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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. _____

    What a bunch of hate theist crap.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Mr. N

      What a bigoted statement!

      November 25, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  2. bencoates57

    The only reason I can fathom for the popularity of this book is that women aren't satisfied.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  3. REDFIREBALL

    Obambi-Poo settled for Egyptian and Hamas "intensity" versus Israeli and Iranian "Big One" intimacy - Ground Forces = Iranian Fire Rain. Sorry Poo Poo, no GOP Brickwall diversion - What did Boston Hot Lips sing? "Dust in the Berkshire Wind" or "Black Midnight Cowboy"? - Too bad Deval Patti-Poo broke that back before the "Iran Hot Ones"

    November 25, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • RAWR

      You are nuts. LOL!

      November 25, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • LCSWquilter

      You forgot to take your meds this morning. Go right now and get them.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  4. timelord7202

    If God is within all of us, then $exu@lity is a fair channel for spirituality, just as is dining with relatives and others we hold dear on holidays and other events (at least before they became c0mmerci@lized). We feel fulfilled when we're with other people, sharing our lives and details and taking an interest in those around us.

    I don't know why p@rn stars aren't fulfilled. The last I'd read, many are exploited and most don't get paid decent wages. But since God didn't invent a money tree...

    All I know is this: God creates. His creations invent (or re-invent).

    November 25, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • lionlylamb

      timelord7202,

      God in His beginnings from All of Cosmologies timeliness are timelessly a fomidable challenge for folks to grab a holding upon. From God willing the Celestialized Cosmos into existance to cellular cosmos of Life's living abundancies, God's sons and daughters were God's to so order them their affording deededness works which is the building of all celestial life.1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!" From the sons and the daughters of God's inside residencies of Celled singularities in sublime renditionings of personalized orders or the rather chaotic gathering points for celled creatures to so begin upon any celestial body of planetary motions is but a feat of rooted grand designs and indentured husbandries!

      November 25, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • fintastic

      @lionlambchops............... Cellularities to sons and desidencies! God's the rathe daughters the but a featured creatureside rathe Cellenge for forder were laboured grand in sublimelestial body of Celestialized sing!" From All celled or willing deededness and the sons is building deededness are] God's in sublime renditioning designs 3:9 "For ther celestialized husband inthians andry, [ye are God: ye are God's but a holding upon. From God: ye are God's to so begin His but a holdings of Celestial body of Cellular celessly a folk

      November 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  5. timelord7202

    It's an interesting correlation, actually, but I don't think it's accurate.

    Some say God is within all of us and it's up to all of us to channel His will – as in being kind to each other, forgiving, sharing, and all of those other nasty things some people can't bear to contemplate...

    November 25, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Veritas

      While I am a Christian and believe in the tenents of Christianity, I find your analysis overly simplistic. I think ultimately human beings are searching for a higher power, but to say that is the case in every instance is simply not accurate.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Four Biblical Quotes to Keep on one's Mind

      Mathew 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God!"

      Luke 17:21, "The kingdom of God is inside you!"

      John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world!"

      1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!"

      November 25, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • fintastic

      @lionlambchops'

      Some quotes from Harry Potter to keep in mind;

      "Voldemort uses people his enemies are close to. He's already used you as bait once, and that was just because you're my best friend's sister. Think how much danger you'll be in if we keep this up. He'll know, he'll find out. He'll try and get to me through you."

      "You can't give a Dementor the old one-two!"

      "Cut it out," he said firmly, rubbing the scar as the pain receded again. "First sign of madness, talking to your own head," said a sly voice from the empty picture on the wall.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  6. timelord7202

    test

    November 25, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  7. Dohnet

    Well, you had me until you said "searching for God". What you meant to say is "searching for intimacy, and closeness to another human". We are living in a virtual world, because if we turn off our computers we "fall behind". We are closer to our computers than our spouse.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Mr. N

      Why did she have you until she mentioned God? Are the points that in which you agreed with her all of a sudden invalid? Is your systems of belief so poor that it hinges on you agreeing with someone else on every point, not just on some?

      November 25, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  8. Chris L

    We are mining for gold and settling for butterscotch candy. We are looking for God the Creator of our existence and settling for something sweet and fleeting. If we would be willing to dig a little deeper and be willing to get a little dirty and deal with our past hurts and wounds, we would find Him!

    November 25, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Wallace Berry

      Dig a little deeper and you'll find out it's all a myth.

