The Thorny Question of Desire!

by Jeremy Marks, Founder of Post-Courage and Winner of the Colin Blakely Lifetime Achievement Award 

To the woman [the LORD] said,
“. . . in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband . . .”    Genesis 3:16 (RSV)

In our modern world, this famous verse is hard to read and accept as a word from God! My reason for quoting this is not to expound the verse but merely to point out that in one of the most well-known stories of the Bible – about the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden – the reality of God-given sexual desire is described in a very vivid and powerful way.

Never have I heard a sermon about this that does anything more than point out the “sin” that led to God’s judgement and “curse” on the man and woman. Therefore, we ought to “fear God more . . .”   One is left with the impression that desire, especially sexual desire (but it could be for money or power too) is like a caged tiger, that if allowed to escape will cause mayhem and death. Whatever we do we must contain that desire with the greatest self-discipline.

We are left to assume that this is more or less the sum of Christian teaching about desire.

Which can lead to great tragedy, as I have discovered in my life and ministry.

At the Ozanne Foundation Inaugural Dinner & Awards held at the Houses of Parliament last week, where I had the privileged opportunity to share my story, I explained that in spite of being a gay man, I had been brought up to believe one cannot be gay and Christian. I had therefore entered a quasi-heterosexual marriage with a courageous woman because we both believed that marriage, first and foremost, was given by God for companionship, not primarily for sex.  Indeed, like many in our position  we thought that sex was optional anyway. After 21 difficult years, during which my wife says she felt like a “non-person” we separated.  We remain the best of friends fortunately.  But when my former wife subsequently met a heterosexual man who loves women, it did not take long before she discovered what she had been missing all that time! And that missing piece of the jigsaw, that had been such a grievous omission in our marriage, had an absolutely transforming effect. Every relationship brings challenges. But sex, it seems, is one of the most beautiful gifts from God; an amazing “glue” that helps to smooth out many problems and tensions.

In my pastoral experience, I have met many sad, frustrated women who married gay men. Often those men seemed perfect gentlemen – thoughtful, considerate, appreciative, gentle, not sexually demanding, not having a roving eye for other women.  Almost perfect in every way. Except for something undefinable that the wife just could not put her finger on. In spite of every effort to be attractive to her husband, there was no response. Then at some point she discovered that her husband is gay, so of course he was never going to be interested in her that way, ever!  The rage, bewilderment, sense of being cheated and betrayed, the loss and shame, became overwhelming for her.  “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” William Congreve observed. Maybe he was gay, to have expressed that so eloquently?

With all my heart I feel such sorrow for those women.  A few manage to get over it, but many do not. This can be an absolutely life-wrecking scenario.

Why does any of this happen?  Because of the paucity of good Christian teaching on sexual desire – teaching that has been so shallow and risk averse.  The Church has done nothing to prepare us for managing well that most beautiful gift of God, designed to delight every human being who has the good fortune to find their desired partner.

Then for the LGBTI person, the devastation at being told that we are “intrinsically disordered” (Roman Catholic teaching) or an “abomination” (a favourite word amongst Protestants) or any variation on this theme, however nuanced the expression it has the same destructive effect.

When I met Paolo, my husband, finally I found fulfilment of the longings I had struggled with since my teenage years.  I often wonder how I had ever allowed myself to spend 40 years of my life in thrall to such mean-spirited religious hogwash?!

There is another well-known and beautiful passage in the Psalms, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4 (RSV).

The Lord has fulfilled that promise both for me and my former wife. Thanks be to God.


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3 Responses to The Thorny Question of Desire!

  1. Helen King says:

    I recommend Jessica Martin’s intense, powerful and personal book ‘Holiness and Desire’ as the must-read on desire, sexual and other;

  2. Rob says:

    Although you say you don’t intend to attempt to expound the verse, that is exactly what you have done – in claiming that it’s referring to sexual desire. But that interpretation of “desire” doesn’t make much sense when we see the same phrase used of sin: in the very next chapter, Cain is warned “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire shall be for you, but you must rule over it”. Clearly not a phrase that refers to sexual desire there, but it seems to be more about dominance or control in some sense.
    Applying that meaning to chapter 3’s use of the phrase would mean that eve is being told that her relationship with her husband is now going to be tarnished by a struggle for control. In other words, the consequences of the Fall include the spoiling of human relationships from what they should have been. That also makes sense of so much of what we experience in human relationships today, in a far broader way than merely sexual desire (significant and powerful though that is!).

  3. mikethecanon says:

    Jeremy I am glad that you and your former wife have found sexual fulfilment in your new relationships. This has obviously been achieved in spite of official Christianity. Repressive doctrine now offers people so little that the majority of the British public has mostly rejected the entire message of salvation – which is in itself a tragedy, purely of the church’s own making (it has always battled for control – over the flesh as much as the spirit). However there are those of us who have had to live in the limbo between sexual identity and the outward ‘conformity’ of our lives. As our generation passes away this situation will become less common, even within the church as the disconnect becomes more obvious – and untenably hypocritical. All of us who have to face up to the ‘truth which will set us free’ have had at times to make unenviable choices – along with very severe consequences for our mental health. Despite the LLF process – which I personally doubt will lead to any progress on the church’s traditional teaching – the church does not want to hear about the personal agonies or spiritual torments associated with sexuality. It does not want to accept any responsibility for mental wellbeing. It certainly does not want people out of the closet or rocking the boat: even in 2021/22. Desire is perhaps our ultimate conundrum as human beings. Ultimately we are taught that this should be for God alone. But in the end those of us who are prepared to protest will ask “Is that enough?” One thing is sure. The church will not be there to give a truthful answer. God can always be hauled in as a backstop. Which is an interesting way of ‘taking his name in vain’ isn’t it.

Any thoughts?