Religion in the Bedroom Toybox

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I found this article at the Daily Beast about the growing number of religious sex-toy suppliers.

My first impression is that it’s a painfully awkward field in which you have to cater to the shifting biases of you market:

To an outsider, visiting the religious sites feels a bit like listening to the bleeped-out version of an explicit hip-hop song: the substance is the same, it’s just missing the X-rated details. None of the sites feature any nudity, instead relying on mannequins to display lingerie. Nor do they feature any sexy language. Kosher Sex Toys, for example, rewrites product descriptions that risk shocking its audience. (The “Butterfly Clitoris Stimulator” becomes, simply, the “Vibrating Stimulator.”)

What am I missing? Are butterflies not kosher? But really, that’s the least of it. Everyone else has their own hang-ups:

Despite consistencies across the religious sites, the vendors do vary based on doctrine, audience, and each owner’s preferences. Wilson refuses to sell anal devices and condoms, not because she objects, but because her customers do. “The Catholics protested the condoms, and the evangelical Christian community is sensitive about anal sex and play,” she said. “But I’ll special order anything if people ask.”[…]

Aouragh, who rejects the term “sex shop,” preferring to say that he’s in the business of “sexual well-being,” sells only Sharia-compliant items. Meaning: no vibrators, dildos, or drugs that claim to enhance size or use, because these items misinterpret the male form.[…]

Meanwhile, Kosher Sex Toys’ Gavriel won’t stock male masturbatory aids because, he says, God frowns on wasted potential, according to the Torah. However, since Judaism doesn’t prohibit female self-pleasure, he carries myriad trinkets that buzz.

What a mine-field of taboos.

I’ve read through the Bible multiple times, and I honestly don’t remember it offering much guidance about what we’d call sexuality. I’m less familiar with the Qur’an, but my impression is that it offers little guidance as well.

The ancient writers were more concerned about behaviors that could disrupt the community. Things like adultery were a problem, since that disrupted the family alliances that were bound together by marriage. Sex before marriage could be a problem, since it might result in a child that the community would have to raise. But the ancients didn’t really seem to care that much for the actual mechanics.

Apparently, we moderns care. And those of us involved in religion expect it to offer some guidance. But since our religious texts and traditions don’t care, they have to be dragged into the discussion, kicking and screaming if necessary. And so we get problems like the above, or the problem noted by Rachel Held Evans in her harsh review of Mark Driscoll’s new book of marriage advice:

The chapter entitled “Can we…?” which has scandalized so many people with its advice on everything from oral sex, to role playing, to sex toys really isn’t that shocking to me. It seems like common sense that couples should feel free to engage in such activities if both partners enjoy them, so long as they don’t become obsessions. The fact that Christian couples seem to need the approval of a pastor along with some strategically placed Bible verses in order to engage in these activities is a bigger concern to me. It seems that we are once again demanding more from the text and from our pastors than they can and should give.

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