In my recent post on physical touch between members of the same-sex, I mentioned something that deserves a bit of clarification. I said, “It might be easy for heterosexuals to rein in their affection and keep their ‘personal boundaries.’ But it’s hardly healthy. And for a gay person, it’s painful.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t do the best job at explaining what I meant. So let me see if I can explain my thoughts a little better. The obvious question is why would it be easy for straight people to forego same-sex physical affection but painful for gay people? If physical affection is a critical part of healthy same-sex friendships, shouldn’t it be painful for both?
To understand what I was getting at, you’ve got to put yourself into the shoes of a gay Christian and consider the requirements of traditional Christianity upon their life. Unless gay believers are willing to endure a heterosexual marriage and/or subject themselves to harmful conversion therapy techniques (which don’t work), they must completely forgo sexual affection. Period.
That’s the sacrifice that biblical celibacy demands. On the flipside, biblical celibacy should not demand a relational sacrifice that is greater. The celibate life is a life without sex but not a life without affection.
And therein lies the problem.
The Stigmatization of Physical Touch
As our culture increasingly conflates the sexual and the physical, the definition of “sexual affection” grows broader and broader. Most people no longer recognize a platonic touch when they see it. Even the most innocent forms of touch are becoming sexualized, regardless of their actual connection to sex.
Now imagine where this leaves the gay believer. Within a typical Christian environment, platonic touch between members of the opposite sex is already off the table. It has been for quite some time (unless you happen to be married or getting married). Add the additional layer of stigma toward same-sex affection, and you’ve created a culture within Christianity where the only way to experience physical affection is through a heterosexual marriage.
This might be okay for the typical heterosexual. But it forces the gay Christian into an unlivable situation, one that is utterly devoid of physical affection. When I say “it might be easy for the heterosexual,” I’m referring to the fact that most heterosexuals need only wait for marriage to finally access the kind of physical affection that every one of us needs.
But for gay Christians, as I mentioned in a comment, there’s no one with whom they can give or receive any form of physical affection. People raise an eyebrow if you show affection to a man or a woman. Gay believers who want to follow a traditional sexual ethic find themselves in a position where they must give up not only sex but also physical affection. This is not biblical celibacy.
Rethinking the Actual Cost of Sexualizing Physical Affection
Upon greater contemplation, I also think I need to change what I said. I think the state of physical affection in America is not just painful for gay believers. Perhaps it’s more painful for gay believers. But it’s also painful for everyone.
The more people I meet the more I’m coming to realize that countless single people, gay and straight, are craving physical affection and believing the lie that what they need is a sexual partner. And countless married couples, gay and straight, are feeling distant and lonely and believing they just need to revitalize their sex life.
But it’s not sex they need. It’s physical touch.
Some Links for More Reading on Physical Touch:
- The Life of the Skin-Hungry: Can You Go Crazy from a Lack Of Touch?
- Skin Hunger: Why You Need to Feed Your Hunger for Contact
- The History and Nature of Man Friendships
- Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection
- 8 Reasons Why We Need Human Touch More Than Ever
- Why Men Keep Demanding Sex From Their Partners Over and Over
- The Case for Hugging Your Bros