Sexual imagery – Too explicit these days?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

sexual imageryWhen it comes to discussing sexual imagery in the media, society as a whole tends to take polarised views. Emotive language is used by those on both sides of the debate – one side being labelled as narrow-minded, prudish and moralistic and the other as being decadent, indecent, and exhibitionist.

Attitude to explicit sexual imagery

Those with a more balanced perspective use more moderate language. They ask whether a relaxed attitude, towards public display of explicit sexual imagery, simply amounts to being liberal, open-minded and tolerant. But they also wonder if sexual explicitness is to do with a lack of spiritual awareness about the deeper significance of the sexual relationship. Are we pushing permissiveness too far?

Public sexual imagery has become more explicit

Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the situation, there is no doubt that sexual imagery is becoming increasingly overt in the western world. We have started to see the sale of sexually suggestive clothes for children. In Britain the television programmes that people have traditionally watched as family viewing, such as talent shows and soap operas, are starting to push the boundaries of acceptability by including more sexual imagery and suggestiveness.

The rapidly changing technological environment has its benefits in so many ways but has also made the seamier side of humanity inescapable. Sexual imagery  showing provocative dress and intimate contact are being used not only in the content of television programmes, music videos, websites, magazines and newspapers, but also by the commercial world through advertising and marketing.

Boundaries between sexual imagery and soft porn?

There has been a blurring of boundaries between ‘adult soft porn’ material and the mainstream. More television drama and movies depict sexual intercourse as entertainment

In a sense the exercise of sexual freedom means people can be more honest about who they really are; no longer forced to pretend to want to act in certain ways. Many are exercising freedom to express what they want.

Today, those who believe that human beings are sufficiently mature to be trusted with how to live their lives — the right to make choices, not necessarily the best ones — support permissiveness. Liberals support the right to choose because they believe that it is only through having to make choices that people gain the maturity that is needed to conduct their private and public affairs.

Effect on children of sexual imagery

Although there is currently insufficient evidence to prove conclusively there is harm to children caused by an openly sexualized society, the ‘Letting Children Be Children’ Report by the Mothers Union, points out that this does not mean that no harm exists.

According to their research nearly nine out of 10 parents surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘these days children are under pressure to grow up too quickly’ with the pressure to take part in a sexualized life before they are ready to do so being a major factor. Sadly, some parent contributors even felt that there is ‘no escape’ and, for children, no ‘clear space’ where they can simply be themselves. It would seem that many mass media editors are out of touch with concerns of parents.

Attitude to sexual imagery reflects one’s view of sexual relationship

People may ask:

  • Isn’t sex a basic drive that needs to be satisfied, just like hunger and thirst?
  • Isn’t sexual expression one of our inherent freedoms?
  • Isn’t sexuality a way of expressing our unique individuality

To answer yes to these questions may be correct but it is to miss the point, for it ignores the sense of purity, innocence, and decency with respect to a valued sexual partnership. And so how one views sex seems to go to the heart of the matter. Some would say that it is pleasurable experience that can be enjoyed in its own right. For others it is also a way of forging intimate connections. And yet others feel that it is delightful expression of love in a monogamous relationship perhaps leading to procreation.

For Swedenborg sexual union ideally mirrors what he termed ‘conjugial love’, an exclusive close relationship between a man and woman that enables love and wisdom to act together fully in their lives more so than either partner could achieve alone.  And so Swedenborg recommends sexual restraint, modesty and purity of thought.

A deep desire for the success of a one to one relationship means not wanting to hurt your partner by having sexual relationships outside the partnership. According to this view, sexual pleasure can increase alongside the growth of deeper happiness if we do not permit ourselves infidelity. Also if we avoid loose sexual conduct and smutty thoughts about someone. Likewise a Buddhist precept is to avoid sexual misconduct.

Most what I call ‘sexual disorder’ involves error of judgment, human shortcoming, going astray, acting contrary to Divine order, and failing to follow spiritual principles. I believe such behaviour is associated with ignorance, or self-interest and may result in skin-deep pleasure that cannot last.

