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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. lerianis

    Another person who is not qualified to talk on this subject. Not really surprised, that's true with most religious people.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Mr. N

      Why is she not qualified? Why don't you actually address the subject matter instead of attacking the author? Ad-hominems are the natural refuge of the intellectually-weak.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • peick

      Not just ad hominem, but the fallacy of representativeness. Which religious person do you speak of? If they don't agree, then it can't be all of them. It is the mark of the modern anti-religionist to throw out all real logic while taking on airs of being logical. Use real, honest-to-goodness logic, not emotion. The rules have already been set out for reasoning. Just follow them.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  2. Just a John

    Looking at s*ex through a religious or spiritual lens has taught catholics girls to do a lot of stuff without actually doing the deed. Teenage boys are not seeking "deep and spiritual intimacy" but do like those catholic girls.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  3. S & L

    My wife and I are agreed that this writer is incompetent to write this article.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Mr. N

      Hu? Obviously, she wrote the article, so she was competent enough to do so. What exactly are you trying to say?

      November 25, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Guest

      What didn't you understand? Oh! I forgot! Shades of gray was written at a lip moving reader level!

      November 25, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  4. drbilltoth

    Maybe people are just clamoring for a day – or night – without CNN "Constantly Negative News" s they can focus on eachother and what's really important. Live With Intention, DrBillTothCom/blog

    November 25, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Waiting

      drbilltoth – I did not think it was negative – it is how she felt. I have met very few Christian that were not negative or whining about something. In addition I have met very few who have read the bible. I have great respect for the positive ones!

      November 25, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  5. monarch811@me.com

    I couldnt agree more. This is how I grew up, looking for love in all the wrong places.Id give anything to get all those intimate moments back. Its hard not to thing of them when im with another guy

    November 25, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Chris L

      Im glad someone here has a little common sense to see what she is saying :) I pray God helps you in whatever area in your past has been damged.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Where's my Wookie

      How would you get them back, you stole them, and you were glad to do it. You wrecked so many lives and you didnt even care.

      March 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Chris L

    This is an awesome article!

    November 25, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  7. Scott

    This is ridiculous. CNN, you have GOT to stop putting these absurd religious pieces on the front page. I know it's Sunday, but this is not news, it's just nonsense.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Sri

      Very well said. Yes – i agree 100%. Gives wrong ideas to men and women who don't see their mistakes and instead blame partners for the failed marriages.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Mr. N

      Sri,

      When did the author condone or even imply that fault lies with the partner and not oneself?

      November 25, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • S & L

      This gets my vote for Best Answer.

      By the way - her series sold a million books, while the "Fifty Shades" series has sold "over 60 million copies worldwide" (from Wikipedia, "40 million" is for the first book only, and those copies in 37 countries). A 40-to-1 difference is just a little bit of a landslide.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Mr. N

      S & L,

      Stick to the subject. What do a book's sales have to do with the author's point? Have you ever heard the term "Ad Populum", you know, an appeal to popularity logical fallacy?

      November 25, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Sri

      Mr. N – I said IT GIVES MEN AN OPPORTUNITY to blame on partners.

      November 26, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  8. toocute

    I wonder if the author has ever been in a long-term D/s relationship? If she had,she'd understand the intimacy level involved is far more intense than many 'vanilla' relationships. There is a level of honesty that has to be there for it to work. In the 23 years of my failed marriage,I hid,filtered,and pretended to be what I thought my spouse wanted. In a healthy D/s relationship,that doesn't happen. It has nothing to do with violence or God.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Mr. N

      So, you had a previous crappy marriage, and you attribute it in part on the lack of DSM relationship? Hu? Did I get you right?

      Oh, and BTW, when did the author implied that DSM is bad per se, or that it isn't intense? AFAIK she's just advocating a well-rounded relationship which also includes spirituality.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  9. bob

    This is what happens when escaped mental patients become writers.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Sri

      Love your answer ! Thanks.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  10. Only on the CNN 'belief' blog would you see a man on top of a woman

    ;)

    What has sex got to do with spirituality?

