Oh God!: A Black Woman's Guide to Sex and Spiritualityby Susan Newman, Susan Newman
Far too many African American women struggle with a deep division between the two fundamental pillars of their identity–spirituality and sexuality. The church tells them that to live “holy and sanctified” lives they must give up sexual activity outside the institution of marriage, and yet their bodies and souls cry out for a way to express and fulfill their natural passions. In this groundbreaking book, the Reverend Dr. Susan Newman, a nationally recognized minister and speaker, finally shows all women of faith how to find a healthy balance between their spiritual selves and their sexual needs.
Dr. Newman opens with a simple but startling premise: You can love God and love sex at the same time. Though it may sound irreverent, this premise is actually the basis for an essential journey to self-knowledge and reconciliation. As Dr. Newman shows, this journey has been denied to women for centuries because of church traditions and doctrines going back to the Old Testament and to the teachings of Saint Paul. For African American women, the spiritual-sexual divide was compounded by slavery.
But women of faith do not have to live divided lives. Writing with passion, candor, and welcome humor, Dr. Newman opens new paths to healing and reconciliation. Here are frank, direct discussions about sex both inside and outside marriage; about being honest about your spiritual and erotic needs; about making personal choices; and about acknowledging the holiness of your body.
The goal, as Dr. Newman explains, is not to suppress or channel your sexuality, but to embrace sex as a wonderful gift from God. As a woman of faith–and as a woman–you deserve a healthy, satisfying life, a life open to passion and truly free of guilt and shame. The first book of its kind, Oh God! is a landmark achievement that will be welcomed by black women who want to live in wholeness of spirit and body.
- Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
The Sexual Truth Shall Set You Free
Can we talk? It is time for black women of faith to have an honest discussion about who we are sexually and spiritually. This generation of women must begin to confess that we love God, and we love sex, too! George Bernard Shaw said, "All great truths begin as blasphemies." Well, many in the church would call this statement blasphemous. But it is true. God created us with wonderful, healthy, natural drives-sleep, hunger, thirst, and sex-"and God saw that it was good."
On this journey of reconciling our sexual selves and our spiritual selves, we must be honest about who we are and what we desire, and we must learn how to live fuller, richer lives as spiritual women in the twenty-first century. Women who love God and are able to express themselves fully as sexual beings should be able to do so without shame or guilt.
Pam is a former party girl who accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior two years ago. She is a very attractive black woman who owns a home and earns a six-figure salary. Though active in her church and community, Pam is struggling with reconciling her sexual desires with the teachings of her faith. She wants answers to this dilemma. Is masturbation an acceptable sexual activity? Am I damned if I make love to my boyfriend because we are not married?
Donna is another woman of faith struggling with her sexual desires and the teachings of her church. Donna is forty-eight years old, widowed, and suddenly single again. After twenty-five years of marriage, the single life is foreign to her. She is confronted with a culture that includes HIV/AIDS, cybersex, Internet dating, and personal ads in the paper. She's too mature to go to clubs, but she doesn't want another husband. In the past, she had a wonderful marriage with the love of her life; now, she wants a companion and lover.
Where do women get the idea that sex is wrong, that it should cause feelings of guilt and shame? When did we first learn about sex and how did we feel about it? A good place to start exploring answers to these questions is our childhood. I remember sitting in my fifth-grade class at John Quincy Adams Elementary School, in Washington, D.C., when the school nurse came in with an 8mm reel movie-it was time for our hygiene session. But today was different. She and the teacher had very somber, mournful expressions on their faces the entire time they set up the projector and screen. Watching them thread the film through the grooves on the projector reminded me of some ancient death ritual I'd seen on television. As the lights lowered and the movie began, we heard a serious male voice describing to us what our eyes could not believe. On the screen we saw diagrams of a man's penis and a woman's uterus and fallopian tubes. Then all of a sudden-without any of those "slasher movie" warnings-we were confronted with the image of the man's penis inside of the woman's vagina and thousands of sperm being catapulted into her body. Some of the kids in the room let out nervous laughter. Others sat there with our mouths open and our eyes bugging out of our heads. We were all shocked. Nothing could have prepared us for this scene. We sat there in the dark, watching millions of sperm swim into the vaginal canal and up the fallopian tubes, where one gold-medal swimmer united with an egg and rested in "the fertile lining of the woman's uterus." We sat in the dark, watching a bright movie screen as the words the end stared back at us, a group of eleven-year-olds. The nurse gave the girls little pink booklets about menstruation and told us to refrain from sex so we would not get pregnant and have babies. The boys did not get anything, as if it were solely girls' responsibility to control the population of babies in the world. Go figure!