Spiritual order in moderation and self-control

The argument is that living in spiritual order is being in a better position to receive heavenly influx. It enables people to experience the depth of joy and fulfillment. There is a parallel between order at an individual level and the degree of social order within a group or community. All people ideally need to live in external order.

Brian Kingslake a student of Swedenborg’s writings once wrote:

“The Epicureans in ancient Rome, who made the search for happiness their goal and were the experts on the subject, found that permissiveness was not the solution to their problem. If they over-ate, they got indigestion; if they over-drank, they got a headache, which were far from being happy states! And if they had too much sex, sex ceased to give them pleasure. Their conclusion was that moderation and self-control were necessary if you were to enjoy life to the full.”

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on21st June 2011CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags, ,, , , , , ,, , , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , , ,, , ,  Leave a comment

Sexual culture — how to live in it?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

sexual culture

‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’ said  policeman PC Michael Sanguinetti in Toronto, whilst advising students about safety on campus. In so saying he unleashed a storm of outrage. Hundreds of scantily clad young women took to the streets in North America carrying placards ‘My short skirt and cleavage have nothing to do with you.’ ‘It’s my hot body: I do what I want.’ But just how should men and women conduct themselves in the Western world’s sexual culture?

Our sexual culture

These days flaunting oneself seems to be the norm. Our sexual culture is a far cry from the days before feminism when women were supposed to repress their sexuality and act all demurely. But does modesty have to be completely thrown out of the window?

Of course the ‘slut walk’ marchers have a crucially important point. As one placard says ‘Sex is something people do together – not something you do to someone.’ They are  challenging the attitude of our sexual culture that women are sex objects, that ‘women ask for it’, that men can do nothing other than act on impulse. They are saying rape is a terrible crime.

Attitudes to rape

Justice minister Kenneth Clark found out to his cost, just how serious a crime rape is considered to be in our sexual culture, when implying there can be less serious kinds of rape. When asked about the average rape sentence, he explained: “That includes date rape, 17 year-olds having intercourse with 15-year-olds”, adding that the tariff for “serious rape” was much longer. He was talking about a proposal to halve prison sentences for those who plead guilty early. He later clarified his position by saying all rape was serious. But he had well and truly put his foot in it by the way he expressed himself such is the sensitivity of the issue.

Ethics of a sexual culture

Is the spirit of the protesters’ message all about men taking responsibility for their own behaviour and about valuing sex as part of a human relationship in a sexual culture rather than only  a bodily pleasure?

If so, such a point of view is echoed in the value of virtue reflected in the ethical guidelines of the great religions.

The marchers seem to be implying that sexual signals have no meaning in the world of human interaction. Some feminists claim that all men are rapists. This is clearly not literally true although probably many men can be tempted by sexual signals to take the sexual initiative. For what other reason does the prostitute wear low cleavage and sluttish garb if not to attract sexual business? Are these marchers in denial about their responsibility in arousing desire? The individual who leaves their front door open should not be surprised if a burglar takes the opportunity to help himself to their belongings. Has the person who leaves valuables showing in the parked car not any responsibility for facilitating a higher likelihood of car theft?

If women think they can dress sluttishly, why do feminists object to Miss World contests and to scantily dressed page three girls? The answer seems to be that they are showing their right to dress as they like in revealing what they want. But people express their right to drink as much as they like and vomit all over the street. Having a right to do something is not the same thing as exercising that right responsibly.

Spiritual perspective on sexual culture

Men are not all rapists or car thieves but who could claim never to act badly whatever the circumstances one finds oneself in? In saying their Lord’s prayer, Christians ask not to be led into temptation. This raises a question for everyone. Just how susceptible are we all to criminal impulses? Perhaps more so than it is comfortable to assume.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about sexuality and the ideal quality of love that can unite a couple as one in heart, mind and body – a quality he termed the ‘conjugial’ relationship. Swedenborg lived in the 18th century before feminism and before a sexual culture. However what he said is as arguably as relevant today as it was 300 years ago.

He compares a natural love of people of the other sex with a spiritual love of one person of the other sex. In other words he says that although we have a natural desire for sexual contact with many people – something we have in common with most animals – nevertheless we are able to rise above our natural animal desires to love only one person in a continuing sexual relationship; something only we as humans can achieve.

