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love & erotica: they’re different, right?

love & erotica: they’re different, right?

No. They’re the same. Well, erotica is one expression of one kind of love.

love & erotica: an introduction

When we talk about love in the context of coupling (i.e., companionship, dating, marriage, etc.), as we are in this blog series, we typically characterize it in idealistic, mushy, feel-good – even pristine terms. Love in this way has to meet certain standards or we determine that it’s not love. This substandard love is deemed lust or ulterior motives or objectification (i.e., a series of booty-calls). Perhaps it’s time for a fresh perspective and a reconfigured working definition of love in our lives because keeping love in a box also keeps some of us in one and the rest of us thirsting for it because we don’t think whatever we’ve experienced is actually love.

love and erotica side by side

A stereotypical depiction of acceptable love – dinner and surprise flowers. An erotic love captured in visual art. Images from the MS Office image gallery and an online website, respectively.

In Christianity we generally view love from three definitions derived from Greek philosophy – agape, philia, and eros. Agape is deemed to be the highest form of love – selfless, unconditional, and perpetually forgiving. (1 Corinthians 13) Christians believe that this is the kind of love that G~d has for us and that we should strive to have it as well for ourselves, G~d, and others. Philia is also highly regarded, the love of friendship. This is the love that compels us to be our “sibling’s keeper,” to care for and go the extra mile for a friend. Eros, in the context of faith, generally is preached or taught rarely (if at all), certainly not to the extent of agape or philia? What is the cause for its absence among sermon and lesson topics? Some scholars believe that eros simply isn’t regarded as a high-enough, if elevated at all, form of love for a spirit-minded person to ascribe.

But if G~d is love, especially in an incarnational faith like Christianity, then would G~d not also be all forms of love – agape, philia, AND eros?

So, what is love – a feeling, an expression, a decision?

In her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, Margaret Farley defines love as an emotional response, an emotional way of connecting to another, and an emotional “affirmation of what is loved” all at the same time. She contends that this definition applies to all beings and inanimate objects/ideas. We can love our children, our significant others, the trees in our yard, our favorite meal, that song that takes us way back, and our Deity. Whatever the context, it’s all the same response, connection, and affirmation. (Farley, 168)

What strikes me is this sense of emotion, connection and affirmation. Because I have this feeling for the beloved I want to connect. Because of this feeling and connection, I then affix a stamp of approval on my beloved. Is this why we all persistently seek love from others, so that we may be approved, affirmed? I know. I know. All of our psychological, self-help coaching loudly and firmly warns against pursuing external love to achieve affirmation. The healthiest approach is to have that affirmation within ourselves first. I agree with that, but love – self-love – is still the source. And as human beings who are designed to be in relationship with others, it’s natural to need also the affirmation of others. It’s not weak or unhealthy. It just is.

No matter how much she enjoyed the affections and connections with her elusive lover, the Shulammite, at the end of the day, still needed his permanent affirmation:

“Set me as a seal upon your heart,as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.” ~Song of Songs 8:6-7

So, what ignites this initial sense of emotion? Where does this feeling come from – as sudden, overwhelming, and unpredictably present as coupling love can be?

Its origin is part of the mystery of being. Some people in certain times in our lives “somehow awaken a response” in us. “Love, therefore, is in the first instance receptive – of the lovableness of the other.” (Farley, p. 169) To love fully, outside of any box, we must release the notion that lovableness somehow translates into some version of perfection, without flaws of real consequence. ‘Cause, see, we lack that affirmation that we seek if our beloved is so flawed. When the perfect one loves us, then we become perfect. What actually happens is that we attract to us whoever we are. “I see you in me.” (I cannot remember the source of this quote at the time of writing.) Whether we can see the other person’s challenging qualities at the time we meet her/him does not change this law of love. Spend enough time with your beloved, the qualities will emerge, usually sooner than we prefer. You’ve heard the sayings, right? We keep meeting the same person over and over, just in a different package. Or from long-time couples, they often report that they are still quibbling about the same issues from the beginning of their relationships. That’s because we’re the same persons. Yes, we may make some improvements to our personality and behavioral patterns, but I’m not sure that the essence of who we are changes in our physical lifetimes. Furthermore, I believe that our challenging qualities are what make us most lovable, not the easy stuff. The easy stuff is just too easy to be worthy of what love truly is.