      But then you'd have to read something other than th bible.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • ..wannamontana

      ... And if Wallace took the time to include the bible in his vast reading, ... He might find a surprising depth.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Chris L

      Thanx WannaMontana, I appreciate your support. :)

      November 25, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • fintastic

      @wanna.......... he would certainly find a not so surprising amount of bull crap.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  9. randomcnn

    I didn't read the article, just the heading on the front page of CNN.com. I just wanted to respond and say, "DUH".

    November 25, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  10. galaxy101

    Yes, and actually the burden of proof is on the believer regardless of how the atheist, agnostic or person of faith feels about it. This is because IF something, someone or some diety does NOT exist, then there is simply no way to demonstrate its non-existence. A negative can never be proven with the exception of known falsities. The statement, “The Earth is flat”, is a known false statement. When we add ‘not’ to it… “The Earth is not flat” becomes true and in *that* sense, we can/have “proven” a negative. Deductive logic.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • dreamer96

      If God created man in his image..What magazines does God read while sitting on his Heavenly Toilet?...

      November 25, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Mr. N

      Faith is a belief on something which by definition cannot be proven.

      And no, proof is not always required. Our most basic logic concepts, for example, are self-evident. It can be argued that things which can be completely abstracted exist devoid of time and space, such as the very concepts of "true" and "false." This "intellegibilia" is necessarily devoid of proof.

      Please, don't try to redefine basic concepts in faith and epistemology in a a vain attempt to build a straw man against faith. That is the sort of thing why so many atheists are not taken seriously.

      But enough about this. What do you think of the article? Isn't that the point of this discussion? Or are you here merely to proselytize atheism?

      November 25, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • fintastic

      @galaxy............. I wish we could place your post as a sticky at the top of every page on the belief blog.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • fintastic

      @mr N........... building a straw man argument against reality?. That is the sort of thing why so many religious are not taken seriously.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  11. dreamer96

    God is shaking his head in Heaven..again..Saying I told them not to eat from the tree of Knowledge....but did they listen to me..No.. No.. No..They could have spent their whole entire life running around in the Garden of Eden naked..doing it when ever they wanted to..without a care in the world...but they had to go and bite the apple,... and ruin everything by over analyzing a good thing....

    November 25, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Wallace Berry

      I guess the christian money grab machine wants to cash in on this stupid book too.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Chris L

      That is really good. And I agree with it to the full!

      November 25, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  12. LCSWquilter

    Let's take a vote. Is the couple in the photo at the top of this article pursing cheap s/e/x or pursing spiritual intimacy? How can you tell?

    November 25, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Just a John

      If they have the TV on and are listening to old Jimmy Swaggert sermons while making out, it is of course spiritual. Any good christian cultist would have to agree.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  13. Karl

    In my opinion, people are free to be as spiritual as they like, and to have faith in whatever god or gods give them personal fulfillment. I just wish they'd stop trying to convince everyone else that their worldview is the only correct one.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Mr. N

      Who is trying to convince you of that in the article?

      November 25, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Mennoknight

      What if your worldview is self destructive?
      What if your worldview leads you to having a high chance of unwanted pregnancies, STD's, and emotional scaring and people like Ethridge are trying to save you from that world of heart instead of just following your animalistic nature?
      Every moral law in the New Testament has a good and logical reason behind it.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  14. Just a John

    Attack
    The old biblical defence that I had to kill my first three wives because I found out they were not virgins kind of Abrahamic nonsense, is that one example of the cluster fvck you maybe refering to?

    November 25, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Just a John

      meant as reply to 50 foot.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Mr. N

      No. The cluster flk is people that don't seem to understand that a religion founded on the new covenant of the New Testament does not have as primary tenants old testament passages. You know, that New Testament where Jesus actually saves a woman who committed adultery from stoning?

      Obviously, if you are mired in a cluster flk, it has to do mostly with your lack of understanding than anything else.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Just a John

      Mr. N
      I find it intresting that so many that are of the faith keep resorting to bible quotes from both the OT and NT and when it suits their purpose they ignore their history and state that all that old stuff is no longer relevant. Please stop picking the fly sh*it out of the pepper, it makes you all look foolish.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Mr. N

      Thanks for the colorful, thought unimaginative, insults.

      I find it interesting that YOU misquote the bible, out of context, and attack Christians for something that they don't believe in. Yet, when I call you up on it, you attack me.

      It says a lot about you: If you can't argue on point, sling mud. What a poor excuse for "intellectuality!"