One common notion in feminism is that sexual attitudes in society can change as a result of changes in sexual politics; that it is mainly a matter of social norms. However, from a spiritual angle, we get an additional perspective – that of individual freedom and responsibility for healing and self-improvement.

Swedenborg wrote of this spiritual perspective in terms of overcoming temptation; a dynamic process that is central to personal change. According to his view, part of this process is our resistance to unacceptable impulses that come from we know not where but which should be acknowledged and faced. For we are all capable of turning towards what is destructive of the good life. We are all fallible and susceptible to falling for the excitement of the moment that can have serious consequences for the well-being of others.

A need for personal transformation implies something bad associated with us that needs to change. The area of sexual behaviour is no exception to this general condition we all find ourselves in. Don’t we all have a responsibility not to throw temptation in people’s way?

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on23rd May 2011CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags, ,, , , , , ,, , , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Where is the harm in watching porn?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Watching pornIt is sometimes argued that watching porn helps some adults with a low libido become more sexually aroused, and also that with some people it reduces anxiety and even adds spice and novelty to their sex life with their partner. However, such ideas perhaps need to be treated with caution, given the wide continuum of what is nowadays considered as porn: from the soft porn of striptease to the hard porn of brutal violent sex.

Today, with a few clicks on the internet, a lot of watching porn is possible for free in the form of photos and videos. Many social conservatives see watching porn as an inherent social evil. But can there be any harm in watching porn as sexual entertainment?

Children watching porn

Children find it easy to access porn: age of first exposure is getting younger as they  learn to browse the internet. One concern is that the innocence of childhood is taken away prematurely by watching porn with its arousing sexual scenes.

Another concern is about what the individual child learns to find erotic. You see something, and it stays with you. You can never erase it from memory. The question is asked whether patterns of early sexual arousal might tend to stick for life? Can scenes that children are exposed to affect the way they see themselves in later sexual roles? Does it lead them to believe they should behave in this way in order to social conform and be seen as cool.

The love ideology

A roving sexual appetite can be regarded as a natural ‘wired’ state of particularly the male mind. Watching porn is clearly a natural pleasure. Porn tends to be created from a male perspective and so the men have only one thing on their minds, and the women are there solely to satisfy the men’s needs. Does this not make men more prone to see women as sex objects? Women are regularly portrayed as ready, willing, and able to do whatever the man might choose. Teenage boys accept this more or less uncritically. This means no thought is given to the sexual pleasure of the female partner.  Women can also be drawn into porn where it indulges and adds to their own sexual fantasies.

A concern about people watching porn without the emotional involvement of the sexual partners, is that one sees sex not as a wonderful expression of love but as a natural pleasure divorced from its spiritual dimension. Swedish sex researchers Lofgren-Martenson, L. and S. S.A. Mansson found that most teenage girls embrace what the researchers call “the love ideology” — the idea that love legitimates sex. These teenage girls disapproved of porn because it represents sex without the emotional involvement of a loving relationship.

Watching porn may “facilitate orgasm but it can also leave the individual feeling empty and disconnected afterwards.” (clinical psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer).

According to spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, if a man grows spiritually there is a change in his male attitude. As he forms an exclusive relationship with a woman, love of sex is transformed into love of one of the sex. Mature love means concern for the pleasure of the partner as well as one’s own. In this way the erotic delight of both is increased.

Swedenborg maintains that as adults we all have an innocence to us — the innocent child in us — and once sullied it is damaging to our spiritual health. Those watching hard core porn seem to require more and more extreme scenes to arouse and satisfy their erotic desire. They are becoming sex addicts. Has not the sex addict a lessened ability to forge a deeper union with someone else?

The mature sexual relationship

Swedenborg writes that a spiritual attitude is a deep desire for a one to one relationship. It involves not wanting to hurt your partner by having sexual activity outside the partnership or by fantasizing about such behaviour.

