I like this question. And like most great questions, I like it because I think the process of asking it is even more important than the answer you choose.

created at: 2013-03-12

At first, the question seems almost meaningless. “Hookups” and “holiness” are both such vague, ever-changing, define-it-for-yourself concepts that the question can be instantly dismissed with, “It depends what you mean by that.” OK, so it depends.

But let’s use some commonly accepted ways to understand these two terms. Hookups include any kind of sexual activity, be it kissing or touching or intercourse, between two (or more) people who are not dating each other. Maybe your definition differs slightly from this one, and that’s fine. It’s an intentionally vague term—vague about what sexual activity is involved, and vague about what the relationship is between the people involved.

Holiness is, well, also tricky. Traditionally referring to some quality of God/Hashem/The Holy One, the concept of holiness suggests something special, divine, important, spiritual, and richly and deeply positive. Again, your definition probably differs.

Now note that the question is not whether hookups are always holy, but simply whether they entail the potential for holiness. Unfortunately, many hookup experiences are coercive, violent, scary, upsetting and decidedly negative/unholy. But is there a potential for hooking up to feel holy, to bring holiness into people’s lives and into the world at large?

If the answer is yes, that would imply that:

  1. Sex can be good. If hooking up can be holy, then sex can be holy. In the Jewish tradition, there are many instances of a positive attitude toward sex, but confined to marital/reproductive sex. In American culture, we get a lot of messages equating sex with something that’s dirty or impure. If hooking up can be holy, then we need to reshape all of those messages.
  2. Sex outside of a relationship can be good. Many institutions and leaders within and outside of the Jewish community have articulated a sexual ethic in support of sex “within a committed relationship.” If hookups can be holy, it means there can be ethical sex without a long-term monogamous relationship; that monogamy does not have a monopoly on sexual goodness.
  3. Sex-for-pleasure can be good. Numerous messages we see in the ancient Jewish texts—and maybe also messages we got from our families or our schools—tell us that sex is for reproduction and that reproduction is what makes sex good. But if hookups can be holy, maybe there’s something about sexual pleasure that can be special and holy for its own sake. Maybe some people call it pleasure, others call it fun, and others call it connection. I’d like to explore these qualities further—what is it about a sexual experience that might have the potential to make it a holy experience?

A closing note on consent: I often use the question “can hookups be holy?” to frame a conversation on the need to give and get consent at every step of sexual activity. Even though hookups do not derive their holiness from a relational commitment between the people involved, there still is more than one person involved, and thus whether or not the hookup can be holy depends on whether or not the people are recognizing and respecting each other’s holiness/humanity. So they must check for consent; they must care whether or not the other person actively wants to be engaged in the hookup activities. Consent does not guarantee holiness, but it’s certainly necessary for any measure of a good, healthy, positive sexual experience.

What else would make for a holy hookup?