Now, let’s move on to erotica.

who told you FRONT cover  only 091812

Who Told You That You Were Naked? by dr. candi dugas

Dictionary.com defines erotica as “literature or art dealing with sexual love.” Therefore, it is not synonymous with pornography. Pornography, I suppose, may be considered a form of erotica, but there are other forms. (Please see Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual and Spiritual Goodness for a section on erotica.) Those of us who consider ourselves to be spiritual also need to release our aversion – or admitted, public aversion – to erotica. In his essay, “Relationships: Blessed and Blessing,” Rev. Dr. James B. Nelson writes:

“We desperately need more embodied, more erotic, more incarnational, more sexually-positive spiritualities. That realization still escapes many in the church, . . . Eros is that love born of our hungers, our passions, and our desires for one another. Eros has often been contrasted with self-giving love, agape, and, to our impoverishment, the straight-white-male tradition has embraced an agape reductionism. So, we’ve been taught that agape is good and eros is cheap and sub-Christian. Most of us were reared on that kind of theology. Many religious people still learn to fear, despise, trivialize, and be ashamed of their erotic bodies. I surely was. I got the idea that if you just sat real still and didn’t wiggle, eros would go away. (It didn’t.)” (Nelson)

Now is a good time to let our bodies wiggle, if you will. Allow them enough safe space to be all of who we were created to be – in goodness, no less. Whatever that thing is that ignites response in us from another is part of the universal energy that flows from G~d and through every created being and thing. Sometimes we experience this energy, that which we call love, through a desire to couple with another. Sometimes that coupling involves sex. Sometimes it does not.

With this understanding of love and erotica we embark on our journey through 10 of my favorite films that inspire (re)consideration of these themes. Thank you for joining me; I look forward to hearing from you! (What will be the first film? We find out tomorrow! ;-))

“[A] relationship with little erotic hunger and little passion gives little blessing. A relationship that fears the ecstasy of shared pleasure dries up. Alice Walker reminds us [via Shug], in The Color Purple of the importance of sexual pleasure: ‘God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff that God did. And when you know God loves ‘em, you enjoys ‘em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God liking what you like.’” (Nelson)

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Desire's Kiss

About this blog series: The “love & erotica” blog series supports the development of the fundraising campaign for Desire’s Kiss – The Short Film. Desire’s Kiss celebrates feminine sexuality and spirituality, based on candi’s book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual and Spiritual Goodness and the Judeo-Christian sacred text, Song of Songs. Desire is a nontraditional Christian woman who asserts her independence from conservative views on sex and G~d. The 10 films we will explore over the next five weeks or so come to mind as we produce Desire’s Kiss. We will highlight the love themes (including erotica) in each film.

To learn more about Desire’s Kiss

To purchase your copy of the book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?

 To learn more about candi and her work

(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

a definition of abuse: perpetual desire – always wanting & never getting

a definition of abuse: perpetual desire – always wanting & never getting

Too often when we talk about sexual desire, especially in the context of faith, the conversation is skewed toward control and it’s laced with fear of innumerable dangers. Too often we neglect or lose altogether the vibrancy that makes desire engaging, pleasurable, and . . . well, desirable. This kind of energy fuels everything that we do. Ultimately we do whatever we do because we want to, right? You may disagree because there are some actions we take because we must. True. I submit that we commit required deeds rather than their alternatives because our desire to do so outweighs other options. We want to do what we must. We don’t want to leave necessary matters unattended. We wanted to.

So rather than futilely suppress or flee from desire, let’s embrace and direct it.

“Do you love life;
do you relish the chance
to enjoy good things?” ~Psalm 34:12 (CEB)

This rhetorical question is within a passage that instructs its readers to honor G~d and to avoid evil. If the reader accepts this instruction, she must then seek what it means to honor G~d. She must then indeed identify actual evil in order to avoid it. Where we contemporary humans trip up is ascribing for ourselves others’ ways of honor and ancient notions of evil. Even a cursory recollection of history reminds us that we don’t approach decisions or behavior the way humanity did thousands of years ago – nor do we view evil the same way. We ladies joke about it today, but we truly don’t believe that our monthly menstrual flow is a curse of any kind. As I told a bible study group, “It may be icky, but it’s not evil.”

