Does Religion Hurt Your Sex Life (Too?)?by jason on Nov. 09, 2011, under Abortion, Arizona Families, Art & Culture, Biblical Inerrancy, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Christianity, Clarity, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Faith, Fundamentalism, Gay Marriage, God & Bible, History, Logic, Mormonism, Reason, Religion, Sanity, Science, That's Life!, Willful Ignorance
This post comes to us from Jim Wilson:
Human sexuality and religion have a complex and, in my opinion, an often dysfunctional and paradoxical relationship. On one hand, I have heard leaders of the faithful speak of sexuality and sexual pleasures as gifts of God to be treasured, and gifts that do much to strengthen the bonds between individuals and serves as an outlet for expressions of affection. On the other hand, I have seen a strong tendency especially within the three big monotheistic religions to treat sex as something dirty and taboo that is to be valued primarily if not exclusively for its procreative purposes and otherwise demonized. This attitude is expressed in many forms including: opposition to contraception, opposition to sex outside of marriage, opposition to any relationship type other than strict monogamy, opposition to masturbation, opposition to medically accurate sex education (in favor of abstinence only), and opposition to homosexual or bisexual activity.
I am of the opinion that people should be free to have whatever value systems and engage in whatever sexual behaviors they like, so long as this is done with the knowledge and consent of all who are impacted. If one wishes to hold the sex-negative values discussed in the paragraph above, that is fine with me, but I am of the opinion that many of them are not conducive to physical or mental health.
We have strong sexual drives that are very much part of our biology, and gratifying them can be a source of great pleasure, connectedness with others and are in my opinion an important part of maturing. Denying these impulses strikes me as a means of promoting frustration, insecurity, anxiety and social difficulty. We live in an age where we have access to advanced contraceptives that substantially reduce the risks of unwanted pregnancy when used properly. Also we are now able to test for the full range of sexually spread diseases. As such, I see little reason why responsible, ethical adults should not be able to fully enjoy each other’s sexuality, now that it is possible to minimize the risks of doing so.
When the holy books were written it was common for people to be married in their early teenage years, as they were starting to develop strong sexual feelings. Today, people at what was once considered marrying age are now considered children, and are usually dependent on their families. Realistically, securing a good future in this day and age requires years of school and people are becoming financially independent and thus ready for marriage at a much later age. In ancient times abstaining from sex prior to marriage may have meant a few years after the onset of puberty. Now it may mean over a decade or more afterwards. I don’t think denying one’s sexual desires for this long is a psychologically healthy option for most people. As an unmarried twenty-something I personally find the notion that I should deny all sexual feelings until I find someone willing to marry me unrealistic and downright silly.
I am convinced that biology agrees. Even during the prudish Victorian times, there is evidence that secret pregnancies were among the primary causes of marriage. Additionally, regions with strong sex-negative cultures tend to have high rates of teen and other unwanted pregnancies. It is likely that emphasis on abstinence only sex education contributes to this problem, since it commands young people to fight their biological impulses and gives them no tools to prevent pregnancies or venereal diseases when they find this fight unwinnable.
I have heard it argued that religions, especially bookish religions like the big monotheisms, often have a tendency to oppose the introduction of technology or cultural changes that alleviate or remove the ugly consequences of acts that violate the written commands found in their outdated holy books. I think this is well illustrated by the Catholic church’s anti-contraceptive stance, which has caused great harm in many AIDS ridden countries. The church’s opposition to condom use and its associated misinformation has almost certainly contributed to the spread of the disease.
In George Orwell’s dystopia 1984 the totalitarian state very much opposed non-reproductive sex, and taught the population that sex was foul and disgusting and that engaging in it should be done out of duty to the party. The party even had a project to abolish the orgasm in the works. It is suggested that the reason for this was because a healthy sex life creates people who are empowered and willing to act for themselves, while it is much easier to channel the energy of sexually deprived people into servile work, marching and warfare. I think there is an element of truth in this and I suspect that the extremist manifestations of the major religions often adopt negative attitudes towards sex because sexuality provides a realm in people’s lives in which they are in control rather than some deity.
It also has to be mentioned that sexually prohibitive religions almost always have a sexist bent to their teachings. Women are viewed as sources of temptation and uncleanliness, rather than given the respect they deserve. This is often accompanied with a demand that they accept submissiveness to their husbands. It has been argued that much of the prejudice against homosexuality stems from sexism against women. The old testament forbids men lying with men as they would with women. This language suggests that the problem with homosexuality is that it demasculinizes men since one of them is being penetrated as a woman would be in heterosexual sex. Note, however, the lack of specific prohibitions against female homosexual activity.
There are many other aspects of this topic that deserve to be covered, but will have to be neglected since this piece is already very long. One is female genital mutilation which is a religious practice deserving of its own entry on this blog. I will close by saying that I reject the concept of sin altogether and prefer to judge things on their tangible consequences. From that perspective, I see nothing wrong with sex before marriage, choosing to abstain from marriage, ethical non-monogamy, contraception, masturbation, and creating a culture that is more open to talking about these issues. In fact, I tend to be a fan of all these things. Whatever you do, make your own decisions, be mindful of all the risks associated with your actions, treat your partner/partners ethically, take responsibility for your actions, and have fun!!!