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What Is Sacred?

Sacredness and Sexuality, Side by Side

May/June 2008

What is sacred?

This is a question that I have asked since I was a little boy. Growing up Catholic, the answer usually came from nuns, priests, parents, and other folks who I thought would have the "answer."

The dictionary defines sacred as dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity, or devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose). It is also defined as worthy of religious veneration or highly valued and important.

However sacred was defined, by whoever defined it for me, it was clear that it was something important to acknowledge, recognize, and respect. Although used most often in religious contexts, I found myself with a hunger for the "sacred" in my own life -- a sense of connection with something bigger than myself, such as the beauty of nature, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, or a connection to a partner/beloved.

Coming out as a gay man in my early 20's, and being very new to the whole "gay thing," I was awestruck by how gay people connected with each other. Conversations and dialogue from my earliest experiences with gay men were purely sexual in nature.

"What do you get into?"

"Are you a top or a bottom?"

And, one of my all time favorites, "What tricks do you do in bed?"

Naïvely, I replied that I knew magicians who could do things like pull a bunny out of a hat, but I didn't know of any "tricks" I could do in the bedroom.

My "initiation" into the tribe focused on my sexual resume and nothing else. I found this to be a very empty, disappointing, and somewhat limiting way to connect with someone, although it was commonly accepted (so it appeared) by many other gay men at bars, parties, social functions, etc.

Fast forward some time, and I have been a clinical social worker for the past 17 years. I have had the privilege of working with clients of every age (from 2 to 98) and continue to be in "awe" of those who I provide service to.

Working with the gay community has been a gift to me, including my work with HIV impacted youth, couples, and adults. When I meet a new client, the first thing I do is to ask them to tell me their story. This goes deeper than doing an "assessment."

I listen to the images they share with me, the memories of how they came to be here and what matters to them the most. When discussing sexuality and sexual relationships, I also hear a similar yearning and longing for meaning and connection that is familiar to me. When I ask folks how they decide who they share their bodies with, or what is "sacred" in their relationships with their partners, I usually get a curious expression and one of two questions: "What do you mean?" or "No one has ever asked me that before."

It's healthy to be selective about who we share our bodies with. One of the most powerful experiences we have as human beings is our ability to connect with each other sexually. It amazes me how little time we spend in our lives learning about the wonders of the human body and the gift of our sexuality, before we are ready to share them.

Our bodies are temples and we can share them with whomever we wish. When we allow ourselves to go deeper than having "sex" with someone, we can explore the "sacred" within a sexual union.

Recently I attended a Sunday morning service at Trinity United Church of Christ with a close friend of mine. During one point in the service, we were asked to share our intentions and prayers with each other. A gentleman sitting next to me engaged me in conversation and asked me, "What's in your heart?"

I found myself smiling, since I can't remember any other gay man asking me that question in a very long time.

My response was, "A hunger for the sacred and for love."

Where is the "sacred" in your life? Imagine sacred sexuality where you can connect with your mind, body, and spirit. What would this look like for you? If you can think even for a moment about this possibility, you can make it happen!

Tony Hollenbach is the Manager of Clinical Social Work/Behavioral Health for Access Community Health Network. He created the Healing Center of Chicago to integrate faith and hope into clinical work. He is available for consultation, workshops, retreats, and "healing" work with children, teens, and adults, and is also experienced in grief/loss and working with the GLBT community. E-mail Tony at

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
See Also
More on Sex, Dating & HIV for Gay Men

Reader Comments:

