Religion and Sex
When you and your honey climb into bed with the intention of snuggling and sharing pleasure, do you intend to also include the church under the sheets? Unintentionally and unconsciously many people do. A strong link exists between religion and sex. Traditional religious organizations espouse behavior that is good, not bad and that is right, not wrong. Through centuries, religious education, has associated sex with bad, wrong and sinful rather than what is sacred. Instead of an expression of the divine, sex is suspiciously regarded as weakness of the flesh. The result of this influence is that sexuality, a natural part of being human, is tainted with shame, guilt and ambivalence.
Two broad kinds of spiritual traditions characterize the journey to completeness. The masculine approach declares that God is not here and we must reject all that is not God to find Him. The feminine approach proclaims that God is omnipresent, in all things, and human completeness is attained by loving and embracing everything without exclusion. Christianity, the religious tradition that forms the foundation of our culture’s values, is predominantly a masculine way. It urges us to reject all things that are not God in order to become complete. Included in this rejection are the physical desires of sex and sensuality, described as temptations of the devil that may prevent us from spiritually developing. The current era of masculine-based traditions are in decline, as is demonstrated by fading church attendance and church closings. A feminine spirituality is blooming as is hinted at by the growing influence of women socially and economically, but also the explosion of the Internet. Through such a transition sexuality is gradually being celebrated as necessary, healthy and spiritually significant.
However, the residual effect from centuries of masculine-based teachings linger. Guilt, shame, embarrassment and general discomfort characterize many individuals’ deeply held feelings about their bodies and sexuality. Being a good, moral person seems at odds with being a passionate, enthusiastic lover. Deep within the minds and consciousness of many an inner conflict binds them, preventing sexual comfort while producing inhibition. The tragedy here is that the inability to be free from such inner restraint puts many romantic unions at risk for dissolution.
A paradox is that most young people have not been raised in a structured religious environment, yet still inherit the burden of sexual strictures taught to older generations by traditional religion. The shame and discomfort with bodies and sexuality has been passed on while being disconnected from the complete teachings that contributed to growth and development. Sexuality and values will always be strongly linked, but if the two are inconsistent then inner conflicts occur which undermine health and strong love relationships. The values which declare physicality, body-centered pleasure and sexuality as carnal and sinful have become disconnected from their purposeful source; instead they are discarded fragments over which many people can trip on their journeys of spiritual growth. Loving one’s mind, body and spirit are necessary for a strong and moral life.
If men and women are ashamed of their natural being, their inhibitions restrict them from openly loving themselves and their partners. Sex is not everything, but it remains a necessary part of being human; if any part of our humanness is rejected we cannot be complete. The residual negative sexual values which contaminate our psyches, prevent our passion from being a healthy expression. If sexuality is associated with sinfulness, sex and love cannot not be combined. When denied its proper flow, sexual energies ally with darker forces and becomes expressed in immoral, destructive and perverted ways, an all-too common phenomenon that shows up daily in the news. Negative attitudes towards sexuality cause the term “sacred sexuality” to mistakenly seem like a contradiction of terms.
What are your values? From where have you inherited unhealthy views? It’s a worthy task to scrutinize your values and attitudes and adjust them to insure they are positive and healthy. Andrew Aaron is a sex and marriage therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.