Sex and Sensibilities

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

Being a documentary fanboy, I’ve lately stumbled across a couple of interesting histories on the topic of sex, which have set me thinking about what shape our attitudes to it, so forgive me coming over all Carrie Bradshaw.

Many early European cultures had a decidedly celebratory attitude to sex. Ancient Egyptians practised public fertility rituals which included open masturbation. The homes of ancient Romans were liberally adorned with explicit images of sexual activity and body parts. And this was not pornography, erotic images to enjoy in private; these were lawn ornaments, architectural features, frescos and trinkets to be viewed shamelessly and openly – much to the discomfort of the stuffy Victorians who excavated Pompeii.

Sexuality too was a different concept to the gay/straight/bisexual one we commonly use today. What mattered for the ancient Romans was not who your partner was or who you found attractive, but what role you played. A man was still behaving in a respectable, manly way when he had sex with either a man or a woman, as long as he was the active partner. For men, the only shame to be found in gay sex was that of the passive partner – the man who had taken the ‘female’ role. The Greeks, meanwhile, openly encouraged gay relationships for their (male) citizens, rationalising that soldiers fighting alongside their lovers would be disinclined to show cowardice, and would fight more fiercely to protect each other.

Many seem to attribute the birth and spread of sexual shame to the rise of Christianity, though I’m not totally convinced it’s a fair accusation. I’m no historian, but for my money, social attitudes rarely have such simple and singular causes. But in any case, one of the many oddities that sets Christianity apart from so many of its contemporary religions is the fact that Yahweh apparently fundamentally disapproves of sex and sees nakedness as shameful, rather than entirely natural and (shock, horror) enjoyable! For the Pagan religions, sex was a fundamental, even semi-divine, part of life. For Christianity, it was a barrier, a temptation that led you away from the divine. Early church fathers seemed to only grudgingly permit sex within marriage if people find themselves unable to keep to the nobler state of chastity. In St Paul’s words:

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9, KJV)

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians took on an interesting twist when I learned that in Roman times, Corinth, with it’s temple to the goddess of beauty and love Aphrodite, was rather notoriously for sexual conduct. ‘A Corinthian girl’ was an expression for a prostitute, while ‘a Corinthian businessman’ was a pimp. For me, it makes St Paul’s letters sound like an outraged viewer writing in to a television network to complain about the disgraceful scenes of debauchery they’ve had the nerve to broadcast.

It also surprised me to learn that the church officially opposed not only sex, but marriage too for being a vehicle for sex, until as late as the 12th century. Previously, marriage was not really a religious institution at all, more a personal, business arrangement. But here the church took over the business of marriage and controlled it (and by extension, sex), rather than simply oppose it. Though there remained many prohibitions on sex even within marriage – never on a Sunday or religious holiday, missionary position only (man on top), and never naked. And it was only in the sixteenth century that the marriage oath was made a sacrament that had to be performed by a priest.

Attitudes to sex in the Christian west have remained on the rather prudish end of the scale since. Until today where it seems, if anything, rather commercial. Perhaps it is understandable in societies built on capitalism, where selling is the order of the day. After all, nothing sells like sex, and a sexually enticing advertisement cannot help being instinctively arresting. But though we are surrounded by the PROMISE of sex, sex itself is still largely conspicuously absent from our public culture. There’s hardly a film made these days without a sex scene, and though it seems like film-makers are constantly testing the boundary of how much of the sex act they show, actually graphically showing it is still confined to our top shelves, our private cinemas in seedy districts, our secret ‘bedroom stashes’ and behind proof-of-age paywalls. Public displays of affection are often viewed as rude to others, and nakedness a thing for which there is ‘a time and a place’ – neither of which seem to be in the public arena. For all its promoting and selling of sex, our modern society still seems to have far more in common with the Christian mindset of sex as something naughty, than with the pre-Christian cultures who were literally shameless about it.

Now even though we atheists hold no belief in God, we cannot help being products of our culture, and our culture is steeped in Christianity. So where does that leave an atheist drawing their own sexual boundaries? Where once I promised myself I would only ever sleep with the one and only man I would ever fall in love with (oh for those innocent days of youth again), I’ve since found myself in bed with men mere hours after meeting them. Is that something for which I should be ashamed? Is there anything wrong with being a slut?

