I am a thirty-seven-year-old clergywoman. I have been married for fourteen years to the same man. He is a clergyman in my denomination. We met in Seminary. It was his last year, my first year, and he showed me the safe place to shop in the big city of Memphis, TN. A month later we were dating exclusively. A month after that we were engaged. Five days shy of knowing each other a year we were married.
Why would I give this information in a book review?
Because my husband and I decided to read this book together. Yes, a book on Good Christian Sex was read every night by two clergypersons. And to be honest, I think this book led to the first real and meaningful conversations about sex that we have ever had with one another! I would recomend this book based on that fact alone!
When I first proposed reading thiss book together we both began to feel like nervous teenagers. Talking about sex made us uncomfortable to say the least. The fact that we were going to talk about God and sex completely freaked u out.
By the time the Reverend McCleneghan explained the intent of the book “to lay out some of the theological and ethical questions that arise in your average, everyday experience of adult sexuality, and to walk readers through those discussions in a clear and engaging way” (page 11) my palms were sweaty. Just what might she mean by “average, everyday experience of adult sexuality?” I’m not really sure I think about my own adult sexuality, let alone the everyday variety!
My husband and I got through the introduction with the occasional laugh and felt a bit better. The we started the first chapter called “My Favorite Feel” and all bets were off! “My reticence,” writes McCleneghan, “ to speak about pleasure and the solo pursuit of it is not just because it’s embarrassing as all get out. It’s also because I’m a woman talking about the solo pursuit of pleasure. Much of our cultural conversations around sex and pleasure is highly gendered.” (page 19)
This particular quote sent my husband and I down a lengthy rabbit trail. While the topic was initially awkward, the conversation began to get easier. We were able to share our thoughts, our preconceived notions, the things we had been taught.
The attitude my husband had been raised with about sex was very different from the one I was raised to believe. Most of his revolved around the stereotypical “Don’t do it, but if you do, use a condom.” While mine was squarely out of the “Purity movement” of the mid to late 1990’s. The attitude that “Sex is dirty. Save it for your spouse.” It is this mentality that led me to struggle with sexuality and appropriate expressions of sexuality for a VERY long time.
McCleneghan makes wonderful arguments for the blessed nature of sexual relationships. Her discussion on the fact that the Christian church tends to be very Gnostic in its beliefs, valuing the spirit over and above the body. This heresy is still dangerous to us today, because by denying the humanness, the body, we deny that the incarnation (God becoming human in Jesus Christ) is necessary, or indeed, holy.
These thoughts gave each of us pause and opened us up to much more productive conversation. But the real “ah-ha” moment for me came on page 53 and 54:
There’s a grace, then, in sexual intimacy that is mutually pleasurable. There is a grace in deeming someone worthy enough to see and know you; there’s a grace in being seen by someone in a new way . . . and maybe even coming to see yourself in a new way. There’s grace- and passion and delight- in coming to know another’s scent, another’s taste, another’s body, and to see oneself as having a particular, and beloved, scent, taste, and body
I think I cried for two days after reading this passage I had never seen sex as a means of grace. I had realized that my relationship with my husband was a means of grace. Through it I have learned so much about how beautiful and painful love can be. But the thought that God could use something that I had been told for 23 years was “bad” or “dirty” as a way to show us love and intimacy shocked my system.
These words helped me see something I had never been able to see before. They helped me see that mutual love and affection, yes, even physical affection, could not only be good, but could be holy.
There are so many other things that I have learned and I am beginning to realize through reading this book. There are so many things that together my husband and I are learning about one another and our relationship through the discussions we have had and continue to have about this book.
If I could say one thing to the Reverend McCleneghan it would be this:
Thank you for being brave enough to talk about adult sexuality and faith in the same breath. Thank you for digging into the hard questions, from defining sex, to consent, to past histories, which have allowed such open conversation between me and my husband. Thank you for taking sex back from a world that has made it cheap, disposable, and dirty. Thank you for reclaiming the presence of grace that can be found in such a sacred union. If nothing else, you have helped this pastor/wife/mom of three realize that there is so much more to the issue than “Just say no” or the equally upsetting “just do it!”
I received a free copy of the book after agreeing to participate in a Book Tour, with no promises made in exchange.