      November 25, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  15. 200 TON HAMMER

    Only a lame person would keep writing books on lame relationship advice based on their dull stiff plane Jane have flat butt 19 books that has FAILED HER each time she just pan handling book hustle dame of nobody cares what you think lady books

    November 25, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  16. Joe T

    I don't know what's cornier: the "in-to-me-see" comment, or the "magic sky fairy belief club" comment in response. Believers and unbelievers can be so tacky. But I give the "content" verdict to the writer. There are some excellent points and I can't see how some would deny that instant gratification often leaves us longing for something more. If you have not experienced that, I don't know what to tell you. Keep doing what you're doing, I guess.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  17. Colin

    A few questions to help analuse how rationally Christians approach $ex.

    Q. 1 I believe that an all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire cosmos and its billions of galaxies, watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty" like protect myself from disease with a condom. I am

    (a) A victim of child molestation

    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover

    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions

    (d) A Christian

    Q.2 I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am

    (a) A gifted psychologist

    (b) A well respected geneticist

    (c) A highly educated sociologist

    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.

    Q.3 The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:

    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;

    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;

    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions as “boots on the ground” to distribute condoms; or

    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    Q4. I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me get the girl/boy I want to marry,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am

    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;

    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly

    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or

    (d) your average Christian

    Q.5 What is it that most differentiates social science and all other intellectual disciplines from Christianity:

    (a) Christianity tells people not only what they should believe, but what they MUST believe under threat of “burning in hell” or other of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;

    (b) Christianity can make a statement, such as “God is comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;

    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas Christianity and its norms about $exual behavior are regional and a person’s Christianity, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than geographical upbringing; or

    (d) All of the above.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • j.

      *applause*

      November 25, 2012 at 8:39 am |

    • Colin is a sex toy. Pull Colin's sex stalk and listen to what comes out of his mouth.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Mandie Grace Taylor

      Colin,

      When you come to realize that God loves you NOW as you ARE – you will get a lot of relief from your inner rage. If Christianity continues to tell you that WHEN you get your act together – God will finally open his arms, the representatives of this faith are not understanding the premier principal of God – through Christ he loves you NOW – but when his love begins to radiate into your personal life- your very personal life- you will make choices reflecting that reality – all other things, people, dogmas, Biblical interpretations – all of that through the long centuries of man – will be a drop in His eternal ocean and in that first eternal moment – won't matter -your needs now matter – Christ addresses need – with Himself – demands – with parabolic events – and refusal – with the end result of free will – even the will to reject Him – when He would have done anything for you to not be rejected.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Mikah

      I see where you're trying to go here, but you have very little understanding of Christianity. Try taking some time to read up on Christ, rather than spending your time developing clever ways to show hate.

      November 25, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Mr. N

      So, again you're building a straw man. You can't seem to argue against solid concepts, so you build a caricature that you can attack. That is so intellectually incompetent that I'm ashamed for you.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • rose

      Well thought out and reasonable questions. The "Christian response" will be that you lack "faith" and an understanding of Christ etc etc....that somehow YOU are defective because their belief is undefensable.
      But the scientists and historians know that the days of religion as an opiate of the masses are numbered. Now that so much data is available to make the unexplained less frightening...and that the historical record has shown that most church doctrine was made up and that even the Jesus birth story/son of god born of a woman etc etc has been recycled in numerous different religions for over 4000 years.....preaching Faith in a fairy tale is a losing proposition.

      A better and more "christian" response would be to believe in love, goodness and tolerence. Then no one will get away with trashing another in the name of some fictional deity. They will have to own up to their own bigoted nature and not blame it on god.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  18. Gaye

    Intimacy yes, but I think the spirituality concept is nonsense.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  19. REDFIREBALL

    Berkshire Cowboys - Obamacare for the Muslim Brotherhood

    November 25, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • timelord7202

      What a pity Obama went to Romney's own advisers to make "Obamacare".

      Even FOX admitted it, as did Forbes and plenty of other sources – regardless of political slant they adhere to.

      Even nonpartisan sources verified the similarities.

      So when you're mocking "Obamacare", you're also mocking the GOP...

      November 25, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  20. REDFIREBALL

    Boston Hot Lips Deval Patti-Poo and Obambi read Gideon – House GOP singing Pink Floyd – Larry Flynt's "Mass Mutual" hot off the Berkshire Love Nest press - W.H. Dinner between two black broken backs

    November 25, 2012 at 8:25 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.