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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. REDFIREBALL

    The Holy GOP will not let Obambi-Poo squeeze small biz between a union rock and big corp hard place :)

    November 25, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • lionlylamb

      How long did it take for someone to finally look inwards upon this physical body of ours by taking on a scientific journey toward finally understanding our body-like buildings of Godly intentions? If it weren't for the daringly curious lots, there would be no such things as our modern day scientific understandings. The will to dream dreamt dreaming is what we dividedly do least and only in the sparsity of dreamt dreaming issues did we come of Age in the enlightenments of science and its ongoing understandings of spirituality to be so as dreamt dreams of daytime believer dreamers daring to dream the dreams of one's lifetimes!

      November 25, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  2. caryn williams

    I absolutely agree with Shannon Ethridge and her theory I believe it and I'm glad to see someone else gets it too. Thanks!

    November 25, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  3. Yup

    Wow... nice article. For those of you who are simple minded you cannot understand this article because it attacks your lifestyle and uncovers guilt. However, for serious minded people this article speak great truths of humanity.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • logic hurts

      I have zero guild and am not apart of your religious cult. You place "guilt" and blame where there is none to place. Get real dude. Accept the fact that some people live in reality where space wizards don't exist.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • jk

      An overtly bigoted response that reflects the masked bigotry of the article.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  4. Laurie

    This is essentially the difference between love and lust. I would recommend Theology of the Body for those who don't understand what that means.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Merlin66

      There is no difference between love and lust. It's all brain chemistry.

      November 25, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  5. logic hurts

    I'm a very open atheist, and this article is laughable.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • mumfordfan

      I marvel at how you atheists think yourselves intellectually superior, but I have not found a one of you who can successfully defend your proposition in debate. You guys come across as angry, self-righteous (note the irony), and not all that smart. Words like "laughable" and "dopy" are not reasonable refutations. Therefore, if you're going to take the time to post, you might want to do a better job representing your point of view.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Justin

      Likewise. I understand and appreciate the value of faith and religion to people of all backgrounds and all levels of intelligence. This article, however, simply attempts to claim a monopoly (for theism and religion) on the search for meaning and human closeness.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • logic hurts

      I, for one, would delighted to tear your space wizard cult theories apart. The bible makes zero sense. It promotes genocide, infanticide, genital mutilation, thinks slavery is 100% A OK. Let's move on to Jesus. The first credible source for the existence of anyone named Jesus occurred in 288 AD by Greek historians. Why did it take almost 300 years for records of this persons life to exist? Why have miracles basically ceased to exist since cameras and video recording were invented? Google Neil Degrasse Tyson "Stupid Design". 99% of the entire universe will kill all life INSTANTLY. How was that designed for humans, let alone any other life forms? Evolution is so easily seen. Google "Peppered English Moth". This one example proves evolution. It changed color in short generation spans because the pollution turned leaves from red to gray. The moths turned from red to gray. When new pollution controls were enacted the leaves went back to red. Guess what? So did the moths.

      Your move....

      November 25, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Mr. N

      I can see how logic is hurting you, or rather, the lack thereof. Tell us, Mr. "logic", why are you logged into a forum about belief if you don't believe? And tell us exactly how are you planning on winning anyone to your arguments by insulting them? Is that the "logic" you purport to exemplify?

      Do you have anything new to say, or are the regurgitated, tired, unimaginative, straw men arguments that have become the staple of in-your-face atheism the only thing you've got? Can you show us that you have any shred of original thought?

      November 25, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Merlin66

      A much more reasonable explanation for the spiritual experience is that it was installed in us by mindless evolution. It makes us more obedient to tribal leaders and more cooperative with each other.

      If there are any gods, none of them have made themselves known to me despite decades of searching.
      If anyone survives death, no one has come back to tell me about it.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • mumfordfan

      For the record, "Mumford fan" is a reference to Marcus Mumford, lead singer of "Mumford & Sons." Moving along . . . It is obvious that the "Existence Of God" debate is a philosophical in nature, not spiritual. Pertaining to origins, therefore, you have one of two options: (1) Either something came from something, or (2) Something came from nothing. It really is as simple as that. Forget about Jesus and the Bible and the Koran and all that. That murkies the water in this debate. We are merely trying to establish as to whether or not a being of higher intellect that transcends all space and time exists. Call it God. Refer to "it" as a deity if you must. Call it a "he" or a "she" if that works for you. All I know is that something (especially something as vastly complex as this mind-boggling universe) cannot come from nothing. It just cannot. Furthermore, I am not arrogant enough to think that my inability to comprehend something makes it "not so." I have zero clue how in the world I click a button on a remote, and in an instant I am watching a live report of something happening 5,000 miles away. My lack of ability to comprehend that, though, does not nullify it at all. That just means that I don't comprehend it.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • LinCA

      @mumfordfan

      You said, "All I know is that something (especially something as vastly complex as this mind-boggling universe) cannot come from nothing. It just cannot."
      How, exactly do you "know" this? How exactly does this supernatural, higher intelligent being that "must" have created it all, came to be?

      You said, "Furthermore, I am not arrogant enough to think that my inability to comprehend something makes it "not so.""
      Yet you seem to be claiming to "know" something for which you have zero evidence.

      You said, "I have zero clue how in the world I click a button on a remote, and in an instant I am watching a live report of something happening 5,000 miles away. My lack of ability to comprehend that, though, does not nullify it at all."
      There are science books available that will explain this. You can start with the basics that even a 10 year old can comprehend. If you have the ability, you can go beyond that and learn the details. It isn't rocket science.

      You said, "That just means that I don't comprehend it."
      That seems to be the governing theme here. You seem to fall into the standard believer trap of claiming "goddidit", when reaching the limit of your understanding.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  6. David

    What a dopy article.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • mumfordfan

      What is "dopy" about it? That is not a very intellectual commentary?

