Why sexuality and spirituality belong together

Comedian Pete Holmes details his struggle with faith, sex, and God.

PETE HOLMES: It was the horniness that was the teacher. I thought it was in the way of my teaching. I was like, if I could only stop being horny, I could meditate and I could find God. Fuck that shit. God is in the horniness.

The reason the book is called "Comedy Sex God" is because God and sex were so closely linked for me. When I was a kid, I wasn't tempted to lie or cheat or steal, or certainly not murder anybody. Those were all very easy ordinances from the church to follow because I wasn't tempted to do them. But sex, it's a biological, pulsing, organically occurring, fresh-batch-every-morning temptation that all these 12, 13, 14-year-olds were being told was the thing, the sin, that was keeping God, basically, from loving us. You know what I mean? We were all good to go to heaven, but three, sometimes four times a day, you're very tempted. Or in my case, I would succumb succumb! to temptation, and I felt terrible about it because that was my understanding of God.

And one of the reasons I wrote the book was to try and reform that understanding of God as this like, basically a bully, as Nadia Bolz-Weber says, with a killer surveillance system who's watching you and who really hates you. He hates what you are and wishes that Richard Rohr calls it willpower Christianity, it's like we can just push these giant boulders away and lean on them, and be at church and be like, "Hey, brother!" But really, you're as human as anybody, and that is a cognitive and spiritual dissonance that is a heavy, heavy weight. So I joke that the book is called "Comedy Sex God", but most of the sex is with myself because it was so internalized and it was so shameful and private. So when I lost my faith because my wife here's sex again: My wife had an affair. So sex, again, betrayed me. I was trying to be a good boy and I got married almost so that I could have sex, so I was playing by the rules. And then she broke the rules. But even worse, it felt like God, who was almost like the mafia -- I paid him a fee to watch my bakery, if that makes sense, and then somebody threw a brick through my bakery window. And I was like, 'You didn't hold up your end of the bargain.' So I lost my faith, and then I really had to redefine what sexuality was. It was almost like coming out of the closet as straight. I'm not trying to minimize how serious and how difficult it can be to come out of the closet as gay, but I had to announce to myself and to the world: "I like boobies." And that was hard because you were waiting for lightning to strike you down.

So the wonderful thing that I've discovered about the universe we don't have to call it God because I understand and sympathize that that's a loaded word but I see a universe that uses these wounds and these traumas and these wrong programs in our favor, ultimately. So I spent all this time, first, repressing my sexuality. Then I lost my faith. Then I went through a period of embracing it as best as I could. I bought the Playboy that I hid in my bedroom in a chair that used to belong to my grandmother. I cut a slit in the lining of that chair and I hid this Playboy that I had stolen with my friend, Opie. So that was two sins, really. And then when I lost my faith, I bought that Playboy on eBay and put it on my coffee table, because I knew that my psyche needed symbols. I was trying to outwardly manifest a world where I wasn't ashamed of being a sexual person. So like a swinger or like Burt Reynolds, I just kept or a barbershop just open air pornography, which was partially healing.

And then I tried having anonymous -- or casual -- anonymous is not true; I knew their names and they knew my name, so it wasn't anonymous. And I didn't have sex with a group of renegade hackers wearing scary masks. I was just having sex with people that I had no intention of marrying, which, if you can believe it, was a huge undertaking for me. So I thought that was healing myself.