I went home that night knowing that what I had just witnessed in class was not true. I knew that my mother would tell me the truth about how girls got pregnant. Momma said, "When a boy and a girl are together, and they love each other, they have a baby." Well, Lawd have mercy, I was pregnant! I sat beside David Neverdon in class (we sat in alphabetical order), and I loved him. My world had come to an end. I talked with the school nurse about the movie and what my momma had told me. She explained everything in greater detail to me. I then understood.
The next Sunday, as I sat in Sunday school, I looked at the superintendent and realized that he had three boys. My God! Mr. Green did that to Mrs. Green three times? Yuck! Nice Mr. Payne had eight kids! The pastor had five! I could not believe that these holy, sanctified members of the church performed that act I'd seen on the movie screen. However, I took pride in knowing that my parents did it only twice.
What were you told about sex as a child? Take a minute to think about it. Most sex education consisted of warnings like "Keep your legs together and your dress down," or "Don't bring no babies in this house!" I remember when my sister and I started going to house parties. Momma gave us several warnings. The warning I remember to this day is, "When you're dancing slow with a boy, and he starts breathing hard-stop dancing!"
We were raised to fear sex and sexual expressions. When a girl began her period, it was as if there were a death in the family. She couldn't run and play with the boys anymore. An older woman in the family, usually the mother, brought out this secret, magic bag of mystery. The girl was instructed in "the ways of the Period." The bag contained the plastic-crotched panties, the elastic sanitary belt with loops (forerunner to today's thong), and finally the star of the show-the Kotex! It was a sanitary napkin, but it was more than an ordinary napkin. We called it "the Kotex!"
Every twenty-eight days we had to make a pilgrimage to the neighborhood drugstore to purchase the Kotex. God forbid if a male cashier should be behind the counter. We would read every last comic book and magazine in the store until he either went to lunch, went home, or just died. We were not going to purchase the Kotex from anyone but a woman. It was embarrassing. We felt shame just buying sanitary napkins. Isn't it funny that our husbands, brothers, fathers, and boyfriends are embarrassed to buy the Kotex, too? Well, that was sexual orientation 101-childhood.
As we matured from childhood to adolescence, our sexual orientation was filled with boys' pranks as they snapped our bra straps, looked under our dresses with mirrored shoes, and pushed us into the coat room with "that nasty boy."
While we are being honest about sexual truths, we cannot overlook the traumas that millions of women experience associated with sex. Unfortunately, for many women there are dark, scary, horrific experiences that are eternally bound to the sex act-incest, rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse. Many women are not comfortable with any sexual situation or relationship because of sexual abuse early in life. Some have found the courage to speak up about being sexually molested by teachers, relatives, baby-sitters, church leaders, or their own father. These were men whom they trusted as children, and their trust in any man was destroyed by the selfish, sick act of one man. Their minds are filled with the question: Was it something that I did to make him do this to me? Women who were victims in these situations blame themselves, as if it were their responsibility that they were abused. How can women who have been sexually traumatized as children embrace their own bodies and their natural sexual urges as good things? They were made to feel shame and guilt as children, and many still carry shame and guilt's offspring-unworthiness, fear, self-loathing, and depression.
