Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality: A Review and An Interview with Author Darrel Ray

The news has been at capacity lately with attacks on issues of sexual freedom, and this book by psychologist Dr. Darrel Ray could not be more important to us all.

Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. The bold title and cover image of this book will supply you with endless entertainment from the odd glances you will receive; I made several people uncomfortable at Hobby Airport last month.

Religions of all kinds use our powerful sex drives to infect us with ideas that benefit the religion and hurt and inhibit our ability to be truly human.  Religion’s goal is to propagate religion.  Sex is one powerful method for achieving this.

Straight from the first page, this book flows naturally and Dr. Ray’s words come through as the voice of a good friend, explaining what your parents should have when they sat you down for the “big talk.”  This book systematically reveals the dangers of religious sexual programming, and guides you towards releasing these sexual shackles and live an ethical sex life, free from religious sanctions.

The chapters meander through the ills of religious influence on human sex and sexuality: from limiting our pleasure and shaming and controlling us, to creating unhealthy relationships with ourselves and others.  One point this book reinforces is that even if you are a secular person, religion is influential in your sex life.

At first, I was concerned that Sex & God would only be approached by secular people interested in the subject matter, but it seems palatable by a much wider audience and suitable for the secular and religious at a variety of life stages.  One feature of Darrel’s writing that I found quite useful was the inclusion of easy to process analogies, such as the following:

Religion tries to give us maps of sexuality that are no better than a 2,000-year-old map of my hometown.  In addition, each religion also tries to convince us that their map is never wrong or inaccurate.

Darrel’s extensive research on Sex and Secularism, referenced in this book, clearly shows that religion’s stranglehold on sex diminishes the quality of our lives.  If there was one message I took from Sex & God, it’s this: It’s due time to break free from religion’s grasp and embrace a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality.  The control that religions have had our collective sex lives has lasted far too long and life is short.

You may think that these old scriptures mean little today, that nobody stones people for adultery or sells errant daughters into slavery, but millions of Jews and Christians actually read these Old Testament books and believe that their god dictated the words.  How can those words not have some impact?

Sex & God will help you begin a journey towards a satisfying secular sex life and help those around you develop one, too. 

An expert in the field of psychology for over 30 years, Dr. Darrel Ray holds degrees in religion, Sociology/Anthropology, and psychology. His curiosity of religion’s ability to infect minds led him to write The God Virus and Sex & God.

Darrel Ray, author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality

What advice would you give to people still struggling with religious residue in their sex lives?

There is no magic bullet, but changing your thinking about sex and sexuality is a good start. That is part of why I wrote Sex & God, to help people re-frame their thinking and reprogram themselves away from religious sexuality toward secular sexuality.

What is the most surprising response you have received to this book?

The number of people who have already written or pulled me aside to tell me how some part or other in the book really changed their view of their own sexuality. One lifelong atheist talked to me over coffee a few weeks ago; he went on for half an hour about how surprised he was to find so many religious ideas in his thinking. While he was never religious, he was raised in a religious family and had no idea how many things he had simply accepted without question from early training.

One woman wrote a very long email to tell me to say that she and her husband had two very long talks about the book that exposed a number of destructive religious ideas in their marriage. She actually thanked me for saving her marriage! These and many other responses, really are surprising.  I had no idea the book would have that kind of impact on people.

What is the most important message you would like readers to walk away with?

Examine your ideas about sexuality. Take a microscope to the things you have always believed. Look at ideas that may lurk just below your consciousness yet influence your behavior, body image, self esteem, etc. First and foremost, look at the “should’s” in your life. When I hear people saying, “I should this” or “I shouldn’t that” I hear religion talking — especially if it is related to sexuality.

Love yourself, love your body, its the only one you will ever have. Think about it, religion makes people feel guilty about normal behavior and desires. That has to have an effect on people.  It has to distort their view of themselves, their bodies, their relationships and much more. Being religious means believing you are never good enough; you are imperfect and in need of constant forgiveness, especially around sex.

What challenges did you face in bringing this book to fruition?