In his book Conjugial Love he maintains that a person’s love and respect for a lasting partnership, can become more and more purified. He also says that purification takes place to the extent that people stay away from what is impure. There was no widespread pornography when he wrote in the eighteenth century but he said this impurity includes not only infidelity and loose sexual conduct but also things like smutty thoughts about someone. The more “chaste” our thoughts and intentions are, the more we are led by the Spirit towards happiness in an enduring relationship. In other words impure sexual thoughts are perversions of the chaste attitude of conjugial love.

Conclusion

The internet is revealing that life is more fascinating than we had ever imagined. However, it also seems it is uglier in the real world than many of us realised.

Why not ask the lawmakers to ensure that internet feeds are porn-free unless adults, who are free to choose for themselves, specifically request it. Sign in rather than sign out. It might be argued that the internet is uncontrollable. But Iceland’s government are hoping to do something. Perhaps where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/

Posted on7th March 2013CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags, , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

Sexual Intercourse In Heaven

Heaven would not be heaven unless one could continue to partake in all the enjoyments and pleasures of life after the death of the physical body. This includes marriage and sexual intercourse.

To grasp this we have to take into account that heaven is not in time and space. Therefore, if individuals are enjoying life in the spiritual world, without a physical body, they must have spiritual bodies. Without the appropriate organic form, pleasure has no substantive subject by which it can really exist.

However, since spiritual bodies are non-physical, their organic forms, whether we are talking about a penis or vagina, can only be understood as the embodiment of the qualities of one’s heart and mind (which is one’s true spirit).

All spiritual bio-complexity consists of one’s true inner reality given real substantive and non-physical organic form. In other words, in the spiritual world non-material organs are generated out of all the aspects of our heart and understanding. All organic structure in heaven is psycho-topological.

A spiritual penis or vagina is therefore a more perfect embodiment of one’s love, values, and ideas as well.

A penis in the spiritual world reflects a male spirit’s ability and potency to probe the subject of his passion from his understanding. A spiritual vagina represents a woman’s receptivity and will to accept these qualities and potencies of her suitor by becoming the ultimate focus of his love.

This receptivity is the inner essence of a woman’s attractiveness and beauty in the spiritual world. A woman in heaven becomes more beautiful as she becomes the life and love of her husband’s spiritual understanding. A woman becomes a wife in this manner and is the only way two partners can be wedded in heaven.

The man becomes a more perfect husband and increasingly handsome as his spiritual knowledge increases. So the husband becomes the embodiment of his wife’s understanding and wisdom. The male and female genitals are the spiritual analog, and represent, the dynamics of this profound union.

This level of bonding is not generally known in on earth. But there is no way for two partners to become increasingly intimate with each other if they could not take on the intimacy that is found between a united understanding and its will. This increased intimacy allows a heavenly marriage to be perfected through eternity.

Sexual intercourse in heaven mirrors this dynamic as the spiritual act of a husband’s understanding seeking union with the wife’s love. Wives in heaven are spiritually formed so that they can be impregnated by the ideas of their husband’s understanding (his ideas are his spiritual seed).

The husband’s ideas gestate in the wife’s heart. She brings them to life in the spiritual world as new qualities of love and wisdom that are shared by both partners (because they always act as one spirit). Spiritual offspring are the things generated from this holy union – increased love and service for the heavenly community.

Rather than a multiplication of people, spiritual progeny are the multiplication of usefulness and goodness.

In God’s scheme, whether on earth or in the spiritual world, all intercourse is for the sake of impregnation and creation. All creation has origins in the marriage of God’s love and truth. All sexual intercourse follows this Holy pattern to promote and give birth to something fruitful in the universe.

Those in heaven do not engage in anal intercourse or make use of dildos. In the spiritual world, these things represent corporeal pleasures excluded from spiritual principles and their prolific power.

Have I rained on anyone’s parade?

Posted on August 24, 2008by thegodguy

Website: http://www.provinggod.com

Posted in god, Inner growth, Life after death, love, psychology, Reality, religion, spirituality, symbolism, unity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Gay Pride and Straight Talk.

gayWhether to allow gay bishops is currently a hot issue in the Church of England. In line with British equality law, the Church cannot allow sexual orientation in itself to be grounds for preventing a priest being promoted to the role of bishop. However, consistent with provisions contained within the Act for a religious organisation to operate in accordance with its doctrine, the document, ‘Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010’, makes clear that those considered for promotion must be celibate and to have been celibate during their time as a priest.