Laura is a successful corporate executive. She's attractive, in her mid-forties, and the life of any party. She has been promoted within her company because of her business acumen. She is responsible for a staff of over 150 people and an annual budget of $2.5 million. But when Laura goes on a date and is faced with intimate situations, she becomes a frightened little girl. She may like the man she's out with, but she's not ready for any physical intimacy. However, she cannot say no to his sexual advances. She's a shark in the boardroom, but a guppy when alone with a man. It's as if she's in shock. It is like an out-of-body experience. She hears what he's saying, but she cannot speak; she knows what he's doing, but she doesn't possess the power to remove his hands. "If I say no, he won't like me anymore," and "It's my fault, I should not have worn this sexy dress," she reasons, giving in as though she has no choice.
The Religious RIGHT?
What causes sexual guilt and shame for Christian women? One source is the teachings of the apostle Paul. The teachings of the Christian church are based upon his teachings. Besides the four Gospels that include the life and teachings of Jesus, the majority of the New Testament consists of letters from Paul to various churches that he founded in ancient Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, Galatia, and Thessalonica. These places were under Roman rule and were greatly influenced by the Greek culture that was sweeping the world.
When interpreting the biblical text, we must look at the following: Who was writing the letter? To whom was it being written? What was the situation or problem that was being addressed? What was the culture of the day? Paul's advice to the church in I Corinthians 6:15-18 is:
"Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication" (KJV). Fornication, in its original definition, comes from the Latin fornicatus, meaning to have intercourse with prostitutes or in a brothel. The word first appeared in 1552, during the same time frame when the King James Version of the Bible was being translated into English. In the sixteenth century, the Puritans of England were very troubled by the "loose morals" of the people and the booming business of the brothels in England. Some of the interpreters of the King James Version were Puritans.
Paul gives a lot of advice on sexual issues to this baby church in Corinth, a seaport city situated between Asia and Italy and the seat of commerce in the ancient world. Corinth was called "the eye of Greece," and it was there that various religions flourished alongside a small but growing cult of people-Christians. Sexual activity was a normal part of religious service, as seen in the worship of a hundred priestesses in the temple of the goddess Aphrodite.
Religious ceremonies were performed to ensure an abundance of food and the birth of children. The rites, expressed through dances, prayers, and incantations, symbolized the birth, death, and reappearance of vegetation, when acted out in a sacred drama. The fertility rite sought to control the otherwise unpredictable forces of nature. One of the main rites, concerned with increasing fertility of the land and the womb, was sexual orgies with temple prostitutes-hence, fornication. Many ancient fertility rites have persisted in modified forms into modern times. For example, the maypole dance derives from ancient spring rituals glorifying the phallus, or penis, with virgins (little girls) dancing around it with ribbons, celebrating the beginning of spring.
Paul, however, succeeded in stamping Christianity with a loathing of both sex and the body, from which we have never fully recovered. Early church fathers in the fourth century, in pious reaction to the excesses of Roman decadence, took to the North African deserts to become celibate, ascetic hermits of unbelievable strictness; this marked the beginning of monasteries and convents.
If one is going to interpret Paul's writings literally-and abide by all of his teachings-why not go all the way? In I Corinthians 7:6-8, Paul says, "But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I" (KJV).
Stating a disclaimer, Paul admits that this is his opinion, not a commandment from God. Truth be told, like any preacher Paul gave instruction and advice to the early church filtered through a lens of his own values, prejudices, upbringing, and teachings. Paul was a Pharisee, a member of a Jewish sect that valued spirituality, ethics, and mysticism. They were the interpreters of the Jewish Law-the Torah. Paul was proud of his upbringing as a Jew.
If one is going to hold so firmly to Paul's advice about sex and relationships, then one shouldn't keep just part of Paul's instruction-one should keep it all! Consider, for example, Paul's Letter to Philemon. Paul told Onesimus, an escaped slave who converted to Christianity after meeting Paul, that he should return to his master, Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, so in his letter Paul appealed to Philemon's religious beliefs to not "be harsh" with Onesimus and to receive him back lovingly in servitude. Yeah, right!