    November 25, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • Mr. N

      Lots, and it's not news, either. The author is just reminding us of millenia-old ideas.

      If you don't get it, that's your problem.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  11. Olga

    What a boatload of gibberish. In-to-me-see? Yeast? God? I hope for her own sanity that she is not serious and is just putting a bunch of words togerther to make some money.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  12. punditsponge

    Intimacy and intensity are not mutually exclusive. In the modern parlance, you're doing it wrong.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:09 am |
    • Just a John

      Agree, if you both need a manual to read with instructions while getting it on you probably are taking the fun out of IT, although the Kama Sutra can provide variety once you have the basics down pat.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Mr. N

      The author never said they were.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  13. Corn husker jones

    A beautiful article followed by ridiculously ignorant comments.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Barbara

      Agreed!

      November 25, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Mr. N

      Agreed ++

      November 25, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • PJ

      Mr. N., I've been reading your comments. I think I love you. ;)

      November 25, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  14. 200 TON HAMMER

    You write 19 books your relationship books have FAILED YOU.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:00 am |
  15. Bradley Ducoat

    This article is absolutely ridiculous. Not worth further comment.

    November 25, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    November 25, 2012 at 5:23 am |
    • Lars

      On what do you base this thoughtless idea? Everyone has atheistic believes, it's just that some of us believe in 1 less god than you do.

      November 25, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • amused123

      While that is an arguable point, some of us take more time to write using proper grammar.
      -
      Everyone has atheistic believes, it's just that some of us believe in 1 less god than you do.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • janemutiny

      Your statement conflicts with reality. If prayer worked, everyone would do it, because prayerful people would experience better health, less divorce, fewer children on drugs, greater success, lower death rates, less obesity...there would be no war or starvation or murdered babies. In short, there would be SOME INDICATION, SOMEWHERE that prayer improved the quality of life for anyone, anywhere. But there is NOT. As a matter of fact, some social ills like obesity, teen pregnancy, incest, and divorce are more prevalent in more religious (red) states. Go figure. Maybe it has to do with praying to an imaginary father figure rather than figuring stuff out and fixing it.

      November 26, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  17. The Ole Bullsh!t Detector Is Going Off Again

    Life coach. What a fraud! What person is arrogant enough to think themselves so superior that they can coach others on their lives? What fool is insecure and gullible enough to believe they need a "life coach"?

    Oh, yeah, they are religious. Nevermind. I should have known.

    November 25, 2012 at 4:54 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Hear, hear, although I know plenty of non religious people who lap up all this BS.

      November 25, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Minus the Yahweh stuff, obviously.

      November 25, 2012 at 5:03 am |
    • Thomas

      If you are so offended by this article, and have such obvious hatred and bigotry for anyone with spiritual beliefs, stop reading the Belief section on this website! Otherwise, keep your critical, ignorant comments to yourself.

      November 25, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      This is America buddy. We can be as hateful and ignorant as we like. In fact, it's a good thing for religious people that ignorance is legal, otherwise religion would be abolished immediately.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Mr. N

      Another bigot with typical bigoted ad-hominems. Why say anything of substance when you can attack the messenger, right?

      Nothing new to see, here folks.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Polycarp

      Rational Libertarian
      This is America buddy. We can be as hateful and ignorant as we like. In fact, it's a good thing for religious people that ignorance is legal, otherwise religion would be abolished immediately.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------–
      Love your neighbor as yourself, help other's, don't steal, or harm others, Yep us religious people are surely ignorant.

      February 26, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  18. tallulah13

    Frankly, I think that Fifty Shades of Grey is popular because some women (and some men) just really like badly written po.rn.

    November 25, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Akira

      I haven't read "Fifty Shades" and I have no intention of doing so.
      That it's part of a trilogy amuses me.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm not a big fan of popular fiction, and I certainly have no desire to read a soft-core por.n book that began life as "Twilight" fan fiction.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  19. Apple Bush

    Akira:
    (and TT if you are here?)

    Favorite books?

