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Sexuality & Love in the Pagan Community

by Nia, Sibylline Priestess

As a separate, socio-religious community the Neo-pagan world has a myriad forms including how it approaches relationships and commitment. Many newcomers to paganism find themselves examining where their beliefs and choices regarding relationships come from and find that they must decide for themselves what is healthy and acceptable. Accepting this diversity and freedom can be challenging as the American culture is based on puritain values and beliefs.

Commitment

Levels of Commitment

Handfasted: A couple/group who has exchanged vows of commitment for a year and a day, usually as preparation for permanent vows. In a handfasting the phrase "As Long as the Love Shall Last" is often exchanged rather than the more common "till death do us part". This is to reenforce that the bond between a couple is sacred and must be nurtured, it is not taken for graned nor entered into lightly. We vow to not only love our chosen mates but to honor and respect eachother and where life may lead us.

Married: A couple/group who has exchanged permanent vows of commitment for this lifetime "as long as love shall last."

Life-Bonded: A couple/group who has exchanged permanent vows of commitment for this lifetime "until death do us part."

Soul-Bonded: A couple/group who has exchanged vows of commitment binding them through this and all lives to come.

Hearthmates: Couple/group in committed relationship and are living together.

Soulmates: A couple/group who has recognized their deep and loving soul connection through many lives.

Brother/Sister: Commonly used to refer to members of the same group (coven, tradition, order), can be prefaced with "heart sister/brother" to describe a heart friend who is also a coven brother/sister.

Monogamy, Polyamoroury, Celibacy - Oh My
It is not true that all pagans have "open" relationships, group marriages, and free love. What does tend to be true is that monogamy is not assumed to be the only type of healthy relationship. Pagans have more "socially acceptable" options for how to have healthy, happy relationships and all based on mutuality, respect, and consideration of their partner’s feelings.
Some people are naturally monogamous; they are fulfilled with their partner and their choice. It is the couple’s mutual decision to be in a closed relationship. This is considered the normal and natural path in Western cultures.

Some people are naturally polyamorous – meaning they choose to have more than one romantic or sexual partner It is a common misconception that polyamoury is about sex. Polyamoury is not the same as a “swinger.” In a polyamourous relationship all parties involved have agreed that expression of affection and attraction towards others is natural, healthy, desirable, and comfortable. Polyamoury is about relationships.

There must be security in the “primary relationship”, boundaries must be clear and understood, feelings respected, mutual communication, and trust built and maintained. In order to foster such a foundation many individuals in a polyamorous relationship often sit down and discuss boundaries and rules which they mutually agree to and adhered to. If something is wrong in the primary relationship other relationships are put on hold. A “secondary relationship” can not take the place of or interfere with the primary relationship. The primary relationship must remain healthy, be respected, and be nurtured for any other relationships to exist.

In the era of AIDS and STDs you and your partner(s) should be tested before engaging in sexual activity. Take time to become friends first. Don't gamble with your life – or any one else’s – because you have a raging case of hormones. This applies to both the physical and emotional health of all those involved.

Respect is key. Respect of others’ decisions and respect of your own choices. Don’t let anyone talk you into something you are not emotionally ready for. It isn't just the choice, but the natural inclination combined with the mutuality of that choice that counts. And monogamous, polyamorous, homosexual, or celibate – these decisions if made and lived in a healthy way – emotionally, spiritually, and physically – need to be respected and honored.

Relationship Terms

Dating/Keeping Company: A casual relationship between two people who are sexually, intellectually, and/or spiritually attracted to one another. May or may not include sex or exclusivity.

Open: Loving partners committed to a relationship, who are usually sexually involved but do not desire exclusivity.

Semi-Open: A committed couple who have agreed to invite in another sexual partner, known as a secondary. The partners have mutually agreed to this decision and to a set of ground rules that address boundaries, conduct, timing, knowledge, and disclosure.

Closed: A monogamous couple who are sexual only with each other by agreement. They do not want other partners, consider the relationship to be lasting, and have a deep commitment to one another.

Lovers: A sexual relationship based on mutual love, respect and desire. Non-pagan usage often denotes a lesbian/gay couple in a monogamous relationship.

Group/Clan: A group of people who love, respect, and are sexually involved together in a committed, long-term relationship. There are an infinite number of ways to structure a group relationship, but all involve group consensus. The group can be exclusive/closed, open, or semi-open.

Primary:Original couple in a relationship who are committed to each other and to the relationship above any others. A primary relationship can be semi-open, the first couple in a group marriage, or lovers who have expressed a desire to remain together.

