Sex and holiness.

I was speaking to a group of rabbinical students yesterday, and after the talk I was challenged by a young rabbi-to-be. He said that while I talked about sex being safe, consensual and fun, I had left out all references to it being “meaningful” or “holy.”

He was partially correct. I struggle with what it means to have sex be a “holy” experience, although I believe it can be one of the most transcendent and meaningful experiences one can ever have. I struggle because having been raised in a fairly religious environment, I saw firsthand how much damage can be done by putting the full weight of holiness on the experience. I struggle because I think that there can be moments of holiness in sex, but that trying to make every sexual experience “meaningful” is both unrealistic and a set up for failure. I struggle because while I think sex in a specific context (within a committed relationship for example) is in and of itself a holy act, I am not at all sure exactly what that means for the action of sex itself.

In truth, when he was talking about holiness, he was arguing using language that I would define as “mutual.” Sex should not be a selfish act; it should not be all about one person’s pleasure but about considering the other person in the equation. And I agree whole-heartedly, but I’m just not sure that ultimately defines “holiness”.

In a practical way, I believe Judaism, the religion I’m most familiar with, defines any sexual activity between a husband and wife as holy because it is taking place within a sanctified relationship. It doesn’t require any special thought or intent or limit to the type of activity. It just is holy by definition. But I think for many people that may take the romance out of the concept of holiness.

I guess when I think about holiness I often think about transcendence, moving beyond yourself and perhaps the other person you are with to reach and connect, in some way, with a higher being, power, G-d.

I suppose that does happen sometimes during sex, but I would argue that it is a rare occurrence, and not especially one that would be useful to try for on a regular basis. That’s a large burden for a sexual relationship to carry, especially if you want to encourage regular, ongoing sex. So perhaps holy sex is something we can strive for or even something you just remain open to…and then if you’re lucky sometimes your sex life can become an entry way into something deeper and more profound.

In the end this is something I struggle with. What is “holy sex?” I’m not really sure and I’d love readers thoughts on this.

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