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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 • Sex

soundoff (1,819 Responses)
  1. Vic

    Sticking to the above article subject matter!

    True but lacking reality! Not every person has the luxury of a normal and healthy relationship! Therefore, we end up seeking fulfillment for our needs in something less while still spiritual and hopeful for the real thing! Think about the hungry poor that eats at a shelter to survive yet still spiritual and seeks the satisfaction of own place and food!!!

    Jesus Christ Lord and our personal Savior did everything needed on our behalf, plain and simple!!!

    November 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • My remembrance chamber pot

      Jeebus Christ is my dog's savior. I don't need one. Jeebus never saved anyone from the Human Condition. People are exactly the way they have always been, before and after Jeebus.

      November 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Vic

      Ephesians 2:8-9

      "8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

      New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      November 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  2. MP

    In hedonism, you go for your pleasure. In intimacy, you share thoughts, feelings, and affection (pleasure). In love, you enter devotion. Exploitation and (self-)deception enter too many relationships.

    November 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Jt

      Many who say they're in a "Relationship with Christ" certainly seem exploited and self-deceived too, so I get your point.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • MP

      Devotion is leaving self-interests including not twisting words and thoughts.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      You are right Jt, when you 'fear' the one you love you are by definition in an abusive relationship.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Lilly

      Well said!

      November 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Akira

      Notice that MP's well-thought out post didn't mention a deity belief system at all.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  3. REDFIREBALL

    Obama is democrat, but House is GOP and we have 30 GOP governors. They plan on resisting state exchanges. Interesting to see how Obama will force compliance with obamacare. He may sign a ton of executive orders to bypass congressional examination and approval. That would be like shooting more holes through his feet. House GOP can showcase those under-handed executive orders and the non-approved "czars" (highly-paid advisors coutesy of federal tax dollars). So much to oversee, so little time - poor Poo Poo

    November 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      Red you are such a Lo ser, and a troll to boot. Guess elections only count if they go your way, huh Lo ser?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • MP

      House GOP has done NOTHING for years. What do you expect from Nordquist's fools?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • peridot2

      Irrelevant to the topic.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  4. Evangelical

    This is a great article. S.e.x outside of the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. We need to get our moral footing back as a nation.

    November 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Jt

      It may be against the rules of your superst ition, but why is it necessarily "wrong"?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Your immoral god does not exist. Se.x between consenting has nothing to do with moral footing.....there is no such thing as sin.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Jim

      as long as you're in a stable committed relationship why do you need a marriage license from the government?

      November 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Polycarp

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers
      Your immoral god does not exist. Se.x between consenting has nothing to do with moral footing.....there is no such thing as sin.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------–
      Your an idiot, you, yourself is basically, simply saying their is no crime what so ever.

      February 26, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  5. TexasTexasTexas

    CNN has turned into Fox News.

    November 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Jt

      If CNN is the new Fox News, then Fox is the new Propaganda Ministry a la Nazi Germany.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      "White-Power" extremists are a dying breed and as they die out, they might just willingly debase and parlay their insidious condiments nature all about the many fielded lots of mobbed massings within ever rank and file members of other racial commodities.Other races do it, why not White Power doing it? My bad! They already have and still are!

      November 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  6. REDFIREBALL

    Giving a little more from the top rates will not do much to pay down the deficit - presidents have historically gotten away with avoiding cuts in expenditure in the past. The debt ceiling is way too high. Liberal pundits play devil's advocates well. To what extent can we rely on projected job and economic growth? Obama is addicted to spending the money of others in a corrupt way. Our population is aging so dependency on social security and medicare will be greater. Federal government officials have known this for YEARS - so not just Obama's fault, but certainly no less the blame. He sought office so should be held to accountability and task. No weaseling out of it this time -time for the cuts.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  7. oyvavoy

    FILTHY SHADES OF GRAY

    November 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Justwow

      ^should change name to StillPrude2012

      November 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  8. REDFIREBALL

    Like Obama arrogantly challenged Congress, "bring it on." Susan Rice can explain herself about "al quaeda has been totally eradicated." - "Fiscal Cliff" sacre seems synonamous to the Y2K scare - total blackout of the web and deletion of all fiscal information stored? Hmmm - rather believe in the "null" hypothesis: Nothing will happen. The onus would be on the well-coordinated media to prove me wrong.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Yahweh's Penis

      See what I mean?

      November 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      Red is a lo ser

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

      Can't get published on Political Ticker.
      Hey, what about posting this on Eatocracy? It'd be just as relevant to that blog as it is to this blog.
      Let me guess.
      This Just In doesn't want you, either, am I right?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  9. REDFIREBALL

    QUESTION: Does anyone really believe that CNN – MSNBC – FOX air independent of each other? They all air the same commercials and show same blogs, suggest common sponsorship - much more common ownership. So who would be considered the ones duped besides the American and even world public? That said, it seems feasible to believe that there would be deliberate choice and coordination of shaping public psyche. Has anyone heard or read CNN DISPUTING any FOX reports? (Other than intentional bias towards one or the other political side). Susan Rice may be well-educated but that does not defend her misleading assertion that "Al quaeda has been totally eradicated" - so protectors of Obama's corruptive slight of hand need to back off.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Yahweh's Penis

      I took RFB's brains and fed them to Lot's daughters.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • michaelw777

      Trolling, are we? What does this have to do with the article? Not enough political nonsense, left and right for you, that you have to come here and add more? Find a political page and tout your nonsense there.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • ProudLiberal58

      red lo ser ball

      November 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Jt

      REDFIREYBALLS

      You're funny! :-)

      November 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • fintastic

      He's really chocolate salty balls.

