We Don't Need Sexual Healing
Sexual surrogacy, therapy through sexual touch, doesn't get a lot of attention in the U.S. Few professional surrogates are still working today, and many Americans are uncomfortable by the ethical and legal implications of the practice. I had no idea sexual surrogacy existed until this article came across my screen a few weeks ago, leaving me uncomfortable, dumbfounded, and, if I'm honest, torn.
But there's a growing conversation around the practice. Last year, Helen Hunt was nominated for an Oscar her portrayal of sexual surrogate to a man with an iron lung in The Sessions. Next week, Showtime will debut Masters of Sex, based on the researchers credited with popularizing sexual surrogacy, among other groundbreaking studies on sexuality.
Sexual surrogacy is on the rise as an ethical discussion in Europe; in France, this issue is being championed by women and men with physical disabilities who aren't able to find sexual fulfillment through any other venue. It's legal in Denmark, and by some, it's being promoted as the next "Right to Choose" cause.
Surrogates work with individuals who have intimacy issues, either physical or emotional, or those with mental or physical disabilities and would otherwise not get the chance to experience sex. The act is meant to humanize them and meet a physical need that probably wouldn't be met otherwise.
The coverage of sexual surrogacy, from the starkly honest perspectives of people with disabilities or in some cases their families, offers an intriguing picture at a difficult, often lonely life. A wheelchair-bound woman on the streets of Paris, loudly proclaiming to passer-byers that she has sexual needs, too, is hard to ignore. My initial response was, "Go ahead. They deserve sex. Every human deserves sex." Right?
That's the underlying argument for surrogacy, a compassionate defense of the necessity and right to sex. Sex is considered an integral part of the human experience-- the pinnacle of adulthood, affection, human closeness, and enjoyment.
That line of thinking, though, goes against what we know about the power of sex as a relational experience and the ability for people to live healthy, fulfilling, celibate lives. As a Christian, I can't defend sex as a need. We've forgotten that sex was created for a purpose. As my pastor recently pointed out, sex is made for bonding (and babies). It draws us to one another. Scripture refers to sex as two people becoming one person, one flesh.
Surrogates provide people with the feel of committed relationship, but it's a simulation, and everyone involved in the process knows it. Loveless sex leaves an individual feeling even more alone, more ostracized, and less valuable than they felt before. At the end of the Times video, the man whose recently been visited by a surrogate tells the camera, "At the beginning of the session, we put ourselves in a bubble and become a normal couple. We talk to each other. We ask each other whatever we want. At the end of the session, we break the bubble. It's over. It helps not to fall in love." My heart. It hurts.
Sexual desire—intense, demanding, and immediate—is a very real thing. Trust me, I'm horribly aware of that. But, as much as it pains me to say this, it's not a right or requirement. It's not a need. And when we try to make these things synonymous with one another, the needs of our bodies begins to reign supreme over all the rest.
Jesus Christ walked this earth for 33 years, unmarried and undefiled, spotless, stainless, and, to be frank, sexless. He lived a perfectly human life—a fulfilling life—but God didn't work sex and marriage into the short life plan of Jesus on earth, and Jesus didn't demand it. This has a profound theological implication for us: Jesus lived his life, wholly fulfilled, because of the relationship he had with the Father. There is something so redemptive about life in the Father that even as Jesus needed to eat and breathe and walk and talk and sleep, he left out sex (and marriage).
This speaks deeply to any individual looking at a long road of celibacy, for whatever reason. And it blows the idea of sexual surrogacy being a compassionate, need-meeting act right out of the water.
I know—it's easy for me to say. I'm only in my mid-20s, and my odds of living a celibate life are pretty low. It's an odd, uncomfortable thing to point out the "rules" in God's word for people in a situation I will probably never find myself in. Telling anyone that celibacy seems like the best Biblical model makes me feel uncomfortable, and a teensy bit nauseous. I feel like the pastor from the tiny town in Footloose, before Kevin Bacon comes to town.
I fear that in living the Christian life, I will be so focused on finding ways to fulfill everyone's needs, no matter their situation, that I will actually lead them astray. I fear that I'll forget to point them to Jesus, who promises he will never leave or forsake us. I fear that I'll look for ways to cheapen their needs instead of showing them life-giving community. God created each of us for a purpose, and his purpose is wiser and more loving than any plan or substitution we can create for ourselves. I feel the weight of that truth each day as I speak to close friends who are dealing in gray areas.
This world is a dark place. We all sense it. It's a place that leaves a hole inside every individual; a longing for love, relationship, and a Savior. Every individual longs to feel connected and alive, no matter what their physical or mental capacity is in the present. People don't need sex, but they do need love.
Those who are facing a life without marriage and sex, for whatever the reason, are just like the rest of us. And that's why there's no catch-all, pat answer. But I do know this: love isn't a therapy you pay for. We weren't created to be surrogates; stand-ins for love. Christ paid dearly so that love could be free.
As Christians, we can choose to reach out to the lonely and to the suffering, or we can choose to ignore them. It's so easy to do. But their need to feel connected is just as great as ours. Maybe that's what we can learn from the surrogacy conversation. It's a reminder that we're all the same. My goodness, we all need Jesus. We all need the church. And we all long for connection.
Sounds about right.
Ashley Moore is the assistant editor for Christianity Today's ChurchLawAndTax.com. She regularly contributes to Today's Christian Woman, blogs at "Caffeinated," spills on herself at least twice a day, and has developed very strong feelings for her snooze button. Follow her on Twitter: @ashgmoore.
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