As a child, I believed that sex for pleasure was a kind of sacrilege. After all, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus without having sex, right? So I assumed this meant that sex was something non-sacred, something to be skipped if we only had a way. Women, I was told, weren’t meant to have pleasurable sex — not if they were upright, moral beings. Even though the religion in which I was being raised didn’t believe in Hell, I created Hell inside myself, and told myself I was going there every time I felt sexual.
Then along came Madonna, singing Like a Prayer.
To be fair, I’d changed a great deal before Like a Prayer hit the charts. I was beginning to see that pleasurable sex could be loving, yet I also felt like my solo sex-life was some kind of abomination. My mind was filled with fantasies that seemed endlessly debauched, though, in truth, they were very tame. Yet when I first saw the video of Madonna kissing a black Jesus, who also seemed to represent her imprisoned lover — a man who had been arrested for protecting them from a brutal gang — I couldn’t look away. Madonna was sexual in that chapel in her Like A Prayer video. She danced in front of burning crosses and was sensually embraced by Jesus himself…and even a female God, if my interpretation works. It seemed that Madonna’s character gained the strength to visit her lover in prison through a powerfully sung prayer, a powerfully sexual dance, a refusal to feel shame in the presence of spiritual beauty, a refusal to think of rapture — be it sexual or otherwise — as sinful, when it is humane.
It was clear to me that Madonna did not believe in Hell. Plus, she had no problem embracing a holy icon. And that brings me to this:
In his book, Wishes Fulfilled, Dr. Wayne Dyer teaches us to not think of the divine as being separate from us or beyond us. He explains that, for him, God is the ocean, and we are buckets of ocean water. In other words, Dyer believes that we contain, and are, God. As a spiritual (but not religious) woman, I like this metaphor. Why should our “divine” (or whatever we praise and adore in life) not encourage our erotic transformations, our passions and connections, our pleasure? Isn’t consensual, passionate sex, be it rough or smooth, usually the opposite of suffering and death?
Anyhoo, many years after Madonna’s vid, I read an erotic piece in which a couple have sex in a church. They throw their bodily fluids around, using fonts and icons and whatnot. I didn’t even find the piece sexy — it just depressed me and turned my stomach. Why? Because it wasn’t alive or transformative.
Whereas Madonna’s vid, even today, feels ardent and alive.