The biggest challenge was getting it just right. This is a huge subject on a very sensitive topic. I wanted to stay close to the science be careful to not to go places the science does not support. At the same time, the science is moving fast, so I wanted to make sure my conclusions were on solid ground and based on research that was not likely to change. Beyond that, the writing was a pure joy. This is my fourth book and who knows how many articles I have published. When I am writing a book, I write every day for a few hours. It becomes a part of almost every day. When the project is finished, I seem to go through withdrawal. Sex and God is a subject that has been near and dear to me for decades, so to write a complete work on the topic is a unique opportunity.

Do you expect to explore sex and sexuality in a future book?

I am just focusing on this book right now. I have no idea what I might write next — if anything. For me, writing a book is very organic and exhausting. I have ideas for months or years, then one day I start writing and a book appears! When I started writing The God Virus, I thought I was writing an article or two or three … I was writing a book before I knew it.  I am very fortunate to have two wonderful editors who have worked with me on my last three books. They keep things tight and focused when I go off on the details of the sex lives of 48 Amazonian tribes in Brazil — that got edited out — but it sure is interesting.

What are you working on now?

I am working on promoting the book which means doing a HUGE amount of travel and speaking.  As an author, I am fortunate that I enjoy speaking as much or more than writing. In the 6 weeks since the book came out I have given a dozen talks and have another 30 or so scheduled in the next 4-6 months. Next to sex itself, there is nothing like talking about sex to a group of people, hungry for new ways to think about their sexuality and anxious to eliminate religious sex from their lives.  It is incredibly gratifying.

If readers would like to read up on sexual freedom, are there any books you would recommend?

Yes, there are a number of great resources. First I would recommend Sex at Dawn, by [Christopher] Ryan and [Cacilda] Jethá.  I think it is the second best work on the subject.  I’ll let you guess what is the first best.  Next I would say, The Myth of Monogamy by [David] Barash and [Judith] Lipton; they really cracked the egg open on how humans and other species mate. Next, I recommend The Ethical Slut by [Dossie] Easton and [Janet] Hardy. Ironically, I think Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, is one of the best books on human sexuality. I don’t read fiction much — especially science fiction — but around 1990 a friend of mine kept insisting that I read it. I finally did and have been grateful ever since. There are many books on sex and sexuality, but far too many of them have a spiritual or religious tone; there is plenty to learn and appreciate about our sexuality without throwing invisible forces and spirits.

About Emily Dietle

Outside of my day job, I enjoy reading, blogging, gaming & web design. I'm also a Houston Atheists assistant organizer | @emilyhasbooks

  • Anonymous

    Great article and interview.

  • LVAtheist

    I am reading this book right now – it is the current Book of the Month for the Lehigh Valley Humanist group in Pennsylvania.  Our book club is meeting this week to discuss – so thank you for the timely blog post!   At first glance, I was afraid it may be very dry analysis, and read more like a textbook or case study.  However, I agree it is well written and easy to get through, with bits of humor and good analogies.   We all (on this side of the theism debate) understand how religion is mind control – so to have Ray put it down on paper in a digestible way – is good for our “cause”, i.e. the enlightenment of the self-incarcerated. 

  • Guest

    I find it a little concerning that /Stranger/ is one of the recommended books–it has been a long time since I read that, but one of the main things I remember is that the misogyny of it is sickening. As a woman raised Christian, one of the ongoing challenges in my personal sexual liberation is getting out from under a lot of the misogynist teachings of Christianity. Of course this does not mean that the book perpetuates those same problems, or that the author even agrees with all of /Stranger/, but this is a big red flag for me.

    • Marguerite

      I like “Stranger,” but like a lot of Heinlein, it puts forth the notion that men are wise and that women are childlike, and that the women are supposed to listen silently (or fix dinner) while the men discuss important matters amongst themselves. I suspect what Ray is referring to is the “free love” aspect of “Stranger,” which was admittedly ahead of its time, but to me “Stranger” hasn’t worn too well. It’s too much a product of its time, and the gender roles in it (and most Heinlein books) feel badly dated.

  • phylandal

    Great to see a book like this come out.  I’ll have to get it.  Fools like Augustine have created an horrific mess in the Western world.  For much of my life I was tied up in emotional knots over harmless things like masturbation — which any normal human needs to keep from going crazy when puberty strikes, and I do mean STRIKES!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

    “Religion tries to give us maps of sexuality that are no better than a 2,000-year-old map of my hometown.”

