When you were in high school, did you hear about how the Holy Spirit played an integral part in every sexual experience? What about how sex is the ultimate bonding experience between you and your spouse, a way of connecting on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level? How about how God gave us sex as a way to keep us close and connected with our spouses despite the tensions and frustrations of everyday life?
No? Maybe that’s just a church thing.
Growing up and becoming a feminist, I’ve found my experiences of church and sex really weird. Feminism doesn’t really talk about church very often, except to condemn it as institutionalised patriarchy (which, to be fair, it often is) so I don’t have a lot context for the Christian sex talks I’ve personally benefited from. But I really do believe that my experiences talking about sex at church gave me a positive attitude towards sex that has overall helped me as an adult, even if some parts of “the talk” were a little strange.
Although the term started in very academic circles and was made famous by pro-porn feminists, these days most feminists want to be “sex positive.” But religion is a big part of my life, and although I feel like I’ve learned a lot of positive things about sex at church, I’ve only ever heard it described as sex negative.
Mentioning church at a feminist party is a very uncomfortable experience. I dare you to try it. Mentioning church during a conversation on sex positivity? Even I’ve never been brave enough to try it. But I’ve never found my experiences with church and sex to be particularly negative. Maybe that’s my privilege speaking – I am heterosexual and happily married, but even still, many people would benefit from open conversations about sex at church.
Why do so many still feel a stigma around it? And why is there also stigma around church in sex-positive circles? Is it simply because of the focus on monogamy or are church and sex positivity completely incompatible?
As a Christian, I look to the Bible and church history to try to figure it out.
When the Bible was written, sex was a completely different thing than it is now. For starters, children made you money rather than costing money. They were literally your retirement fund. They had a function. More children, especially boys, meant more security for your old age. Lineage was incredibly important for financial reasons. There was a lot of patriarchal bullshit around it.
Given that context, it’s not super surprising that sex was considered legally and spiritually binding.
In Jewish culture, sex was marriage. As an extreme example, in the Old Testament, if a girl was raped, her rapist was legally required to marry her. Why? Two reasons:
1) Sex equalling marriage helped everyone figure out whose baby was whose.
2) Because of the first point, girls who weren’t virgins weren’t considered “marriage material” and, at that time, women’s entire financial security depended on men. This was a way to make sure that girls who had been raped didn’t end up as beggars or prostitutes. It was a cruel and very imperfect world.
But beyond the harsh pragmatism of ancient tribalism, loving sex was celebrated. The Old Testament of the Bible contains an incredibly erotic love poem called Song of Songs (Jewish boys weren’t even allowed to read it until they were 12, it was so scandalous). It’s beautiful, and kind of sexy if you’re into bearded goatherds. It starts off cute – “May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine” (Song 1:2) – and two verses later they’ve already moved into the bedroom.
Even the very beginning of the Bible has God creating people, people having sex and God saying, “This is good.” So stigma? Overall negativity? That wasn’t a Christian thing. They didn’t have that puritanical culture where talking about or even having sex was discouraged. In the Old Testament, sex is patriarchal and very baby-focused, but people could at least talk about it. With the whole family living in one tent, you kind of had to.
In the New Testament Jesus barely talked about sex so I doubt the taboo started with him. Rather, the part of the Bible that most resembles the dysfunction in discussing sex that we face in churches today is when Paul confronts the Gnostics.
The Gnostics tried to avoid sex altogether because they believed that the body was evil and only the spirit was good. Paul directly opposed the Gnostics, and although he was very pro-celibacy, he was also very pro-sex for those who were married. In First Corinthians, he even suggested that men need to sexually satisfy their wives (shocker, right!?).
Based on the Bible, the stigma around talking about sex shouldn’t be there.
Christian feminism will never be identical to secular feminism and Christianity will never be “sex positive” in the sense of accepting all forms of safe, consenting sex as equally beneficial. I doubt I’ll be invited for a threesome at the pastor’s anytime soon, but is it Christian to talk about sex in church? Definitely.
So go ahead, Christian feminists – talk about sex! It is entirely Christian to talk about how couples can sexually satisfy each other and it’s definitely Christian to talk about how good sex can improve your relationship with your partner and with God.
God knows, that’s the kind of sex talk we need.
Christa Smith is a contributor for The Q – she can be found on Twitter @FemChristian