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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. getting up there

    Once, many years ago I developed a huge crush on this person with whom I swear I'd seen before in dreams I'd had of them. I had dejavu being around them constantly and I never knew why. It sounds romantic, but it was, actually frightening because I never knew why and there isn't ever a logical explaination for that sort of thing.

    If nothing else, perhaps falling in love takes us outside of ourselves for a while.

    December 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  2. Saraswati

    @Bob,

    "I just wanted you to know I wont hold your lack of intelligence and mean spirited words effect the way I feel about you."

    You average college freshman is savvy enough to recognize a passive agressive statement when it's this obvious. You might want to take a good look in the mirror.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Cindy Janczyk

    What a great article. Thanks for taking the time to articulate an opinion on a sensitive topic. I really appreciate your candor – suggestive rather than assuming. Love it!

    December 6, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  4. otto

    the presumption of "God" is a projection that "God" is a big ego, with likes, dislikes, and anger and compassion.
    All nonsense.

    December 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • sam stone

      funny how god has man's characteristics

      December 6, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Saraswati

      @sam, isn't that explained by their whole "created in his image" idea? Historically most gods we know (Greek, Hindu etc.) were pretty human-like.

      December 6, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • sam stone

      sarah.....of course

      it satisfies man's thirst for revenge

      December 7, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • sam stone

      at least with some of them

      December 7, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  5. donner

    Nothing will ever take the place of good p-ssy.

    December 4, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Adam

      Yes, the Creator of the Universe is only dropping down on our list of things to care about. And rightly so.

      December 5, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • otto

      DNA commands you. replication & reproduction, rule

      December 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • TheSpaLife

      .....sweet– that's refreshing to hear

      December 7, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  6. lol??

    Marriage is fashioned after God's likeness, too. God, man, and woman. The antichrist copycat version is Beast, man, and woman. What do you expect from somebody who sayz, "Isa 14:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High." The triunity of creation is everywhere, and with poor copies.

    December 4, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • lol??

      Poor girly man, mama kicked you out of the nest?

      December 4, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Mirosal

      @ lol? .. you're an as'swipe .. marriage was around LONG LONG before any modern religion was even thought of. it predates any con'cep'tion of your "god". It predates written history. Read a little history for a change, and get your head OUT of your big book of fables. marriage by definition is a CIVIL contract. No "god" or deity is needed to get married, but you DO need a civil license. Even a church will ask to see that BEFORE any ceremony. That should tell you with whom the REAL priority lies.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • lol??

      Your marriage between religions and the Beasts will lead to domestic violence! They are always marryin' and divorcin' and remarrin'.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Mirosal

      What are you talking about?? Clarify that in English please.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      He might be going on about inter-racial marriage.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • lol??

      You're a sickie, dude. Why would you listen to an, "@ lol? .. you're an as'swipe" Fly away free bird.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Mirosal

      Then he needs to read Loving v. Virginia 1967 Supreme Court decision.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • lol??

      0G-No, you still in a free fall? There is only one RACE of man.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Mirosal

      I am free, and I spent 21 years defending YOUR rights to be free as well. So which part of what I said were "sick", according to you?

      December 4, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Would that be the old fat white Babble Belt race?

      December 4, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • lol??

      And I spent 21 months with a TOP Secret and was debriefed. That's all you need to know.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Mirosal

      I had my TS as well, was debriefed and did the briefings. I had quite an interesting field in the Navy, and it was NOT tying knots and handling lines. My 21 years outranks your 21 months, recruit. Now, what are you talking about when you said "religion and the Beasts?"

      December 4, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      First you lost your shorts and then your mind, or the other way round?

      December 4, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • lol??

      Pullin' rank? That's rank......"Mat 11:11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

      December 4, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @lol
      Nobody cares about your former security clearance.
      I handled classified material as a matter of course when I was with the DND.
      Hell, I spent 6 months behind the steel doors of a nuclear fallout shelter with millions of dollars in equipment.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Mirosal

      Your babble.. I mean bible has no status, and therefore no rank. And no control over me. Anything your book says is hearsay, and does not hold ANY evidentiary value whatsoever.

      December 4, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • sam stone

      gosh, lol?? you are a punk.

      December 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Todd

      "marriage was around LONG LONG before any modern religion was even thought of. it predates any con'cep'tion of your "god". It predates written history. Read a little history for a change..."

      So, how does one know about it, if it is before "written history"? Somehow, someway, there would need to be articulation of the "concept" of marriage to be able to know about it, and written or recorded in some form.

