A divorced friend has a crush on a mutual, Upper West Side friend and if he could sleep with someone with no repercussions – no pregnancy, or unattractive sexually transmitted diseases or guilt, she’s the one it would be. What … Read More

By / January 20, 2009

A divorced friend has a crush on a mutual, Upper West Side friend and if he could sleep with someone with no repercussions – no pregnancy, or unattractive sexually transmitted diseases or guilt, she’s the one it would be. What about you, he asks me.

I tend to not like these theoretical questions because they imply that I would welcome such an opportunity–which I wouldn’t–but it is an interesting dilemma. As if I might be pressed into making a choice of candidates sometime soon, I clarify the parameters with my friend. Exactly what kind of a make-believe one-night-stand am I walking into? I don’t have to have a relationship and nobody gets hurt and the sex will be good? Yes, yes, and yes.

Okay. So, if everything else were off the table, and it were only about having sex once, let’s see, who would it be? I have to think for a while because this is like asking me what kind of chocolate I would have if I were guaranteed not to get fat – should I go for sweet or intense or foreign or maybe…the possibilities boggle. I want to define the terms further, so I ask does the person have to be alive? No, he could be dead, my friend says. Oh, good. (There are just not enough men alive today to choose from. I need the entire scope of history at my disposal. And I like older men.)

So then I think and think and maybe I’m chickening out, or I lack the imagination required to pick somebody from this world, (or maybe I like really unattainable men, like dead ones in oh-so-last-year’s tunics), but it’s a tie between Moses and Jesus (why settle for Josiah when I could have the biggies?). But here’s where men and women are totally different: the reason my friend wants to have sex with this woman is because of, well, sex; I, however, doubt that either of the objects of my affection is particularly hot, but I view sex in this case as a vehicle to enter a potentially more spiritual world. These two guys each spent 40 days on a mountain communing with God, so even if they aren’t the best kissers, and maybe they’re not as cute as Brad Pitt, I would bet that they know a thing or two about God, and maybe some of that Divine energy rubbed off on them and will, um, rub into me. If there we are, naked together, I might get – I don’t know, something. Insight. Inspiration. Closer to God.

In another lifetime, I might have had the option of spending an afternoon at a temple and availing myself of the services of the temple prostitutes. These were both men and women whose job it was to have sacred sex with worshippers, and, in so doing, insure the fertility of the land and of the people. The Bible makes it clear that it doesn’t approve of cult prostitutes, and in no uncertain terms prohibits their presence: “No Israelite man or woman shall be a cult prostitute.” (Deut 23:18)

The prohibition is necessary because cult prostitutes—at least for the local non-Jewish religions—were common. The Bible tells the fascinating story of Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, who, when her husband died leaving her childless, covered her face, dressed up as a prostitute, and seduced her father-in-law. He, not recognizing her, slept with her, impregnating her. When he returned to compensate her and to pick up his seal, cord and staff he’d left with her as a pledge for future payment, he asked around for the “cult prostitute” on the roadside. I guess he wanted people to think he’d been on a spiritual, not a physical, mission.

I’m still thinking about spiritual sex when I attend an event downtown at which an artist talks about his art work and the creative process. With his paintings and sculptures magnified hugely on the screen in front of the room, he explains how the train in one painting is evocative of sex: the sound of the train’s slow build-up, whoo-whoo-whoo, then the chug-a-chug-a-chug picking up speed, and then the gradual dissipation, letting out air, “sh-sh-sh” as it comes to a halt. Throughout the half hour, during which Kierkegaard and Picasso and Popeye are seamlessly interwoven into his talk, he uses the words “sexuality” and “transcendence” at least 10 times, often together: sexuality transcends… And art is a means of depicting this transcendence, and of transcending as well. Sex certainly lends itself as a metaphor to art and religion because it’s all about union and separation, striving for a higher plane of consciousness and spiraling off into another reality.

Okay, I’ll be really honest. Enough with the sex and spirituality crap. It’s not just the opportunity to get closer to God that makes me fetishize the prophets, nor is it my fantasized, post-coital discussions on the location of Noah’s ark that makes me reach into the pages of the Bible for my meaningless fling. I continue to be curious about the notion that “holy” people are different from the rest of us. I know: I’m probably just channeling the deep-seated, Christian notion that bodily urges are, if not wrong, definitely inferior to spiritual aspirations. But I still want to know: does a holy person’s “spirituality” carry through when he is naked and flailing about? Are there certain things that Moses or Hosea would do better, or wouldn’t do? Lights out? Chatty? Experimental? Not? In Judaism, none of the “holy” men are described as being any different in this regard than any other man. They got married and had children, and the idea that sex might hinder one’s ability to be close to God is nowhere to be found in the Tanach. So, whether they spent 40 days on the mountain or 40 years, it has nothing to do with what happens between the sheets.

Maybe my friend has it exactly right: for one night, it’s not about transcending (to where?) or intimacy or love or commitment; be in the moment, stay put on the earth and partake of earthly pleasures because, anyway, this is earth. And for one night don’t, like Judah did, pretend that you’re involved with a cultic prostitute, and thereby try to elevate it above what it really is – a piece of strange.

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