Religion and Your Sex Life

Warning: Religion and sex – not a dainty topic. You have problems with sex. It confuses you, because you long for a close, physical relationship with your partner. It breaks your heart because you love the person with whom you share your life. But something stands in the way of sexual satisfaction that’s hard to describe.

She’s given up on me.

I can’t think of her that way.

I’d rather have sex with a stranger.

 

He never wants sex with me anymore.

I don’t have what it takes.

I just cant go there.

 

I’m too tired.

We’re too busy. We work too much.

We have three kids…

Another warning: This is not a simple topic. Like fly paper, sex grabs every dust particle of our lives and causes it to stick there. Health, body image, beliefs about pleasure, stress and work, and every relationship nuance attaches itself to your sexuality.

Sex often disappears in long-term, committed relationships. We joke about it – but for celibate marital partners, it’s anything but funny. For some married couples, sex vanishes as soon as they walk down the aisle as legal partners. For lots of these people, religious training plays a role.

Could your childhood religion affect your libido – or that of your partner?

If you have any doubt that your sexuality is affected by religious worldviews, try the following exercise.

  1. List three “off-limits” sexual behaviors you’d never try in a million years (e.g., masturbation, a threesome, an extramarital affair, a sex toy, paying an escort for sex, having sex with a person of the same gender).
  2. For each example, write about your reasons for never trying it (Im straight; I love my husband; Its wrong; Its horrifying.).
  3. Fill each reason with more detail. Pretend you’re five and ask, But why? Why? Why? Why? Keep going…..Write for at least a minute on each.
  4. Start to notice the patterns in your thinking.

Some things arent natural.

Its morally repugnant.

Its not real.

I dont want to betray my commitment.

I would feel guilty, shameful, ridiculous.

Thats just not how I roll.

Do you notice harsh self-judgment? I mean, sure – you may not want to do these things for any number of reasons. But when you consider them, what happens? Disgust? Turn-off? If you picture yourself engaging in forbidden sexual acts, what emotion do you get? Anxiety? Shame? Excitement mixed with something else?

Now, think about your Sunday School years.

First, what did you learn about sex? What did your parents tell you? What did they model by their own relationship patterns? How did they react when you did normal childhood things like discover your genitals for the first time? What did they show you about their own experience of sensual pleasures (e.g., wonderful tastes and smells)? How did your parents respond to each other’s touch?

Next, what religious practices and beliefs did your family have? And what do those traditions have to say about pleasure?

In my childhood religion, pleasure made people suspicious. People worked hard and saved sex for the bonds of matrimony. Nobody joked about the body, because the body was a serious threat to one’s godliness. If a girl became pregnant outside of wedlock, she became a social pariah – more-so than her boyfriend, who was supposed to marry her. People assumed women only submitted to their husband’s sex drive – nobody considered women as having their own need for sex. And the marital pledge trumped everything, be it pleasure, intimacy, or personal growth. You stayed married and you kept your mouth shut about your own desires.

This taught me to seriously undervalue my needs for sensual pleasure. I became very skilled at working hard, staying focused, and pretending that’s sufficient. What about you?

I’ll be back with more on this subject. But for the meantime, let’s make a commitment to write about sex and religion. Which views do you retain from Sunday School? Which ones do you reject? How does your sex life figure into this mix of powerful beliefs?

Is it possible for us to reprogram our early childhood training about sexuality? I certainly hope so. Do we deserve to try? Yes. Without a doubt.

Dr. Deborah L. Cox discusses many healthy topics in couples therapy to best help her clients find their true selves individually and in their relationships.

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