When considering the dangers of desire today we must realize we live in a time when “our pleasures have become commodities.” (Walsh) Any good salesperson wants to know what motivates us, what we desire, so that she can appeal to that to encourage and influence our purchases. We have to be savvy consumers and distinguish the marketplace’s strategies from the goodness of our inherent, embodied desires. In this case we do well to mimic the life-approach of ancient humanity. They didn’t separate their passion for the Divine from that for each other or their work. Worship, sex, and labor were all fueled by the same energy. In all cases we do well to objectively view and understand our life-dynamics and seek balance in our perspectives, beliefs, decisions, and actions.

Desire is not the same for all of us.

“Desire is about wanting more than it is about getting. It is the hunger that highlights the food; the patience that highlights the faith; the arousal that anticipates the sex. It commands a shift in perspective. The salt of a lover’s lips or the sweet juice of grapes is not just pleasurable anymore; with desire, they become exquisite. Desire is the discipline to live on that edge between wanting and satisfaction. It is not for the timid or the fickle. . . .

A desire . . . is feasible in historical time, but missing in the here and now of life. . . . Desire has content, and therefore pain to it, in the acute knowledge of just what is missing. . . .

Yearning itself may even come to be experienced as a pleasure. The Song [of Songs] is concerned with the provocative question of whether the exquisite sensation of wanting another could surpass in any realistic sense the pleasure of sexual consummation. The surprising claim that it can does seem to be the premise of the Song, which stays focused on the experience of yearning, not its relief.” (Walsh)

For oppressed and/or marginalized people, Dr. Walsh’s insight into desire is problematic because the very essence of such life is about always wanting and never getting. Unfulfilled desire becomes oppressive; it is abusive. And so we never experience anything exquisite when love is not consummated. Rather we experience neglect.

I do understand her point. I do. It’s like being sure to enjoy the journey for that is where the true value of traveling lives. We miss just about everything when we fixate solely on the destination. Yet if we never arrive, we’re always missing this unidentifiable thing that we can’t quite put our fingers on. It forever remains just on the tips of our tongues. We all know how frustrating that is.

Desire and yearning are pleasurable. It is not all about gratification. But I cannot smell good food cooking all the time without ever eating. And I’m not meant to. The fullness of pleasure lives in desire and consummation.

It seems, then, in our world today that full pleasure is attached to privilege. So, I suppose when I yearn for my marginalized sisters to live and love with an inextricable sense of goodness about their bodies and embodied expression, what I really want for us is utter freedom. Only in complete liberation can we even approach Dr. Walsh’s sense of the value of desire, an ultimate, exquisite pleasure derived from yearning rather than its relief.

NOTE: Besides I believe the lovers in the Song do consummate their desire. Their highly sensual descriptions of each other can only come from a place of intimate, actual knowing of the other. It’s more than imagination, dreams, and conjuring.

Walsh citations – Carey Ellen Walsh, Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs – the Preface and first chapter, “A Question of Desire: Is There Some Accounting for Biblical Taste?”

(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

we gotta cum 2! feminine orgasm doesn’t think like a man . . . or act like a lady (nsfw)

we gotta cum 2! feminine orgasm doesn’t think like a man . . . or act like a lady (nsfw)

“I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with liquid myrrh, . . .” (Song of Songs 5:5 NRSV)

The Shulammite is my hero! (I don’t like gendered words like heroine or shero.) Her orgasm represents a full expression and enjoyment of feminine sexuality, a sexuality that is not adjusted to socialized masculine behavior or thought patterns (thinking like a man). Neither does she allow it to be shaped into society’s prescriptive mold of femininity (acting like a lady). She is who she is, in and of herself, created in the feminine image of G~d – dark, beautiful, and so hot for her fine lover that she can’t stand it!

“My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him.” (Song of Songs 5:4 NRSV)

If we both cum during intimacy – not necessarily at the same time – then we’re experiencing great sex, what Christian Ethicist Miguel De La Torre calls “orthoeros.”

“Mutuality is a characteristic of orthoeros. It is with mutuality, rather than the requirements of covenant, like marriage, that we ‘gain full security. Only by giving of oneself can there be hope of fully possessing another. . . . Mutual giving (rather than taking) presupposes autonomy. . . . Total surrender, each to the other, cannot be achieved as long as one of the two parties is holding onto power over the partner.'” (Candi Dugas and De La Torre in Dugas’ Who Told You That You Were Naked?)