Certainly there are health aspects to consider. Then again there are precautions we can take which make sex a relatively safe experience. Accidents, of course, happen even when everyone is being responsible, but that is true of practically any activity. We wouldn’t consider cooking a meal shameful just because someone might have an accident.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have come at this from a religious angle. Perhaps our notions of sex come as much from the ‘one true love’ fantasies of Disney and fairy stories? But in any case, where do you, as an atheist (or not…?) draw your own sexual boundaries? Are you comfortable with your naked body? Can you look at yourself naked in a mirror without the urge to cover up? Who are you comfortable being naked around? Do you kiss your partner in public? Do you mind when others do? How long do you like to know someone before you have sex with them? And what would you think of someone who would do it in half the time? Share your thoughts.

  • David Hart

    Yes, I mind when others kiss my partner in public :-P
    …Sorry, but someone had to say it.

  • Anon

    Which documentaries? Inquiring minds want to know. :-)

  • Michus

    A well written and thought-provoking look at a very interesting topic and you’ve raised a lot of questions and I had intended to share my thoughts on the topic since it’s such a compelling and a, well, titillating one but I can’t think of anything to say.

    One thing that I will add is that when it comes to how long to wait before having sex… I find that the anticipation towards sex, especially a first sexual encounter with someone, is an energizing and powerful force that seems to fill every day with more distractions, anticipations and building attraction towards a person and that all these effects pull together at the final moment for some particularly passionate and enthusiastic fun.

    For me it’s just as much about the anticipation, the tease, the game, the expectation and the emotional connection as it is about the physical sex. Having said all that I should also point out that I’m male just to show that it’s not just the female-side of a relationship that’s all about the emotional/mental stuff of sex.

    That’s just personal preference though, not any kind of commandment. As far as I am concerned other people in their relationships.. er, casual relationships can have sex in the bathroom of the club they meet at. Unless I’m in the bathroom. Lock the door first or something.

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com/ Slow Learner

    As long as it’s Safe, Sane and Consensual, to use the BDSM community’s pithy epithet for the limits…

    My partner and I can be quite wicked in public, though part of the thrill is in the transgression, so what the hey…

  • RitchieAdmin

    @#2

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/pornography-secret-history-civilisation/

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/surprising-history-sex-love/

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/whats-the-problem-with-nudity/

    The site does seem a little temperamental about running some of their documentaries, so try looking for them on youtube if you come across a problem.

  • RitchieAdmin

    I also recall an excellent series called Sex BC. The only place I can find to watch it though is here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1082541/

  • karen

    At least part of the prudish attitude about sex in the recent past was pseudo-scientific. There was a feeling that sexual activity was so physically and mentally debilitating that it ought to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Both men and women were advised against sex and even masturbation, for fear of permanent exhaustion or generally poor health because of the rigors involved.

    The other interesting thing I heard about sexual attitudes recently was while auditing a university-level world history course. The professor asserts that what we know of now as early women’s liberation began in England during the Victorian era.

    The very prudishness about and distaste for sex that we think is ridiculous now actually allowed women to go into society for the first time unaccompanied by their fathers or other male chaperones without fear of assault. This led to women being allowed to work outside the home, shop unaccompanied and generally engage in friendships with men without their reputations being compromised.

    I thought that was incredibly interesting and something I had never heard before.

  • Nathaniel

    Sex for me is something done with a partner I am committed to. I fully recognize this as a personal preference, without any moral force. It’s what makes me hottest.

    As for the whole nudity thing, years of sleeping with clothes on makes it hard for my body to be comfortable nude while sleeping. During the day though, I have no problem being nude in the privacy of my room, so long as I am alone.

    I am not particularly squeamish when it comes to discussing sex and sexuality, even in real life. I have had frank conversations on this topic with my siblings and mother, and feel no disgust when contemplating old people/my parents/gay couples having sex.

    As my attitude as to what constitutes good sex vs. bad sex, Safe, Sane and Consensual as stated above.

  • Jormungund

    Accidents, of course, happen even when everyone is being responsible, but that is true of practically any activity. We wouldn’t consider cooking a meal shameful just because someone might have an accident.

