Sex

Question: I have been for several years now struggling with the issue of sex in A Course in Miracles. It seems to me that the Course is telling us to give up sex and romantic relationships, along with physical pleasure. In your article on Mother Mary, there is the sentence "the only valid use of sex is procreation." Is this confirming what I have been suspecting? I am so confused about the topic. Should sex be given up according to the Course? Should it just take place to allow childbirth? If so, does that mean that once we are not having any more children, it should then be relinquished?

Answer: Jesus discussed sex at length in the early dictation of the Course, saying that this is "an area the miracle worker must understand." However, his remarks were progressively stripped out with each editing of the Course, until no direct reference to sex remained. Part of me can understand why. His views on sex challenge our entire orientation toward romance, toward others, and toward the body. In my response to your question (which will be longer than usual for these Q & A's), I will first summarize what Jesus says. Then I will show how it links with the rest of the Course's teaching. And then I will talk about how we ourselves might relate to this difficult teaching. (Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes below are from the Urtext, the manuscript that Bill Thetford typed from Helen Schucman's dictation to him.)

Jesus' view of sex

Jesus aims his main challenge at sex as an end in itself. He does this in a number of ways. First, he challenges the idea that sex can be used to gain closeness with others. "How can man 'come close' to others thru parts of him which are really invisible?" In other words, if the body isn't really there, if it isn't a real part of a person, then how, by getting close to a person's body, am I getting close to the actual person? As an analogy, on a couple of occasions in my teen years, I climbed on my bike in the middle of the night and went and stood outside the house of a girl I had a crush on, feeling somehow close to her in the process. Later, I discovered that it wasn't her house. Jesus is saying a similar thing about sex.

Jesus, however, has far more down-to-earth criticisms. He says that sex (practiced as an end in itself) is actually unloving. It involves "disrespect for the individuality of others." This is because it views another person as a mere object, as a "sex-object," to be used for the sake of our own pleasure. Because this view turns humans into objects, Jesus calls it a "dehumanized view." The real nature of conventional sex, he suggests, is revealed in our sexual fantasies, which treat people like puppets to be thrown about however we please. As a result, sexual fantasies are violations of the saying "Live and let live," which Jesus calls "a very meaningful injunction." By implication, he is saying that sex, too, is a failure to "live and let live," for it disrespects the individuality of others.

More than once Jesus says that sex is not actually pleasurable. "It is not truly pleasurable in itself." It only seems to feel good because we have deluded ourselves into thinking "that pleasure without relating can exist." In his eyes, conventional sex does not involve true relating, true joining. After all, how can one join with an object? This leads to his shocking association of sex with "the sin of Onan"—a biblical reference to masturbation (or so it has traditionally been seen). Jesus is saying that, because of its lack of true relating, conventional sex is essentially masturbation!

Yet what do we do about the sex drive? In our experience, we are saddled with a drive that cries out for expression. When we express it, we find release and thus a kind of peace. When we don't express it, the tension just builds and builds. However, Jesus even criticizes this view. He says that our real drive is the "miracle-drive," an impulse to reach out and join with other minds. However, deep in the unconscious, this gets distorted, twisted into something it's not, after which it surfaces as the sex-drive, an impulse to reach out and join with other bodies. Unfortunately, when we express this pseudo-drive, the real drive (the miracle-drive) remains unexpressed, and this is the real reason that tension keeps building and building. Tension, Jesus says, "can be truly abated only by releasing the miracle-drive, which has been blocked. Converting it to sexual libido merely produces further blocking."

So what on earth do we do? From Jesus' standpoint, we remain constantly on the lookout for attraction to the body of another, and then constantly ready to turn within and ask his help to convert the sex-drive back into the miracle-drive. He gives us the following step-by-step process for doing so (I have placed bullet points next to each step):

Know first that this is an expression of fear. Your love toward each other is not perfect, and this is why the fear arose.
•Turn immediately to me by denying the power of the fear, and ask me to help you to replace it [with] love.
•This shifts the sexual impulse immediately to the miracle-impulse, and places it at My disposal.
•Then acknowledge the true creative worth of both yourself and the other one.

In another place, he says essentially the same thing: "Invite Me to enter anywhere temptation arises. I will change the situation from one of inappropriate sexual attraction to one of impersonal miracle-working."

Once we really succeed at this, our whole orientation toward sex will change. Our attraction to the bodies of others will drop away. We will have no urge to engage in an act in which "both people are perceived essentially as 'objects' fulfilling their own pleasure drives." In its place, we will have an overpowering drive to unite with minds, which will lead us to automatically overlook bodies. We won't just be taking lots of cold showers. The internal mechanism that drives sex will have been pulled up by the roots. No trace of it will exist within us. This is where Jesus sees us as heading. "The underlying mechanism," he says, "must be uprooted."

