Love Without Shame (Pt. 2) Affection Amidst a Sexualized Culture

The following is merely a collection of observations and thoughts in process. These are reflections along the journey of discovering the needs of my own heart and how to better  love others.

Continuing thoughts from Love Without Shame (Pt. 1)

As I have considered the nature of my experience with my own romantic attractions (see My Journey into Voluntary Celibacy), most of the time it is not about lust, rather I experience a desire to be held. To be honest, the word “desire” hardly seems adequate to express the deep ache for affection that my heart experiences; I just could not find the right word. This desire, as it goes unmet, builds in a tension and often times leads to a struggle with lustful thoughts. What if this desire is tied to my need for security and comfort? What if my heart was free to receive, in a healthy way, affection from friends? As I have followed this train of questions; I wondered what it would look like for people to have these needs met in community. What would the level of sexual purity be like? Would singles feel less alone? How much stronger would marriages be? Would we have a deeper value of friendship?

There is a biblical and scientific precedent for the human need of physical affection.

Jesus seemed to recognize the need for physical affection. The gospels provide an expression of intimacy to be shared among brothers that is not sexual. Do you recall the story of the famed “last supper” in the gospels? Jesus was lounging with His disciples and it says that John was resting his head on Jesus’ chest. Then later Judas betrayed Jesus. His signal to point out Jesus to the soldiers was with a kiss, which appeared natural in their relationship and cultural context.

There are other accounts throughout scripture of physical affection. There are also countless articles that communicates the need for physical affection to maintain psychological and physiological quality of life (I am not an expert, but here are a few articles that I found enlightening:

The Power of Touch, Especially for Men, -Andrew Reiner NYT

There is shame, however, with intimacy as the lines of sexuality have been blurred. If John were to rest his head on Jesus’ chest today in our culture, it would possibly be assumed that they were in a sexually active gay relationship. Yet, we see through our creator, an acknowledgment of our need for affection. We see an intimacy that is healthy, pure, and to be shared among friends.

How do I approach my need for physical affection when it honestly feels so awkward in our culture?

I grew up lacking physical affection from a father figure. I have become aware of how starved I am for what has been lacking in my developmental years. Communicating this need among friends is uncomfortable. Most guys fear being thought of as gay. There is a fear of being interpreted as “trying to make a move.” For many in hook up culture, physical affection communicates “I’m into you;” and builds up to meet a sexual need (often times, once this need is met sexually, the person moves on; leaving an ever deepening ache to be known and loved). So we mostly see intimate touch as sex; we have blurred the lines.

We live in a sexualized culture, where two guys holding hands would cause others to think “They must be gay.” I was talking with a friend from Africa who pointed out that, where he is from, it is common for even the most homophobic men to be seen holding hands. It is a norm for their culture. I would assume that they are still a sexualized culture, but it does show that this level of affection between men has been culturally correlated with sexuality as defined by the society.

Marriage, Friendship, and Sexuality


I have observed a breakdown of community. Singles are drowning in aloneness. The goal of many church cultures is to get married; and many suffer until then. We have a need for non sexual intimacy; on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level; yet many go without due to social norms. Then when people do get married; all the weight of meeting these needs is on the spouse. We have funneled the role of the body of Christ to meet our needs into one person. No wonder so many marriages are suffering.

Intimacy has been equated with sex, as sex has been considered the greatest experience of love. It is true that sex is the greatest level of physical (or carnal) intimacy that a human can experience, but we are more than carnal. I disagree with the notion that sexual intimacy is the deepest of the whole of the human experience.

Marriage has become the pinnacle of love in the church culture as we have followed the ideas of the world, that sex is the most intimate human experience. It is interesting to note that when Jesus describes the greatest expression of love as “laying down one’s life for one’s FRIENDS.” The relationship He expresses with the greatest experience of love is “friendship.” We have undervalued friendship, and we have isolated family units throughout our culture in the west. It is the independent, self sustaining mindset. We build walls around marriages; isolating families and singles. We have undervalued the need for intimacy within community.

What am I wanting to see in community?

As I have thought through this, I don’t think a bunch of people touching each other all the time is what I am reaching for. We all have different needs and love languages. I believe it is an absence of shame in love and affection that I am after. I seek a people, who embody love, as Christ does. That we would be fully given to one another; seeking to meet each other’s needs above our own. That we would give of not only our money and time, but also our personal space and convenience. Clearing our schedules to sit with a friend who is hurting. Holding a friend in your arms who feels alone and unwanted; even longer than what would be a social norm. What if we loved without fear of how the world around us would perceive it? What if the culture of the Church was one that the lonely could find a family and experience love without shame?

These are all mostly questions with vague answers and reflections of my heart laid bare. It is my desire to simply initiate dialogue for you within your relationship with God and your community.

Zack Roberts —
Operations Director of Ember


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