Comment by: J n' oregon Mon., Jun. 23, 2008 at 6:24 pm UTC
Yes ill agree that was a beautiful bit of thinking and writing word but anymore these days we have newbies and mid 20's just out for a breeding and chasing pos men so if todays generation is concerned with tomorrows future gay men how do u suppose we change the minds that will influence theirs now . cause i find it sad and some what offensive that these naive (twats) SORRY had to get that word out been choking on it .. are so eager to get this way of life that me and so many others didnt ask for and its like an everyday thing for them . i have always been a person that has a strong sexual aura beside being smart ,honestly blunt , humorous, and multitalented with a big heart and an open ear have come to the point about 3 t 4 years ago that sex with a deeper meaning with a close person connection was a totally great thing and its still happening for me so thank u for letting me ramble and spit out my concerns .. thanks ..
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Comment by: John Sun., Jun. 22, 2008 at 7:39 am UTC
Beautiful thought! Much of your insight is predicated upon a healthy understanding of one’s self globally. I wonder how much of our over emphasis on sex a gay men is an outcome of internalized homophobia?
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Comment by: James Sat., Jun. 21, 2008 at 2:37 am UTC
Enlightened men... we are showing up all over. I practice this in my work with Joe Weston at Heartwalker Studio and my work with Body Electric. warm hugz, James -- Oakland
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Comment by: Devan Fri., Jun. 20, 2008 at 4:27 pm UTC
I need to make a correction. What I meant in reference to quantum physics- the human body is 99% empty space but 1% of atoms, molecules in a state of vibration.
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Comment by: Devan Fri., Jun. 20, 2008 at 3:07 pm UTC
Thanks Tom. Much of what I mentioned involves certain daily practices and discipline and to be an authentic and individual thinker. It takes time to rethink and retrain the body and to explore the body energies from within. I teach this in some workshops in Toronto and other cities in Canada. But then it is not for everyone. When one awakens certain energies and consciousness it is impossible to ignore the other reality and beleifs we have been exposed to daily.
In my years of coming out in the west as a gay man-i have never subscribed to the western identity of what a gay man should do, be or like. Hence not a perfect fit one might say. So naturally I spend my years turning to my roots in Indian/Hindu culture.
As part of "growing up" I went off to India(i was not born in India) and over the 20 years i have met many spiritual masters/teachers/ saints,etc. and spend time with them. My questions abour sex, sexuality and gender identity has always been answered by the same reply. The soul is pure consciousness or energy. (this makes sense if one believes in a soul) and the soul has no gender. The soul inhabits the body it lives in. What matters ultimately is love and loving another. Sounds simple but it is not for many.
If we take a brief look at quantum physics, it has helped shed the light on the atomic structure of the body as being 99% atoms, molecules in a state of vibration -we are around 1% solid mass -so all those 6 and 8 pack abs are illusion in a sense. Also in Vedanta teaching in Hinduism - there is NO duality between human and God-God is an energy that lives in us-we all are reflection of God and vice versa. One of the meditation exercises used in Vedanta is to mediate in front of mirror and seeing God consciousness in yourself.
So that might be an opportunate way to celebrate Pride of who we are and love!
And to end "The more we define ourselves the more confined we become."
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Comment by: Tom Fri., Jun. 20, 2008 at 9:54 am UTC
Devan Nambiar need to say more. We are happy to learn. May be God resides in us. We are sacred beings. We are spiritual beings. We are social beings. Certainly, we are not scientific beings? The west lost it when they went scientific in every venture
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Comment by: Robert Watson Thu., Jun. 19, 2008 at 8:32 pm UTC
Finally someone speaking out about the lack of depth in gay relationships. But one question that seemed to surface while I read the article was; How do we implement this type of thinking to a a community so focused on sex? Seems like the author started searching from a religious sect and ended sitting in a pew with a man who had finally challenged him. How do we move this from the religious to the street? Are we looking at morals and scruples devolped with religious roots? Great article and looking forward to the day when a gay "GENTLEMAN" asks me that sincere of a question.
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Comment by: Devan Nambiar Thu., Jun. 19, 2008 at 2:47 pm UTC
A good question indeed and a much needed one for the gay community. Much of the sexual awakening of gay culture, pride and liberation has focused on sexual needs. It has ignored entirely the spiritual connection to sexuality or sex. While sex and sexual needs are an integral part of humanity-it has been over emphasized in the western gay culture of pride and celebration. Equally the media and various gay publication emphasis over and over the needs for gay/MSM to have certain types of "body parts' and sexual organs. And then we wonder why there is higher rates of depression, body image, eating orders, smoking and drug abuse in gay men vs. other demographics.
Step out of western culture and western religion and spirituality and if you take a look at some eastern spiritual practices.
As a gay Hindu South Asian, in the Rig Veda (holy scriptures) talk of the third sex and that includes the LGBTT.
Also for anyone who has studied the chakras in Hatha yoga, will know sexual energy is also the same as spiritual energy. The sexual energy is linked to higher spiritual awakening and consciousness. Example Trantra yoga, is NOT about having sex with others as it about having an orgasm within. However in the west it is thought to prolong sex or orgasm.
In original Trantra teaching it is about attaining orgasm within via energy meridians and merging of energies within. The orgasm is a microsecond glimpse of God consciousness. And for most humans that glimpse last for 30 seconds to a minute.
The male and female energies resides within an individual in the sushuma (sushuma is an energy pathway resides in the spine that the chakras intersect at)and it is possible to merge these energies to attain higher retain this energy within. As this is a complex subject I will end here. I can be reached at,
Take care and celebrate your humanity!
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Comment by: Christina Thu., Jun. 19, 2008 at 12:12 pm UTC
This was beautiful - Thank you.
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