I have a great idea for a new series of spiritual practice DVDs. It's called Goddesses Gone Wild.
Nubile coeds exposing their radiance for you, the spiritual practitioner, as you activate your second chakra in ecstatic states of mind/body bliss. You will expand your consciousness in an act of self-love, until rays of cosmic milk spew forth from your rod of creative power, bathing the universe in life force.
I'm kidding, of course, but only about this series being new. The Girls Gone Wild franchise raked in $40 million per year in its heydey, according to the LA Times. Could someone utilize Girls Gone Wild in his Integral Sexual Yoga practice? Perhaps. Is that what most of its viewers have in mind? Unlikely. Wrapping the same old story in glossy vernacular would not change that.
As a female born in 1984, let me assure you that the difference between myself and the young ladies featured in Girls Gone Wild is one of degree not kind. For those of us who were born into a postmodern cultural milieu having sex when you want to, with who you want to, for whatever reason you want to, is normal. If you are not doing it, you are obviously ashamed of your body or ::gasp:: a Republican.
This may be a positive and necessary development from the time when it was normal to think masturbation caused mental illness, homosexuality was a disease, and so on. While we know that these attitudes still prevail in much of the world, let me assure you, San Francisco is on another page. Today, in my corner of the world, Rihanna's hot new single "S&M" is in heavy radio rotation, complete with the line, "whips and chains excite me". This is the dominant culture into which young people are expected to grow.
Maybe we need to recall that individual development does not always correlate with specific cultural values. In other words, I can be a conformist, blindly following the dogma of political correctness or the free market or sexual empowerment and that conformity is healthy, up to a point. Today the idea that sex is a wonderful part of human expression is not all that edgy in many communities, including ours. What seem to be missing is the big bad voice of traditional values (as opposed to a conformist orientation to those values) and the virtue of chastity with it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a traditionalist text if there ever was one, calls chastity, "an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom" (2239). Self-mastery implies a degree of control over oneself, an ability to make deliberate choices. It is the difference between hooking up with drunken strangers because that is what my friends are doing and intentionally hooking up with a stranger because that is what serves me and my community. Does the second scenario exist? Definitely. Plenty of people need to cut loose and master themselves a little less to get in touch with raw desire. However, for those of us who came of age as the term "fuck-buddy" came into parlance, I would suggest that a little chastity might not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might actually show us how sacred sex is.
As a post-traditional spiritual practice community, I believe we are having the wrong conversations. Debating whether or not spiritual teachers or even we *mere* laity should engage in a particular act is not the point. If we step back, we may notice that different behaviors are good for different folks at different times and certain behaviors are not good for just about anybody, just about ever. An ethical standard creates a point of cultural orientation to which we can generally conform. Is having sex with random strangers good for most people most of the time? Probably not. Is sex between most teachers and most students a good idea most of the time? Probably not. A leader should be able to cleanly communicate a value, like the sacredness of sex, across levels of development and value spheres, maintaining both a reasonable general standard of behavior and a level of personal transparency.
In my opinion, chastity is a good starting point for post-postmodern sexual ethics. Breaking free from blind conformity, whether that be to the postmodern sexual free-for-all or to rigid traditionalism, requires self-mastery: an ability to choose for oneself. While we may not be unduly swayed by traditionalism, the lure of union with the Divine Other (who invariably fits dominant standards of beauty, oddly enough) in his/her various guises is enough to keep us defending promiscuity as a general lifestyle choice. Chastity requires the masterful exercise of sexual energy in service of my own soul's highest calling, my community, and God. While that mastery can occur irrespective of the number of partners I have or the types of acts we engage in, the more variables in your sexual equation the more mastery required.
Why does sexuality seem to be a stumbling block for so many of us? There is no other domain in which the collective allergy to traditionalist notions of sin is more pronounced, but if you want to talk about Good Sex, you have to talk about Bad Sex.
We seem to get stuck in a rigid conception of sin when we are talking about sex, even when the traditions themselves hold a more nuanced view of the issue. The Church's teaching on chastity stands in stark contrast to the sex-positive edict that all desires are created equal. Only by gaining some control over our sexuality are we able to deliberately exercise it. That deliberate choice is a requirement for sin to occur. In other words, if we are sexually compulsive, slaves to every desire, or merely falling into cultural conformity, we are neither sinning nor behaving virtuously. Remember, conformity occurs in Berkeley just as much as in Iowa. Conforming to norms set by self-authoring folks, does not make you self-authoring; it makes you conforming.
Let's look at an example. I live with my fiancé. In my cultural context, this is completely normal. In fact, for us to get married without living together would be downright bizarre to most of the people around us. We are not living together because we made a deliberate inquiry into how cohabitation aligned with our highest purpose or God's plan; it's just what people like us do. This is a case where we are not heroically individuating from outmoded traditionalism, we are just conforming to the dominant culture around us. It is only by going back to Church that I even realized just what a big ol' conformist I am in this regard. In parts of San Francisco, hanging out at sex parties and dungeons is not all that transgressive, but praying the rosary is.
Values are distinct from levels of individual development. Ascribing to postmodern values, does not necessarily indicate a capacity for self-authorship. It very well might mean that I grew up in a postmodern value sphere and I am a die-hard conformist. Where the dominant cultural message is open sexuality at all costs, chastity is a move away from conformity. Maybe we can call it pre- vs. trans-chastity. Having sex before marriage because everyone else does is not the same thing as really inquiring into what is right for you and then having sex before marriage. Chastity is a prerequisite for mature, responsible sexual expression as well as sexual sin. The Catechism makes clear that you need "full knowledge and complete consent" to be in mortal sin (1860). In other words, you must recognize you are doing the wrong thing and do it anyway. If you can't control yourself, you can't make a choice in either direction.
For those of us who were born into modern and postmodern milieus, a dose of traditionalism may be required to get us to truly self-authoring levels around sex. This is not to say that any tradition is correct in every sexual teaching, but that an unexamined acceptance of sex-positivity is just as immature as an unexamined acceptance of any other ideology. For those of us who are deeply embedded in postmodern sexuality, a virtue like chastity can be the detox agent we need to truly reflect on what is right and wrong regarding sexuality.
We need to sober up when it comes to sex. That sobriety, that ability to choose should be the starting point of post-postmodern sexual ethics. Rather than claiming that particular behavior patterns demonstrate the sacredness of sex, we ought to recognize that only the deliberate, fully conscious enactment of those behaviors make it sacred. While it may be possible to view Girls Gone Wild as Goddesses Gone Wild, most of us are not at that level. Leaders must consider that when they defend particular sets of behaviors, they are defending it all the way down the chain of being. They are establishing the doctrine and dogma of the movement to which we all conform to some degree in order to call ourselves members.
It is time for us to quit defending the trappings of postmodern sex-positivity and start doing the hard work required to embody the virtue of chastity. Only from that place of including sin are we able to truly transcend it.