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My Take: Searching for God, settling for sex
November 24th, 2012
08:00 PM ET

My Take: Searching for God, settling for sex

Editor's Note: Shannon Ethridge is an advocate for spiritual and sexual integrity. She is a counselor, speaker, author and certified life and relationship coach. Her 19 books include the million-selling Every Woman's Battle book series, "The Sexually Confident Wife" and her latest book, "The Fantasy Fallacy," a response to the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon, a discussion of the roots and role of sexual fantasies.

By Shannon Ethridge, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When a friend alerted me to the "Fifty Shades" trilogy in April, none of us had any idea it would sell in excess of 40 million copies within months, or that sales of whips, chains and other BDSM paraphernalia would skyrocket as a result, or that a European hotel would replace its Gideon’s Bibles with "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Many legitimate possibilities have been offered for the seeming success of “mommy porn.” Women are more sexually liberated than ever before. Couples are longing for ways to spice up their sex lives. Many women have a deep inner longing to be dominated by a man who’s absolutely obsessed with them.

While there might be some truth to each of these theories, I think the real force behind this "Fifty Shades" phenomenon is that our society is clamoring for closeness. However, in the absence of genuine sexual intimacy (best defined as “in-to-me-see”), we settle for sexual intensity: erotica, pornography, an office romance, an extramarital affair or whatever strokes the ego and provides the sexual high we crave.

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I suggest that sexual intensity (such as that experienced between the lead characters of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy) is simply not the same as intimacy. If it were, then prostitutes and porn stars would be the most emotionally and relationally fulfilled people on the planet. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Does the entangling of arms and legs and the exchange of bodily fluids scratch the human itch for intimate connection? Or is sex just the closest thing we can imagine to what we’re really craving: a deeper spiritual and emotional connection, both with our Creator and with His creation?

When I explain through my writing, speaking and life coaching that I am an “advocate for healthy sexuality and spirituality,” some assume I’m insane. Why would someone even use the terms “sexuality” and “spirituality” in the same sentence? I do so because I believe they are basically the same thing, or at least two sides of the same coin.

Regardless of gender, age, race, political views, economic status, etc., all humans have two things in common: We are both spiritual and sexual beings. And behind every sexual longing, I believe there’s an even deeper spiritual longing.

So we have much to learn about God through understanding our sexuality, and there is much to learn about our sexuality through a deeper exploration of God.

Looking at sexuality through a spiritual lens, and vice versa, is not a new concept. In the Song of Solomon, a man's and woman’s desires for healthy sexual intimacy are celebrated. In the book of Hosea, God uses the analogy of a husband’s relentless pursuit of a sexually unfaithful bride to illustrate the depth of His own passion and commitment to His people. God obviously knew that “sexual metaphors” would teach us about ourselves and about Him.

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This brings me back around to the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon. I don’t believe that fantasy is evil, even sexual fantasy. But when we divorce physical pleasure from emotional connection, such as when we selfishly strive for orgasm through pornography, masturbation or illicit sexual encounters rather than cultivating sexual ecstasy with our marriage partner, sexual ecstasy is only “half-baked.” Love and relational intimacy are the “yeast” that allows our sexual ecstasy to rise to its highest level.

My counseling experience shows me that we often seek healing for our deepest wounds via sexual encounters. Our minds and hearts believe we will “get it right” or “find the love I need” via an intensely satisfying sexual relationship.

If deep and spiritual intimacy is what humans seek, then relational or sexual intensity can never satisfy our deepest longings or heal our oldest wounds. Christian and Anastasia (for all the "Fifty Shades" fans) won’t discover heart-deep intimacy in whips, chains, pain and sexual intensity. Their deep wounds will be healed by sacrificial love (of which Christ is the incarnate example) and intimate relationship (both human and divine). Soul-deep intimacy is what we seek, and it’s ultimately found in the God who created human sexuality.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Shannon Ethridge.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • My Take • Sex

soundoff (1,819 Responses)
  1. Chad

    All humans have the same core needs:
    1. To feel that they have value
    2. To love and be loved
    3. To to be safe

    There is simply one one place, and one person (for lack of a better word) that satisfies those needs unconditionally: the God of Israel.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Al

      You know who can also provide that? The Gingerbread Man.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • CRC

      Amen!

