Where sex and spirituality meet is in the experience of dropping boundaries, of feeling expansion, dissolution, limitlessness. In both, we can have the experience of dissolving into a larger existence, joining a great ocean of being.
Where sex-and-spirituality fits well is in the world of Visionary Fiction, which allows the reader to feel the experience vicariously and recognize a connection between these two areas of life so often kept severely separate.
That’s important, because where these two subjects are brought together there is often squirming discomfort, controversy and hot anger. People are so often offended—incensed, even —that the two could even be mentioned together. Many take the stance that something so animalistic and messy as bodily functions should not be allowed to sully the beautiful purity of religious/spiritual experience.
This dichotomy should not be. The two are inevitably intertwined; bodies and souls are, at least for the moment, joined. Sex is central to human life. And we can use stories —Visionary Fiction — to allow a reader to sense this or feel it more strongly.
A Calling I Didn’t Request
I seem to be making a career of focusing on this intersection, though I never meant to. I never intended to write about spiritual experience or about sex. In fact, I didn’t even plan to write fiction. I was for years a happy travel writer and freelance writer on other nonfiction subjects.
But then one day I returned to my office to write a news story about a government committee that, in my view, had done all the wrong things. I said to myself, “If I were going to write a novel, what would it be about?” Making up a story felt like taking charge, which I couldn’t do with North Carolina government (though I still wish I could.) Then it turned out that the novel I started that day began with a frisky fifteen year-old girl’s spiritual experience. And that all the stories since have wound their way to ecstatic spirituality, spiritual sex, and the conflicts and joys thereof.
Not my plan, and definitely not a good commercial strategy, since most readers of spiritual books aren’t looking for explicit sex, and most seekers of erotica aren’t in the mood to hear about God or church.
But anyone who has written any fiction knows that stories take their own course. I stopped fighting it long ago. Here are the three novels resulting so far, which range from what some call Edgy Christian to what some call Erotic Fantasy, and yet they all are Visionary Fiction. To me, to tell the truth, they’re all well within the scope of Realistic.
Revelation: Troubled minister hears the voice of God, an experience quite different than expected. Minister, without intending to, experiences further grace through his sexual relationship with his wife.
Sister India: After getting into some sex-provoked trouble, an American girl flees to a Hindu holy city, tries to hide her dangerous sexuality in fat and seclusion and the religious mantle of this city on the Ganges.
Cobalt Blue: A single woman in a small conservative town has a spiritual experience that initially tips her into erotic obsession.
A Culminating Moment
One might wonder how sex and spirituality can show themselves in the same moment. The best I can do is offer a sample. From a sex scene in Cobalt Blue:
A burning started at the base of her spine, roared through her to the top of her head. And beyond. A yell started out, pushing her head back. With the force of her whole chest: another. And on…until the sound broke her into pieces, and every spinning atom of her dispersed into the crowd in the street and out across the night; warm waves of her rushing, eager and joyous, to everyone, anything that would take her.
The Potential for Change
One of the functions of Visionary Fiction is to show possibilities and avenues for transformation. Stories that show the entwined nature of sex and spirituality have the potential to help bring the warring aspects of our natures together. That might, in turn, diminish the impulse to war between religious groups that take violently different stances toward sexuality.
That’s a lot to hope for from a few stories. And so there need to be more.
Peggy Payne lives in a log house by a pond near from Chapel Hill, NC, with her husband who is a psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist. Her Sister India was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Revelation, a New York Times Editors’ Choice; and Cobalt Blue, winner of a 2014 IPPY for Visionary Fiction. All her novels focus on the intersection of sex and spirituality. She has also published in More Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Coastal Living, Family Circle, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, etc., and most major American newspapers. www.peggypayne.com