      December 6, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  7. Rev Dr Felix Nwosu

    THAT'S WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT. WHAT PEOPLE DONT UNDERSTAND THEY CRITICISE. I THANK GOD FOR THE FAITH AND COUNRAGE HE GAVE TO YOU TO KEEP ON HNTILLTHEY SEE THE TRUTH IN YOUR STORY AND REVELATION . NICE ONE KEEP IT UP.

    December 4, 2012 at 5:05 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      What primitive people don't understand they make up a god for. The god of The Babble is no different.

      December 4, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Mirosal

      There have ben 10,000 "gods" worshipped over the course of human history. Are you SURE you're praising the right one?

      December 4, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • getting up there

      I understand not having a religion, I'm not very religious either but my mom (as an example) believes in God and I don't discuss my doubt with her because I can't say I am happier being a skeptic.

      My own non diestic outlook makes me suffer in a way. It makes me worry about the final end of it all. Why share that with someone who's reasonably happy with their faith?

      I think faith if it makes someone happy is lovely....I just wish I had a little of it at this stage of life.

      December 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      faith is a gift, to be accepted

      December 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      ....or a curse to be avoided

      December 13, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  8. ReasonwithPersonalLove&SocialJustice

    I think I lead a boring life...and consider myself spiritual and evolved. Hence I don't judge like some people who are probably internally repressed, longing or wanting...and then do perverse stuff in secret. I find many things strange and even out of my intellectual curiosity...but as long as it does not coerce someone without consent, deceive, abuse or hurt a minor who cares what two, unrelated, consenting adults do in their bedrooms or on an actual board. I don't want to know...and I don't care. So why all this condemnation.

    One can have spirituality and intimacy, one can have spirituality and intensity...if one is lucky and works hard one can have intimacy and intensity and spirituality. Hey...go for it. And write books on it. I am not going to do it...and have no interest in it...but if I am bored I might read it. Ha, ha, ha!

    I consider marriage a form of bondage...and my wife will whip me if she finds out I wrote this! :))

    December 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  9. Nishant Nayar

    So ultimately there's more pleasure in religion than BDSM? Talk about a "Coming to Jesus" moment.

    December 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  10. pee pole

    The reason some atheist get mad at the fact the other people beleive so strongly in god is that often times a "true believe" cant answer even the most basic of questions on why they beleive so strongly in favor or a supreme being. Everyone on the internet will always say "i know everything there is to know about everything" so maybe that question would be posed in a INL setting. But literally most of the people that are willing to take up arms and get truely upset when an atheist starts questioning them on their religion os because they have not the slitest idea of WHY they beleive in the way they do. All they know is that when they were growing up, not going to church wasnt an option. Not putting money in the colection plate wasnt an option, infact the mojority of options were taken away from them by their parents. So now, when pressed about their relationship with got, they dont have answers because NOT KNOWING is all the KNOW.

    December 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  11. Dave

    Whip me!

    December 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  12. Bob

    While its nice to see the liberation of the desires and intimacy of married couples but its really more about healing not just learing. we are made a certain way life does get in the way with hurts and disappointments that can mar the loving nature that we all posses. The only true healer is God but we have to be willing and take the time to let Him do the work in our lives and us. Once this is done we can be free to be who we are. The Bible has a lot of do's and don'ts but Jesus said my burden is light and my yolk is easy well its true that we can live up to all the laws in the Bible and still have good intimate lives with our spouse. How, because the Spirit does a work from the inside out and we do not desire the things that will someday hurt us. God is love above all else but He still cries for the ones in hell.

    December 2, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  13. Frank

    There are many things people look to as fulfillment for what they really need inside.. Some of us have found peace and fulfillment in knowing God through Jesus Christ our Lord. I was seeking for something more when I was very young. I tried many avenues hoping to satisfy the void I felt inside. Not one of them were able to fill the void until I received Jesus Christ as My Lord and My Savior. I can truly testify that what I was seeking inside is now completely satisfied. I have peace with God, and I know that after this life ends, a better one begins for me. If you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior ask Him into your life. Confess your sins to him and be willing to follow Him as He leads you. Then you will know His peace that passes all understanding. God Bless

    December 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • sam stone

      frank: some of us have found peace and fulfillment without the iron age stories

      December 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  14. caramiamom

    Has anyone else seemed to find it particularly amusing that atheists are reading and commenting on a religion based blog? Seems to me that either A) they are searching for something "more", or B) they are purposely looking for and seeking out opportunities to argue their case. And you all are arguing with them. I doubt that a Christian ever won over an atheist by arguing with them. Or vice versa. But I guess we find it a good way to spend our time, eh?

