The book I have chosen to read and review is ‘Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us’ by Marie Fortune. In this book, the author addresses the modern-day problems with intimate relationships and provides guidelines regarding proper boundaries for healthy, loving relationships. The book focuses on the processes involved in making ethical sexual decisions and the external influences that affect our decisions. Fortune advises her readers to make ethical decisions that are both pleasurable for oneself while mindful of the effects our decisions may have on others. The book is not directed toward any particular age, sexual orientation, or type of intimate relationship that the readers may be in.
Fortune is a Christian ethicist, pastor, educator, theologian, and author. She grew up in North Carolina, graduated from Duke University, and was ordained a minister in the United Church of Christ in 1976. She founded the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in 1977, which is now known as FaithTrust Institute. Fortune did volunteer work at Rape Relief, a women’s shelter in Seattle, where she met many women who were victims of sexual abuse. She began to realize the lack of resources that existed for women who had been or who are sexual/domestic abuse victims due to the lack of conversation about these issues in the church. She had an idea of establishing an institution where clergy could be trained on how to deal with sexual abuse victims and she presented it to the City of Seattle’s Rape Reduction Project office. She began to gain more and more support and what was once an idea in her mind became real and remains an institution which strives for change for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Through her work, she intends to work as a community to educate people and end sexual and domestic violence.
Marie Fortune divides her book, ‘Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us’ into two parts. The first part explains the context of our society and the second explains Fortune’s ethical guidelines for sexual behavior. These two parts come together to provide its readers with an explanation of the process involved in making ethical decisions regarding sexuality. Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders provides a foreword in the book in which she states that while she isn’t in agreement with some of the things stated in the book, it still serves to provide its readers with education and reflection on our behavior. James B. Nelson provides a preface in which he expresses that the book is hopeful and realistic because it recognizes the ambiguities in relationships. Marie Fortune’s book is inclusive. As stated in the title, “the rest of us” is referred to as those “who live in the real world”. As the book progresses, there is a shift as to who Fortune is referring to by “the rest of us”. At one point, it is clear that she is addressing those who decline to parrot orthodox doctrine or decline to believe that sexual intimacy belongs only in heterosexual marriage. But then, there is an insinuation that she is addressing those in the lesbian community. Although Fortune is a Christian feminist, in her book she clearly addresses anyone who is concerned about the justice involved in decisions based on sex.
Part one of Marie Fortune’s book consists of many claims including that healthy sexual relationships should be out in the open and in the context of community. In this part of the book, there is a chapter called ‘The Particularities of Heterosexual Relationships’, in which Fortune suggests that heterosexuality is perverse. She justifies her claim with statements such as one woman in seven have been raped by their husbands and that the sexual revolution of the last quarter century has provided women with the right to say ‘yes’, but it has robbed them of their right to say ‘no’. She argues that sex isn’t justified in a heterosexual relationship if it is forced upon or if there is no mutual pleasure. These particular claims relate directly to what we’ve read and learned about in our course. Women face oppression and inequality in their personal lives as well as in the societies they live in. Fortune claims that it is not possible to do absolutely no harm; however, what we can hope for is to do the least harm possible. In other words, she acknowledges that no one is perfect but we can certainly make better decisions by thinking about the effect our decisions have on others.
In part two, there are five guidelines offered to readers about sexuality. The first is that sexual partners should be equal in power – this is Fortune’s main argument. The second is that each partner must have the option of saying ‘no’. Fortune argues that dominant or submissive relationships are completely unacceptable as well as sex that is forced. The third guideline is that sexual partners should take protection against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. She claims that women should be able to choose whether or not they want to become pregnant. The fourth guideline is that sexual partners should be committed to mutual sharing of pleasure and intimacy. In this guideline, she emphasizes that both men and women, regardless of the type of relationship they are in, should experience equal amounts of fulfillment and respect. The fifth guideline is faithfulness, in which Fortune expresses how we should be faithful to ourselves and our beliefs as well as to others to create healthy relationships.
