Pleasure, Sex, Guilt, and God

I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.

—Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

This may be a questionable post for some of my readers, though I think it is something most of us have struggled with at some point in our lives or still do. And I’m going to be frank in this post, so feel free to skip it if talking about sex and religion isn’t for you…

I was talking to a friend about what God thinks of watching gay porn and/or pleasuring ourselves. While I think we all desire relationships, intimacy, and connection, we still have carnal desires. The word often connotes an action or manifestation of a person’s lower nature derogatorily. Carnal is sometimes applied to any gratification of a bodily desire or pleasure but commonly implies sexual appetite with the absence of the spiritual or intellectual. It also stresses the physical as distinguished from the rational nature of a person. However, why should the word carnal have such negative connotations? 

The primary theme of 1 Corinthians concerns the actions, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of spiritual (Gk., pneumatikois) people versus the fleshly or carnal (Gk., sarkinois) people. First Corinthians 3:1-4 says, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” Paul seeks to teach the Corinthians an understanding of both ways of living.

On the one hand, spiritual living does not mean that a person rejects the material world and engages in practices that make one appear more spiritual to others. Instead, the spiritual person is a mature Christian who knows that all things in life are good, pleasing, and holy if accepted with thanks. True spirituality is shown through love and service toward others rather than through ecstatic experiences.

The carnal person, then, is the opposite of the spiritual person. The carnal person may appear to be quite “spiritual” and religious, but they cannot grasp, understand, or practice the greater truths of Christianity which lead us to lay down our lives for others in love and service to them. The carnal or fleshly person is not necessarily one who gives in to the passions and lusts of the flesh but is rather one who thinks that the chills and thrills of ecstatic religion make them superior to others. God desires us to be happy because happy people will serve him better. Think of the bitter Christians who want to push their own perverted morality on everyone. Their hearts are full of hate, and they are miserable people. Instead of serving God, they are serving their own selfishness and despair.

Too often, we are made to feel guilty about our sexuality, and this goes for heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals alike. We are told that sex is dirty and wrong; it should only be done for procreation, etc. Growing up, we were given a certain message about gay people that clashed with what was often our growing understanding of our own sexuality. These hate-filled beliefs make many people question their faith and their very lives. The guilt thrust upon us can be devastating and have long-lasting, even eternal, harm to our souls. If we were nurtured instead of damned by others, we could live happy, healthy lives, but those who are bitter, hateful, and judgmental don’t want us to live happy lives. They want us to be as miserable as they are.

When I started realizing I like guys, my desire for relationship, intimacy, and connection also shattered my preconceived notions about what being gay meant. At first, I could not understand my sexuality. All the other guys I knew were talking about girls, and all I could think about was them. Even before I understood I was gay, I dreamt and fantasized about sex with other guys. To put it bluntly, I wanted to not just kiss and hold and be held by another guy; I wanted to have sex with another man. At first, I did not understand all the mechanics of it, but in a way, I did. I seemed to instinctively understand what I wanted to do sexually with a guy. It took me many years to come to terms with being gay and realize how good being gay can be.

For all the talk about love, romance, connection, union, covenant… all great things, to be sure, I want to make sure that we don’t lose track of the carnal pleasures that come with being gay. I used to feel incredibly guilty about masturbation. I hated myself after every time I did it. It did not help that it was almost always to the thought of another guy. I had been taught that two guys being together was wrong and masturbation was sinful no matter your sexuality. When I was in school, guys who jerked off were seen as losers, though I know now that even those who said and acted that way were at home playing with themselves until they reached climax. It was just that no one admitted it. And wasn’t that why we felt such shame at being called fag, faggot, gay, queer, sissy, etc.? We were taught to deny who we are for someone else’s idea of masculinity. 

My ideas of masculinity have definitely changed over the years. I have had sex with men, a few women, and some transgender men before. Obviously, sex with women was not my thing. However, with a few bad exceptions, I have always enjoyed sex with men, whether they be cisgender or transgender. Someone once told me that dating a transgender man made me straight because he was not a “real” man since he was not born with a penis. You may agree or disagree, but the trans men I dated were far more of a man than many heterosexual men I know, especially those who are homophobic and insecure in their sexuality. The truth is that life is more complex than a simple binary understanding of things, especially sexuality and gender.

First Peter 3:8-12 says:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For

    “He who would love life
    And see good days,
    Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
    And his lips from speaking deceit.
    Let him turn away from evil and do good;
    Let him seek peace and pursue it.
    For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    And His ears are open to their prayers;
    But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

I think sex and the enjoyment of others make us happier and more accepting of ourselves if we don’t put the stigma of shame to it. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” I believe that as long as you are not hurting anyone else or yourself, that God does not have a problem with it. When I was first coming to terms with being gay, I explored porn (I still watch it sometimes); I masturbated to that porn and to fantasies about being with other men; and eventually, I had those experiences with other men. When things went wrong in my life, I used to think God was punishing me for watching or even possessing porn, adult toys, or just being gay. However, a preacher I knew used to say that we are not punished in this life for things we do. If we are punished, it will be in the afterlife. That being said, I see nothing wrong with self-pleasure or the material we use to stimulate that self-pleasure as long as it does not hurt others. I also see nothing wrong with fulfilling our sexual desires if it does not hurt anyone else.

I no longer feel the guilt I once did and don’t regret what I did. At least I don’t regret enjoying myself. We’ve probably all been with someone we regretted being with, but for other reasons. I think it’s a natural part of life, and too many people impose their beliefs about morality on others. The only time I feel bad is when I think of the addictions some of these guys in porn have that draw them to performing in porn to finance. There are too many stories of suicide or overdose by sex workers, and it always saddens me to see such a beautiful life end like that, just as it saddens me when any life ends. There are numerous reasons people begin to do porn. For some, it’s finances; for others, it’s an addiction they want to finance. There are many other personal reasons. I knew of one pay porn star who did porn to fund his transition to being female. However, nowadays, many men do porn because they enjoy showing off, and maybe that’s vanity, but it is also not hurting anyone. 

So, I enjoy having sex with other men or watching porn and jerking off without the guilt I used to associate with it. It has made me much more emotionally and mentally stable by letting go of that guilt; honestly, I think God is good with that. If He’s not, then He is not the God I believe in. I believe in a God that wants us to be happy. Self-torture because we allow someone else to impose their morality on us is not God’s way. It is man’s way. If you feel that sex, masturbation, porn, etc. have gotten out of hand in your life, that it is harming you in some way, or has become an addiction, then find a way to let it go, but if you are not causing yourself or anyone else any harm, then I think you should be assured that God looks down on you and smiles. For God loves us, just the way we are. Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 says, “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I?”

As gay men, we have to be more vigilant about sex: STIs like syphilis are on the rise and Monkeypox is spreading through the gay community. While PrEP can be very effecting in preventing HIV infection, it is only effective in preventing HIV infection. Just because you are on PrEP does not mean you are invulnerable. When it comes to sex: be sane, be sensible, and be safe. Have fun and enjoy yourself!

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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