But as I talk about in the book, there was a third step, which was I had to learn to irrationally love myself, and that that is the sort of love that, I believe, is coming from the universe or coming from God, whatever image you'd like to use, as indiscriminately as the light. So I went on this retreat to see Ram Dass, who's this spiritual teacher, he wrote "Be Here Now". And I went into I was on a private, basically, a hermitage, living in his guesthouse. But I was alone most of the time. And it was wonderful. I had this incredible transcendent experience sitting with him. I was hallucinating, which is fucking crazy and awesome. Even while it was happening, I was like, "It's happening, I'm having a mystical experience!" But then I would go back to the house, and in the morning sometimes or at night, I would get 10 out of 10 horny, hornier than I had been since I had been 15. And there I was, 39 or something, and I was trying to be spiritual. I was trying to meditate, I was burning seven to 10 sticks of incense a day. I was reading sacred texts. And all the while, I'm thinking about jiggling asses and stuff. And I was embarrassed. It was so obvious my Christian, my puritanical shame psychology was still in there. Playboys on the table and casual sex be damned, I hadn't yet opened all the blinders in my soul, for lack of a better word, and let the light in. So I thought it was in the way. I was very tempted to just masturbate and get it over with, which is how I saw sex. I always saw it as not something to enjoy or to respect or to honor or to just participate with, I saw it as something that you wanted to get out of the way so you could get back to being good or being holy or being worthy of love. So there I was on a hermitage, fucking horny. I don't know if people can even remember what it's like to be 15, And you're just like, everything is sex, everything is sex. And I was really tempted to do something about it. I joke in the book, I couldn't look at pornography on my laptop. The password for the Wi-Fi was the name of Ram Dass's guru. So I couldn't type in the name of an other-worldly guru, and then go to fucking, I don't know, XVideos or whatever. I just couldn't do it. It was all coming in my face coming in my face. [LAUGHING] it was all being held right into my face. So I had this moment of surrender and break, where I tried to do what I had been studying and what I had been telling myself. I tried to just love myself irrationally.

People give out this bullshit Kirkland purified water love to each other. It's conditional, it sucks, it's low grade. It's well love, and I want that top shelf premium love. And that really is a thoughtless love. It's a love without a reason. It's not, oh, I'm horny, Pete, I love how human you are or how conflicted you are or how good you want to be or how carnal you are and virile. It wasn't that. That's justifying why you feel the way you feel. I just tried loving it because love is a place, it's like a state that you can enter into, and you just go, everything, just like I said, as indiscriminately as the light, I love this, too. It's not God is over here with the saying frack instead of fuck, and not seeing R-rated movies and being nice. Richard Rohr points out, the word nice is not in the New Testament doesn't exist. We've lost the narrative. We've turned it into a [HEARTY CHUCKLE] and it was never about that. And I wanted to get into that place.

You think think this is a mistake? This, my body, sexuality, the world, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the whole thing is sex. The universe is undulating eroticism, and that's fucking beautiful. It's not a mistake. And spirituality, true connection and flow with the divine, to me, is not a resistance, it's not about looking good or telling people that you didn't jerk off in Ram Dass's hermitage, which I didn't. But the reason I didn't was because I love myself if I did or if I didn't, and it was in that moment that I realized the pain and that embarrassment and that shame wasn't in the way of the teaching, it was the teaching. And I had another just beautiful moment of actually loving myself. Because I realized I had been giving myself that low-grade, bullshit, conditional love. And I realized if you want to feel that from the universe, it starts by giving it to yourself. Not in the way I had intended, but I did give it to myself.

  • Comedian and writer Pete Holmes explains how he lost his faith after a long struggle with what he calls his Christian, puritanical, shame psychology.
  • Holmes found the antidote to internalized shame was 'thoughtless, irrational love'. Love should be as indiscriminate as light, he says. Many people only give conditional love to themselves and others.
  • Sexuality is not a mistake, says Holmes. Pretending to be pure by saying frack instead of fuck, and not seeing R-rated movies and being really "nice" is not what a connection to the divine is about.



Impossible Burger hits grocery stores on Friday

Can Impossible Foods beat other brands — like Beyond Meat and Tyson — in the war to dominate the alternative meat industry?

Impossible Foods
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Impossible Burger will be available in 27 Gelson's Markets stores in Southern California starting Sept. 20.
  • Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods sell plant-based burgers in restaurants, but only Beyond Meat sells products in grocery stores.
  • Tyson could begin to edge out these smaller companies with its unique meat product that contains plant and animal components, appealing to health-conscious "flexitarians."
Keep reading Show less

How do 80-year-old 'super-agers' have the brains of 20-somethings?

Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

Mind & Brain
  • "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
  • New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
  • It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.

At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

Default Mode Network

Wikimedia Commons

An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.


Amazon pledges surprisingly bold climate change goals

The move comes one day before more than 1,500 Amazon employees are set to walk off the job as part of the global climate strikes.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday plans to swiftly combat climate change.
  • Some parts of the plan include becoming carbon neutral by 2040, buying 100,000 electric delivery vans and reaching zero emissions by 2030.
  • Some Amazon employees say the pledge is good but doesn't go far enough.
Keep reading Show less