The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
Hello, readers! This post might be a little different from the rest of the series; I’d like to talk about how American culture and religion influence attitudes toward sex, and some of the serious harm that can come from it. I’m including this subject in the series because I’ll discuss the relationship(s) between love and sex, but it might not have the tone you’re used to from me.
“I know what I want physically and I’m comfortable communicating with a partner.”
How many of you would be willing to say that and feel that it’s true? Not too many, huh? Think about what makes you feel that way. Maybe you were explicitly told by someone, a parent or pastor, that lust is bad and sexual exploration is something to be ashamed of. Or perhaps social norms have just dictated what you feel embarrassed about; being excited about honeymoon sex is fine, but having enough safe sexual experience to tell a new companion what you like is somehow bad.
Where did these sex-negative ideals come from? The ambiguous morals from religious texts and interpretations of course! Besides behavior that hurts other people, most of the things our culture considers “wrong” have some sort of derivation from religion. From homosexuality to birth control to masturbation, God seems to have handed down some stupid rules.
Why shouldn’t I have sex with who I want, how I want, so long as I’m not hurting anybody?
Why should I even have to be in love with them to do it? Outside of a religious context, there’s no reason. The double standards on frequency and enjoyment of sex for men and women, the “rules” about who we should love and how we should express it, even the tendency to blame victims of rape, all stem from the patriarchal values originating in the Church.
The cynical atheist in me believes that the limitations placed on religious folks are intended to give the Church power, not only by determining the behavior of followers, but also by forcing the devout and fearful to be loyal to the Church when they inevitably break the rules.
Though I’m harshly critical of the Church’s practices, I also make an effort to be understanding and empathetic. That part of me knows that many religious people do legitimately want to help people and improve their world, and are just completely ignorant of the damage they can inflict. Even Christians recognize this fault.
Women and gays are often hit the hardest, but what happens when individuals are surrounded by judgment and stigma and forced to suppress sexuality in silence? The helpless are hurt. For instance, when religious authorities abuse the children that trust them.
Recently, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was ordered by the court to release the records of more than 40 abusers and their 575 victims. Multiple factors contribute to a perfect storm of secrecy, sexuality, and molestation running rampant in the churches.
Let’s examine the abusers first. Although what they do is absolutely abhorrent, I do understand where priests may be susceptible to this behavior. They are expected to remain celibate, but with less than 1% of the population identifying as asexual this is obviously not a natural behavior for most clergymen. When sexual thoughts and urges do eventually surface, they are probably afraid to ask for help and told to pray for guidance if they work up the courage to talk. The children they have been trusted to protect become the only form of release for their unavoidable but disastrously misdirected desires.
And the victims are even more psychologically tormented by this than their abusers. Not only do they face the same issues of depression and self-hate as any other rape victims, but they have been conditioned by their faith to fear sex. They are afraid to tell anybody because they know what happened was sinful, but their own priest said it was okay. They are scared of being punished by God, especially if they feel guilty for their own sexual thoughts or completely normal physical arousal.
It’s ridiculous that such mentalities persist today. I’m a human being and I like sex. I’m not going to feel guilty, nor will I try to suppress my nature. I can enjoy it as a purely physical encounter or it can be an important emotional component in a loving relationship. Either way, it’s up to me, and religion can keep its big fat nose out of my business.