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.