When Jesus burst onto the scene, He made quite the commotion. When He saw injustice and invited Himself to dinner at the house of one of the most hated men in town. He associated with women, children, and the most ostracized people in culture. He constantly challenged the way things were, and He was gaining traction and influence. To say the least, the religious people were not happy with Him. They were always scheming to catch Jesus off guard.
One day in the middle of Jesus’s teaching outside the temple, the religious leaders forced their way through the crowds and threw a woman at Jesus’s feet. She had been caught in the middle of having an affair, and they challenged Jesus to condemn her and stone her to death. Since she was caught in the act, obviously she wasn’t alone when they found her. The fact that they didn’t bring the man to Jesus for condemnation speaks volumes about the cultural norm that the religious adhered to: women had no rights or voice and were always to blame. The highest punishment for adultery was death. In their mind, they were simply upholding the law and wanted to test Jesus to see what He’d do.
Now, imagine if this were you. First there’s the trauma and humiliation of being caught in an affair, then of being dragged through town exposed in front of everyone you know. People stop and stare at you. Each step you take, more people become awakened to your shame. And then you’re thrown into the middle of a church gathering and told you deserve to die because of your mistake. The weight of the shame is so heavy that you can’t even lift your eyes from the ground. You hear the voices of condemnation and see feet shuffling around you. Then, all at once, silence.
Culturally speaking, because she was a woman, the woman caught in adultery had no legal rights. When it came to religion, she was a sinner who deserved death. Both extremes stripped her of her humanity and produced shame and humiliation. But then there’s Jesus. He didn’t dismiss the affair or pretend it wasn’t there. But He led with relationship and empathy. In her darkest hour, He offered her acceptance and fought for her dignity. He restored her humanity. Everything about this scene was scandalous. It takes my breath away.
When I think about Jesus—who He was; how he lived and interacted with people; how He loved women, children, the sick, the poor, the disadvantaged and outliers of society; how unafraid He was to ruffle the feathers of the religious elite and challenge the systems in place; and how willing He was to step into the gray spaces of people’s lives—I can’t help but think of where we are today in this conversation around sex and desire. I see culture giving us one set of rules to live by, the church giving another, both trying to reduce humanity to black-and-white formulas and ways of being. I wonder what Jesus thinks about it all. In the chasm between the two extremes, I believe there is another way. And that way is the way of Jesus.
As important as acknowledging what God says is noticing what He doesn’t say. God didn’t say only the human mind was good or our spirituality or just our hands and feet. The text says that God saw and took into account all he created, and, “all of it was very good.” Instead of compartmentalizing, God created humans holistically.
Whether in sex, friendship, romance, at work, the gym, or on social media, aren’t we all searching to feel loved, known, understood, seen, worthy, and supported? Don’t we want to feel acknowledged for our strengths, dignity, and beauty but also, and perhaps even more so, accepted in our failures and imperfections? Even when we take sex off the table, it seems as though our fundamental desires remain the same.
We’re trained to think of sexuality only as it pertains to our genitals, but there’s a big difference between sexual desire and the desire for sex itself. In writing of how stunted male and female dynamics are when we treat sexual desire and desire for sex as one and the same, scholar James Olthuis notices, “We are haunted by the idea, the common currency in our society, that being close always leads to the bedroom. That idea is simple, unadulterated nonsense.”
“It turns out that sexuality and spirituality are in fact two sides of the same coin. Both express a deep longing to know and be known—by God and by others.” Our sexuality gets us outside ourselves and into relationship with others and ultimately points us to our greater longing for God.
Ultimately, we can’t talk about our spirituality without talking about our sexuality. Rob Bell puts it beautifully: “Sex. God. They’re connected. Where the one is, you will always find the other.”
So is our sexuality about sex and orgasms? Yes. But we’re selling ourselves short if we stop there. The physical is never just about the physical; it’s infinitely more dynamic than that. Sex and desire collide in physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual nakedness that we all desire.
In this context, our sexuality morphs from a one-dimensional, physical act and morphs into a gem with endless facets. This is how I know there has to be a way to connect with, acknowledge, and embrace my sexuality and desire outside of sex and physical intimacy—regardless of my relationship status—in a way that honors myself, God and others. Instead of our sexuality being confined to one physical act in the bedroom, it expands into the hall, down the stairs, and outside to pastures, fields, and rolling hills. Yes, there’s still a fence out there surrounding the property, but there’s way more freedom, safety, and permission to play, explore, and connect than what we may have initially thought.
Excerpt taken from Sexless in the City: A Sometimes Sassy, Sometimes Painful, Always Honest Look at Dating, Desire, and Sex by Kat Harris.
From Bible major to editorial photographer to educator to host of The Refined Collective Podcast, and now author, Kat Harris never shied away from doing things her way. Through her online platform, The Refined Woman, her vision is to be a voice of truth and hope while equipping women to walk in wholeness, worthiness, and freedom. She fiercely loves her big Texas family, and is indebted to her faithful community scattered all over the world. She believes in the power of story, and that every opportunity is an opportunity for growth if we choose it to be. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.