Women of the ELCA

Commentary and reflections on issues, events and trends in our church, society and world, as seen through the lens of our mission and purpose and our ministries.

Women who want to want

Posted on December 4, 2009 by Emily Hansen

That’s the title of an article published in the November 24 issue of the NY Times magazine. And yes, it is indeed referring to what you think it is. 

As women, our need for affection and physical intimacy are core to who we are as sexual beings. In fact, as human beings, physical affection is necessary for survival, no? As infants, we need physical affection to stay alive, do we not?  And as we get older, do we not still need that human touch for survival?  And why do some of us feel we don’t need it? Or don’t want it anymore? 

This article states that between 7 and 15 percent of all women between the ages of 20 and 60 feel distressed over the absence of desire, and furthermore, that little has been established about exactly why women may be somewhat more likely to become devoid of desire as they get deeper into middle age.  This subject is a real disorder and it has a real name: HSDD, or hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Unfortunately, most of the research that has been done has been centered around men. (Shocker!) 

The author talks about the sense among therapists, including therapist Lori Brotto, that the language describing the disorder “fails to reckon with women’s complex sexual beings … and that the criteria are much too simple and much too male.” (Another big surprise!) Ms. Brotto has instead been constructing an expanded set of criteria for HSDD, shaping the way vast numbers of women understand their sexual selves.  

Brotto believes that her work centering on women’s specific issues with HSDD is surrounded by skepticism and doubt and that it will likely be as many as two decades from now before science will officially establish norms for women’s desire. You might be thinking this is only a physical issue, but really, it is an emotional and mental one as well. Can we be wholly healthy women if we don’t understand ourselves in all the contexts of health, including that of desire for intimacy? We have an ongoing health initiative as an organization. Why NOT talk about it?

Emily Hansen is director for stewardship, Women of the ELCA.

Marking World AIDS Day

Posted on December 1, 2009 by Kate Sprutta Elliott

Many years ago, I worked at a clinic and social service agency that assisted people living with AIDS. It was so long ago (1984) that HIV hadn’t been identified and named yet. In those early days, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about how the illness was spread, and at the clinic we got hundreds of phone calls every month from people who were afraid—afraid they might be ill, afraid they might catch it from casual contact, afraid of the people who were in “high risk groups.”

In the two years I worked there, I went to some 40 memorial services. I can say that 100 percent of our clients died in those early years. There were no anti-viral medications and the progress of the illness was not well understood, so it was nearly impossible to treat. We heard many stories of discrimination and mistreatment of people with AIDS, even in hospitals—staff too afraid to deliver food trays to those patients, leaving their meals on the floor outside the door. Can you imagine?

Sometimes even the families of people living with AIDS abandoned them. One young client, in his late 20s, asked his mother to come and see him before he died. She lived in another city and kept postponing the trip. The day he died, he was still asking for his mom. She arrived just in time for his funeral. 

I was asked to do a reading at one memorial service. When I walked up to introduce myself to the pastor, she wouldn’t shake my hand.  Even though I didn’t have the disease, I worked with people who did–so she considered me “unclean.” I am fortunate; while my parents didn’t understand my decision to work at that organization, they were completely supportive, as were my friends and my congregation. Our pastor even allowed the clinic to use our church building for a Christmas party for our clients.

Nowadays, people affected by HIV/AIDS have access to more effective medications and their prognosis is far better than it was in the 1980s, at least in North America. But AIDS has not gone away. In this country, more than 1 million people live with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every 9.5 minutes, someone new becomes infected with the virus. We tend to think it’s a problem of developing nations and doesn’t directly affect our communities, but that’s simply not true.

 Does your congregation offer any programs for people affected by HIV/AIDS?  Do you have a special prayer service for World AIDS Day? The ELCA provides liturgies and other resources to help you mark World AIDS Day and remember our brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS.

Kate Sprutta Elliott is editor of Lutheran Woman Today magazine.