Now we’re talking – intimacy in a relationship without hierarchy, patriarchy, and ossified gender roles. A woman isn’t adjusting to a man. She is herself. He is himself. They come together as full human beings when the two connect well. They connect in ways that can be transcendent and newly experiential of themselves and G~d. We miss this most amazing life-experience when we become distracted by antiquated gender roles, rules and games.

The wonderful box office success this weekend of Act Like a Lady . . . Think Like a Man, unfortunately, only signals that we are stuck in antiquity. I celebrate its success and I am thinking about what it means for women and the genuine fulfillment we seek in relationships with men. On Twitter, Roland Martin encouraged Black people to stop hatin’ on the movie; go see it and just “laugh”: “All of these haters of the movie @thinklikeaman are ridiculous. It’s a MOVIE! You know, fiction. Do some Black folks know how to laugh?”

I do intend to see the film for several reasons, including simply that I enjoy Steve Harvey’s humor and I’ve read great reviews from moviegoers. Yet it remains a work that celebrates a book which reinforces antiquated gender roles, rules and games. And that is not simply a laughing matter.

Many women take seriously the advice in Mr. Harvey’s book of the same title. Yesterday I read several women’s comments on Essence’s Facebook page lauding the movie, identifying with certain female characters, pledging to change her ways accordingly, and following up with a purchase and read of the book to reinforce her new relationship ways. Mr. Martin and everyone else who thinks similarly, it’s not simply a laughing matter.

When I listened regularly a few years back to Mr. Harvey’s “Strawberry Letter” segment of his morning show, I found his responses humorous with the kind of rings of truth good humor has to have to make it absolutely hilarious. My issue begins with the book and women’s acceptance of it to create the relationships they believe they’ve always wanted. My issue begins when we perpetuate traditional gender roles, rules and games that at the end of the day do not advance the quality of relationships.

If we want to keep the same-ol’-same-ol’, then this type of advice, I suppose, will help us do that. Well, Mr. Harvey, almost guarantees that it will from the title of his book’s  introduction – “Everything you need to know about men and relationships is right here.” (Harvey; Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man)

But if we want something more and something else, as I hear from women, then we need to think, understand, and act differently.

As I study what keeps women from enjoying sex, I find orgasm among the top reasons. The more I think, the more I find that it makes for the perfect symbol of equality in intimate relationships. Pretty much men will get their satisfaction – erection to ejaculation – from an intimate encounter. Women? Not so much. If there is no unhealthy circumstance (physiological dysfunction, sexually related trauma recovery, etc.), orgasms elude women for very solvable reasons. A woman may not get the amount of time she needs to build up her arousal or the kind of stimulation in/on areas of her body or with ways that are pleasing. She may not even know for herself what gets her off. Furthermore, she may not have the ovaries (guts/courage) to communicate to her partner what feels good, where, and for how long. So she takes what she can get (settling for saying she enjoys the entire act/foreplay is more important/it’s not just about orgasm), endures the rest, and maybe satisfies herself later on.

Does anyone agree with me that this is totally unacceptable?

What are we gonna do about it?

Truly, I am a fan of Mr. Harvey’s work. I also applaud him for doing something to try to make things better between women and men since we all want, need, and deserve to be desired and fulfilled. Stating so is not enough. Something needs to be done to make it happen. He is one person who did something.

But we must keep going further and deeper.

Can we start moving beyond conceding to socialized gender roles that leave both women and men stuck in thought and behavioral patterns that continue to leave women responsible for the man’s stepping up and for the success of the relationship?

“He [Mr. Harvey] essentially advocates sexism, chauvinism and patriarchy as truth. He supports, then, the objectification and commodification of women masked as empowerment. . . . Her [the woman’s] call to be prophetic is not only to get rid of these issues, but to offer a better alternative.” (Dr. Miranda Pillay, Presentation of Paper in Response to Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA – 13 December 2011)

I [woman] am not responsible for his [man] stepping up. I am not responsible for creating conditions to force him to step up. I am aware of what pleases me and I am willing to communicate that to a man whom I choose as a lover.

We are more and capable of more than traditional teachings from the Church, society, and family have conditioned us to know, believe and understand.

Are you restless too?

Are you looking for something more and something else?

What are your thoughts? Is mutuality in intimacy even important to you? What about orgasm?

Leave a comment, anonymous, if you’d like.

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(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

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