When we actually reach this point, will there by any valid use for sex that remains? Repeatedly, Jesus says, yes, there will. "The only valid use of sex is procreation." "Sex," he says, "was intended as an instrument for physical creation [for producing new bodies] to enable Souls to embark on new chapters in their experience, and thus improve their record. [It is] not an end in itself." Rather than an end, it is meant to be a means. It is not about the act itself, but about what that act can produce in the world. It is not about the private pleasure of two people, but about how those two can extend blessing beyond themselves. They come together to assist a third, to provide that third with a body, so that it can enter this world and make fresh progress on its journey to the ultimate goal.

This act of service toward the next generation enables the sex partner to make progress on his own journey. "As he made new homes for Souls and guided them thru the period of their own developmental readiness, he learned the role of the father himself." The implication is that by learning "the role of the father," we come closer to the true Father. Overall, then, both parents and children gain from this kind of sex. "The whole process was set up as a learning experience in gaining Grace." This is why Jesus can say, "The sex impulse is a miracle impulse when it is in a proper focus." In his view, it really is possible for the miracle-drive to express through sex.

This orientation can even be the source of our initial attraction to our partner. Jesus describes the selection of partners in this way: "One individual sees is another the right partner for 'procreating the stock' (Wolff [psychiatrist Charlotte Wolff] was not too far off here), and also for their joint establishment of a creative home." Ideally, then, we are attracted to someone because we sense the potential to join with that person in establishing a home that, through its children, can bless the world. We are attracted to what we can give with that person, not to what we can get. Jesus adds, "If I am asked to participate in the decision, the decision will be a Right one, too."

How this relates to the Course as a whole

This entire view, from start to finish, is so radically different than our conventional view that we have to wonder if it is consonant with the rest of the Course. Perhaps, for instance, it was edited out of the published Course because it was considered to be one long scribal error, a simple case of Helen hearing incorrectly. Much as I'd like to believe that, I personally don't think it's true. For one, this material wasn't taken out all at once, it was taken out progressively. More came out with each editing pass. To me, this indicates Helen's discomfort with the material, rather than a conscious decision that the material itself was in error. For another, Jesus directly states that it is crucial instruction for the miracle worker: "I want to finish the instructions about sex, because this is an area the miracle worker must understand."

Finally, if this material seems to grate against the rest of the Course, then I don't think we have read the rest of the Course very carefully. The fact is that this material has clear and specific echoes in the Course's views on special relationships, the body, pleasure, and, yes, sex. Just like the sex material, the Course sees special relationships as a case in which we are essentially alone in the midst of apparent joining: "An unholy relationship is no relationship. It is a state of isolation which seems to be what it is not" (T-20.VI.8:3-4). The Course says that in special relationships we use others as if they were objects: "[The two partners] come together, each to complete himself and rob the other" (T-22.In.2:6). The Course, like the sex material, is not a great advocate of physical pleasure: "It is impossible to seek for pleasure through the body and not find pain" (T-19.IV(B).12:1). In regard to sexual attraction, the Course speaks disparagingly of being attracted to other people's bodies, looking forward to the day " when the body ceases to attract you" (T-15.IX.7:1). It speaks in similarly negative terms of using one's own body to attract others: "Would you employ this hated thing [your body] to draw your brother to you, and to attract his body's eyes?" (T-20.II.1:4). The published Course also contains a clear reference to sex, one that can hardly be called positive: "While you believe that bodies can unite, you will find guilt attractive and believe that sin is precious" (T-19.III.7:2).

The Course even includes an instruction that is strikingly similar to the process we saw in which we notice an attraction to someone's body and then turn to Jesus for release. Here it is: "The Holy Spirit asks only this little help of you: Whenever your thoughts wander to a special relationship which still attracts you, enter with Him into a holy instant, and there let Him release you" (T-16.VI.12:1). Look closely at this exercise. We are actually asking to be released from our attraction to someone. I'll never forget guiding a group through this exercise. I felt as if the entire room turned into one big brick wall. You could cut the resistance with a knife.

If we have read the Course, we have read all of these passages. Did we not catch their import? Did we not notice what a radical challenge they issued to life as we know it?

What do we do with this information?