Many people feel puzzled by this reluctance to embrace homosexuality by strands of organised religion. And some feel angry and want to promote the idea that gay people should be proud of their sexual orientation feeling this is their natural inclination.

The same idea about natural inclination of course could be said of those attracted to the opposite sex who feel they have no conscious choice in the matter. However although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no firm findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.

From a spiritual perspective, we might ask whether a gay partnership has the same potential for human happiness as that of a heterosexual one. So what does Swedenborg have to say about it?

Conjugial principle and gay partnership

Swedenborg coined a new word ‘conjugial’ by adding an ‘i’ to the old legal term ‘conjugal’. He did this to distinguish a quality of love that unites a couple as one in heart, mind and life. When the understanding of what is true in one person makes one with the affection of what is good in the other, there is said to be a union of the two minds into one.

A deep union between two people is said to be characterized by spiritual states of peace, tranquility, intimate friendship, full trust, joy and sexual pleasure. According to Swedenborg this state of ‘conjugial love,’ has a spiritual source ie the divine union of what is good and what is true. Without this harmony there would be inner tension — thinking one thing but wanting another. Hence in so far as the partnership is a conjugial one, there is a profound joy because the divine harmony is present within the relationship.

Given that each of us has both of some of what is good and true within us, it might be asked whether the conjugial principle has the potential to apply equally to the relationship between two people of the same sex in the same way as between two of the opposite sex. In other words can there be conjugial love in a gay marriage between masculine and feminine natures in each person if we assume we all have both masculine and feminine within us?

Gender difference

The idea there is both masculine and feminine in each person came from Carl Jung. On the contrary, although Swedenborg says that both sexes have thinking heads and feeling hearts and should be equally valued, he nevertheless maintains they are not the same. In his book Conjugial Love (section 32) he says there is an essential difference between male and female and that after death a male lives on as a male and a female as a female.  He goes on to describe the underlying psycho-spiritual difference between male and female minds.

According to Swedenborg, both sexes are capable of intelligent thought and empathy. At the same time, his contention is that men are more naturally inclined towards using their heads and taking an objective stance. On the other hand, women are said to be more likely to observe what is going on with their intuition and take a subjective perspective. Whilst the man is suited to thinking about what is right for longer in the light of understanding, the woman is suited to sustaining a warm feeling for what is good in the heat of love.

Heterosexual love

This supposed gender difference is Swedenborg’s rationale for heterosexual love. Just as opposites attract, the love between a man and a woman can be deeper because it can be between an understanding and its corresponding affection. And so each complements the other. This difference offers the potential to enter deeply and unite them. Also (in his book Conjugial Love section 181), he contends that conjugial love can only happen in the relationship between a man and a woman.

If Swedenborg is right about the difference between men and women, then love between two people of the same sex cannot be the same as the love between those of the opposite sex.

Gay love

We might wonder if these ideas from the eighteenth century have anything to teach us in this day and age. The marriage statistics show that there are lots of people in less than satisfactory heterosexual relationships. Some gay partnerships last longer than heterosexual ones. And given the sexual prejudice still around, one might argue that to persist as a gay couple requires a better inner resilience in the partnership.

Swedenborg doesn’t address the issue of gay partnerships – there was no word for it in his day. However one thing he does state (in his book Conjugial Love section 55) is that the love of a man for a man or that of a woman for a woman cannot be a deep one. He may have got it wrong, but he says that the love of a man for a man and of a woman for a woman make relatively superficial contact not leading to any deep inner union of the two.

In other words according to this view the love between two men is more about the association between one way of thinking and another way of thinking – between one understanding and another understanding. The love between two women is more about the association of one state of feeling and another state of feeling.

In aspiring to reach the heavenly condition of what Swedenborg calls conjugial love, one could argue that people stand a better chance within a heterosexual rather than a gay partnership.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Gender – Are there deep differences?

genderWhen the women’s movement spoke up for the value of women it rebelled against the traditional gender stereotypes and proclaimed equality between the sexes. It quite rightly opposed any idea of male superiority and female subservience.