      November 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • It's Just Me Guys I'm A Penguin

      Who again, just so we're all clear, does not exist.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      And Santa.
      And Ron Burbundy.
      And Aragorn.
      And Dumbledore.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Wildone

      It's a lot simpler for most human beings than that.

      1. Sufficient nutritious food
      2. Unpolluted water
      3. Unpolluted air

      Everything else is secondary.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Chad is such a liar.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • derp

      Chad has obviously never heard of Maslow.

      November 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Polycarp

      Al
      You know who can also provide that? The Gingerbread Man.------------------------------------------------------------------------------–

      Go on over to the Middle East, I'm quite sure the ginger bread will save you, alone with your belief in nothingness

      February 26, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • Check

      Polycarp,

      Did you notice that this article and all of the comments are 3 months old? It's highly doubtful that "Al" will ever even see your comment.

      Maybe you feel better for getting all of this off your chest or something...?

      February 26, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  2. Wildone

    When it comes to s.e.x. there are two kinds of people: Those who talk about it and those who do it. Ms. Ethridge appears to be in the former group. I can help her with that (as long as she promised not to analyze my technique, that is).

    November 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  3. The Flamingo Kid

    "Many women have a deep inner longing to be dominated by a man who’s absolutely obsessed with them."

    This is total BS. This woman needs to go away.

    November 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Fernando

      It's a man, baby! Who else would want to propagate this myth?

      November 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Akira

      I wonder what women she is talking to?
      I don't know one who wants to be subjugated, whether her dominator is obsessed with her or not.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • AmtheystApple

      i think she's talking about the millions of women who read fifty shades of grey., as she has mentioned earlier in the article.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  4. REDFIREBALL

    The LIPC has billed Superstorm Sandy victims for the entire time since the onset of storm - where is POTUS now?

    November 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Newt Gingrich

      Still crying over the election? LMAO

      November 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      @Red – It's "LIPA". *sigh*

      November 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Akira

      He's rebuilding my house as we speak.
      I'm going to take a glass of fine French Whiiiiiiine in a minute.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • runner305

      You have GOT to be one of the most half-witted persons to be posting on the Internet!

      November 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • rizzo

      Mighty fine trolling today, sir, mighty fine!

      November 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  5. REDFIREBALL

    Truth of a gadfly that stings misguided blind loyalty - to immediately embrace my exposure would be too painful for most. However, I am not laying out anything CNN does not already know. If I was then no doubt CNN would block the comments. it. Perhaps I am showcasing things the media has been feeling to timid to share out front. Not my problem - Truth seeks its own venue. Superstorm Sandy victims are being zonked with high utility bills from corrupt power companies. Yet another "non-highlighted" truth. Seems that Obama's "small stuff" will soon feel too overwhelmed by the "growing big stuff," like thousands of Iranian missiles would overwhelm his "iron dome."

    November 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      @REDFIREBALL – Seems to me that your "tinfoil hat" has already been overwhelmed. Thanks for your brave answer concerning if and where you blog regularly. T R O L L .

      November 25, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      @REDNECKBALL – "Truth seeks its own venue" and more often pays for the privelege. Then people like you get to come on and spew your biased and inaccurate opinions for free, at the expense of the subject matter at hand. CNN MODS, are you reading?

      November 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  6. Geof

    What a downer this writer is! lameeee

    November 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  7. smart man

    god is for Christards

    God Is Imaginary dot com

    check it out for truth

    November 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  8. ProudLiberal58

    @REDFIREBALL – So you said that you blog WHERE, again, boundary?

    November 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  9. Tallus

    God and religion: Ruining everything, one idiot believer at a time.

    November 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Jay

      Stupidity and self-righteousness ruining everything: one troll at a time.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Geoff

      Religion ruins the world

      November 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Tallus and Geoff et al,

      Religious ideologies of modern post times do not ruin worldiness values but only strengthens communal resolve. Untidy governances in diplomacies irregularities are what garnishes the weights and measures of socialistic accordances in plainlessness leaving leveraged buyouts by many mobs of tenured masses.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  10. Wildone

    I remember the first time I had se-x. I was scared to death! I was ALL ALONE!!

    (RIP Rodney Dangerfield)

    November 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  11. REDFIREBALL

    CNN was sweating and stuttering the night Israeli ground invasion felt near-imminent -- the scary part is Obama and Clinton were in the Far East -smiling and feeling relaxed - drinking French Indonesian wine. Meanwhile, Iran was sitting well-poised and waiting for that "moment of truth." You figure it out.

