Sex and Death

Emma and I were walking through the Botanic Gardens last week. It was raining so we were snuggled up under our umbrella. We were on our way to my new favourite Sydney Cafe – the Poolside Cafe at Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool down on the edge of the water near Lady Macquarie’s Chair. We were worried that the cafe would be closed so Emma rang directory to get the number for the Cafe to check.Sex and Death
At the moment the Gardens are running an exhibition in the pyramid green-house on Orchids and Carnivorous Plants. The garden in front of the green house has been planted out with the name of the exhibition in flowers.
We came round the corner and saw this just as the operator from directory assistance picked up Emma’s call. I read out the name written in the garden, just a little bit too loud, “Sex and Death”…
The operator didn’t miss a beat: ‘what suburb please?’
I should have known that there’d be more than one listing…

I’ve been working on writing a review of The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault, so ideas about sexuality have been rustling round my mind.
The connection between sex and death is striking.

Obviously, there is a biological connection.
Reproductive sex is the mechanism through which we deal, on a biological level, with the problem of death.
It’s easy to take for granted the fact that we are only one generation away from total extinction – a point made with great power in the recent movie, The Children of Men.

But the connection runs deeper, there is a theological connection between sex and death.
Death is subject to a strict taboo in our society. It is in the blushingly Victorian space occupied by sex during the 19th Century. Our culture is marked by the thundering silence we have produced regarding death.
Is it that the secular world feels that it has answered the perennial human questioning about death…

“What happens when we die?”

… And has found the answer is profoundly dissatisfying.

Our way of life, the goods we pursue, the values we endorse, do not really make a great deal of sense in the face of an extinction coming fifteen years after retirement from work. We pile things up as though they are going to last.
… as though we are going to last to enjoy them.

On the other hand, the speech of sex grows louder and louder.
Sex is the coin of the realm. It is in the way we dress, saturates our entertainment, and is essential to our system of trade.
As death has been silenced, tucked politely out of sight. Sex has blossomed into view.

The sexual embrace is a flight from death. The desire to escape death in the power of a sensation, precisely because it is the only form of immortality left to secular humanity. The desire to speak about sex and to trade in sex is a mask for the desire to transgress the taboos surrounding sex, and by breaking the rules to master them.

And whoever masters sex holds the ‘keys of death and hades’.

At this point the Christian worldview could not be more different. Yet not without its own difficulties.
At least initially, there was no connection between sex and death, how does this make sense biologically?
Or was there death before the fall, but a different sort of death? (heresy alert)
And what are we to make of this?

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:30 HCSB)

4 thoughts on “Sex and Death

  1. Dan,

    This caught my eye as I am currently doing a course entitled "Sex and Death" looking at the philosophy of biology. It mostly looks at the sex though – evolution, the idea of a gene (a concept with is incredibly difficult to define) and such.
    I think death is particularly scary for people who define who they are what they do. Death ends all of this. Kierkegaard describes it like the acters in a play the moment to curtain has dropped. The distinctions of existance, what many see as their identity, is no more than an actors costume. (SK, Works of Love) The costume can, and often is made up of sex but also work and 'lifestyle.'

    Death can be shocking and offensive (as it should be). Tony Robinson did a doco recently on the nursing homes and hostels that we send our old people to die. It was quite confronting. Our society institutionally pulls a veil over death and I reckon it is unhealthy for us not to mention the poor sods who spend their last days closeted away in these sterile institutions.

    Anyway, thats my two cents,



  2. If death forces us to lay down the roles we play – what are we then? I'm not sure that my identity can be abstracted from my actions. I don't want to fall into saying that we are what we do; but surely who we are is not separable from what we do?
    Death is therefore the negation of identity precisely because it is the cessation of activity.
    what do you think?


  3. Certainly to some degree death is the ceasation of activity – I suspect that in death there won't be any lawyers, or garbage collectors.
    I am really struggling with this whole idea of identity, particularly to do with beliefs. Beliefs are pretty pointless unless they result in action (or perhaps inaction). But then I am still me when I stop doing something or start doing something else. I can also change some of my most fundemental beliefs and still be me (the 'I' that changed his mind). So, I don't think that actions or beliefs are fundamental to indentity but they are certainly not irrelivant!
    Perhaps the next question must be 'what IS fundamental to personal identity?' And does this survive death?


  4. Maybe 'what is fundamental to identity' presupposes a particular kind of answer – some kind of essence or static object. Certainly, 'fundamental' contains within it the suggestion of a unitary 'atom' or element that is the stuff of 'johnness'.
    Maybe there isn't a thing that is fundamentally You. Rather there is a process or pattern (material, temporal, whatever) that is constitutive of your identity. I'm sure Hegel or one of his minions was hinting in this direction…

    Here is an interesting thought about the Resurrection. Maybe God preserves within his memory the pattern which is you. In the resurrection he then imposes this pattern onto recreated matter.


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