    Very true. But the assumption of risk in both cases is wildly different in a matter of degree.
    As someone who rides a motorcycle I certainly won’t look down on others for their chosen level of assumption of risk. But promiscuous sexual activity is nowhere close to holding a similar risk to cooking. Most people are willing to risk a poorly prepared meal or the rather small likelihood of causing a fire in the kitchen. Much fewer are willing to risk getting infected by incurable and sometimes lethal diseases that are spread through sexual activity. Minimizing the number of partners proportionally minimizes that risk. For someone seriously concerned by herpes, certain forms of hepatitis or HIV, promiscuity would seem to be dangerously reckless in a way incomparable to trying out a new recipe.

  • Miles

    I’m definitely comfortable naked – I probably spend too much time looking at myself in the mirror to be honest. I prefer nudity in private and while sleeping, and I hold my prick like a child sucks their thumb, only more so.

    I love sex* and everything sexual, from dirty jokes to public displays of affection: a warm feeling comes over me, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, and I inevitably sigh wistfully and think a variant of “Why can’t life be like this more often?”

    I can’t for the life of me understand prudishness. I accept that some people are uncomfortable with sexuality and intimacy, I just don’t understand why. (And of course creeps or jerks can turn one off, but I’m talking about normal, nice bystanders here). I used to think prudishness was just another form of shyness, like discomfort around strangers or public speaking, but then I saw religious loons who clearly weren’t shy in the traditional sense, so it must be something else.

    *Sex isn’t the only thing I love, and I’m rarely ravishingly hungry for it. I’m reminded of an episode of Supernatural where Hunger makes an entire town go mad with desire, and the hero is the only one unaffected – not because he lacks desire, but merely because he is “well fed.” Lest anyone think that last line was a boast, let me just say that I am my own favorite sex partner :D

  • Miles

    Also, I know that in my last post I used “their” as a singular possessive. English needs genderless pronouns, and “its” simply will not due, so I am drafting “their” into service. Join me in the battle of our time against the English Nazis and their manifesto of language purity.

  • Alex Weaver

    But in any case, where do you, as an atheist (or not…?) draw your own sexual boundaries?

    Are you comfortable with your naked body?

    Mostly. I would prefer to be in better shape.

    Can you look at yourself naked in a mirror without the urge to cover up?

    Yes.

    Who are you comfortable being naked around?

    I’m not entirely sure. That’d be situational, but it’s broad. I can imagine being in a family where I’d find that comfortable, nonsexually, but it wouldn’t work with mine. With strangers or friends I think I’d be comfortable as long as I wasn’t the only one without a magazine-perfect body in attendance. >.>

    Do you kiss your partner in public?

    When I’ve had one.

    Do you mind when others do?

    No, I can deal with my envy in healthier ways.

    How long do you like to know someone before you have sex with them?

    I would say “how well” is more important than “how long.” I’ve wound up having what was basically casual sex a few times in the last year or so – a couple times with people I’d made acquaintance with specifically for that purpose, and a couple times with a nominal friend-with-benefits who wasn’t really opening up enough emotionally to make the friend part work or responsive and enthusiastic enough to make the benefits part work. In both cases, I didn’t have the ability to develop the kind of personal attraction that makes partner sex worthwhile for me, and it wound up being passionless and felt forced and awkward, and pleasurable (at points – suffice to say I wasn’t that into it physically >.>) but ultimately unsatisfying.

    Greta and some other bloggers make casual sex sound all kinds of appealing, but so far it really hasn’t panned out for me. I’m trying to figure out whether it actually DOESN’T work for ME, or if it’s a situational effect here too.

    And what would you think of someone who would do it in half the time?

    Like I said, I can deal with my envy in healthier ways.

    Share your thoughts.

    I’m also extremely comfortable with masturbation, have pretty much killed the impulse to condemn people morally for having fantasies or kinks that squick me personally, and am preparing myself to provide good, healthy, appropriate parental guidance for, and generally not be a fucking idiot about, the sexuality my daughter will be developing and exploring as she grows up.

  • Lynet

    I honestly think that one of the most important changes our society could make would be to make it easier for people to talk about sex. Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, and when we make sex a topic that is difficult to talk about, we automatically make some of the most important relationships of our lives more difficult to handle well. It’s a real societal flaw.

    Whether this justifies my occasional habit of pushing the boundaries of socially acceptable talk about sex is debatable.

  • Alex Weaver

    Whether this justifies my occasional habit of pushing the boundaries of socially acceptable talk about sex is debatable.

    That needs justification? :)

  • Lena915

    Personally, I’m completely comfortable with nudity (whether it be myself or someone else). The human body is not really a shocker to me like it is to some, and I was part of a household for a while that was very clothing-optional, so naked people don’t phase me.

