Profound Sexual and Spiritual Encounters among Practicing Christians: A Phenomenological Analysis

By Macknee, Chuck M. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Profound Sexual and Spiritual Encounters among Practicing Christians: A Phenomenological Analysis


Macknee, Chuck M., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Existential-phenomenological methodology explored the meaning and experience of profound sexual and spiritual encounters described by five men and five women who were practicing Christians. Through qualitative analysis of these mysterious experiences, eleven common themes that portrayed the wonder, euphoria, bonding, arousal, transcendence, blessing, AND sacredness of these peak events emerged. God's presence during sexual intimacy enabled the body, soul, and spirit to celebrate ecstatic union collectively in elevated responsiveness. In addition, the aftereffects of linking sexual and spiritual dimensions for the contributors were revealed as seven transforming, empowering, and affirming themes. Results provide a valid basis for a previously undisclosed phenomenon as well as inform Christian educators, pastors, counselors, and practitioners regarding the potential of biblical "one flesh" connection.

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Spirituality and sexuality are two fundamental forces in human development and behavior. "Of all the enigmas encountered by man [and woman] during his [and her] earthly existence, the relationship between sexuality and spirituality is surely one of the strangest of all mazes" (Moore, 1980, p.1). Some religions, especially those espousing Eastern Tantric traditions, view sexuality as integral to spiritual pursuit (Francoeur, 1992). In contrast, Western civilization and Christianity has generally opposed the linking of sexuality and spirituality (Ammerman, 1990; Coll, 1989). Dualism, inherited from early Hellenistic philosophies, promotes the alienation of the sexual body and the eternal spirit, and it regards that true spirituality is antithetical to sexuality.

Although Western culture continues to be intrigued and fascinated by sex (Masters, Johnson, & Kolodny, 1995), spirituality has "come out of the closet" (Goodloe & Arreoloa, 1992, p. 221). Spirituality, defined as a core dimension of humanity that seeks to discover meaning, purpose, and connected-ness with self, others, and ultimately God (MacKnee, 1997), is a popular pursuit (Moore, 1994; Schnarch, 1991). Those identified as Christians seem more motivated to accept God's relational presence in all areas of life (Hurding, 1995) and exhibit more openness to at least discuss sexuality (Smedes, 1994). Yet, something appears to be missing in human relational experience. Perhaps the zeitgeist of today is open to a more holistic orientation towards integrating nil dimensions of human experience.

The idea that sexuality arid spirituality are related has received extensive philosophical and theoretical attention from various disciplines (e.g., aging and development-Ammerman, 1990; medicine-Anderson & Morgan, 1994; Christian theology-Bilotra, 1981; Chavez-Garcia & Helminiak, 1985; Feurestein, 1989; Grenz, 1990; Nelson, 1981, 1983; sex therapy-Mayo, 1987; Schnarch, 1991; psychology-Francoeur, 1992; May, 1982; Moore, 1994). Some (e.g., Carnes, 1987; Chavez-Garcia & Helminiak, 1985; Moore, 1994; Schnarch, 1991) suggest that spirituality is an important component of human sexual potential. Others (e.g., Feuerstein, 1989; Francoeur, 1992; Nelson, 1981, 1983) propose that if humans desire to grow spiritually, they must integrate their sexual urges with their spiritual needs.

This author has previously provided a theoretical common ground for exploring sexuality and spirituality (MacKnee, 1997). Reviewing various sources, he proposed that both sexual and spiritual urges originate in the pervading human experience of incompleteness that motivate yearnings for connection and wholeness. His research also suggested that the similarity of desire and function of sexuality and spirituality may promote complementary arousal and demonstrate how one energy may elicit the other. Furthermore, in a prior study, this author constructed a paradigm for the parallel characteristics of sexual peak experience and spiritual peak experience (MacKnee, 1996). …

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