The End of Sexual Identity … or Sexual Morality? -- By: Kenneth Magnuson

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 17:1 (Spring 2012)
Article: The End of Sexual Identity … or Sexual Morality?
Author: Kenneth Magnuson


The End of Sexual Identity …
or Sexual Morality?

A Review of Jenell Williams Paris, The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011.

Kenneth Magnuson

Professor of Christian Ethics
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

In her book, Jenell Williams Paris calls for an end to sexual identity categories, which she considers to be the prevailing notion of personal identity in western culture, in which persons are defined by their sexual desires. The two most prominent categories are “heterosexual” and “homosexual.” Other, newer categories, which aim to sort out certain distinctions of sexual identity, include LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer).

In the first several chapters of the book, Paris argues that there are too many problems with using such categories. First, she argues, they represent an unhelpful cultural construct. Paris, who is a Professor of Anthropology at Messiah College, appeals to anthropological and historical research to make her point. There are a variety of perspectives on same-sex relationships in other cultures, in which sexual behavior is not understood to entail a sexual orientation or identity. Further, even in western cultures, sexual identity categories are relatively recent. Thus, contrary to our assumptions, this way of viewing human beings is not given in creation, but it is “a social construct that provides a faulty pattern for understanding what it means to be human” (43). The problem is that a person’s sexual desire is used to define who that person is. As Paris puts it, all sexual identity categories suggest that “who you want sexually is who you are socially” (56).

Thus, Paris views the innovation as deeply problematic in part because it attributes too much significance to sex and sexual desire, where ultimate pleasure, hopes, and personal identity are found. As such, it becomes idolatrous. In addition, sexual identity categories are troublesome, Paris argues, because they privilege heterosexuality over all others “on the basis of inner desires and feelings” and they are used to denigrate those who do not fit into the preferred category. This is done most often, but not exclusively, by heterosexuals. As such, “heterosexuality is a concept riddled with problems. I’d even call it an abomination” (43).

One other reason that Paris sees sexual identity categories as a problem is that many people do not fit neatly into any of the categories. Rather, they experience a range of desires, behaviors, and sense of identity, or a certain “sexual fluidity” over time that may be seen as different places on a scale between exclusive “het...

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