    Public displays of affection are fine, I also don’t have a real problem with those. I will sometimes kiss in public, though I’m more of a cuddler, so I’m always more likely to be wrapped around somebody.

    There’s not a time limit that I place on relationships and interactions before I will sleep with someone. That varies from person to person. I’ve met some people at parties who I had sex with later the same night. Still, I’ve had relationships in which I didn’t have sex with my partner until months into it. It’s just about personal preference and timing for me.

  • Old Ari

    In the British Isles, marriage is still a civil contract, but you can have a religious ceremony if you wish, but the essence still, is “Do you take…”, in front of witnesses.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    I would highly recommend the book. It really made a lot of sense to me, especially the idea that there are people on the sexual continuum between monogamous, and polyamory, just like there’s an asexual, homosexual and straight continuum.

  • 2-D Man

    Where once I promised myself I would only ever sleep with the one and only man I would ever fall in love with (oh for those innocent days of youth again), I’ve since found myself in bed with men mere hours after meeting them.

    This struck me as odd. Ritchie, it sounds like you went to a gay-friendly church that pushed the “true love waits” trope. I suppose I’m not very familiar with gay-friendly churches, as I didn’t go to one as a kid; I just figured that people who choose reality over dogma with respect to gay people would make the same choice about sex in general.

    Also, since no one’s said it yet:

    Is there anything wrong with being a slut?

    No.

  • Alex Weaver

    Is there anything wrong with being a slut?

    Only if it turns you on to imagine there is. :)

  • Dark Jaguar

    Hmm, I’ve never actually put much thought behind it. I honestly am not sure how to start putting thought into it. For something that so many focus on (not that it’s a bad thing, I’m aware it’s perfectly natural), it’s just not something I’ve chosen to think about. I’m sure if I did I’d have more of an opinion.

    As it stands, same sentiment as the rest. So long as it’s consensual and safe, it’s up to you.

  • cat

    “But in any case, where do you, as an atheist (or not…?) draw your own sexual boundaries? Are you comfortable with your naked body? Can you look at yourself naked in a mirror without the urge to cover up? Who are you comfortable being naked around? Do you kiss your partner in public? Do you mind when others do? How long do you like to know someone before you have sex with them? And what would you think of someone who would do it in half the time?”

    Okay, let me got in order:

    -I am attracted to them and want to do the sex act, they are consenting and want to do it too. I admit that I have never had sex with someone watching, though I might, depending on the viewers, and I have had sex in a semi-public space (employee only restroom).
    -Yes and no, I am genderqueer and have certain dysmorphia around certain parts-I wear an actual binder for my breasts in public, and a high impact sports bra constantly the rest of the time. I have become mostly okay with my fatness though.
    -see above
    -sex partners, doctors (nurses, etc.)
    -Yes, when I have one.
    -No. In fact, I sort of like to watch (okay, so I am a bit of a voyeur at times…)
    -Long enough to get to the first issue (knowing consent and what they want). I would have sex with someone minutes after meeting them, but as an aspie, navigating the often subtle flirting can delay the process
    -it doesn’t bother me at all

  • RitchieAdmin

    2-D Man – Actually I wouldn’t really have considered myself part of any church in particular and certainly not a very active one. My belief was more a personal conviction than a group activity. I was taught enough at school and Sunday school to know the rudiments of Christianity, but largely left to interpret it as I saw fit.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    O.K this is fun.
    Sexual boundaries: Conceptually none (other than it must be consensual) If it felt O.K at the time I would probably do it. I am though by inclination very loyal, so if in a monogamous relationship sex outside that probably wouldn’t feel O.K.
    Naked Body: Hell yeah, I’m pretty hot for a fifty something hetero white man :) (please form an orderly queue, I’ll get around to you all eventually0
    Kiss is public: Tend to be sensitive to my partner’s personality, if they’re cool with it so am I (easy on the tongues and heavy petting though).
    Others kissing: Cool with that too until it gets to the “ffs get a room” stage. Although I suspect my tolerance level there is higher than many (see above).
    How long: Irrelevant (see “sexual boundaries”)

    Actually, I don’t see sex as a “moral” issue unless it is coerced, in which case it enters the same moral space as GBH or any other transgression on a person’s human rights

  • jankin

    I am reminded of the post “we are the other people” – at http://www.paganlibrary.com/fundies/other_people.php – the marker is that we “others” are inherently not shamed by nakedness, ours or anyone else’s.