Another instance of Paul's advice in a social situation is found in I Corinthians 14:33-35, which says, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (KJV).
Well, in the early church, women sat on one side of the meeting room and men sat on the other side. For both sexes to mingle in public places was frowned upon. (Following this tradition, you wouldn't be able to sit next to your boyfriend at the movies anymore either!) When preachers would come and preach, making references to Jewish Law from the Torah, or Talmud or Midrash, the women would not understand the references and would cross the room to ask their male relatives. The men understood the references because Jewish boys studied the Torah and had a bar mitzvah (rite of passage into manhood). The boys sat with their fathers in the Court of the Men, near the altar of God, while the women sat in temple in the outer court, with the children and slaves. The playing field was not level for women in the early church.
The apostle Paul writes, "if they will learn anything," as if it were highly unlikely! Women were believed to be inferior to men. If a crime occurred in front of five hundred women, five hundred children, and one man, only the man would be allowed to testify in court. Such was the culture of the Jews in biblical times. Then Paul adds insult to injury, saying, "let them ask their husbands at home." Well, first of all (my hands are on my hips, and my neck is rolling) Paul assumes that every woman in church has a husband. Second, he thinks that when we get home from church, husbands want to sit down and debrief wives about the sermon? Not! I don't know about the men in your life, but after church on Sunday, it's either tip-off time, tee-off time, kick-off time, or time to eat and then take a nap. Few men want to have Bible study. Oh yes, Paul, how is a single woman going to learn anything without a husband to provide a debriefing?
So, if you are going to be a literalist when it comes to Paul's instructions, then, black women, forget about an orgasm, and just shut your mouths and go back to ole massa's plantation and pick a bale of cotton!
Culture, Art, and Media
Sex sells. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be the woman in the White Owl cigar commercial. She was a beautiful blonde who wore a seductive black dress. She was sexy, sultry, and attractive. Every man's eye was upon her-and I wanted to be like her. I also wanted to be the woman in the Noxema Medicated Comfort Shave commercial. She, too, was sexy. I never made it, though. I was seven years old, four feet five inches tall, and two feet wide, and my nickname was Butterball. My hair was dark brown and braided. I did not have a black, slinky, sexy dress. I wore clothes from the chubby department and black-and-white corrective shoes. So I got a cookie and forgot about that dream.
Sex in the media was subtle in the sixties, but we've come a long way, baby! I remember seeing the Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue, and it was something that you sneaked around the house to look at. I don't know why, because back then there was nothing sexy about a long-line bra with sixty hooks and a cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die girdle. The underwear was made of industrial-strength rubber. Today, sex is in your face. The Victoria's Secret catalogue is as common in the mail as the phone bill. And the stuff in that catalogue is made of silk thread, a lot of hope, and air. If I put on one of those outfits . . . well, let's just say there would be no secrets.
Sex is on TV, in the movies, in music videos, in magazines, in newspapers, on the Internet. You ever have cybersex? Tell the truth, this is the "be honest" chapter of Oh God! Our culture has fooled you into having sex in front of a glowing box, with a total stranger, while typing with both hands. Don't laugh; some of you enjoy this and call it safe sex! I bless your choices . . . but I'd rather . . . never mind.
Music sends us sexual messages all the time. When a certain song is playing, I can be with a troll and fall madly in love, just because of the music. Tell the truth and shame the devil! God wants us to enjoy sex. If God did not want us to enjoy sex, She would not have made Barry White. If God did not want us to enjoy sex, He would not have made the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Smokey, Will Downing, the Dells, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with Teddy Pendergrass, Jeffrey Osborne with LTD, Luther, Marvin, D'Angelo, Maxwell, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, and R. Kelly. If God did not want us to enjoy sex, She would not have let us ever hear and slow drag to "Stay in My Corner," "Stairway to Heaven," "The Love We Had Stays on My Mind," "If Only for One Night," "You Really Got a Hold on Me," "You and I," and "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby." Now, you go on and list your favorites.