    With attacks on contraception, disease prevention (Gardasil), homosexuality  and abortion, religion is trying to force the territory back down to the shape of the map.

  • Rwlawoffice

      I am currently reading a book called Pure Desire which shows what I would suspect is a completely different view of what this author says the bible tells us about sexuality.  In Pure Desire, the author Gary Inrig makes the case that sexuality is a gift from God that is for our pleasure.  Of course as can be expected he also expresses the opinion that this is within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman which is (from past comments here) I imagine most here would disagree.   I mention this to say that not all religious people or teachers view the Bible as a way to limit sexuality between a man and a woman within the marriage relationship. That is not to say that some religions, particularly the Catholic religion, have not had a different view.

    • chicago dyke, venomous lesbian

      “god” is pretty clear about what he thinks human sexuality should be about: rape, incest, polygamy, and the murder of those who fail to conform to certain sexual behaviors. it’s nice that nicer Christians don’t hate queers or want women to be barefoot and pregnant all the time, but the book itself betrays authors like that. the author can claim he “knows what god wants us to think about sex” but the truth is, the Bible is a horrid guide for human sexuality, and that’s the only bood “god” has ever (helped) “write.” the Koran isn’t that much better. 

      • Rwlawoffice

         Where  in the Bible did God support or encourage rape or incest? The episodes where those events are described are followed by the bad consequences of this behavior.

         The bible is a book that encourages fidelity between a husband and wife,  recognizes that a man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and teaches selflessness all of which leads to a wonderful sex life. Those that think the Bible is not a good instruction manual for sexuality are those that want to engage in sexuality  outside of marriage or not between a man and a woman.   Of course it would not a good guide for that behavior.

        • Marguerite


           Where  in the Bible did God support or encourage rape or incest? ”

          Read Genesis 19:6, where Lot offers up his virginal daughters for gang rape to a mob. Then recall that Lot is the only person judged righteous enough by God to be saved from the destruction of Sodom. The unavoidable conclusion is that God was perfectly okay with the rape of those poor virginal girls.

          • Rwlawoffice

            Sorry, but that story does not say that God approved of that act by Lot.  Lot was found righteous in comparison to the other people living in Sodom prior to this despicable act not because of it. In fact, God did not allow the proposed rape to take place. Instead the bible describes that the crowd was made blind and they dispersed.   

            • Marguerite

              There is really no point in arguing with you, because anyone who can somehow read this story and think it doesn’t show God is at least horrifyingly indifferent to rape (and that Lot is no better than anyone else in Sodom) is not thinking logically. But there are also several Biblical stories in which the invading Hebrew armies are commanded to kill everyone in a community EXCEPT the young virgins. It’s fairly obvious what the virgins are to be utilized for, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that God is just fine with raping young girls– as long as they’re virgins, of course.

              And in Deuteronomy 22, we have this lovely law: “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” Although technically this may show that God “opposes” rape, it’s clear that the concern isn’t for the poor violated woman, but for her father. If we were to use the Bible as a guidebook for sexuality, then we would have to force all rape victims to marr their rapists– a dreadful way of dealing with the crime. Or, even more dreadfully, we could follow Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and stone rapists AND their victims to death.

              What a lovely guidebook on human sexuality the Bible makes!

              • Rwlawoffice

                You are right, I see no point in arguing with you when in one paragraph you say God is indifferent to rape and then in the next you point out that God calls for the death of rapists.  I still haven’t seen the scripture verses  where God endorses and supports rape. The fact that he gave law in regard to rape and called for its penalties is just the opposite of endorsing it, it is establishing penalties for engaging in it.  That is like saying the penal code endorses rape.

                • Marguerite

                  I see. So you’re in favor of stoning rape victims to death, along with their rapists?

                  If not, and you think this is the wrong way to deal with rape victims, then how could it be possible that God would require such a thing?

                • Rwlawoffice

                   Actually Deut. 22:23-24 does not imply rape, it is talking about potential  adultery. The very next verse implies rape and in that instance the rapist is ordered to be killed and the victim is said to have done nothing wrong.

        • Edmond

          Of course it would not be a good guide for free consenting adults who are in charge of their own bodies and their own sexuality.