  • Cadius

    For me, open displays of affection from others is okay, sometimes even hot… if the two involved are of age and haven’t crossed over into public sex. At that point, it’s rude. And having been raised in the bible belt, it’s even a bit offensive, although I grasp that my offended state is probably a holdover of my conservative upbringing. (Just like I find an overabundance of facial tattoos and/or piercings to be a bit much. I don’t comment or point and stare. I just don’t like it.)

    As for public nudity, I’m way too self-conscious to ever think I could … ahem … hang out at a nude beach, etc. (sorry for the pun). Not that I’d necessarily mind seeing attractive members of the opposite sex wandering about nude. I wish I was more comfortable with my own self. I enjoy nudity, but part of that is a simple “naughtiness” factor, rather than it being a non-issue.

    I think our prudishness for sex in this society is too much. First, we need to ditch this attitude that birth control is wrong. Then we can discuss self-image and when sex is appropriate. My wife teaches in public schools where teen pregnancy is an issue WAAAAAY too early in their lives. Some of that is self-respect, self-worth issues. Some is, again, the difficulty in getting (or accepting the value of) birth control. But so long as the right continues to brow-beat everyone with this idea that sex is evil, we’ll never be able to have those discussions with kids so they’ll make the right choices at the right times.

  • kennypo65

    If it feels good do it has always been my motto(always consensual)
    I’m quite comfortable naked, especially now that I lost 20 lbs, although I’m still hairy as a bear.
    PDAs really don’t bother me up to a point. When I see two people trying to eat each others faces off it’s time to say, “Get a room.”
    While I’ve had more than my fair share of one night stands, sex, for me anyway, is always better when I know her a little better. It’s just got more intimacy that way.
    Even though I’m now in my mid-forties, my attitude toward sex is almost the same as it was when I was in my twenties. Now I still want to have sex, but first I want to see if there’s anything good on cable.

  • jane hay

    The Xtians got it from the jewish culture they arose from. The earliest REAL Christians were rural orthodox Torah-following jews, and nudity was a big no-no from at least the 700′s BCE. I don’t know enough about the Greek-occupation years (pre-Maccabean) to know if being exposed to the homosexual/human male-form-celebrating Greek culture exacerbated their Puritanical leanings, but that certainly could have been a factor in driving them to be even more conservative in such matters. Being a patriarchal religion, of course, subjugation of females was a given and sex was tightly regulated. The Roman occupation produced a mercantilist jewish upper class who might have been more relaxed about things in private, but flaunting such leanings in public led to riots among the more religiously fanatic lower classes – which is one reason why John the Baptist was executed by Herod Antipas – he stirred things up by mentioning them. [Think about how easily such riots are stirred up in fundamentalist Islamic communities today.] It would make an interesting historical dissertation to research. As for post-Pauline Xtians, evidently a pseudo-jewish puritanical moral code with an eschatological bent appealed to the pagan converts, since that is the Christianity that survived and that we have today.

  • http://killedbyfish.blogspot.com feralboy12

    we cannot help being products of our culture, and our culture is steeped in Christianity.

    I think what you meant to say is our culture has stepped in Christianity and now has it all over our shoe.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    I think what you meant to say is our culture has stepped in Christianity and now has it all over our shoe.
    - feralboy12, #28

    Tru Fax. The very truest.

    Slow Learner hit it on the head in #4 with Safety, Sanity, and Consent. Well, for me, anyway. Although I can be flexible on safety and sanity, if the consent is enthusiastic enough for all parties concerned (I draw the line at the three Ds: Death, Dismemberment, or [Permanent] Disfiguration). I’m an outlier for everything, though; I don’t really have “a” sexuality, it changes depending on who I’m with at the time. I guess the only real constant is that I try to be spontaneous and enthusiastic all the time, so I suppose I’m sex-positive (but I’m super-picky, so I’ve had few partners). Like, on the day that Jerry Falwell died, I deliberately got drunk and performed a list of homosexual acts with a friend. Our relationship has been platonic both before and after, we just agreed to celebrate the bigot’s death by doing things that would make him spin in his grave, just for fun. I don’t know where to put that on the continuum (come to think of it, I tend to like things that defy classification…).

