Sex Life: How Our Sexual Experiences Define Who We Are by Pamela Stephenson-Connolly

(Vermilion; London, 2011)

Sex Life by Pamela Stephenson-Connolly was my ‘light reading’ of choice after the last liturgy essay!  The reason I was drawn to it is because it is an attempt to ‘map’ human sexuality from birth till death, hence covering the controversial areas of sexuality in childhood and old age.  As Pamela points out, it’s pretty difficult to gather empirical date on sexual experience and she has opted for a mass of testimonials from clients and research interviews.  So it’s fun to read – though the book desperately needs a good editor!

I have two reflections to share in a public forum.  (Poor me a glass of red wine and I’d be happy to talk into the night!)

The first is that I agree 100% with Pamela that we must think about human sexuality as a whole of life phenomena.  Her book helps us to do that and is useful therefore for both academic and personal study.  (If you need to do some ‘repair work’ on your own formation as sexual beings this is not a bad place to start – it’ll help identify the messages you’ve picked up in younger years which are influencing your adult sexuality.)  Sexuality ebbs and flows with growth and regression, maturity and immaturity as do ALL aspects of the human person.  If we cease to acknowledge and affirm appropriate childhood and adolescent sexuality we fail to equip our children with the foundation for healthy adult sexuality.  If we fail to acknowledge sexuality in ageing adults, we add to the devaluing of the elderly which our society already engages in too readily.

The second reflection I would offer is the absolute impossibility of writing and talking about sex without moral judgements.  Pamela writes ‘for sexologists and campaigners who fight for sexual rights.’  Well, there are diverse opinions of what ‘sexual rights’ might mean!  There are times in the book where she sounds more accepting of those who engage in ‘unusual’ forms of sexual expression than she is of those who choose a healthy abstinence.  I find this very frustrating as a theologian interested in sexuality and spirituality – not from a moral point of view, but because she fails to acknowledge anything much of the spiritual experience of human beings.  Her understanding of sex reads to be very materialist – of physical matter – which I found very limiting and would argue is a moral judgement in and of itself.  Subjectivity is inevitable in all subjects, but with one in which we as subjects are so inherently vulnerable, we have to be absolutely up front that an a-moral sexual ethic is impossible.  Our current Australian debates on same-sex marriage and Anglican debates on human sexuality would do well to use that as a starting point!

How do our sexual experiences define who we are?  Our sexual experiences define our sexuality and our sexuality is just one element in the complex web of relations that makes up a human being.

 

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