The Problems With The Ways Evangelicals Celebrate Sex

Evangelicals are not as anti-sex as outsiders think. There is a lot of pro-sex messaging that one can find in evangelical communities. But the ways that evangelicals praise idealize sex are often as problematic as the ways they infamously demonize it. Libby Anne has a superb post which resonates deeply with my experience having grown up evangelical:

I was given the impression that when I got married sex would automatically be AWESOME. Without, you know, even talking about things like sexual preferences beforehand. I was woefully uneducated about sex (largely because, you know, all that mattered as a single was abstinence, so that’s all I needed to know about). I totally didn’t get why people said you should have sex before marriage to make sure you’re sexually compatible because, well, I thought sex was just…sex. I didn’t realize there were different preferences or different types of sex. I didn’t know there were different sex positions. I didn’t even know it was something that took practice! This does not make for a healthy sex life!

She also explains:

When I was growing up, so much emphasis was placed on the idea that being a virgin on your wedding night will ensure that you have a perfect marriage that, well, that’sbasically the only thing I was taught about how to have a good relationship. (Well, that and “practice wifely submission.”) For people who claim to be appalled with modern culture’s “obsession with sex,” evangelicals and fundamentalists do a very good job of reducing everything to sex on their own. How do you have a good dating or courting relationship? Don’t have sex. (Also, have the guy ask the girl’s father’s permission to date her.) How do you have a good marriage relationship? Have regular sex. (Also, the wife should submit to her husband’s leadership.)

I never heard the terms “healthy relationship” or “unhealthy relationship.” I was not taught anything about the importance of communication. Or cooperation. Or compromise. The emphasis when looking at a guy-girl relationship is not “is this a healthy relationship” or “are they practicing good communication skills.” No. It’s “are they having sex? no? are they french kissing? because that’s dangerous territory to enter.” It’s all about staying pure, and if you do that, you’re set. It’s easy to become so fixated on purity, on whether or not you’re having sex, that things like how to have a healthy relationship takes second place or becomes pushed under the carpet entirely!

And her takeaway:

The alternative is to teach young people to find their value not in whether or not they’ve had sex but rather in themselves and their own beliefs, values, and dreams, and to value others in the same way. The alternative is to see sex as a normal part of life and to educate young people about it, and how to make sexual choices responsibly and ethically. That is the alternative.

There’s more. Read it.

In response to another great Libby Anne post, a year ago I talked a bit about the ways evangelical messaging warped my own views of sex, love, and relationships as a Christian teenager and young adult. I also addressed my former evangelical views on love and sex in my post on how they related to my views about sexual equality when I was a Christian.

Your Thoughts?



“The History of Philosophy” and “Philosophy and Suicide”
Before and After I Deconverted: The Development of My Sexual Imagination
Why Would Being Controlled By A Brain Be Any Less Free Than Being Controlled By An Immaterial Soul?
Before I Deconverted: Christmas Became A Christian Holiday To Me
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Paul Susac

    I have had a handful of lovers who have come from highly religious background (one of whom had been evangelical by choice, not by upbringing). For the most part I have found that the issue of sexual compatibility is just a part of an over-all issue of compatibility. Religion figures into this to a degree because if the woman is in a repressive religion we are not going to be attracted to each other.

    My own kids went to a UU church group that taught them a very comprehensive sex ed class, and it seems to have been helpful for them. I learned sex ed in high school but it was weak-sauce. I had a GREAT sex ed teacher in college though, so sex ed was well covered in my own life.

    What makes for a good sex life is not only complicated, it’s also constantly changing as the relationship develops. Clearly Libby Anne didn’t get this message, but then MOST people have to figure this out for themselves. So I guess, I would say that the issue of sexual submission is a bigger concern to me than the issue about ignorance.

    On the other hand sexual repression is a hug problem. All that BS about evil, and sin. I had a girlfriend once who was so indoctrinated into the idea that sex was dirty that she developed vaginismus – a condition where the vagina clenches shut and making penetration painful if not impossible. She directly related this to her religious upbringing and the value it placed on her virginity.

    I’d say that for sure there is damage done to people’s sex lives by religion. This almost seems like a major function of religion: To use social pressure and bizarre beliefs to control sexual behavior. Did you ever notice how the pope hat looks like the head of a penis? And what to Catholics do? Bow down baby! Coincidence? I think not!

  • smrnda

    As I said on her post, from the outside, the Christian perspective on marriage appears to be that it’s the place you go so that you can finally get release from all your pent-up, uncontrollable sex urges, which kind of degrades marriage into being primarily about sex. Sex is a part of marriage and relationships, but it just seems obsessively sex-focused.

    I’ve found asexual people don’t fit into this vision either, and I’ve rarely met religious people who seemed to be able to figure out that people still want relationships and marriages even if they aren’t interested in sex.

    Part of the problem with the approach is that it simplifies everything far too much into a few simple rules that you’re told are guaranteed to work if you follow them. It may work for people in the subculture because they’re expectations are going to be very different, but I’m not sure how true that ever is.

    • PolyP

      Actually, the bible says almost exactly that: in 1 Corinthians 7: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband…for it is better to marry than to burn.” Granted the last part of that is about widows remarrying, but the theme remains the same. To Christians (as I was raised in it) that IS what marriage will be: sex! blessed release of all the guilt of all your sexual thoughts and feelings that you prayed and fasted and wept over and were rushed by the guilt of. wish I never wasted such a part of my life on this BS.

  • Randy

    I do find the evangelical view of sex strange because they accept contraception. So they break the tie between sex and children and maintain the tie between sex and marriage. But they have trouble explaining why. So they say just trust God. He knows best.

    The truth is most evangelicals couples I know seem to have a pretty good sex life. They do read books on communication and such. They tend to make better choices of who to marry precisely because sexual activity was not there to disrupt their dating. So, on the whole, I am thankful for my evangelical sexual ethics but more grateful for embracing the Catholic sexual ethics after I was married. The Catholic ethic actually makes much more sense.

    • ACN

      “They tend to make better choices of who to marry precisely because sexual activity was not there to disrupt their dating.”

      And awkwardly, their marriages have the same divore rate as the rest of the population who did disrupt their dating with sexual activity.

  • Patrick RichardsFink

    “Practice wifely submission” is far too often mere code for “There is no such thing as marital rape.” And denying people any and all sexual experience before marriage, combined with the ideal of submission, strikes me as the best way to ensure that sexual satisfaction levels inside those marriages will be low compared to other segments of the population, as well as ludicrously heteronormative at the very least.