    But then there was my roommate A, who I first met when she propositioned me for a threesome with her boyfriend (whom I had met before her, and who I thought was cool at the time) at a Halloween party. When I moved in with them some eight months later, each of us was nude about half the time when we didn’t have company. It wasn’t anything special or synchronized, we just wouldn’t wear clothes if we didn’t feel like it. We also ran naked in the rain one night when a huge storm had rolled in and there was a long stretch of closed road running between two farms near our place.

    The handful of other partners I’ve had have been mostly vanilla, though. Mostly. Now that I think about it, I mostly treat others how they treat me, and adapt to whatever makes my partner du jour comfortable… great, now I’m even less certain of my sexual identity than I was yesterday. At any rate, my answer to all your questions is, “It depends” (e.g. a person who fucks in half my time but does so in a relatively healthy way is better than someone who takes twice as long but consistently gets into unhealthy relationships – it’s not what you do, but how you do it). Well, except for the mirror thing – I find clothing in general to be restrictively uncomfortable and tremendously lame.

  • Alex Weaver

    Update: in the process of disassembling and cleaning the components of my now-vacant fish tank, I have come to the realization that nudity is incredibly utilitarian for a broad range of housecleaning tasks that don’t involve caustic or hot substances, or having to go outside. Saves on laundry and reduces hot-and-sweatiness, provided one can keep one’s mind on one’s task… >.>

  • Rollingforest

    I think it is important to make sure you extend the “consent” part of the equation to everyone who is involved at all. If you are interested in having sex with someone and that person is currently dating another person, you damn well better make sure their partner is okay with it before you even think of hopping in bed with that person. And don’t have sex in random places around your friend’s house unless they are okay with that. Common sense decency takes you a long way.

  • kennypo65

    Never, EVER, cook bacon naked.

  • Tanit

    so… sex…

    @31 – this gets complicated when it comes to sex work. While I generally do agree, I also think there are situations when cheating is not quite as unethical as the rest of the time. With my experience in the sex industry I’ve had to come around to thinking that at the end of the day, people will cheat, and they will have their reasons for it, whether good or bad, and it’s not my place to judge.

    Other than that: consent and safety are the big boundaries for me. I am perfectly comfortable with nudity (so long as it’s not too cold!), though sometimes more so with my own than with others. I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with sluts, I believe we (as a society) have to work towards using the term in a positive light.
    I have no problem with PDA, but not so keen on public sex. And how long/well you need to know someone before having sex with them is up to the individuals concerned and will vary, I think.

    On a related note – I think we need to broaden our definition of sex. Society tends to view sex as ‘intercourse’, which more often than not equates to penis-in-vagina sex. I think sex is much more than that and I find that definition awfully restrictve. I would include most ‘foreplay’ in my definition of sex, as well as (of course) queer sex, oral sex, anal sex, toy sex, solo sex, multi-partnered sex, etc.

  • Alex Weaver

    I must admit, however, that I’m still pretty squicked by banal sects.

  • Karl Amandus

    Please note: I am a first time commentator.

    This is in response to a post by Richard Hollis: Sex and Sensibilities.

    There are two interesting theses brought up here, the early Church/Christian response to pagan sexual culture(s), and our contemporary sexual culture.

    Regarding the early church: my understanding of the problems Paul and later writers had with pagan culture had a lot to do with celibacy and chastity, especially Paul’s. Yet, it also had a lot to do with pagan practices and then Jewish monotheistic mores. The idea that one can have sex with a temple priestess, an acolyte or whatever they called themselves, in order to, say, not only get pleasure, but insure the fertility of crops or that one gets lots of rain–that would certainly get a monotheistic believer riled–especially one who rejects all earthly images of God, or sex being a mediator between God and man and woman. I do think sexual prudishness plays a part in what eventually became church dogma. Part of it has to do with Paul’s sexual psychology, though part might be due to Jesus ministry: it is assumed that he not only had no sex during his ministry, but that he never had sex during his lifetime. Yet the New Testament is silent on that subject.

    Jumping to the present: it is ironic that our commercialized pseudo-liberated sexual culture might have something to do with the practices of the early Christian church, or at least those that started from Paul’s missions. They were a religious minority who probably saw there practices as setting them apart from worldly culture. I know that there are times and places in America and Europe where people get lots of sex. (Like college in the Seventies!) The exceptions only underlines the rule, or the Christian mindset, that Hollis touches on in the above post.


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