In order to strengthen her arguments, Fortune uses personal experiences of her life as a minister and as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. The book is written as though we were listening in on Fortune’s thoughts. She questions ‘rules’ she’s heard throughout her life, such as the rule against premarital sex and homosexuality and she states that she does not understand why these rules are in place. She questions them and provides explanations as to why she doesn’t agree with them. She also provides real life experiences from other women, such as Judith Herman, in which women become accustomed to the idea that they have no choice about what happens to their own bodies due to their childhood and adolescence as well as previous experiences.
Throughout the chapters, Fortune constantly reminds us of the hope we can hold on to in terms of the future for women and relationships in general in terms of equality and sexuality. She believes her guidelines are not rigid rules by which we must stick to, but rather that we should take them into account when making decisions and go based off our own beliefs while doing the least harm to ourselves and to others. There is an incarnational theory instilled in the words of Fortune’s book. Although she doesn’t write in a way that forces her beliefs or her religion onto her readers, she does clearly imply that she believes God is interrelated to us and our relationships. She strongly argues that self-love is the foundation for our ability to love others the right way, and loving others the right way also means we love God. Fortune provides a sense of realistic expectations in her writing. She doesn’t try to paint a pretty picture but rather she exposes and analyzes the mistakes we make in our decisions. She acknowledges the cracks in marriages and the faults in human nature. As humans, we have a desire to belong and to connect but we also commit sins which include becoming isolated from real love and falling into the misconceptions present in our society regarding what love is. Throughout the text, Fortune’s tone sometimes becomes poetic and in a sense soft spoken as she quotes W.H. Auden, an ancient Hebrew love poet. She provides us with a sense of hope that in the unjust world we live in, there is still a bright future to look forward to – one that with the right education, we can thrive in and we will learn to make ethical decisions about sexuality.
The claims expressed throughout this book relate to our course because it connects ethical decision making about sex to women’s value and self-esteem. It connects our personal decisions to the consequences we impose on others and ourselves. Our course has covered topics regarding equality, sexuality, religion and its societal impact, and it has caused a lot of reevaluations of our beliefs and behaviors. One main theme in our course is the strong impact the church and big institutions have on our lives. Fortune acknowledges this. At one point, she challenges the church’s efforts to fight and deteriorate homosexuality. She states that the church has an obsession with homosexuality and it has gotten to the point that all other important issues, such as economic injustice, ecology, racism, sexual and domestic violence, and sexual ethics, have been put to the side due to this obsession. Both this course and Fortune’s book influences us to take a step back and rethink our ideals. Both provide us with information we may have not been exposed to in such a way before and allows us to reshape our thoughts on how we can improve our own relationships and society as a whole simply by changing our perspectives.
If there is one thing, I’ve found in common between all the readings of our course as well as Fortune’s book is that love is the foundation for all that is right. When we make decisions rooting from love, both self-love and our love for others, we tend to think and behave differently. Marie Fortune has allowed me to rethink what I believe about love and about loving, healthy relationships. I’ve always known self-love is important but I’ve never really believed in it as much as I do after reading Fortune’s thoughts on how it affects our lives and those of others. The one phrase that comes to mind when thinking of both this course and this book is: ‘Treat others how you would like to be treated’. This phrase, to me, summarizes what I’ve learned and it roots back to the importance of self-love. If we learn to treat ourselves with love, we learn to treat others with the same love and respect.
- Fortune, Marie M. Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us. Continuum, 2006.
- “Introducing Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune”. FaithTrust Institute, http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/unitedchurchofchrist/legacy_url/5659/Fortune-Medium-Bio.pdf?1418429942.
- “Love Does No Harm”. Google Books, http://books.google.com/books?id=YrQPgvA1qsMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us by Marie M. Fortune.” Goodreads, Goodreads, 1 Oct. 1998, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/907720.Love_Does_No_Harm?from_search=true.
- “Our History”. Sexual Abuse by Clergy - FaithTrust Institute, http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/about-us/history.