      November 25, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Merlin66

      Mumford Fan: What Mumford are you a fan of. Are you referring to the author Lewis Mumford?

      November 25, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  7. Doesn't care

    CNN now has more gratuitous religion based articles than they do gay based articles.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  8. REDFIREBALL

    GOP Romans should chain Obambi-Poo to the Isle of Patmos - Visions of Muslim Brotherhood Fire and Western Declination dancing in his head

    November 25, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  9. dvz

    I think this article, author, and book are probably a good fit for women. They seem to be much less so for men. Men need to orgasm, so they do what they have to do, with their hand, current stab, or love of their life. They want to fall in love, be in love, have soul-deep intimacy (on at least a semi-daily basis), but in lieu of that, they need to get 'er done.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  10. lionlylamb

    God in His beginnings from All of Cosmologies timeliness were and are and ever will be timelessly; a fomidable challenge for folks to grab a rationlly dreamt dreaming toward lucidly holding a mental breadths upon. From God willing the Celestialized Cosmos into existance to any and all cellular cosmologies 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 selective singularities in sublime renditionings of personalized orders or the rather chaotic gathering points for celled creatures to so begin upon any celestial body of rightly orientated planetary motions is but a feat of rooted grand designs and indentured husbandries!

    Long before this earth was made whole as it now is, it was but a rockiness hodgepodge amid the Great Sea of Nothingness. Thru the advent of timeliness did the hodgepodge earth become made maleable with the intensity of soluble gatherings. In the earth's coming age of firey inclemencies tht did rudimentally come to bear and bewail the earthly atmosphere where then came all the seeds brought forth by God and His Sons and Daughters thru their infinitely finite physical beings of ever so very small size. Above wiseness regards were the legitimate Sons and Daughters of God but not without their Life being forlorn and yes even perilous!

    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!"

    I prefer to understand the physical makeup of our point within the vast Cosmos to be formed from a steadied state of constant fluxuations much like one's breath that breathes in and breathes out. The Cosmos, in my views are of immeasurable amounts of declared universes far too numerous to ever be realized in fullness let alone photographed by telescopic magnification.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Jack M

      Although beautifully written, still a load of bs.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Palustris

      Plagiarize much?

      November 25, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Palustris,

      The only words I plagiarize are of the Jewish based gospels. And you? Plagiarize of lateness?

      November 25, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Gary

      Your post reminds me of an old quip about essays. They should be short enough to keep it interesting but long enough to cover the subject. Being wordy for the sake of being wordy doesn't lend any credit to your overall point.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Jack M.,

      I did once use the name, God's Oldest Dreamer but alas the name theives got the better of my wanted so name! I chose lionlylamb in the blueness namesakes so no one can steal my namesakes colored amalgam. As for my words being 'bs' did not many passings of highly acclaimed beings of astuteness; dream the dreamtnesses of many so dreamy conflagrations of dreaminess dreamt reasonings into rationed realities? Just a thought potency to consider and dwell upon,,,, :-) :-( :-)

      November 25, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Gary,

      I could no more shorten my worded essays then your being concise in your worded understandings of inner cosmologies affects upon the quantum rythms of outward outer spaced cosmologies while in their midsts resides living cellularized cosmologies of demonstrative seeded regularisms irregardless their crops yeilding phenoms! Yes? Not? If not then why not?

      November 25, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  11. Merlin66

    Intimacy is not all that pleasant, actually. No one will ever hurt you as much as the people you love will hurt you.

    No one will ever hate you as much as your ex-wife, who once loved you.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • RightOnTheMoney

      Much truer words than this article!

      November 25, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Vince

      Well said!

      November 25, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  12. REDFIREBALL

    DEAR POTUS-POO: Deval Patrick and Susan rice found Gideon and will join the Congress Holy Choir: "Everyone wants to go to Heaven but no one wants to die"?

    November 25, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • k

      Can you stay on topic please? What is your problem?

      November 25, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  13. lol

    want intimacy stick 2 fingers in her butt when you go down on her

    November 25, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • mumfordfan

      Wow! You need a lesson or two on how to be "smooth," Dude. That is about as base as it gets.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  14. Gordon

    Some years ago I wrote a series of articles on this topic for a major European magazine. After a great deal of intense research I concludedI that the break-down in societal relationships was first evidenced in discos, where people danced six feet from one aanother and never touched..

    November 25, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  15. sybaris

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

    She had it half right. Vanity, thy name is woman.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  16. Merlin66

    The spiritual experience is a creation of mindless evolution. It helped tribes of humans survive. It made them more cooperative with each other and more obedient to tribal leaders.

    It has no purpose in the 21st century.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • k

      Really? We are constantly searching, striving for something, e.g. our constant search to understand our world (most recently through science and mathematics). Why? What about us makes us so restless? What makes us be so discontented? There is the possibility (I hope you would acknowledge) that there is something deeper than that which we can physically touch in front of us.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Merlin66

      If there are gods, none of them have ever spoken to me or appeared to me.

      If people survive death, none of them have ever come back to tell me about it.

      November 25, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  17. REDFIREBALL

    Unions will sing the "Patti-Poo Berkshire Blues" to Congress if Obambi-Poo cannot raise taxes -House GOP knows it

    November 25, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  18. lol??

    The default for humanoids is having a god. When they can't find one they nominate themselves.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  19. What

    She has not read all three books, it is obvious by her comments. The big question is why would CNN put this on their home page!

    November 25, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  20. (sigh)

    Sounds like Shannon needs to get laid properly – deep and spiritually speaking, of course.

    November 25, 2012 at 9:07 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.