And although Potiphar’s wife spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. Genesis 39: 10-12
Well, this story definitely reminds us that inappropriate sexual behavior is nothing new. Infidelity is nothing new. Power expressed through sexual advances is nothing new. Rape, of men and women, is nothing new. Being a victim of sexual assault is nothing new. How sad that we have not overcome these harmful behaviors.
Sexual messages assault us daily. Be sexy. Expect sexy. Clothes. Make up. Muscles. Surgical nips and tucks and more are all about our being more attractive to a potential sexual partner. Evolutionarily, it’s as if we were dying out and seeking ways to increase our procreation to save the species. This, when the very opposite is true.
In one way, it seems like we put too much emphasis on sex because we are apathetic about it and trying to make it a bigger deal because we think it should be a bigger deal. People are apathetic. About social issues. About personal relationships. Easier to live through the screen and not invest yourself in your “real” life. People are distracted. Too much going on. Too tired. Too busy working. No energy for sex. People are afraid of intimacy – emotional and physical. So they ignore sex. But then they realize, I should be paying attention to this, and express that interest inappropriately.
On the other hand, sexual attraction is very powerful. We should expect it to be powerful. And we should moderate our behavior accordingly. We need to learn to recognize our feelings and our desires and deal with them in ways that have integrity and are honest and not harmful to ourselves or others.
It is also worth noting that sex is a mystery. Why we are attracted to certain people? Why is there is that depth of feeling that craves physical expression? Why is there the bodily desire of such magnitude? The way sex works on us and what it does to us can be baffling. Though anthropologists and evolutionary scientists have explanations for our drives, there is still a dimension of inexplicable mystery.
And, as we have known for years, rape and sexual assault, are not about sex but about power. Conquering armies raping women is not about sex but power. The recent revelations about football players and domestic violence is certainly about power. Rape of men by men in prison is about power. Sex can be a tool for subjugation.
What was Potiphar’s wife’s agenda? Was she so attracted to Joseph? Was she bored with her husband? Were his long hours on security detail leaving her lonely? Was she jealous of Joseph’s rise to power in her household and wanting to put him in his place, this upstart foreigner? Whatever her motives, her behavior was unethical, immoral, and harmful.
What can we learn here? We need to pay attention to our sexuality: to what we are thinking and feeling. And then make decisions about our behavior that are consistent with our values, our beliefs, and our respect for ourselves and others.
We have so many choices in this life. We want to make decisions about our sexual behavior that honor the sacredness of every human person. May we treat ourselves and others with respect. May we be true to our commitments and take delight in our loving relationships. Amen.