Sex-Positive Evangelicals? Oh, Yes


We all know that the growing
evangelical movement is one (with a few left-leaning pockets exempted)
obsessed with sex.  Controlling it.  Punishing it.  Using
it to control women.  Stomping out most versions of it completely. 
Shaming people who enjoy it.  And now, believe it or not, promoting
it as an important part of healthy marriages.   

Wait, come again?  Sex-positive
evangelicals?  Well, sort of. While they’re not bringing
in enough numbers to drown out the dominant attitude of shaming, there
does seem to be a trend in the evangelical community of promoting more
and better sex within marriage — for the good of the marriages.  There are now Christian
sex shops,
Christian sex advice columns, and Christian
sex blogs.
 
Most of it is tame compared to secular counterparts, but the fact that it exists at all gives pause to those
of us who spend quite a bit of time wrangling with evangelicals who
want to ban abortion, restrict contraception, put virginity rings on
girls, and teach nothing but abstinence-until-marriage. 

But should this trend surprise
us?  Upon further reflection, the whole thing makes perfect sense. 
One of the favorite selling points for abstinence-only, reiterated endlessly
by abstinence-only "educators," is that waiting until marriage means
that the sex will be even better, with the implication often being that
it works seamlessly without the learning period the rest of us have
to go through, and that it’s so hot that others couldn’t even imagine
it. (It’s a false promise — just listen to reports
from couples who waited, only to find out that they had compatibility
issues.  But it’s never been beyond fundamentalists to treat the truth
as disposable in pursuit of a larger agenda.)  Evangelicals have an
investment
in making sure that married sex is hot, so they can push
the abstinence-only line with more confidence. 

But there’s another aspect
to it that’s even more important–people come to evangelical churches
because they need help running their lives, and if the churches want
to keep members, they need to offer that help.  In fact, one of
the most remarkable aspects of the modern evangelical movement is how
self-help-y it is. Matt
Taibbi discovered this when he went undercover at James Hagee’s San
Antonio megachurch.
 
Most of the work done in the church borrowed heavily from the dreck
of the self-help world, except with demons thrown in as a twist. 
Certainly Rick Warren has exploited the melding of Christianity with
the self-help section of the bookstore with his book "The Purpose-Driven
Life," which, from the title alone, sounds just like a self-help book.  

Since the evangelical movement
is basically competing with self-help for an audience, it makes sense
that they’d have to branch out into one of the most popular forms
of self-help, which is advice on how to make sex better inside relationships. 
This kind of thing isn’t exactly new to evangelical Christianity. 
In the 70s, the right wing power couple Beverly and Tim LaHaye co-authored a sex
manual
that at
least said female orgasms were important — but scolded people who used
the popular oral sex method to get there.  Modern sex-positive
evangelicals are a lot more open-minded about oral sex, I discovered
as I perused various Christian websites.   

What I found in my research
was a surprising diversity in attitudes about what sex acts were acceptable,
though a shared fondness for obsessing over the potential sinfulness
of each act.  Of all the people pushing the "more sex for marrieds"
message, I found Joy
Wilson
, who owns
the sex shop Book
22
, the most pleasant
person who really seemed happy to be helping people have more and better
sex.  Like the rest of the sites I read, Book 22 had the same nit-picking
"sin or not?" specificity–dildos are out–but on the whole, her
website sells the same kind of products that feminist sex shops do,
with the same goal of making sure that women are getting as much pleasure
out of sex as men do. She
blogs about sex in a blunt, generous style that I found appealing.
   

The
Marriage Bed
is
co-authored by a married couple, and while it’s refreshingly positive
about things like oral sex and even spanking, it’s homophobic and
sexist, like pretty much all the sites I visited.  Women are characterized
as wanting more snuggles and men as wanting more sex, and it’s not
even hinted that it might be reversed in some marriages, or even that
snuggles might not be a chore for some men. What I found most amusing
was their acceptance of fantasy was contingent upon making sure that you
only fantasized about sex between married people. Like most of the sites,
they demonstrate hostility towards female-controlled hormonal contraception. 