This leads me to my own reflections on what we might do with this information. We first need to see it in context. The Course as a whole is calling us to an incredibly high place. The material on sex is just one example of that. It is important that we have some respect for how very high the Course is asking us to go, as well as respect for where we currently are. The fact is that we are not to going be raising the dead (T-1.I.24:1) anytime soon. We are not going to become impervious to weather and aging (W-pI.136.18:3) tomorrow. Likewise, we are not going to instantly uproot our attraction to other bodies and reconvert that to our true attraction to the Christ in them. And that's all right. That's where we are. And as the Course says, " God takes you where you are and welcomes you" (M-26.4:10).

So I think we start with a healthy acknowledgment of where we are ultimately heading and a healthy respect for where we currently are. And then we just start putting one foot in front of the other. How do we do that in this case? I think one way is to observe the self-centeredness that is inherent in our physical drives, and then observe the suffering that is inherent in our self-centeredness. Another way is to observe the fact that real joining transcends the body, being a matter of the mind, and then notice that the real joining of minds is far more fulfilling than the pseudo-joining of bodies. And then we can gradually shift our focus from the second to the first.

Inevitably, as we take these steps on the inside, we will face questions of what to do on the outside. Do we choose this person as our partner? Do we have sex? Do we give up sex? As always, the Course gives one way to answer all such questions: Ask the Holy Spirit. He knows us well. It is unlikely that He will give us a step that is greater than we can bear.

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5 Comments

  1. Cynthia
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Perry,
    I thought that your article on Sex was very comprehensive. I thought that at the end of the article you made an important point, where you said to have a healthy respect for where we currently are, for obviously that is the only place from which we can take our next step.
    I therefore think that it is also important to note that as we try to be 'good' Course students and follow Jesus' teachings that we not go to the other extreme and feel guilty because we do feel sexual desire and are having trouble 'translating' it to 'miracle impulses.' We may even go so far as throwing our physical relationship partners 'out the window' because we believe that it is not 'holy' or what Jesus wants.
    I think the teachings of the Course should be applied to this 'compartment' or 'aspect' of our lives as well. Just as it is our goal to see our brothers with the eyes of forgiveness, we try to constantly remind ourselves that the separation has not occurred and that we are the same in our Fathers love.
    Following the Coursed''s precepts then, as we strive to look on all with the love of our Creator, the world becomes a reflection of that love. So too in our personal relationships. For as we change our outlooks and our interpretations of the relationship, it will take on a different luster, the deep abiding love of the Holy Spirit that loves all as One.
    On the other hand, if we are having sex to selfishly satisfy ourselves physically with no regard for our partner, or out of guilt or obligation, or just as an unemotional physical release, then we are in the ego mind / worldly consciousness. In other words, we need to be vigilent about our motives at all times and in every aspect of our lives.
    With that being said, I believe sex can be one expression of love for the One Son, our partners and our Creator. Just as this world mirrors our outlooks and state of mind, the act of sex can be reflected in our right mind as a holy relationship. Sex can be another aspect of love that is expressed between partners that reflects our Fathers Love, as we walk together hand in hand to our True Home.
    As you said before, our jumping off point could only be from where we are, and as we try to understand what real joining of our minds means, we strive to shift our focus so that every aspect of our lives can / should / will reflect the holiness of our Creators Love. We live our lives in this manner until that time that we are lifted up into His Embrace, for we see all as He does and we know that we are One.
    In Light
    Cynthia

  2. Mary Benton
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Robert,
    Having sent feedback on this subject before, I will summarise my position here. I don't believe all the unpublished material is completely flawless. For a start the talk about procreation as the only valid use of sex fails in its own terms. Moreover the references to homosexuality, for example, are to say the least, an incomplete account of the subject. Ken Wapnick suggests that Helen's personal biases were involved on this subject and others in the early material.
    I think the early sections of the Urtext are a mixed bag. To wring our hands on the subject of sex based on this material is misguided in my opinion. Sex like everything else we experience here is mostly ego stuff. What to do? Practice the Course and apply it to all aspects of our lives. I don't believe the editors took out this material because it was threatening to our egos (the whole Course is threatening to our egos). I believe it was removed because it was misleading and incomplete.
    Mary

