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Sex & Religion: The Beautiful and the Damned

Sex & Religion: The Beautiful and the Damned Titian, Adam and Eve, c. 1550. Madrid, Prado
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People have touched upon Sex & Religion in a variety of ways. However, I think there is more talk about "don't feel guilty" and less about why people feel guilty despite all "logic." This article is partly personal in nature, but for those who still feel guilty despite all the sermons and debunking, perhaps the answer is that most of us cannot quite put our finger on where the guilt is coming from – and it might be a whole lot more than just religion in the water.

  The Bible tells me so...(New International Version) -Not my opinions

Exodus 22:19 “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.”

Leviticus 18:1-29 This section says a lot about unlawful sexual relations. Most of it starts out with sexual relations that are incestuous in nature, but becomes questionable when in verse 19 it says, “Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period,” and verse 22 says “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Verse 29 goes on to say, “Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people.”

Here, I would like to say that there is no section in either of my two different student bibles about masturbation. I have some that explicitly talk about sex, ending with Leviticus in the Old Testament. It picks up with Matthew in the New Testament.

Matthew 15:19 & Acts 15:20 There is mention of “sexual immorality” being wrong, but no specification of what is immoral.

1 Corinthians 5:1, 9 It is Paul writing about sexual misconduct in the church (a man taking his father’s wife) and that the church won’t deal with it. He also says, “With such a man (one who is sexually immoral) do not eat.” Then in 6:9 he writes “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters no adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” In 6:13 food is for the body, but “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord,” and 6:18-20 is a command to “flee from sexual immorality” and because our bodies belong to the Lord we are defiling our bodies by being sexual immoral.

Paul has a ton to say about marriage, but that is another article entirely. Paul does come back for one more go, calling out “sexual sin” in 2 Corinthians 12:21.

Galatians 5:19-21 “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage; selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Just when you thought it was over, this is Paul again, telling the readers that these are other reasons they will not inherit the kingdom of God. He and the Ephesians say not “even a hint of sexual immorality” in 5:3 of Ephesians.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 “It Is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins…”
Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

Revelation: 21:8 AND if you are any of these things, including sexually immoral your “place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

  Why So Guilty?

After reading all of these sections, taken out of the Bible about sex, people often ask, “Well how can you believe in God, if this is all he believes about you?” My common response to a question like this is two-fold and maybe even a little dodgy. “A man wrote the book, and as it concerns Paul’s section, a man who I feel had a huge chip on his shoulder, because look how little sex is discussed in the Old Testament. Also, telling me to abandon God is like trying to make you believe in God.”

Usually people respond to the first half of what I say mentioning the Song of Songs, however, Solomon is writing of an engagement. The bride longing for the groom, love sickness, the wedding, the brides fears and longings, the groom expressing his love, the marriage, the beauty of the bride and love. There is an article in itself I could write about Song of Songs, but my point is that this particular section of the Old Testament is pertaining to engagement and marriage and not necessarily sex.

What I am most interested in discussing is that it isn’t ever truly clear what other things are immoral, besides what is mentioned, and the vagueness is often used to scare or justify religious people and “outsiders” into believing that certain kinds of sexual behavior prior to and even after marriage is wrong. I did not make the connection when I was younger, but for me I began to connect masturbation as the start of a slippery slope. I was not interested in having sex before marriage, but if I started to masturbate and watch porn, I was somehow defiling my mind and body and it would leave me vulnerable to further immorality. Then, if you still engage in the behavior enough, you start to believe you are bad and it isn’t fun anymore. It isn’t a "feel good thing" that actually might keep you from feeling like you need to get satisfaction somewhere else. It becomes something you use to punish yourself because even having certain thoughts makes you feel like you are immoral, you cannot be saved and you aren’t worthy of being in God’s kingdom.