Some fear that any talk of gender is only a short step from women being different to being inferior – thus justifying discrimination. After all, women’s pay still usually lags behind men’s despite a sea-change in social attitudes regarding sexism. And so feminists continue to advocate seeing people as individuals regardless of gender and the term ‘gender’ is rejected as a concept constructed socially to reinforce the power of men.

Gender and science

Scientists argue about whether gender roles are biologically based or come about through social learning. But those like the well known researcher Steven Pinker have discovered quite a bit of research data regarding infants, children and adult behaviour which supports some differences between male and female and how the two sexes can complement each other.

“Research conducted throughout the world shows gender balance in top positions contributes to improved competitiveness and better business performance.” (Beth Brooke, top business professional)

Another example of this is to do with amiability.

“Studies have been done showing that there really are gender differences, that women do bring more congeniality and compromise to the table.” (Kitty Kelley, investigative biographer)

Anyone writing about gender in terms of personal experience can only do so from his or her own perspective as a man or woman. I happen to be a man and so am understandably open to the criticism of being biased. But if I were a woman the same criticism might also be applied.

“Only the creator understands both sexes. The rest of us are one or the other. We know only our own. Few writers are bold enough to attempt to define the differences succinctly” (Alan Grange, Christian clergyman)

The question that interests me is whether we should try to ignore gender as if it were of no relevance. Are there no deeper distinctions between men and women other than their physical make up?

Brain gender difference

There is a growing amount of research finding that brains of men and women do differ. Brain activity is more diffuse for women and more specific for men in relation to vocabulary, visio-spatial perception and emotion.

In their book ‘Brain Sex: The real difference between men and women’ Anne Moir and David Jessel point out that research has shown that the two halves of the brain have a different neurological pattern in men than in women. The connection between the left and right brain in men is less marked than in women, leading to a greater distinction between the two halves and their respective functions.

Men, then, tend to keep information distinct from emotion. In women, the connection between the two halves is greater, tending to lead women to see / feel things with more co-ordination and with less distinction. A woman generally works with her whole brain; a man with one or other part of his brain.” (Anne Moir and David Jessel.)

Working with one’s whole brain ties in with the common stereotype that the female gender tend to perceive in a holistic intuitive way whereas the male gender are more liable to think logically.

Gender related values and interests

I do get the impression that the two sexes have some different preferences and concerns.

I am not sure gender ever won’t be an issue in comedy, because I think that women do have different priorities in some respects.( Jenny Éclair, British comedian)

Is it not a mistake to confuse inequality of value to society of men and women with inequality of gender-related interests?

Any difference in inclination or make up between the two sexes is no argument for them having unequal value or unequal opportunity.

Many women become troubled at any suggestion that their main strengths are heart-centred, as if this were in some way of lesser value. In one sense they are right. The cause of their objection is the reality that – albeit mistakenly – the world does value power and the acquisition of money over the nurturing of people and expression of care.

In so many occupations, it is principally the head or the intellectual, understanding side of us which has an intrinsic monetary value, whilst the affections of the heart … attracts only compliments.” (Bruce Jarvis, Swedenborgian writer)

Gender difference in disposition

According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, both sexes are capable of intelligent thought and warmth of feeling. At the same time he says feelings of loving concern tend to stay longer in good women and a good man finds it easier to think longer in rational light. The way Swedenborg puts it is to say that with men the mind is elevated into superior light, with women into superior heat. The male is said to be concerned that his actions are directed by the sensible thoughts of the head — or if they are not, he wants them to appear so.

These days such opinions are often heard as sexist — that women are more emotional and men are cleverer — but this is exactly not what Swedenborg is saying. A similar range of intelligence and emotional reactivity is found in both men and women. He says the difference is in perception.

“It is masculine to perceive from the understanding and feminine to perceive from love. The understanding perceives things which are above the body and beyond the world, but love does not go beyond what it feels. (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Is sex a spiritual thing? longer version

Many of us are inclined to rebel when someone tells us what to do. We do not always take kindly to being told what is right and wrong behaviour. However, ethical living is part of spiritual healing according to the world’s spiritual traditions. That following a set of rules of conduct is conducive to spiritual growth. How does this apply to sexual relationships?