          It’s too bad the book couldn’t have addressed the fact that unmarried people can be selfless.  Too bad it didn’t share the fact that unmarried people or homosexuals can have wonderful sex lives.  Too bad it wasn’t honest in reflecting that such behavior does not ALWAYS have bad consequences.  It’s too bad that people are being taught to be secretive and repressive about their sex drives, so that they are inexperienced and naive on their wedding night, and the whole subject is taboo.

          The book’s instructions for sex and marriage work very well for tribal patriarchs who want to control the property of the tribe.  Too bad that’s not how the world works anymore, and the book is completely useless for mature and inquisitive modern adults.

          • Rwlawoffice

            So being in charge of your own sexuality means that you can have sex with whom ever you want regardless of commitments you have med to others? Are you saying that a married couple should not take the teachings of the Bible to be faithful and not commit adultery seriously? That marriages are not harmed by unfaithfulness? That prohibitions against open sexual relations outside of marriage do not have a valid basis for being helpful to marriages and families? Do you really think that it is a good idea to teach your children that sex with whoever they want is a good idea and that this should only be based upon the fulfillment of your physical needs? Do you really think that a couple who decides to wait until their wedding night to have sex cannot have a wonderful and fulfilling sex life?

            I will agree that if you think that you should be able to have sex with whomever you want and that there should be no limitation on that then the Bible will not be your guide.

            • Edmond

              Are you saying that a married couple should not take the teachings of the Bible to be faithful and not commit adultery seriously?

              A married couple should be true to one-another and not commit adultery, but they hardly need the bible to tell them that. If that’s what they ASK from each other, then that is enough reason to do it.

              That marriages are not harmed by unfaithfulness?

              They sure are, but “unfaithfulness” is not an issue for single people.

              That prohibitions against open sexual relations outside of marriage do not have a valid basis for being helpful to marriages and families?

              Why are all these questions about cheating? I never suggested that two people who have voiced their intent to be a committed couple should cheat on that committment. But people who are NOT married don’t have to worry about that. This is all irrelevant to single people.

              Do you really think that it is a good idea to teach your children that sex with whoever they want is a good idea and that this should only be based upon the fulfillment of your physical needs?

               
              I don’t think I said that either. Are you replying to the right person?
               
              I think that children should be taught to be respectful of their sexual partners, and to protect themselves from disease. Their reasons for choosing a person as a sex partner will be their own reasons.

              Do you really think that a couple who decides to wait until their wedding night to have sex cannot have a wonderful and fulfilling sex life?

              Do you think that no one ELSE can? The bible seems to teach this.And we’ll see if my “blockquotes” worked….

        • Rennyrij

          You obviously haven’t been reading the old testament, or at least not all of it.  When “Jesus” says he didn’t come to do away with the old laws (old testament), but to actually confirm it and make it stronger, you are obliged to accept the old testament as part of Jesus’ word.  And the horrid things god told the Israelites to do, in fact, include rape, homicide, baby-bashing, and the lot.  Jesus, on the other hand, says nothing about homosexuality, which was a well-known thing long before he existed.  If you aren’t willing to do the research, though, you’ll never accept anything but what you are told by other Christians, who will never accept anything but what THEY were told by even OTHER Christians.  I like Dick Francis’ take on religion.  In his book, “Straight”, he notes that, by all accounts, more people have died of religion than of cancer. 

          • Rwlawoffice

            I would suggest that you do your research on the meaning of the New Testament from christian authorities on the subject and not fiction writers such as Dick Francis.  Actually what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:17 is that he is the fulfillment of the law. As stated by Dr. Roy Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary in his book, The Bible Knowledge Commentary- “Jesus said he would fulfill the law by keeping it perfectly and he would fulfill the prophets predictions to the letter”.  He is also calling for a righteousness that comes from the heart and not from following the legalism of the Pharisees.  

            I assume you know that Straight is  a book of fiction and that you are not taking that statement as being factual.

            • TiltedHorizon

               ”not fiction writers such as Dick Francis”

              Like C.S. Lewis whom you have quoted in the past? 

              I don’t really care what Dr. Roy Zuck has to say on the subject, even ‘experts’ don’t agree, finding one to support your views just means you agree with him, not that he is right. Here are just a few scholars who are critical of the New Testament. That is four more than you, so I must be right, right?  

