Celibate Same-Sex Couples?
by Sean Doherty
We recently posted Becoming Christians: what if you are an SSA couple?, my take on a question we are often asked: if a couple come to believe they should cease the sexual aspect of their relationship, does that mean that the couple ought to separate, or is it right for them to continue living together? Whilst some couples do choose to part ways, I argued that's not the only possible good outcome - perhaps especially if they have children. They could well continue to live together, sharing their lives with one another in Christian community. This is one way of ensuring they have intimate, close relationship, which God made us all to need. Without the sexual aspect, it has become more of a friendship than a romantic relationship.
“Holding back from sexual intimacy doesn't spell an end to physical intimacy, not for a moment.”
Incidentally, this highlights that at Living Out there is no sense in which we are 'against' same-sex relationships as such. There are so many wonderful, positive things about same-sex relationships, and the Bible is full of good examples of them. David and Jonathan shared a deep, covenanted commitment to protect and help one another (for a great recent exposition of this story, which is another nail in the coffin of the idea that David and Jonathan were lovers, see Jonathan Rowe's Grove booklet. Ruth and Naomi shared live and faith in a way that benefited them both, and formed part of God's mission plan for his people. Jesus and his disciples were on the road together day in, day out - even Jesus needed friendship. The intimacy, fun, loyalty, companionship, and faith encouragement aspects of same-sex relationships are great, and they can of course be a healthy environment to nurture children. Our point is simply that we think such relationships should be friendships rather than relationships in the contemporary, romantic sense. And, as such, we believe a sexual element is not right for them.
I expected that some thoughtful people would disagree with me. But another set of questions came in which I wasn't expecting, but should have! People want to know: if we stop the sexual side of our relationship, how far is it OK to go in terms of physical affection for one another? If sex as such is off the agenda, what about stuff that isn't sex but expresses the love between them, like kissing? In the terms of the age-old youth group question, how far can you go before it 'counts' as sex?
It's a fair question! And the answer, I think, is simple in theory but hard to get our heads around in our culture. Sexual activity and intimacy is obviously about a lot more than sex itself. So, my take on this is: the right thing to do, and ultimately the best thing for you individually and as a couple, would be to hold back from sexual intimacy as a whole, not just sex itself. That is, including romantic/sexual kissing, touching one another sexually, etc.
But, and this takes me back to my first point, holding back from sexual intimacy doesn't spell an end to physical intimacy, not for a moment. Our culture finds it hard to distinguish between the two. But there are wonderful ways to be physically close to other people without being sexually close to them. We hug and kiss our friends and relatives in non-sexual ways. We hold hands with children. Some people (especially guys?) love to play fight (my sons love to do this with me - personally, I would prefer to cuddle them, but I have to play fight with them, because it is a way they give and receive physical affection!). None of these things necessarily have anything to do with sex, but they have much to do with physical affection and intimacy - as St Paul puts it, greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Corinthians 13:12). We need both bits of his description - it is a holy kiss, and it is a holy kiss.
Of course, it may take time and a bit of trial and error for a couple to redefine the boundaries and work out how they can best remain physically close to one another, without crossing the line again into sexual intimacy. But I believe this is worth working at, in order both to honour God by not crossing that line, and to honour him by sharing healthy physical affection with the people he has given you to and to you.