    December 1, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Watching a believer try to fashion a rational argument is like watching a train wreck...it's really messy but you can't turn away.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Obsessed agnostic

      I freely admit I am obsessed with spirituality. There is nothing more than I want for ghost adventure guys to actually find something...no matter how much I know it won't happen. And I am usually on here arguing with atheists during the times that I see a non valid point or a logic fallacy (and yes even atheists are capable of misnformation, as I am as we all are).

      Besides.. Of course I want more...how could anyone not want more. I just can't proove that there "is" more. I don't argue with Christians because as you said they are convinced, and I am sure not interested in sharing my doubt or debating.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Sean

      Well said. Your post was a rational one. Yet you can see by some of the vile responses to your post how civility is a lost art. IMO, Humanity is not better off by strictly following a religious dogma or by trying to debunk it. It's better off by starting with some civility and empathy towards others.

      December 2, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Lame-o

      Oh, I didn't realize this was a private club. But in all seriousness, I think it's good that people like read other view points. Life would be so boring if we only read works from people who thought like us, right?

      December 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • brolip

      atheists are open to more than you think. i don't believe in sesame street but it can still teach you something.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • sam stone

      it is a belief blog, not a religion blog. Try to keep that in mind

      December 3, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  15. TonDef

    I'm searching for both, but I can't seem to find either.

    November 30, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  16. Eric

    When a female genderizes our spiritual source as 'he" and "him" I immediately think this is not someone in a position to give anyone valid, insightful, illuminating advice. If a female can't get past the limiting belief that the source of our creation or spiritual light is of the male gender, how can they possibly contribute anything to further free women from the ignorant beliefs which have put extreme limiting beliefs on them? That"s not to say men are anymore enlightened when they rely on "he" and "him" but it's not as absurd that these highly ego motivated men would do so. They like to believe that "God" created "man" in "his" own image...when in fact it's the other way around. How long before we truly begin to liberate ourselves – women and men alike – from male centric religious dogma and the mind numbing abuse born of it?

    November 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Josh

      You know exactly why she is referring to God as a He, and that is because Jesus Christ is a He, and God identifies Himself as a Father. The truth is exclusive. Think about it. What if you asked me to book a flight to New York for you, and I came back with a flight to Los Angeles..and you said, that doesn't get me to my destination..and I said, it's all relative..it doesn't matter which plane you take to get there..would you take that flight? If not, then why do you expect the truth to be any different about God? I can see you have already rejected Jesus Christ, so you are happy to argue from "inclusiveness" when you are discussing this topic, yet you are not inclusive of truths which are exclusive. God is who He is, whether you agree with it or not, and that's the truth.

      November 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      If your god can be a he, because you say so, or your god can be a she, because you say so, then your god is just in your collective imaginations.

      If there were any evidence that a deity existed, then we would already know how that deity should be addressed.

      November 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      We know god is a he because his voice was so deep when he spoke to Charlton Heston.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      God doesn't think much of women.
      A good Christian woman should be silent, submissive, subservient and filled with shame for the curse her gender forced on humanity.
      "Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" Ecclesiasticus, 25:19
      As I Timothy 2:11-14 reminds us, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
      Calvin described women as
      "... more guilty than the man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading all to perdition. It is necessary that woman recognize this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame."

      December 4, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  17. bla

    Start out searching for something that can't be found because it probably isn't there and finding something that is instead.

    Is there a problem here?

    November 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • curious

      my thoughts exactly. i was going to say, searching for unicorns finding a stud...

      November 30, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • drumbeg

      Searching? You look at a tree, sunset, infant or cellular enzyme and you wonder if something created it? WHen I read about someone "searching" I know it's a code word for "wants their Sunday mornings free". Nothing more. Even someone with Down's couldn't be that obtuse.

      December 1, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  18. Wrenn_NYC

    Let's try that again. /sigh/

    All this discussion over a bit of bad Twilight (crossed with a beinners by the numbers bdsm manual) fan-fic, that has had its serial numbers sawn off.

    There's a lot of better written (and more original) erotica out there. (I've been paid to edit some of it, so I know it's there.)

    Better.

    November 30, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Eric

      Not sure I'd want someone like you editing my work. After two tries still problems with too many elements.

      November 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      If you got paid more than a nickel for "editing." then you were overpaid.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  19. Wrenn_NYC

    All this discussion over a bit of bad Twilight (crossed with a beginning by the numbers bdsm manual) fan fic with it's serial numbers sawn off.

    There's a lot of better written, and more original erotica out there. (I've been paid to edit some of it, I know.)

    November 30, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  20. Nevada

    Speaking of a roll in the hey and life after death....are humans alloud to say the word "Sargatanas" in public? Too soon for the conservative crowd maybe? :-X

    November 30, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • sqeptiq

      I tried to roll in HEY once but it wouldn't stick.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:17 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.