Movies give out subtle and sometimes overt sexual messages about women and sexuality. In some movies, women are looked down upon or victimized. In November 1986, I saw Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It. Nola Darling is a beautiful, assured sister, dating three very different men simultaneously: Jamie Overstreet-a controlling, protective, patriarchal type; Greer Childs-a wealthy, vain, arrogant male model; and Mars Blackmon-a comical, juvenile, immature jokester. Nola has gone beyond even a love "triangle"; but the stability of her love "square" is threatened by the increasing jealousy among her three suitors. Apparently, it was too much to expect Spike to portray Nola's character as an independent woman with a healthy sexual life throughout the movie. Jamie is determined to plant a flag in her back and make her submit to him. In the usual patriarchal form, he redeems this wanton woman by raping her into submission.
Strong, self-assured women are portrayed in movies as crazy-think about Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. Sexually active women are portrayed as prostitutes, loose, bad girls-consider Set It Off, Mae West, and Blaxploitation films. Asexual women are the mammies, full-figured, nurturing women. They are the matriarchs of the family-Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, and Big Mamma in Soul Food. The movie culture really doesn't know what to do with lesbian women. Since lesbians do not want to be in an intimate or sexual relationship with a man, they are usually abused or killed, as in Women of Brewster Place. Our media shows that a woman's desires and sexual expression have to be contained and controlled by a man. As we got older the sexual messages from the world and culture was "do it," and the message from our parents was "don't do it." Our culture today is filled with booty call-type movies, strip clubs, and music videos in which all the women are wearing a thong and a bad attitude. Our young girls and boys are greatly influenced by these visual images.
Puppy Dog TALES
I've always been puzzled by a ditty we learned as children that described the difference between boys and girls. "Sugar, spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of. Snakes, snails and puppy-dog tails, that's what little boys are made of." From childhood, we've had different expectations of boys and girls. Boys played with trucks and guns, and girls played with Barbie and Ken dolls. Boys were rough and aggressive. Girls were gentle and ladylike. A lot of things have changed since I was a child in the 1960s. Today, both girls and boys play Sony PlayStation and computer games. Girls participate in competitive sports like basketball and soccer, and they excel in martial arts and kick boxing.
However, many things have not changed. Our culture still sends out mixed messages about what is acceptable and expected from females versus males. Let's just look at the idea of marriage. Many women feel they have not completed their mission in life if they are not married. A lot of pressure is placed upon young women in regard to marriage. Some women have attended a family gathering only to have an aunt lift up their left hand and say, "No ring? Girl, you ain't getting any younger. All that education is fine, but you need a man." The men get the same kind of ribbing from well-intentioned aunts. "Raymond, you got a good job and money in the bank. It's time for you to settle down and start a family." At this point, the older men in the family rescue Raymond, saying, "Take your time, boy. You still got plenty of wild oats to sow."
Most women look forward to their wedding day. Our culture promotes it. There are several bride magazines that give advice about everything from choosing an engagement ring to planning a honeymoon. Women celebrate marriages. Men, on the other hand, are allergic to the very idea of marriage. When a couple announces their engagement to their friends and family, the women surround the bride-to-be with squeals of joy as they check out the ring. Meanwhile, the men in the room put their hands on her future husband's shoulders, shaking their heads, and sheepishly say, "Congratulations, man. I hope you're ready." For the woman, it's a new life. For the man, it's a life sentence.
Some of my funniest moments in ministry have been while performing weddings. The bride and her maids are in one area of the church, making last-minute beauty arrangements while laughing and sharing tears of joy. The groom is with me in my study, pacing back and forth, palms sweating, hands wringing, listening to his best man say, "I gotcha back, man. It ain't too late to change your mind."
The wedding day is the woman's day of delight and the man's day of dread. On the night before the wedding, the groom gathers with his buddies and has a bachelor party. The party usually features alcohol and scantily clad women prepared to perform lap dances and an array of other sexual favors for the groom in particular, and for the guests in general. It is expected that the groom will have his final fling before the wedding day. The purpose of the bachelor party is sexual pleasure for the groom.