              Hermann Samuel Reimarus
              David Strauss
              Ernest Renan
              Johannes Weiss
              Albert Schweitzer

              In case the point escapes you, it’s there is no agreement even amongst experts , therefore we are left arguing over whose opinion is more right.

              So much contention over an “instruction manual”…

              • Rwlawoffice

                C. S. Lewis wrote both fiction and non fiction works.  he wrote christian apologetic books specifically designed as non fiction.  He also wrote fiction that had Christian themes.  But I don’t think I would use the Chronicles of Narnia to argue the Christ was really a lion.

                I understand that there are experts who have differences of opinion  on certain issues.  Do any of those you mention have a different opinion than Dr. Zuck on this particular verse?

                • TiltedHorizon

                  “he wrote christian apologetic books ”

                  C. S. Lewis is not a “Christian authority”, you set that standard in your reply to Rennyrij. He was a lay theologian.

                  “Do any of those you mention have a different opinion than Dr. Zuck on this particular verse?”

                  These experts run the gamut from discrediting miracles to refuting the divinity of Jesus. I’ve grouped them together because the focus on established ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ contained by the New Testament. If they hold an option on this particular verse, I don’t know it.

                  This is not to say that this verse is free and clear. Other “experts” are arguing over the validity of key words translated from Koine Greek. In terms of Matthew 5:17 the word ‘fulfill’is in question with alternatives being given as “confirm”, “validate”, “establish” or “actualize”. All of which changes the sense of meaning your argument is predicated on. For example, try “The Gospel of Matthew” by David Hill.

        • TiltedHorizon

           ”Those that think the Bible is not a good instruction manual for
          sexuality are those that want to engage in sexuality  outside of
          marriage or not between a man and a woman.”

          I think the bible is a terrible “instruction manual” and I have been with the same woman for 20 years. I have no desire to engage in sexuality with anyone outside my marriage; man or woman.

          I guess I’m the exception to the rule. 

        • messenger

          Deuteronomy_22:28-29

          • Rwlawoffice

            This verse right before that one says that a man who rapes a betrothed girl is to be put to death. This verse obligates the man to pay the father the bride price and take care of the girl the remainder of her life.  This is certainly not an encouragement of rape.

  • chicago dyke, venomous lesbian

    after a lot of study, i came to boil down the relationship b/w sex and religion to this: control of female reproduction. it’s funny how there aren’t any religions in which abortion is a sacrement, or in which women dictate to men how they will behave sexually, or that posit that men must cover themselves, act meekly, and reproduce when they’re told to by women. controlling female reproduction seems to be something the vast majority of religions are very, very concerned with. 

    • Rwlawoffice

       I do not think that you would find a religion that encouraged abortion because religions would view it as murder.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

        And no religion in history has resulted in murder…

      • Anonymous

         You could easily find them if men were the pregnant ones

        • Jchealey

          That’s baseless speculation.

  • Anonymous

    I just knew that the switch to Patheos would bring out the religious apologists in droves.

    The thing about the bible that gets me is that, if any individual reading a modern-day novel (or watching a current movie, for that matter) were to encounter as many contradictions in both character and storyline, or as many fundamental factual errors as there are abundant in the bible, s/he would set the book down and never pick it up again, probably disgusted with the poor editing as well. (Actually, by this point one would think the bible finally would’ve been revised for both continuity and cohesiveness, both of which it sorely lacks.)

    Yet religious types will defend it to the death—often quite literally—when they would never do so for any other book. All because they think it’s sacred. This brings to mind a line from “Dear God” by XTC, which bears repeating: “Dear God, don’t know if you noticed, but/Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book./As crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look.”

    “Divinely inspired” or not, Christians of all stripes always seem to forget that latter part. As everyone knows, anything that requires human input also ends up taking on a lot of those humans’ own foibles and prejudices. When we created god, he ended up with all of humanity’s baser characteristics and character flaws, only projected onto an omnipotent being. (A being who, strangely enough, could do nothing to spare his own son from dying a pointless, gruesome death—which in any other book would be known as a plot hole, or at least a major plot contrivance.)

  • 1waco64

    NOT one word about: love, caring, giving. It’s all me, me, me. Women become OBJECTS.
    D Ray takes his beliefs, tries to make them fact thru his FLAWED survey, then pawns thought as fact. He is a con man, stealing minds, not money. He is a liar. He is a fraud..


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