    November 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • runner305

      You wrote "Free flow of pertinent vital thought knows no boundary". But your thoughts are NOT pertinent to the conversation here, so please spew your detritus ELSEWHERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      November 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Hamm

      I guess you're an example of a typical Fox viewer: Completely out of touch with the current issues. :-)

      November 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      Red – We won you lost. Get a life. – (Your hero James Inhofe) Lo ser!

      November 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  12. ProudLiberal58

    @REDFIREBALL – Let me know if you actually have a REAL blog somewere so that I can hijack the comments thread for something that has absolutely NOTHING TO DO with the subject(s) (being generous in the plural) that you write about. Troll.

    November 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • REDFIREBALL

      Free flow of pertinent vital thought knows no boundary

      November 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • runner305

      He's a total arrogant stooge. He doesn't care that his junk comments are irrelevant.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Akira

      It should be pertinent to the posted topic at hand, but we'll let that go.
      I suspect this person has been banned from other sites, and CNN will let anyone on, as evidenced by, well, my being here.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  13. Hamm

    This lady is idiotic. She says

    "I suggest that se xual intensity (such as that experienced between the lead characters of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy) is simply not the same as intimacy. If it were, then prost itutes and po rn stars would be the most emotionally and relationally fulfilled people on the planet. That doesn’t seem to be the case."

    The se x that prost itutes and po rn stars are infamous for is their JOB, it's not how they personally get their se xual gratification. What she's suggesting is something like saying that teachers and child care workers should be so fulfilled with their work with children that neither of them would ever feel the need to have children of their own. Just idiotic!

    November 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • JP

      She didn't even read the books.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Crow

      "teachers and child care workers should be so fulfilled with their work with children that neither of them would ever feel the need to have children of their own."-–Therein lies the worlds problem today, Indiscriminate breeding. People that are breeders need to be sterilized after the 2nd child and any that have more than 2 need to have all tax breaks for any extra pie-faces terminated. And would be breeders need to be tested to see if they will make fit parents. With all the parentless children in the world there is absolutely NO need for any couple to breed other than sheer vanity.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Hamm

      JP
      No, she can't admit to having actually read the books any more than a creationist can admit to having read one of Dawkins', Gould's or some other evolution scientist's books. Same goes for the Harry Potter books lol. All such books are considered works of Satan and sinful to read, which is why you usually get such a goofy assumption of what they contain by Christians.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jay

      @hamm - the fact that you even allude to Dawkins - perhaps with some subtle implication that his neophyte popularization of "atheism" is supposed to be taken with some sort of intellection and reverence - just rendered your point lightweight. Waiting for you to quote Hitch and Bill Maher to top off our silly diatribe.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Crow,

      Time is the faucetted barrier whereupon Life does endure its feebleness breeding sources left to the aloneness of fertileness regularisms fettered or chained up by social discourses. Trying to bait-N-release "noncomforments" via the written word are but idle words to be the least effected ways for trial-N-error statistics renderings ever to be lost in meaningful translations.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Hamm

      Jay
      I'm not talking about atheism; what I'm saying is that critics of evolution don't actually read any real books by actual scientists about the subject. Just like critics of Harry Potter didn't take the time to read the series and critics of Fifty Shades, like this lady, apparently haven't read that series either. However, many Christian critics of atheism do warn their readers not to read books by Hitchens and Dawkins which begs the question of what they are so afraid of people learning, doesn't it?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • fintastic

      @jay.... afraid of the truth much jay?.... if you're looking for diatribe try the bible.

      November 28, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  14. JP

    What is funny about this article is that the author has clearly not read the entire trilogy. The story backs up her thesis exactly and in fact the main characters spend hundreds of pages examining the questions – and coming to the same conclusions – that the author outlines.

    November 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • TC

      It is even funnier that you actually read those books.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • rizzo

      Ha ha you paid money to read a bad fanfic!

      November 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  15. TC

    Always angry atheists on religious topics – makes no sense.

    November 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Apostate

      Yes, it makes me angry when I, and others, are lied to. What is your point?

