Sex and Running
This is the tenth day that my wife has been away. Five more to go. She is the Intercultural Program Director at the high school where she teaches and is leading a group of students to Spain. Actually she is on the Canary Islands where their sister school is located. This is her second trip to the Canaries and it looks absolutely amazing. I am trying hard not to be jealous. Yesterday they hiked at the top of an 11,000 ft volcano, and oh my, the pictures. (Wait. Isn’t the Transvulcania on the Canaries? Might be a great way to combine running and touring…)
I am so proud of her. She basically built the intercultural program and already they have sister schools in France, China, and Spain. She always has had a gift for languages, and picks them up as easily as most people pick up their dinner fork. What she is doing in her work enables her to combine three of her great passions: teaching, languages, and travel. (Food, too, I should add.) Ever since we have been together we have enjoyed adventuring to new places. We have lived overseas and travel to Europe almost every year. This summer we will be there for over 6 weeks. We have been so blessed to share this love.
It is not nearly as much fun for us to travel alone, though. Every time I am someplace cool but by myself (like Bruges, Belgium last summer–very cool, by the way), I spend a lot of time thinking: “I’ve got to bring my wife here! She would love this!” When we are apart I certainly miss the companionship. But I also miss the sex. I hope this gives encouragement to some young married couple somewhere: even after 35 years of marriage you can still have sex VERY regularly. So much so, that 15 days apart begins to feel like a very long time indeed. Thank God for running.
Among the many wondrous things that running does is that it is a healthy sex substitute. For me at least, it makes life apart manageable. Of course, there is a reverse side to this. When my mileage gets really high, 110, 120, 130 miles a week, then pretty much everything is left out on the roads. And my wife gets a little kranky. But when we are apart, the hormonal changes running brings are greatly appreciated. The longer she is away, the more miles I run.
This is not the only positive connection between running and sex. Once the daily workouts get over an hour, the weight that I gained when not running starts gradually to melt away. And I can indeed put on the weight. (How did that happen?! I could eat anything and not gain an ounce when I was young!) My natural non-working-out-weight used to be about 145 lbs. Now it is closer to 155. And that is not so great when one is 5’5″. I think I carry it pretty well, but still. Yuck. My shoulders bulk up, my chest barrels out, and a little round belly begins to appear. My clothes start to get uncomfortable. Just three years ago when I was doing ultras I weighed about 30 lbs. less than I do now. Now I have two reasons to get out there and run.
One might think that racing an ultramarathon would be a killer for your sex life. Au contraire, mon cherie, as my wife found out to our surprise. Heavy weekly mileage may dampen one’s desire, but often after running a 100 mile race I am ready to enter a different kind of competition. The first time this happened, I approached the situation with way more (let’s call it) enthusiasm than my wife thought possible. Just two hours earlier I looked like a zombie on a bad hair day. Perhaps it is a kind of celebration of survival, like you have just avoided being shot by a firing squad and want to prove that you are still alive. I don’t know. But try it and you’ll be amazed. Just remember to shower first.
This week I finished Ruth Padel’s 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem: A Poem for Every Week of the Year. Good poetry deals with all of the big things in life, and that of course includes sex. Reading this book was like experiencing a good seminar on poetry. I learned a lot about the technical side of modern poetry. It greatly expanded my limited understanding of poetic rhythm and exposed me to a universe I never knew existed: consonant echoes, internal rhymes, soft vowels, and enjambment (and more). I recommend it highly, although be aware that it is really 1 way of looking at 52 poems and that outside of some biographical information on the poets themselves, the emphasis throughout is on sound and rhythm, not interpretation.
Sex was woven throughout the many poems, but in a way that made me sad. When female poets wrote about sex it seemed always to be shadowed by loss. It was something that was gone, just like their absent men. The only poem in the entire collection that seemed to celebrate any kind of mutual joy/pleasure in sex was Don Paterson’s Imperial. And the title reminds us that it was not as mutual as some of the poem’s lines may lead us to think.
Reading these exceptional poems made me grateful for good Christian sex. There is a joy, celebration, and play that perhaps can only happen in the context of a lifelong commitment to monogamy combined with Christian understandings of the body and of the divine createdness of sex. Like so many other things in our postmodern culture, it turns out that “freedom” (sex without limits) is actually bondage, and true freedom only arises when we live within God-given boundaries.
There are limits for sex even within the context of Christian marriage, however. During a course I taught last semester on the history and theology of marriage, when I asked my students about what these limits might be, they had nothing to offer beyond our basic societal commitment to consent. That is a great place to begin, but that isn’t the whole story. As one example, I Corinthians 7 talks about not depriving one another except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourself to prayer. In our hyper-sexualized society (even within the church), I don’t think the “depriving one another…for a time” is the issue. Instead, we should not become so addicted to sex that we can’t (by mutual consent) refrain for a time, for prayer, or because your wife is away. On the Canary Islands. This is an important boundary. The students heard it and understood. And now the teacher has to live it. Which makes me think. Perhaps it would be a good idea if I went out for a run. A long one.
My Christian Marriage class
4th Sunday of Lent 10