Why Religion and Sex are Uncomfortable Bedfellows

[Written by Teresa Roberts] Growing up in a genuine American cult, I soon learned that my body created a problem for the men in the church. Even as a young girl, I was expected to dress modestly and conduct myself in a way that would become a woman of god — with shamefacedness and sobriety. Except for my neck, hands and head, all else must be covered. Bare skin, even the shape of my body beneath my clothes could be used by the devil to cause a man to sin. According to the brethren, sexual thoughts were as bad as sexual deeds. If I shirked my duty as the sexual gate keeper, I could be the cause of god sending men's souls to hell.  

Of course, I'd end up in the burning lake of fire, too, as a great seductress. 

Phrases like — spirit of prostitution, fleshpot or Jezebel — were among a number of denigrating terms used to describe me. I'm not talking about a woman of twenty being chastised in this manner,  which would have been bad enough, but a child of twelve. In order to impress upon me the huge responsibility that I carried upon my shoulders simply because I was born a woman ... 

it was deemed necessary to  indoctrinate me as early as possible. 

If you were raised in the world or in a mainstream religion without a lot of heavy duty rules or a long list of sins of the flesh, what I'm describing may sound horrible, but one might hope it was a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, this attitude toward sex and the bodies of women in particular is deeply entrenched in cultures where women are defined as possessions. And, it is equally disturbing to discover that religions all over the world have assigned women this role. 

Many gods seem to hate women, holding them to a remarkably higher standard than men. Women are even blamed for the ills that plague humanity. 

Christianity gave women the dubious honor of being the cause of the fall of mankind. Eve tempted Adam and Adam couldn't resist. If Eve had behaved herself, would Adam have succeeded in following god's commands? We'll never know, but Eve certainly didn't do women any favor by her trickery. Women from that point on bore the consequences of her sins, including pain in childbirth, an act required for the survival of the species. We were given the horrendous task of birthing human offspring while the men were admonished to attempt to resist our wicked allure. 

Is there an exercise in contradictions any more horrendous than this one? I don't know what it would be. 

If the stories in the Bible are to be believed, men were tormented by our very existence. They were given a sex drive necessary for human beings to thrive but were then told that to lust after a woman was a mortal sin. I can see why they decided it was easier to shift the entire blame to us, the object of their desire. With that shift came an overwhelming and undeniable drive to punish and dominate us. Dress codes alone are indicative of this preoccupation to keep women in line.  Religions down through the ages have designed the most unflattering, heavy duty garments imaginable for godly women to wear. Some religions even going so far as to cover our faces with mere slits cut in the cloth for us to peer through. 

Yet, that isn't enough. The brethren in my church often fell from grace anyway. 

There were a number of men who not only lusted after a woman fully clothed and shamefaced but even found themselves tempted by their own daughters. I won't spend a lot of time expounding upon the fact that there is a common thread of incest and pedophilia amongst the devout. I experienced it personally and witnessed this phenomenon all across America in the many far-right evangelical churches that my family had been part of before my father started his own church. Of course, the Catholic Church has been in the news of late reinforcing this unflattering correlation between religion and sexual deviance. It's horrifyingly disturbing that the children who attend these parishes and churches aren't protected by god from being sexually exploited. Furthermore, even their own parents continue to choose the church over the well being of their  offspring. 

In spite of these devastating consequences, there's little attempt by god or churches to label men as sexual predators. 

Women are Jezebels but men are victims. Inevitably, it always comes back to haunt the women or in some cases even little children, the devil using our bodies to try and destroy the soul of a man. What a slick way to shift the burden of responsibility. Why should we be surprised? Women were an afterthought, created solely to meet the needs of a man. The belief that women have no true importance in the cosmic realm of fairy tales is pretty easy to recognize. 

After all, the trinity is made up of a father, son and a holy ghost. Seems anything or anybody was better than a woman in that powerful triad, even a ghost.  A ghost, mind you! That says it all.

The first time I saw a National Geographic article about an indigenous tribe that wore little if any clothing, I was intrigued. I must've been about thirteen, but even at such a young age, it triggered a lot of questions. Everything that I had been taught to believe about human sexuality up to that point had been shrouded in the heavy condemnation of religious zealotry. Suddenly, I was confronted with a culture that had an entirely different perspective about the human body. Nudity wasn't  frowned upon nor did it seem to result in unchecked sexual depravity. People went about their day hunting and gathering, cooking and eating , sleeping and sitting around their fires interacting with one another. The world didn't fall apart because everyone was naked. Was it possible that unveiling the great mysteries of the human body resulted in different ideas of what was sexually provocative and what wasn't? In other words could a breast become as common place as an elbow? And if so, what was considered erotic instead?

I won't say that National Geographic changed my life, but it did give me something to think about. 

As I matured, it became easier and easier to identify so many inconsistencies between what was being preached and what was being practiced. I found it harder and harder to accept that I was responsible for someone else's behavior or that a woman named Eve determined my destiny. I watched everyone in the church struggle with being human even those who claimed to have been sanctified, purged of the world and filled with the holy spirit. Eventually, I had to pack my bags and leave. I went out into the evil world determined to forge a life for myself of my own choosing. Yes, I encountered bad ideas outside the church and plenty of troubled people, but as I gained experience, I was able to make better and better choices for myself. 

Once I experienced that kind of personal freedom, it became impossible to embrace the Bible's degrading view of womanhood ever again. 

I was born with an inquiring mind. For that I am very grateful. Sometimes, I dared to ask questions. Often I was met with punishment or a rebuke. Not once did I ever receive a satisfying answer.  

These many years later, I can easily see the distress, even sexually deviant behavior, that a strict, religious upbringing causes so many people. 

The demands are contradictory, confusing, go entirely against human nature and often end up producing behaviors that might've been avoided otherwise.  The result is a strain between the sexes and a need to grab power. Men become the clear winners in the power struggle and women are expected to submit. The freedom to explore the world is prohibited and sexuality distorted.  Not just among the devout but in our culture at large because we inherit our world view from our parents. Cultural expectations are far more powerful at controlling behaviors than laws will ever be. 

Consequently, we continue to live in a culture that is uncomfortable with human sexuality. 

We are so reluctant to examine this aspect of being a human animal that we refuse to allow schools to educate our children about this very important topic. We preach abstinence supported by ignorance and aren't remotely interested in considering easy access to free birth control for our citizens. We are steeped in phobias, unable to accept that there's a sexual spectrum that has always existed throughout the animal kingdom. We use our religious ignorance to remain intolerant. In a day and age when the human body is better understood than ever before, we still relate to human sexuality in old fashioned terms much the same as when we thought epilepsy was demon possession. These kinds of backward notions hurt everyone, but most importantly, they hurt children. Our fear becomes their guilt and lends itself to a collective ignorance and misunderstanding about a very natural human function. 

Even in modern times, these archaic, religious beliefs  permeate our psyches. 

Now that I'm completely free of the god virus, I'm amazed that so many people still choose to join these institutions straight out of the Dark Ages. It boggles my mind that anyone with the ability to ask questions would seek answers from the devout. 

Teresa Roberts is a myth buster. Her recently published book - Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales - can be purchased on Amazon.