The bride, on the other hand, has gathered with her female relatives and girlfriends for a bridal shower. They have plenty of food and punch. There's much laughter and teasing as the blushing bride-to-be excitedly opens her gifts, which are usually sexy lingerie to be worn during her honeymoon. The women teasingly tell her, "Girl, you'll blow his mind with this on." The purpose of the bridal shower is the ultimate sexual pleasure for the groom.
What's wrong with this picture? Women are expected to be virgins on their wedding night. Men are just expected to show up at the altar on time. Women spend their week before the wedding preparing to offer themselves to their husbands. Some men spend the night before the wedding sowing that last row of oats. Why are men not concerned about their virginity? No one at the wedding ever whispers, "I know he ain't wearing white."
Where did these unwritten rules and ridiculous expectations come from? Well, friends, they come from the Bible. Today is a new day. Knowledge is power, and as you learn more about yourself and the truth behind the Bible's messages about sex, you will gain the power to reconcile these two seemingly opposing forces in your life. My Inward Journey
Starting today I will . . .
- be honest about my sexual feelings
Many spiritual women are not usually encouraged to look at their bodies in a positive way. Write what you feel is beautiful about your body. Include what you feel are your sexual attributes.
"I believe I am sexy because
As you take this first step to sexual and spiritual reconciliation, reflect on where you are in your beliefs, and write a prayer of guidance for your journey:
Psalms 139:14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well (KJV).
"God is in me, with me, through me and for me.
Where God is, there can be no imperfection. Amen."
-Dr. Leon Wright, New Testament professor, emeritus Howard University Divinity School, Washington, D.C.
"I release the need to blame anyone, including myself. We are all doing the best we can with the understanding, knowledge, and awareness we have."
-Louise L. Hay
Meet the Author
The Reverend Dr. Susan Newman, an ordained minister for the past twenty-five years and a nationally recognized preacher/speaker, is the author of With Heart and Hand: The Black Church Working to Save Black Children. She makes her home in Washington, D.C.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I think this book is wonderful! Recently, I have had some concerns and questions about sex and my relationship with God. I feel this book is honest and healing. I felt that God was trying to say something to all women when this book was written. I am a Hispanic woman, and I felt the beautiful wonder of this book. I wish Dr. Newman would write a second book with more depth to this subject.
Continue to read you bible to draw your own conclusion about what God has to say about sex. The days ahead are evil and the devil is deceitful. God word is very clear on sexuality. Don't allow someone¿s opinion to lead you into sin. Know and understand God¿s truth about sex.
Sex, sex and more sex. In many of our fantasy worlds, we would have life no different than to enjoy this gift that God gave us to the fullest without so much an ounce of guilt or shame. Too bad, for the most part, we live in reality. And in that reality, there exists notions, institutions and norms that govern and bind the lives that we were so graciously given by God to live freely. What this book does is bring to the forefront those issues that we have been groomed to think as taboo and forces us to think and talk about them by virtue of the fact that the stance it takes is the very one we have been taught to despise. Sex is God's gift to God's creation. It is a natural part of life. The only things unnatural about it are the rules and laws that we have given ourselves to live by to govern it. Reverend Newman is a revolutionary in her own right fulfilling what she believes is her mission to spark the conversation that may ultimately bring sexual freedom to the black community and perhaps ultimately to the rest of the world. Though the breadth of the book may be a bit exhaustive thus not allowing her to delve deeply into her topics, this book does serve as a good foundation piece as there really are not many others of its kind. The world I would like to see is the one where people are taught to approach sex with wisdom and allow their spirits to guide them as they make their decisions about their sexuality. Hopefully we will get there and this book could serve as a guide.
This book is wonderful. Rev Dr Newman dares to say all the things we want to say, hear, and know, but are afraid to bring up. I highly recommend this book, particularly to young girls for whom sexuality is a fairly new thing. Be Blessed, everyone!