But still, the question is, “Why then believe?” I believe because it has become clear to me that many things have been twisted into what people believed was good for their children or community, but later creeps up to haunt their sex lives and concept of self-morality. The reason why I say that the guilt is a bit beyond religion is that the guilt, in my own experience and those of others I have spoken to, becomes attached to other things. Things that happened when you were growing up especially, and because those things are harder to remember, if you are a religious person, it is easiest to use religion to try to make sense out of what is going on. But there are so many holes and clouds that you end up in a vicious cycle, never making sense of it.

So to someone who says, “It is so horrible that you feel so guilty,” I would say, “Yes, that is true.” However, remedying the guilt isn’t easy. People are victims of needing to have ways to make sense of things, and until there is another way to make sense of something, for the religious person and anyone who falls into one of Paul’s “categories,” feeling bad becomes a way of life.

But in order to end on a positive note, it does become easier. Self-reflection and exploration are important. Being a part of the Eden Community has been a wonderful way to get those things and I think more people should take advantage of what Eden has to offer.

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Comments

I had so many things I wanted to say really while reading this, but I'll just focus on this: As a Christian myself, I do not feel that God views masturbation or sex between a comitted couple who love each other unconditonally, as wrong. Sure it says "if you are these things you will surely be cast into the lake of fire," but it also says "you have recieved the lord God into your heart that you may become pure again," meaning you're saved and as long as you're continuing to make effort in your relationship with God, you're going to heaven. That is my way of believing, anyways. I was not so unfortunate that I had to go through what you did though, and that explains why I have no guilt and I hate that some people, you do because I can see how things such as your own experience as a child could bring on a lot of serious anxiety, guilt and even more when it comes to sex & masturbation.

Masturbation to me isn't that big of a deal. It never has been and perhaps I'm letting myself off easy? but simply masturbating has always seemed harmless to me. Pornography is a whole 'nother world of stuff though, especially if one has researched enough to know what actually goes on there, but different topic.

When you masturbate, you aren't killing someone or hurting another person. You're self-pleasuring. It'd be different if you were doing something to defile or hurt another human in the process. Again, that is how I see it.

Anyways, I really enjoyed your article! Great job. I understand frustrations and the confusion that comes with being a Christian, especially in the world today! I am often frustrated and sometimes just downright confused and angry when I just can't understand something. I recently wrote an article here (but it was taken down due to someone's complaint) discussing the whole concept of "dirty menstruation" and where that idea originates. For years I'd get angry and upset about the bible saying that until recently when I learned that it did not mean a woman is dirty or that a man should truly flee from her. A period is not dirty, women are not dirty when they menstruate and I will never believe or live that way. Lol. It upsets me. But I've come to learn a lot more about what the Kings James Version means in that dept. as well as a lot of other things I was confused about.

Well, I'm glad you wrote this. I like this type of discussion. I always learn a little and I think it was brave of you to include these things with your feelings. I also think you're very strong to hold onto your faith like you do. I find myself in similar situations where confusion and the bible is concerned. Keep your head up.

Warm wishes,
Kendra

11/28/2012
Ayumi  

Kendra (I did write on your wall as well), but just for any other reader, I was coming mostly from the perspective of pre-marital sex and masturbation. It is interesting that you chose to say "I do not feel that God views masturbation or sex between a comitted couple who love each other unconditonally, as wrong."
The key words there are "committed couple," which is exactly what I am getting at with this article. Clearly that is your opinion as a Christian, as it were, but there is a lot loaded into a committed couple. What does that mean? Is this a married couple only? Or is this a long-term partnership? These kind of blurring lines and loaded phrases is where a lot of the confusion and guilt originates. I promise I mean nothing against you, but your commentary gets at a lot of what I was trying to argue happens with those of us who choose to anchor ourselves to a religious belief system.

Thank you again for your feedback and thoughtful comments!

11/29/2012

Hi Ayumi, Just read your article and can relate to what you say. Being brought up in the church I sometimes wonder why I am at this site, or shop at any "adult" store. It is very thought provoking.

12/27/2012

Thanks for sharing

02/22/2013

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