posted January 23, 2012

Book Shares Insights for Developing Sexual Integrity

Dr. Caroline Simon

A new book by Dr. Caroline Simon of the Hope College philosophy faculty is designed to help guide readers in achieving a clearer perspective on sexuality in the midst of the myriad—and sometimes conflicting—messages that surround them.

Her book, “Bringing Sex into Focus:  The Quest for Sexual Integrity,” was published earlier this month by InterVarsity Press of Downers Grove, Ill.

In the book, Simon, who is the interim dean for the social sciences as well as a professor of philosophy at Hope, identifies and evaluates several perspectives through which people understand sex and sexuality.  While emphasizing one in particular--a Christian “covenantal” view of sexuality as life-uniting within the context of marriage—she considers how awareness of the others can help inform a fuller understanding of both self and culture.

“In this fine book Caroline Simon delivers marvelously on what she promises: philosophically informed insight into the complexities of human sexuality,” said Dr. Richard J. Mouw, who is president and professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary.  “Not that she stays on the level of theory.  There is much practical wisdom here on the ‘ordinary’ interactions of our highly sexualized culture:  flirtation, seduction, ‘hook-ups,’ and much more!”

A specialist in ethics, Simon was prompted to write the book based on the more than 20 years that she has been teaching sexual ethics.  She found through the years that generally texts only presented two perspectives:  a Christian “procreative” point of view stressing the purpose of sexuality as reproduction, and a secular “plain sex” view of sex as a physical activity with no broader significance.

“I found that wasn’t a very illuminating way to get students to think reflectively about sexuality,” she said.  “What I ended up doing when I was teaching those courses was trying to supplement that material in textbooks by creating my own handouts.  Over time I thought it would be appropriate to create a more well-rounded book.”

Simon’s book includes six perspectives, which she calls “lenses” because they are ways of viewing sexuality, each with something different to contribute to understanding.  She describes two as Christian: the covenantal view that the book emphasizes, and the procreative view.  The other four are secular, including the “plain sex” view as well as a “romantic” lens emphasizing love and emotional attachment; a “power” lens emphasizing sexuality as a means of control or being controlled; and an “expressive” lens emphasizing sexuality as a form of personal empowerment.

The book subsequently applies the lenses in considering topics including marital sexuality, chastity and virginity, flirtation and seduction, homosexuality, casual sex, and sex as a commodity.

The result, Simon noted, is not a textbook but rather an extended essay that she hopes can be helpful and accessible not only to students conducting coursework but to anyone seeking to increase their understanding.

“I’m not trying to say everything about sexuality.  I’m trying to say the most interesting and important things that I don’t hear other people saying,” she said.  “I tried to write a book that people would read even if they weren’t required to read it for a course.”

A member of the Hope faculty since 1988, Simon is also the author of “The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny and Imagination” and co-edited the book “Introduction to Ethics: A Reader” with Hope philosophy colleague Dr. Andrew Dell’Olio, and has published many articles on moral knowledge, virtue ethics, friendship and sexuality.

She has also authored, with historian Dr. James Kennedy, “Can Hope Endure? A Historical Case Study in Christian Higher Education,” was lead author of “Mentoring for Mission: Nurturing New Faculty at Church-Related Colleges,” and has written numerous articles on the nature of Christian higher education.

Simon has served as interim dean for the social sciences at Hope since 2010, and is also the director of Hope’s Teagle Systematic Improvement of Student Learning Grant and campus coordinator for the college’s participation in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education.  Her previous service to the college has included leading portions of the college’s faculty mentoring program; directing General Education and Interdisciplinary Studies; chairing the department of philosophy; serving for a year as acting director of women’s studies and as faculty moderator; and serving as a faculty member on the college’s Board of Trustees.  In January 2007, she received the college’s “Provost’s Award for Service to the Academic Program.”