    For me (not in any order):

    1. Jonathan Livingston Seagull
    2. Illusions, the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
    3. The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings
    4. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
    5. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
    6. The Bible
    7. Romeo and Juliet
    8. The great Gatsby
    9. War and Peace
    10. Journey to the Center of the Earth
    11. More on request…

    November 24, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      what the hell do you know of "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"? goon,

      November 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      M.A.D., I know plenty.

      November 24, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      English translation or in Urdu! just curious.

      November 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      English.

      November 24, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Akira

      Quite the eclectic list, AB.

      My favorite of all time is "To Kill A Mockingbird", probably because it made such a huge impact on me when I first read it in 7th grade.

      I dunno, I never really thought about compiling a list.

      November 24, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is great. Along with Wuthering Heights, Don Quixote, Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, Great Expectations, Death Be Not Proud, A Farewell to Arms, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Moby Dick, The Crucible, I could go on and on. Reading is the great benefit of being human.

      Ask the Christians what and how much they read lol.

      November 24, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      judging you by your book liking, why pick a name like Apple Bush?

      November 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      MAD, it is an old Alice Cooper song. I loves me some Alice Cooper.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman –Angela Carter
      The History of Luminous Motion -Scott Bradfield

      November 25, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      AB, if you like adventure, fiction, try books by Desmond Bagley

      November 25, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Thank you both!

      November 25, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Akira

      Right now, I'm reading "The Map Of The Sky", by Felix J. Palma.
      It has H.G. Wells as the central character; it's an odd book, which I dig.
      His "War Of The Worlds", which in the book he had just written a year earlier, is happening, although the beings aren't Martians.
      Weird premise, oddly entertaining, narrated by a person who "see everything and knows what's going to happen"...take from *that* what you will!
      Ah, well...good night, all.

      November 25, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • OCCUPY WALLSTREET FOR SENATE 2014 and beyond!!!

      You forgot:

      1. The godfather
      2. The godfather 2
      3. Goodfellas
      4. Carlito's Way
      5. Scarface.

      Most romantic movies of all-time.

      November 25, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Catcher in the Rye

      Yep.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Skeptimist

      M.A. D.: You ask what a Christian reads. In my case my earliest and continuing favorite is Huckleberry Finn from which I first learned that truth and personal integrity are often beyond the rules of society. When Huck risks jail and damnation to befriend a runaway slave, Jesus smiles. (Huck also taught me the contentment to be found in a corncob pipe.)

      November 25, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      yes, Skeptimist, I enjoyed Mark Twain, and Arabian nights too, while growing up, we had no TVs or video games, so obviously, we spent more time on books.

      November 25, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • pATRICK

      No Mein Kampf?

      November 26, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  20. Dr.D. Johnson

    If you read the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip, you will see that, "...indeed I say unto you that we are but drops in the sea, each one a ripple makes..."

    Phillip goes on to say that, "...be not one but part of the whole. Be not in disconnect, but hold firmly and endure…”

    Scholars believe these two passages are very revealing. What do they reveal?

    Jesus, being deaf, identified with "Mother Earth" in such a way that swimming and wrestling were very enjoyable to him, and this is something he wanted to share with his disciples.

    November 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Akira

      Daisy chain?

      November 24, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Dr. D. Johnson

      Akira you are a bright student.

      Violence stems from a lack of freedom. Hate is born of intolerance. But from whence comes this servitude and hatred?

      If you read from the Thomas Gospel we see that, "...our brothers rally and cry...free them from wench and w.h.o.r.e. Let them be as our Lord intended."

      This lack of evolutionary independence to spread one's seed and strengthen our species is quite unnatural and leads to jealousy and violence.

      In The Book of the Lord, we read, "Wade in the pond often but do not drown." I think that says it all.

      Bless you, Donnel.

      November 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      This is my least favorite of your fake monikers Apple.

      November 25, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • amused123

      Jesus being deaf? Did he also have cleft palate or an ingrown toenail? From what thin aired planet was that pulled from?

      November 25, 2012 at 7:21 am |
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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.