Saturday, March 25, 2023

I need to talk about this "selfish and small" nonsense

Image text: "Love yourself." Image source.

[content note: this is about patriarchal Christian men talking about sex. first paragraph is sexually explicit.]

So, on March 1, The Gospel Coalition posted some, uh, Christian patriarchal smut, about how a man pouring out his semen during penis-in-vagina sex is the ultimate example of generosity, and a woman allowing it is the ultimate example of hospitality, and this shows us the gospel, and Jesus also penetrates the church. (Yes really, that's what it said.) This was, uh, quite possibly the most WTF thing I had ever heard, and I wrote my response here: This May Be The Most WTF Christian Article On Sex I've Ever Read. My entire Twitter feed was full of people talking about TGC's article. It was such a terrible article.

Anyway, on March 6, Denny Burk (a big-name complementarian Christian) published a post, saying that he didn't agree with the explicit sexual language in TGC's article, but still, a correct Christian approach to sex should place a higher priority on procreation than on pleasure. Here's the excerpt that has people mad, from his post Taking a Dog by the Ears [archive link]:

The egalitarian rejection of asymmetry necessarily backgrounds procreation and foregrounds pleasure and physical climax. Physical climax becomes the necessary focus of egalitarian sex because it’s something that, at least in principle, can be mutual. This is the entire point of books like The Great Sex Rescue. Perhaps there is a place for focusing on such things, but when you do it to the exclusion of procreation, you turn sex into something that’s finally selfish and small, because it’s focused only on the couple, and not the bigger world that together they can create.


So, he's saying, sex is supposed to be about procreation, first of all. We shouldn't focus on pleasure, that would be "selfish and small." By some WILD COINCIDENCE, men's orgasms are a key part of this "procreation" aspect, but if we want to say "women's orgasms are just as important as men's", well, that's selfish and small. If procreation is the most important, men get to have orgasms, and women get to throw up a hundred times and get all their internal organs smushed during pregnancy. Just a total coincidence that it worked out that way. Not misogyny at all.

(As an aside: I gotta say, I was very surprised to see Burk saying sex has to be about procreation. I've never heard that idea from anyone in evangelical culture [complementarians like Burk are part of evangelical culture]- isn't that more of a Catholic thing? In my experience, evangelicals are like "there's this stereotype that Christians think sex has to be just for procreation, with the lights off and get it done as fast as possible, but that's not right! Actually sex is a beautiful gift from God and it's supposed to be fun!" Though, to be fair, I don't think Burk is saying that literally every time you have sex, you have to have the possibility of getting pregnant, you can't use birth control- I don't think he's saying that. I think he's saying something more along the lines of, you have to have sex in a way that resembles the way that people get pregnant, though you don't have to literally not use birth control etc. Similar argument to how anti-gay Christians say marriage has to be a man and a woman, because that's where babies come from, and then people respond by asking "so, you wouldn't allow an infertile straight couple to get married? You wouldn't allow a straight couple that's, say, 60 years old get married?" and the anti-gay Christians respond, "well it's not like *every* couple has to literally be able to have babies, but they have to at least be different genders, to point to the idea of having babies." I am very curious about whether he believes, as many complementarian men do, that a wife should do oral sex or a handjob on her husband when her vagina is not available [having her period, just gave birth, etc] because men "need" it. That would not be consistent with the idea he's presenting here, that sex should at least have the appearance of the kind of sex that leads to pregnancy.)

Ugh, okay. Ugh. Usually my approach is to present some logical arguments about why some idea is right or wrong, but I'm not going to do that here. Instead, I just want to talk about why this makes me so mad.

Okay, so, here's why it makes me so mad: There's no way to argue against this "selfish and small" idea, from within the evangelical ideology that I used to believe. It's a whole logically-consistent system, where one of the foundational axioms that it's built on is that we can't just enjoy things because we want to. That would be "selfish." If you're doing something that makes you happy, you have to have a more holy-sounding reason than just "it makes me happy, and that is a good thing in and of itself." No. That's "selfish." Maybe even sinful. 

Your happiness can only be a byproduct of obedience to God. You seek God first, you obey God, and as a result, you have a happy life- but of course that's not the motivation, that would be selfish, of course the motivation is that we obey God's rules simply because it's the right thing to do and we love God so much, and then as a cool side-effect, it makes us happy.

It really is an entire system where people are not allowed to listen to their own feelings and their own desires about what they want. You're not allowed to pursue what you want unless you have a sufficiently religious-sounding reason why it's what God wants you to do.

So... why would female orgasms matter, in that system? Simply because a woman wants to have an orgasm... no, that's not a good enough reason. That's "selfish and small." And for cis men... I mean, they do have a "good enough reason" why they need to be having orgasms, it's because it's necessary for pregnancy. But cis women... sure it's fine if the orgasm happens as a side effect of your very godly hetero having-sex-in-the-way-God-intended, but you can't prioritize it.

My point is, the reason this makes me so mad is that you can't argue with it, from within that system. Makes me feel trapped, just thinking about it.

All you can do is fall into depression, and then go to therapy, and have your therapist tell you over and over that you have to accept yourself, you are good enough in yourself, you can't base your self-worth on anyone else's opinion (not even God's). Until you finally believe it. 

And then you come out of it mad as hell. When you realize for the first time what they took from you. You weren't allowed to want what you want. You weren't allowed to feel your feelings. You weren't allowed to enjoy things simply because you enjoyed them. You had to be suspicious of everything that made you happy, because it might be a sin.

Scene from "The Avengers" where Bruce Banner says, "That's my secret, Cap... I'm always angry" before turning into the Hulk. Image source.

This isn't about orgasms. (I'm asexual.) This is about an anti-human ideology where you have to "put God first." Has to be in this order- "Jesus, others, yourself." You can't just be happy. You can't just pursue what you want- you have to make yourself believe that "God called me" or whatever.

I'm angry because Denny Burk said "selfish and small" and I know I have no answer that would mean anything at all from an evangelical perspective. It's an ideology that does not consider human happiness to be an inherently good thing. The only good thing is following God.



Christianity and "Selfishness": Here are the Receipts 

I Deserve God's Love

Accepting Myself (or, I'm Great, and It Doesn't Matter What God Thinks) 

Honest Lent: "Seek First God's Kingdom" Doesn't Work If You Have Autism

On Telling My Chinese Husband What I Want For Christmas

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