This article is excerpted and adapted from “The Book of Womanhood,” (Cascade Books) published November, 2015.
“Let’s talk about sex, baby; let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. . .”
Do you remember this song?
I was an innocent Evangelical freshman in college when Salt-n-Pepa debuted it. I never learned the lyrics, since Christians weren’t supposed to talk about sex, think about sex, or have sex.
But sometimes, I would hear the song, and that catchy refrain would be stuck in my head for hours.
I thought sex was the greatest form of intimacy out there, and that after I finished my BA (and my MRS. degree), I would finally have that ultimate fulfillment in sex with my spouse.
I was so wrong.
Not only did I not become a Mrs. until 18 years after college, but I thought about intimacy in such a singular manner (as only sexual intercourse) that I missed the beauty of the sexuality with which I was born—and the complex nature of intimacy.
I was born sexual. Not in a sexual-intercourse way, but in an I-am-differentiated-by-my-genitalia-and-I-want-to-be-connected-to-others way. Roman Catholic priest, Ronald Rolheiser, defines sexuality like this:
Sexuality is the drive for love, communion, community, friendship, family, affection, wholeness, consummation, creativity. . . joy, delight, humor, and self-transcendence. It is not good to be alone . . . Sexuality is a beautiful, good, extremely powerful, sacred energy, given us by God and experienced in every cell of our being as an irrepressible urge to overcome our incompleteness, to move toward unity and consummation with that which is beyond us.
Sexuality drives me to intimacy. Sexual intercourse may be a part of that intimacy, but we must remember that it is neither the goal nor the epitome of relational intimacy. Sexual intercourse alone does not fully provide the intimacy we long for as human beings.
I want real intimacy. I want to know and be known completely. I want to be free to be my best and worst self with others. I want to feel deeply connected on all planes. I want real intimacy.
I suppose most of us are like that, and experience helps us realize that this longing is often only fulfilled in short bursts of time, giving us sporadic tastes of deeply intimate euphoria.
Most of life is lived in between those moments, and we spend time desperately seeking them, sometimes through the false intimacies of masturbation or casual sexual acts, just being at social events or social places (coffeeshops, bars, etc.), or otherwise avoiding feeling the fact that we deeply want real intimacy and do not have it. To us, everyone else looks so happy and fulfilled. We falsely assume that there is probably something wrong with us and we fear what that might be.
It’s counterintuitive, but true that we can only be authentically intimate with others when we know and love ourselves.
1. We need solitude. Solitude makes us look closely at ourselves. Only when we first look at ourselves, with the voice of the compassionate God who knows each and every hair on our heads calling our names, can we love ourselves, embrace our stories, and bring our authentic selves to others in real intimacy.
2. Even in the marriage relationship when the “two become one,” they are still two separate people. I remember that the minister who performed my sister’s wedding had them light the unity candle, but keep their own candles lit rather than blowing them out. This visibly represented the fact that though one, they were still individuals. Jean Varnier writes, “In a relationship of communion, you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself. We are called to grow together, each one becoming more fully himself or herself . . . It entails deep listening to others, helping them to become more fully themselves.” So, to be fully ourselves in relationship takes time—it’s part of the process of intimacy. Intimacy is not immediate, no matter how much we’d like it to be.
3. I’m not sure that we ever fully know ourselves in this mortal life—it seems to me that there are always surprises or more to know with every new experience. It is important, however, that we begin the process of knowing and appreciating ourselves, and that task is accomplished in part by admitting loneliness and not choosing the false solutions, and also in learning solitude and communion with God.
It is okay to want deep intimacy, to not have it, but to not choose false intimacy—and to sit in the longing. God meets us there.
So, let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about sexuality. And in so doing, let’s realize that we’re all sexual and we all long for connection with others that is not fully provided in sexual intercourse. Let’s embrace solitude, know ourselves, and bring that self to others in a healthy way in order to approximate that intimacy we long for.
Let’s journey together.
In her next blog, Amy explores the complex issue of intimacy as it relates to gender, power, and selfhood.
 Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 194–195.
 Varnier, From Brokenness to Community (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), 17.