Secondary: : A sexual partner who is involved with a Primary partner. They are not treated or considered less than a primary partner however their desires and needs must fit into the agreed to boundaries and dynamics as agreed to by the Primary Couple in order to carry out a healthy relationship. If a secondaries needs are not being met the relationship should not be considered healthy or viable. The terms primary and secondary often indicate who has been involved the longest or has given a legal or long term commitment.

In addition to Love or Caring
Pagans have the opportunity to express themselves freely, and without the guilt associated with sex by much of the rest of society. Decisions regarding how a relationship is structured are mutual and respectful of all parties involved. We face the same challenges as any other people entering a loving relationship. Perfect love (unconditional) and perfect trust are the basis of any healthy, lasting relationship. Communication is consistent, loving, and considerate. Couples must be honest, and unafraid of expressing their feelings. They must work through issues regarding rejection, insecurity, abandonment, and jealousy. There is no room for any of those in a healthy relationship. This is doubly true for an open relationship.

Judgment, Free Will, & Consent
All three of these must be present to have a healthy relationship regardless if it is monogamous or polyamourous. An adult who is bereaved and mourning the loss of a loved one has impaired judgment. Drugs and alcohol can blot out judgment, so consent is not truly possible. Adults who were sexually or physically abused as children may have many unhealthy thoughts and behavior patterns that make consent a confused issue. They may not really understand what is being offered, or how it will affect them thus Free Will is also impaired. A rape survivor might panic, and have a fight or flight reaction to relationship or sexual issues. Relationships do not need to be rushed or forced into being. Our past – both healthy and painful - influences our choices and acceptance. Before offering or accepting a sexual proposal these issues and others should be considered so that ones true voice of consent may heard. (It goes without saying that children and minors are not acceptable sexual partners and are never sexually propositioned.)

Choice and Communication
No relationship can be healthy unless both parties actively contribute to the direction their relationship is headed. Mutual agreement as to boundaries as well as healthy interaction must be present. Pressure, manipulation, omission, etc. deny choice. Not making a decision or speaking your mind is making a choice – a bad one at that!

Respect & Honesty
Respect of others decisions and respect of your own choices. . It isn't just the choice, but the natural inclination combined with the mutuality of that choice that counts. Don’t let anyone talk you into something you are not emotionally ready for. Be true to yourself. Decisions if made and lived in a healthy way – emotionally, spiritually, and physically – need to be respected and honored. (yes, this is a repeat)

Consensus
After all is said and done those involved in a relationship must mutually respect each other and come to a consensus regarding their decisions and responsibilities.

Fulfillment
The ability and dedication to fulfill what has been agreed to. In order to honor the points above this last point must be present. If things change or are no longer within your capabilities it is time to check out the points above, do a heavy hitting personal evaluation, and start talking to your partner openly, honestly, and with love and respect – of both them and yourself.

Types of Friendships

Friendship: caring, loving, and being concerned for one another and generally without sexual attraction.

Romantic Friendship: friendship + sexual attraction that is freely admitted, without engaging in sex or overt physical expression.

Sensual Friendship: Romantic friends who flirt and are physical with eachother (hugs, kisses) but have not had intercourse.

Heart Friendship: An attraction, love, and commitment between friends, passionate and unconditional, but is not expressed sexually.

Intimate Friendship: Sexual friendship without commitments or restrictions, but have more respect and concern for one another than "fuck-buddies" (self-explanatory term). Sex is not the basis of the friendship and could, in theory, be terminated without damage to the friendship.

We can not make assumptions about the structure of the lifestyle of others. In the pagan community, almost any way a relationship can be structured according to the natural inclinations of the people involved has been tried. It is our responsibility to ask if someone is interested and what kind of relationship they are in (or perhaps the individual has chosen celibacy, or simply does not want to be with the person asking!) and then to respect the lifestyle and desires of the Other. If s/he isn't interested back off, forget it!

Every man and woman is a star, a God and a Goddess. If we keep this in mind, and remember perfect love and perfect trust, accepting one another without judgment, then we have a better chance of healing ourselves, our society, and our Mother Earth.

Suggested Reading

The Art of Sexual Ecstasy; Margo Anand

Sacred Sexuality: Living the Vision of the Erotic Spirit; George Feuerstein

Crafting the Body Divine: Ritual, Movement; Yasmine Galenorn

Body Art and Sexual Ecstasy and the Divine; Yasmine Galenorn

Greenfire: Making Love with the Goddess; Sirona Knight

Jewel in the Lotus: the Sexual Path to Higher Consciousness; Sunyata, Saraswati & Bodhi Avinasha



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