Infidelity

People may not be concerned about the rights and wrongs of sexual behaviour. They ask:

  • “Isn’t sex a basic drive that needs to be satisfied, just like hunger and thirst?”
  • “Isn’t sexual expression one of our inherent freedoms?”
  • “Isn’t sexuality a way of expressing our unique individuality?”

To answer “yes” to these questions may be correct for some but it is to miss a spiritual principle, for it ignores the idea of a growing union of mature love between two people. There are many reasons for coldness developing between a couple but one of the most damaging tends to be the sense of hurt and distrust in one partner caused by the other becoming sexually drawn to another person.

In Britain these days, people tend to speak as if it were tolerable to have more than one sexual partner as long as you do not deceive anyone. Consequently, a few people have a so-called `open’ relationship. More common is an apparent social norm of `serial monogamy’. In line with this view, one should finish a sexual relationship before taking up with someone else. However many people in a relationship seem to be vulnerable to sexual wandering. A casual attitude to sex can lead us to make light of any indiscretions.

A lot of things in life particularly in the mass media seem to have become sexualised these days – from small girls clothes to cars and even chocolate. It has been suggested that a casual attitude to infidelity can develop as one starts to watch extra-marital passions on TV or at the cinema. It also grows if we linger on the pages of a magazine with sexually provocative advertising, if we fixedly gaze at the figure of an attractive man or woman in a way that arouses sexual feelings or if we engage in any sexual fantasy not involving our partner. I would suggest that people more at risk are those without an interest in any productive activity such as study or business. This can result in a wandering desire. With nothing else to absorb our interest, it is perhaps only natural that our thoughts might turn to sex! But:

“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
(Matt 5:28)

“Right action is to abstain from sexual lust”
(The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism)

Noticing an attractive person other than one’s lover is naturally likely to happen most of the time. I would argue one can appreciate good physical looks while at the same time respecting the person. However, there are increasing degrees of disloyalty – for example flirting, spending time with this other person, sharing intimate confidences, lingering kissing or embracing as part of social greetings and farewells, not to mention engaging in physical intimacies when alone together.

Mature Love

Young adults tend to fall in love. Sometimes this is falling in love with love – romanticising the other person, as the embodiment of all we consider to be ideal. Sometimes this is called the `halo’ effect when we notice just one aspect of the other person that particularly appeals such as their bravery or kind-heartedness and become enamoured with just that one aspect regardless of their other characteristics. Sometimes our infatuation is really all about physical attraction, or the perceived glamour, power or wealth of the other person.

We might possibly be trying to fill loneliness or an emotional vacuum with a love relationship. Some psychotherapists have written about this kind of immature love. They say this follows the principle “I love because I am loved.” “ I love you because I need you.” On the other hand they say that mature love follows the principle `I am loved because I love,” “I need you because I love you.”

In addition to giving, mature love implies other basic elements such as concern for the life and growth of the other, responding to their needs, respect for their uniqueness, seeing them as they really are and helping them to grow and unfold in their own ways, for their own sake and not for serving oneself. Seeing one’s partner accurately is possible only when one transcends one’s self-concern and needs, seeing  the other person in the other’s own terms. One needs to listen and to enter and become familiar with the private world of the lover, to live in the other’s life and sense his or her meanings and experiences.

I believe the union of mature love preserves our integrity and paradoxically our individuality. When in intimate love two beings become one in heart and mind, Swedenborg calls it a state of `conjugial love’. By this, he partly means a deeper level of love in which the couple have grown closely together in mutual trust and affection.