      November 25, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Jt

      TC
      This is another incidence where a prim and proper Church Lady presumes to have the right to tell the rest of us how to live, why we feel the way we do, and her "solution" to all this. Don't we have the right to tell her to go mind her own business?

      November 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Jt,

      Jurous prudence Jt, jurous prudence.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      What is "jurous prudence"?

      November 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Jt

      I think he must have meant "jurisprudence", which still makes no sense at all.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. lionlylamb

    It may well be a righteous act to be anry at God. Why then are people always pinning things regarding God on otherly people who are not God? If one is angry at God then you should show God your anger, not rudicule those who dare love him for those types are but people just like you or me. Maybe if there is enough hatred and anger being shown towards God, people might just begin to realize God has no true concerns for our being. I have no hatred or anger towards God and yet I am sympathetic with those who seem bitter and angry towards God for things gone awry in their life. Who among us is found worthy to be angry and show hatred towards God? Who? And why?

    November 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Dab nabit! It seems the more times I proofread the more I find faults! One more time,,,,!

      It may well be a righteous act to be angry at God. Why then are people always pinning things regarding God on otherly people who are not God? If one is angry at God then you should show God your anger, not rudicule those who dare love him for those types are but people just like you or me. Maybe if there is enough hatred and anger being shown towards God, people might just begin to realize God has no designations of outward and honestly revealing true concerns for our foresaken being. I have no hatred or anger towards God and yet I am sympathetic with those who seem bitter and angry towards God for things gone awry in their life. Who among us is found worthy to be angry and show hatred towards God? Who? And why?

      November 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  17. ProudLiberal58

    @REDFIREBALL – We'll try this again since the mods on CNN will not let me say the s word in comments on an article about s. This article is not about politics. Did you stumble into the wrong discussion by accident, or are you deliberately hijacking every thread you see in a pathetic attempt to get someone, ANYONE to listen to your ranting? The only thing you are proving by posting political comments in this thread is that your OBSESSION for thwarting the will of the voters is WAY more unhealthy than anything in "50" shades". Regardless, I'll take the bait just once. You claim that our President has no plan. Did Gov. Romney ever lay out any kind of consistent plan for the economy, let alone foreign policy? No he didn't! Please stop your whining, and stop hijacking threads that have nothing to do with what you are whining about.

    November 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  18. Reality

    Before embarking on a search for some god and settling for se-x, an important life-saving, disease-elimination message:

    The reality of se-x, abortion, contraception and STD/HIV control: – from an agnostic guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. ...

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill (8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

    - (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
    – (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

    Followed by:

    One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
    Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
    The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
    Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
    IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

    Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).
    =======================================================================================

    November 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • rizzo

      Your numbers are way off, even within your post.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • truth be told

      The sponge is effective against oral sex. The spermicide it uses has an unpleasant numbing effect on the tongue.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • TC

      Too long and boring – no one will read and makes you look insane too.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      TC et al,

      I did read Reality's postie and found good reasoning of his copy-N-paste to be noteworthy. The young generations should heed such words but alas, the unlearned frivolities of it all!

      November 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Reality

      The statistics are from the Guttmacher Insti-tute and are on-line if you want to verify. Note the significant differences in actual failure rates vs. perfect use failure rates.

      November 26, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  19. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    I dated a girl once who had her doctorate in Philosophy. She blew my mind.

    November 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Akira

      LOL...

      November 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      I was kicked out of a metaphysics class for peering into the soul of the person next to me

      November 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      In organic chemistry I learned to make Ethyl Palpitate . . . (or was that orgasmic chemistry?)

      November 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  20. Apple Bush

    [repost]

    End Religion, a lot of people have your reaction to Dr. Johnson. Not sure why? I always thought he was funny, but that is just me. The problem is, most people did not see that it was a parody and attacked Dr. J for his poor or bogus research, even though I put a zinger in everyone just in case.

    "...the fullness of our Lord cannot be contained by His tunic." That one still cracks me up.

    Akira, what is your take? (Dr. J. is retired, but I posted them one last time for you.)

    November 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Akira

      Hi, Apple, I was rather forewarned, so I knew.
      That being said, I do remember see a couple a while back, most notably, the "fullness/tunic" one; I remember not taking it very seriously, although I seriously laughed when I saw that passage...

      Really, what I thought about them was "well, why NOT?"

      Thanks for bringing him out of retirement, just this once.
      I enjoyed them immensely.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.