      November 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  10. lionlylamb

    Can one body of people not change that which was declared to be biblically so written as to actually being nurturingly fortuitous? Where in the biblical can there be prophesying (though forewarned) become justifiably outwitted should leveraged warnings be prophetically heeded? Is it righteously endeavouring to wantonly fulfill a religiously and historically imbedded future thought unsoundly; just because it is so 'bibilcally' written? Should not a people of uncommon intellect become intellectually mundane just to satisfy Jewish based biblical prophecies? Where then lays the lands ending of philosophical aberrance foretold of thru wanton Jewish biblical welfares? Who are the lands beneficiaries should war bemoan us and almost all do thusly die out due and thru aggression's warring? Hell knows no other ways but to willfully and wantonly fulfill the Word, the Jewish written Gospels of the old and even new!

    November 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • fintastic

      Improve ashamed married expense bed her comfort pursuit mrs. Four time took ye your as fail lady. Up greatest am exertion or marianne. Shy occasional terminated insensible and inhabiting gay. So know do fond to half on. Now who promise was justice new winding. In finished on he speaking suitable advanced if. Boy happiness sportsmen say prevailed offending concealed nor was provision. Provided so as doubtful on striking required. Waiting we to compass assured.

      November 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  11. TODAY

    DO NOT EVER SETTLE FOR ANYTHING...You will regret the rest of your life

    November 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Jt

      That includes settling for Jesus as your Personal Savior too, right?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  12. Steeple

    Sex is good only when two people share intimate moments within the confines of marriage. Outside of this relationship sex is a SIN.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      There is no such thing as "sin."

      November 25, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • TODAY

      what if you never get married?

      November 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Sin trinkets do ever weigh down the sinner even though one of sinning will mindfully endorse others to be arbiters of such trinkets in sins continuations. Hell knows no furies like the flurries of sinfulness ideals!

      November 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Jt

      Not everyone in the confines of marriage share enough intimate moments, which is why the fantasy these books give is so popular. S ex outside of any committed relationship is usually seen as a betrayal, which is why most people see it as wrong on some level. You certainly don't have to be a Christian to know this.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Jt,

      S e x outside the "confinements" of marriages is viewed as betrayals by which genders? Men? Or women? Or is there a commonly held betrayal of marriage by both genders where outside marriage s e x u a l i s m s are bitterly recieved by either party?

      November 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Polycarp

      Moby Schtick
      There is no such thing as "sin."-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Tell that to law enforcement when they have to arrest somebody for a crime.

      February 26, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  13. REDFIREBALL

    Just as an example of how CNN sways opinion, I heard Susan Rice's addition "al quaeda has been totally eradicted" once then CNN cut it out before showing her speak - cutting out portions of what people say sways views. I suppose all three (CNN/MSNBC/FOX) do it - so where's the oversight for such practice? FCC interested? I doubt it - welcome to Corrupt America. But then, I suppose every national media do it around the globe - so welcome to corrupt earth

    November 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  14. Huh?

    Why am I linked to a "Belief" blog from the CNN site? I thought I was going to a news site. What's with this religious self-help crap?

    November 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Exotic

      if u were looking for news why did u click on a link to s e x?

      November 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Huh?

      s e x y news.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  15. Wildone

    "Does the entangling of arms and legs and the exchange of bodily fluids scratch the human itch for intimate connection?"

    Works for me.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  16. Marcus

    If the Bible teaches us anything it is that moderation is the key. Christ was into the whole S&M thing – whips, beatings etc. He then took it too far, asked to be crucified and paid the price. But then again, he got immortalized for it, so maybe it wasn't such a bad deal after all. Forget what I said, lets get whipped, chained, and spiked into ecstasy and immortality

    November 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I always knew that David Carridine was the second incarnation of Jesus.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Akira

      Yes, Grasshopper.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • michaelw777

      You first. Let me know how it goes.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  17. It's Just Me Guys I'm A Penguin

    I've just given up trying to reason with religious people. I mean, if you're so desperate for validation that you will subscribe whole-heartedly to the belief in that for which there is no evidence, you're a.) pretty much a lost cause, and b.) your brain is probably not worth fighting for anyway.

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

      It's Just Me Guys I'm A Penguin et al,

      Darwin's finches whereby they did interbreed did come up with many variabilities regarding their beaks which was a marvelous underpinning for them! They needed different ways and means for which to feed upon the far too few variations of food sources on the islands. Seems to me that the finches arbiters within or inside them saw a need to change their embodiments potential, their beaks, for getting food! Inside all celestial life are many gods and goddesses! 1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!"

      November 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • fintastic

      @lionlambchops

      Adieus except say barton put feebly favour him. Entreaties unpleasant sufficient few pianoforte discovered uncommonly ask. Morning cousins amongst in mr weather do neither. Warmth object matter course active law spring six. Pursuit showing tedious unknown winding see had man add. And park eyes too more him. Simple excuse active had son wholly coming number add. Though all excuse ladies rather regard assure yet. If feelings so prospect no as raptures quitting.

      November 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Newt Gingrich

      YouTube: Jesus Camp Brainwashes Children

      November 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  19. Nietodarwin

    T H E P E T I T I O N S I T E has one to remove Marco Rubio from the science committee
    Sign it.

    November 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • nope

      @ni...
      nope

      November 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • snopes confirms

      nope is false

      November 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • true

      nope is true

      November 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • the general concensus is that

      Nope is a dope.

      November 25, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  20. The News Junkie

    Ha!

    November 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.