  3. Peter
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Hey I just want to say I really like Robert Perry's article on sex and I think the explanation is a pretty good one. One way that I have found to understand what the Course means by "sexual impulses" and "miracle impulses" is to take a step back and look into the psychology of the Course, as it can be understood through psychoanalytic theory. Of course, there is no reason NOT to do this, because themes from psychoanalysis are very prevalent in the Course. The urtext in fact mentions specifically Freud, Jung and Adler a number of times, and talks about the unconscious, sublimation, libido, etc.
    Anyway, we know that psychoanalystic theory, in Freud's view, culture and civilization was the result of the sublimation of sexual libido, and could all be traced back to sexuality in the unconscious. For Freud, the instinct of sexuality was primary. But as the urtext also says, Freud's view was distorted on a number of points.
    One of the principle distinctions between Freud and Jung is that Jung affirmed man's spiritual reality. Jung actually viewed libido as "energy itself," which can be channeled through sexuality, but not neccesarily originating in sex. It can also just as easily be fixated in other instincts, like hunger… Yet it can also be sublimated (Jung called it "canalization") to a higher level. The Course makes this distinction too, saying that the miracle impulse is actually the original form of the sexual impulse, not the other way around.
    Jung said Christianity, through the symbol of baptism, rebirth and the descent of the Holy Ghost – i.e, helped to RAISE this libido to a higher level, similar to A Course in Miracles. What Jung in essence said is that the symbol offers an "analogue" of the libido instinct, mimics it, and tranfers it to a higher spiritual level, just in the same way that a powerdam mediates higher to lower, or a steam engine converts heat to steam pressure to motion. The spiritual symbol converts libido trapped unconsciously in the "incestuous sexual bond" to its spiritual "analogue" through the symbol, capturing its energy and offering it a steeper gradient than the instinctual one.
    I know that is a very brief explanation but you might be interested in doing a bit more research on it. I think that it might definitly clarify a view things for Course students who really have no way to conceptualize what the Course is talking about. But when it is put into these psychoanalytic terms, perhaps they could gain a better understanding. You can find out more about this in Jung's books on "On Psychic Energy."
    I also found Jung's theory on alchemy another way in which we see this symbolic process happen. Alchemist's of course sought to transform base lead into gold—Jung interprets this to mean they projected their own psyche onto matter and saw the spiritual transformation which was in reality going on inside them. As we say, we "sublimate" or "cannalize" our libido to a higher form… These all relate back to the symbolic transformations of alchemy.
    May not be of interest to everyone, but perhaps for a few.
    Peter.

  4. John
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I just want to say that I found the qna on sex by Robert Perry to be deeply humbling & innately beautiful if not a bit surprising. I have for some years now been a bit wary of the "special relationship" & this article just reconfirmed my intuition about the matter.
    I also came up against a certain amount of resistance when the article suggested that I release my attraction to the opposite sex, which, I must admit, is just as much the body of the person as much as anything else.
    The end of the article brought tears to my eyes with the compassion & understanding of The Course. To quote;
    "We are not going to become impervious to weather and aging (W-pI.136.18:3) tomorrow. Likewise, we are not going to instantly uproot our attraction to other bodies and reconvert that to our true attraction to the Christ in them. And that's all right. That's where we are. And as the Course says, " God takes you where you are and welcomes you" (M-26.4:10). So I think we start with a healthy acknowledgment of where we are ultimately heading and a healthy respect for where we currently are. And then we just start putting one foot in front of the other."
    This really took the sting out of it for me & brought me to a place of great understanding & compassion for myself & others.
    So I thank you very much for your help here, you are doing good work in the world, in fact, you made my day…..Bless you.
    Love & Light,
    —John.

  5. Scott Perry
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Perry,
    I have read your article on how ACIM treats sex, and I thought you might be interested in my article on the same subject at: What Do the ACIM and Helen's Original Shorthand notes Have to Say about Sex?. I thought you might be particularly interested in the section of my article titled, "Thus far, the fully miracle-minded use of sex has only occurred once." I must say that I very much appreciate and am an avid reader of your commentaries and teachings on ACIM and I thought that my one little observation on this topic in my article might be of a little interest to you.
    In Jesus' one statement about his own physical "conception", as quoted in my article, he seems to me to be attempting to strongly caution us about our sexual behavior. By this one statement, Jesus appears to me be be indicating that the act of pro-creation as we understand it, is not inherently good or bad in and of itself. Judging by the fact that Jesus himself is not likely to have ever have had any offspring, I think that it would be safe to say that Jesus probably does not see the act of pro-creation, as being a "necessary act" in the pursuit of our spiritual growth. As with any other physical act, in and of itself, it is essentially meaningless. As always, it is only our own inward ability to recognize the inherent goodness and wholeness of self and others, in all circumstances, that has any true meaning. As with all other activities in this world, it is not the activity itself that has the ability to free us from our fears, but only the recognition of true love that may or may not be accomplished by us during the activity that frees us.
    If you might have any comments on my article, they would be most appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read this email (and hopefully my article).
    A fellow student of ACIM,
    —Scott
    PS: Though we share the same last name, I don't think we are very closely related (gene-wise) in so far as I know.

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