with charity. But sometimes it is accompanied with venial sin, namely, when one is excited to the matrimonial act by concupiscence, which nevertheless stays within the limits of the marriage, namely, that he is content with his wife only. But sometimes it is performed with mortal sin, as when concupiscence is carried beyond the limits of the marriage; for example, when the husband approaches the wife with the idea that he would just as gladly or more gladly approach another woman. In the first way, therefore, the act of marriage requires no concession; in the second way it obtains a concession, inasmuch as someone consenting to concupiscence toward the wife is not guilty of mortal sin; in the third way there is absolutely no concession.

Minus the stuff on mortal and venial sin, Aquinas’ point strikes me as sensible to any man who has tried to figure out the difference between his legitimate and illegitimate sexual desires.

But if you go to the heady days of the 1970s, just ahead of the curve of the family values promoting Religious Right, you find lots of material not just from Marabel Morgan but from Tim and Beverly Lahaye (who helped give Kuyperian w-wism a footing among evangelicals via Franscis Schaeffer) on the best ways for man and woman to — ahem — “have it all.” Steven P. Miller observes this outpouring of evangelical writing about sex in his recent book (hide the children if not the women):

The husband-wife authorial team — an arrangement common to the genre — offered a vision of sexuality that, if quite traditional when compared to the “key parties” of 1970s lore, was hardly a paean to Victorian mores. . . . they specifically attacked the “old Victorian nonsense that a ‘nice lady doesn’t act as if she enjoys sex'” To the contrary, the authors maintained an abiding concern with female orgasm. In the modern era, they argued, most wives either expected to — or should expect to — receive vaginal or clitorial stimulation from their husbands, who needed the know-how necessary to satisfy such new, but fair standards.

Of Morgan Miller writes:

Morgan and her fans suggested numerous creative strategies for greeting their hardworking husbands. Possibilities for a six o’clock surprise included “pink baby-doll pajamas” and “the no-bra look.” “What about it girls?” Morgan asked her readers. “Are you in a marriage rut? Would your husband pick you up for his mistress?” One critic quipped, “A man married to a Total Woman wouldn’t know whether he’d be coming home after work to Lolita or Bathsheba.” . . . The Total Woman was much more candid about sexual intimacy, however, even as it diluted kinkiness with Christian humor. One Southern Baptist woman, Morgan wrote, “welcomed her husband home in black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron. That’s all. He took one look and shouted, ‘Praise the Lord?'” (The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years, 23, 24)

All of which makes me think that if Protestants are going to restore some measure of sanity and restraint about sex and its consequences, we may have to listen less to Carl or Tim than to older generations of repressed Christians who must have had some kind of sex life since they procreated but knew better than to write about it.