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Wild and Holy Embodiment: To Our Bodies, To Our Pleasure, To Our Liberation!

By June 7, 2023No Comments

Over the past six months, the New York Society for Ethical Culture has engaged in an experiment called Ethics Unplugged. Each Wednesday Dr. Je Hooper and I have explored contemporary issues and themes in a talk show-like format. The fabulous musician, Lindsay Wilson, has added depth and texture to these events with her powerful lyrics and voice.

It’s been incredibly energizing to imagine another way that we, as the founding Ethical Culture Society, can bring Ethical thinking and activism to a new generation in a new way. We have focused on a different theme each month and have even brought in guest speakers who are experts in the topic du jour.

May and June share a theme: Wild and Holy Embodiment. The blurb for it read, “Join us at Ethics Unplugged this month as we focus on embodied pleasure. Often, it’s easy for folx engaged in social justice activism to get caught up in the ideologies of justice and forget to appreciate what it means to be embodied and the pleasure we can find in our flesh and bones. This month we’ll explore some of the more radical ways our bodies can delight us as well as explore the power of pleasure in the many forms it reveals itself to us as embodied beings. As always, we will bring the hermeneutics of ethics to these conversations, remembering there is an ethical practice in the most radical spaces to engage the most revolutionary acts of pleasure.”

This theme raised a few eyebrows amongst Society members. Why on earth would we be talking about our bodies and pleasure? Is this even ethical? I reassured folx that this topic would be handled in a non-prurient, ethical manner. But why talk about embodied pleasure at all?

For one thing, I think it’s extremely important for us to remember that we are embodied. That our bodies are good. And that experiencing pleasure in our bodies—whether through sexual intimacy with partners or with ourselves, or by taking a luxurious bubble bath, or getting a mani-pedi, is an important part of living fully into our humanity.

Secondly, it’s healthy to be able to talk openly about these issues; there is no need for shame or embarrassment. It’s not surprising that many humanists who have turned away from religious dogma still have puritanical views of bodies, sex, pleasure; it’s embedded in our DNA. This was certainly true for me for much of my adult life. I understand how difficult it can be for many of us “of a certain age” 😊to open up to these discussions. Unfortunately, these patriarchal, puritanical views have been hard-baked into the cultural norms of our nation, so it’s not surprising that even progressive, social justice activists are also infected. The anti-dote is to have courageous conversations with one another, such as we’ve been having on Wednesday evenings.  I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to watch the recordings of these Wednesdays. I think you will find them interesting and educational.

Several years ago, I participated in a blogging challenge for Unitarian Universalist ministers: blogging about sexuality. Here are the links to my entries on this worthy topic.

Note: as noted, this entry is a chapter from my Doctoral thesis and was written as I was coming out of Christianity. Although I’m talking about Christianity, I think the term “humanism” or “atheism” as a set belief can used interchangeably. If the terms “divinity”, “spirituality”, “sacredness” don’t work for you, try substituting “wholeness,” “embodied goodness,” “Nature”.

Note: I use language in describing an experience I had as a teenager (did he think I was selling my body for money?)  that doesn’t reflect my beliefs about sex workers. It reflect the prevailing attitudes of that era that  does prove part of the point of my doctoral work that people with the power to name use names that diminish and judge others.

Note: this blog links to other bloggers who participated in blogging about sexuality. Unfortunately, three of the links (Jordinn Nelson Long, Liz James, and Karen Johnston) are no longer active, but I do encourage you to click on the other links as well as watch the video embedded at the end. Also, listening to the Savage Garden song is a great bonus!)

Here’s to us! To our bodies, to our pleasure, to our liberation!



Nori Rost

Dr. Nori Rost is a Leader at Ethical NYC.

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