Here’s one of many Urban Dictionary definitions of hooking up:
To engage in romantic/sexual activity with another at a party/gathering. Usually, one or both partners are under the influence of alcohol, or another judgement [sic] impairing drug. “Hooking up” usually involves little or no emotional attachment.
I consider hooking up to be casual sex outside of an expressed committed relationship. We’ll look at the broader idea — not just the frat version — but I thought the definition was interesting.
Setting faith aside for a moment, we’ve got some decent secular sexual code of ethics to work with. I’m thinking about the basic BDSM rule of thumb, play should be “safe, sane, and consensual.” Or Dan Savage’s good, giving, and game (GGG). Per Wikipedia, GGG “means one should strive to be good in bed, giving “equal time and equal pleasure” to one’s partner, and game “for anything – within reason.”
When considering any kind of sexual intimacy with another, I think everybody should ask themselves if their actions are safe, sane, and consensual and try, as best one can, to be GGG, as well. For instance, if you’re too intoxicated, can you really be safe and sane?
But should Christians add anything to these rules?
The basic rule of humanity is Do No Harm. Or maybe even Don’t be a Jerk. But what does my faith add to the intrinsic way that I see and interact with the world? It all comes back to love: how can I best love myself and others in this situation?
GGG is loving: Giving equal time and pleasure affirms the importance of both (or all) individuals in the interaction. But it doesn’t necessarily center love which, as Christians, I think we need to do.
But how does on center love? Certainly not through rules. Putting too many regulations on how to love weakens its potency. Love needs to be situational. It’s an instinct. It requires listening to one’s heart, humility, trial and error.
Sometimes you learn by experiencing what isn’t loving.
Over a year ago, I went on a date with a guy who seemed to really like me. He kept telling me I had a “light in my eyes.” He was very kind. But I just wasn’t interested. Instead of telling him that, I slept with him. I treated sex very casually. It was easier to go through the motions of sex than it was to be honest with him.
And I was probably lonely. I was on Tinder a lot back then.
Afterwards, he drove me home, still talking about the light in my eyes. Neither of us reached out again — I think he was leaving it up to me.
What went wrong wasn’t about the hookup. It was my attitude going into it. I know, because I’ve had hookups that have felt loving and, perhaps, even centered love.
A few weeks ago, I slept with a man I’d just met who was visiting Chicago for work. I went back to his hotel with him after a couple of hours of conversation that left both of us feeling excited about each other. It wasn’t just a physical attraction. He told me I had a good heart, and I told him later that like attracts like. There was no obligation for sex to be anything more than that. But afterwards we agreed that our bodies worked well together and that we were grateful to have met each other.
Why did our interaction feel loving? For starters, I think we both left feeling good about ourselves. The intention to care for the other was obvious, even if the care was meant to be simply “in the moment.” I hope to see him again, but if I never get the chance, I’ll still consider the time I shared with him to be meaningful.
He made me feel desirable not just because of my body, but because he liked the glimpse I gave him of my heart. And making someone feel good about themselves is such an amazing gift to be able to offer. I hope I gave him the same gift. And, for me, when it’s unexpected — like it was with my out-of-town lover—I’m inclined to cherish it that much more.
In her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, religious scholar Margaret Farley argues that people should be treated as ends and not as means including “respecting their capacities and needs for relationship.” This, I think, is how we love each other.
Casual sex can numb a person to the immense powerful potential sex has to offer. This happens when we use others for sexual gratification or when we don’t see each other as much as we see what another person can offer us. I’m wary when sex becomes mechanical — a thing to do out of habit. For that matter, sex between two people who are married can be just as soul-numbing as sex between strangers.
But ANY consensual, love-centered sex can be rich, powerful, meaningful, worthwhile.
In Good Christian Sex, United Church of Christ minister Bromleigh McCleneghan quotes Religious Studies Professor Christine Gudorf who says:
When sex is not segregated from the rest of our lives, the pleasure of orgasm can reach far beyond the moment of intense pleasure itself, and change, a little at a time, the way we relate to our partner, and even to the larger society and the world. It can encourage us to trust more, to be willing to risk more, to reach out to others in love.
Cuddling, BDSM, looking into someone’s eyes, kissing individuals I’ve just met and may never see again and loved ones I’ve cared about for years … all have changed how I see the world. I’ve been wounded, burned, and healed countless times over.
So should Christians hook up?
I think we should do what is safe, sane, and consensual. We should strive to be GGG. And we should follow our hearts and the Spirit that moves through us and speaks to us in whispers and dreams and longing and teaches us how to best love one another and ourselves.
Next blog post: Casual sex: My Queer Lense.