Sexually Loving Only One Other Person

We can compare an interest in having more than one sexual relationship with having a desire for intimacy with only one lover. We can distinguish between love of the opposite sex and intimate love of one person of the opposite sex – between on the one hand a roving desire with on the other an exclusive commitment. The latter is a chaste kind of attitude. Chastity is a somewhat antiquated term in today’s world. However, it conveys a sense of purity, innocence, and decency with respect to sexual partnership. It also unfortunately has a connotation of not letting oneself have any fun, and of prudishness, but this is not what Swedenborg means by the word. A chaste attitude for him is not to be confused with sexual abstinence. Rather it is primarily concerned with what is going on in a person’s heart and mind – with the purity and cleanness of a person’s feelings and thoughts. A chaste attitude is a deep desire for a one to one relationship solely with one other person.

In other words, sexual desire is not an unchaste thing in itself. However relationships of a sexual nature with someone other than one’s spouse involves a disregard of the trust and intimacy that has been shared in marriage that is extremely hurtful to the innocent partner. The idea of extra-marital relationships is sometimes softened to such terms as: `fooling around’, `sleeping around’, `flings’, `affairs’ and `dalliances’; suggesting that infidelity can be guilt free and harms no one. If people are not looking for a conjugial relationship, then it is possible to understand how they might come to believe in the myth that extra-marital relationships are harmless.

Conjugial love 

The aim within conjugial love is a closer linking of minds and profound linking of lives in intimate friendship and love – the essence of a harmonious long-lasting personal and valued sexual relationship. On the other hand using another person as a sex object demonstrates a complete lack of true caring. It is not showing love to someone as a person, but simply using their body as a source of excitement, physical pleasure and perhaps conquest. Why cause hurt to one’s partner by carrying on with someone else? Loose sexual conduct is likely to tie in with self-justification and a lack of interest in the spiritual healing dynamic of conjugial love.

According to Swedenborg the origin of conjugial love is spiritual. The conjugial state mirrors the state that Swedenborg terms, the `heavenly marriage’ within a person. This is a harmony between feeling and ideas when a desire for what is good matches a wise thought. These do not harmonise for example when we are feeling resentful towards a workmate whilst realising we are being unfair. Another example is blaming a neighbour for a problem in the garden when one knows this to be unjustified. The spiritual state of the heavenly marriage can be present within even a single person who has no close relationships for this is the basis of finding the meaning of life. Such a person would be ready to receive the spirit of conjugial love if a suitable partner becomes available.

Gender

Much controversy surrounds the subject of male and female gender roles. I believe neither sex is superior to the other – just different. Modern feminism is less concerned these days about proving women can do what men can do. Instead, it places more emphasis on feminine values and interests. We do well what we are interested in. This might be successfully helping to create a collaborative mood within a professional meeting or calm atmosphere within the home. Women tend to give importance to feelings and relationship whereas men tend to act in terms of rules, and what they judge to be right.

Thus the sexes complement each other according to their tendency to have different interests or as Swedenborg would say what they each love.

An objective stance is thinking about the external aspect of things whereas a subjective one is seeing things from a personal angle. Men have no exclusive hold over objectivity in their thinking but they tend to be more interested in this stance than women. Neither have women any exclusive orientation towards subjectivity but they have a tendency to be drawn to this approach than men.  In common parlance we speak of feminine intuition.

Partnership

In my view these differences are the basic reason why an erotic interest usually develops between the sexes; why male and female get together. They say opposites attract. When a man and woman are in harmony as to what they think and feel, do and say, then a conjugial partnership can potentially be formed. Each partner can develop to be a different side of the same coin; growing together they may become as one. The husband tends to love having ideas, ideals and projects to accomplish, whilst his wife tends to love nurturing and embodying them in their relationships together and with others.

Each individual sees their happiness in the life of their partnership. When the couple are devoted to each other and growing together spiritually, they increasingly act as together as one unit – they are working in harmony and finding spiritual healing. Seeing their ideas and feelings reflected in each other they are then drawn away from self-orientation. As far as their ideas and feelings are good, they receive heavenly innocence, peace, and tranquillity.

“Conjugial love is directed to and shared with one person of the other sex. Love directed to and shared with several persons is natural love, for man has this in common with animals and birds, which are natural creatures. But conjugial love is spiritual, special and proper to human beings, because human beings were created, and are therefore born, to become spiritual”.

(Swedenborg. Conjugial Love: section 48)

Extracted from the book Heart, Head and Hands by Stephen Russell-Lacy