Christian
Nymphos
had a refreshingly
explicit nature, which is what people go to sex advice websites for. 
If you don’t have details, you haven’t learned enough to do it yourself. 
Unlike Book 22 or the Marriage Bed, they don’t seem to have any problems
with dildos or anal sex, so point in their favor.  Like Book 22,
they consider their mission mainly to make sex more fun for women, who
they assume have strong sexual desires.  They even avoid the fear-mongering
about female-controlled
hormonal contraception.

Despite refreshingly sex-positive views, though, they maintained the
same disappointing levels of sexism, telling women to suck it up if
they are left unsatisfied by sex

or promoting
female submission as romance.
  

What I discovered was that
women’s influence on the message made it, if far from perfect and
often downright offensive, much more positive than the sex
advice and help that came straight from male ministers.  By contrast, look at Paul Wirth
of the Relevant Church, who recently made headlines with his 30 day sex challenge.  Unlike the female-run sites
that thrived more on suggestions and discussion, the 30 day sex challenge
comes across like a dictate.  You’re to have sex (if you’re
married, of course) for 30 days whether you’re in the mood or not. 
The reason Wirth gives for this is unsurprisingly sexist: "Every man’s
fantasy: 30 days of sex!" "Every woman’s dream: 30 days of intimacy!" 
This idea–that the sex part of sex is for men, and women just want
the intimacy–threads through many sites, unsurprisingly showing up
more when men are doing more of the writing.  The challenge just
struck me as another way to use sex as a tool to control, the flip side
of abstinence-only. 

Minister
Mark Driscoll of Seattle
is
positively obsessed with sex, and belongs to this category, even though
there’s something unnerving about it.  A big proponent of wifely
submission, and just generally bagging on women (Driscoll blamed
Ted Haggard’s wife Gayle for Ted’s infidelities with male prostitutes,
claiming that she had let herself
go), Driscoll also offers a video series in which he answers people’s
questions about sex. These
videos are pretty hard to take
,
since he’s arrogant and pushy and just a little too interested in
what’s going on in the bedrooms of his parishioners for comfort. 

I suspect if the pro-sex movement in Christianity starts to really take
off, we’re going to see more men like Driscoll take over, and the
control will be wrested away from the women who are currently
out there writing a kinder, gentler form of evangelical sex advice.

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  • invalid-0

    I see your opinion presented, and “religious” opinion represented (supposedly in an “accurate to God’s word” because it came from a “church”). If I understand correctly from this blog, only one side of this argument has a COMPLETELY accurate depiction of sexuality, and the opposing POV, while having some representations of “accuracy”, is mostly off and archaic.

    While two contrasting views are represented clearly, one particular POV is left out completely. We know what Amanda thinks, we have Amanda’s view on what she believes about “evangelicals” – but where is God? God is not the evangelicals. At best, many “evangelicals” would equate to a group that God commonly referred to as “hypocritical” – false and partial representations of the truth.

    So what does God think about sex? As a good blogger and researcher, I will leave the grunt work of discovering most of this out for yourself, as others have done. The misconception that God hates sex, or that the act of sex itself is despicable – this is not only erroneous in terms of God’s word, but God’s word supports having a vibrant, healthy sex life! But like a fire, a fire is good in a fireplace. The boundaries of how the fire happens is important for the health of a relationship.

    Back to God’s thoughts, from text that has been passed down for generations way before either of us existed:

  • Genesis 1:26-28 God’s desire for us to populate earth (can’t do that without sex).
  • Song of Songs 4:13-16 – are we talking “fruit” here? or something else
    What is a woman’s garden? tsk tsk I’m not dumb, I know you’re not LOL.

    This is just two references – the entire book of Song of Songs (or Solomon) is one representation of God’s POV on relationship, intimacy and sex. There are many accounts of “begatting” – in both appropriate and inappropriate ways. God is not against sex – but His word is clear about anything that takes His place as the priority of our lives, and is also clear about considering and caring for others, loving our neighbors as we would want to be loved (“so what’s with these ‘evangelicals’ then?” – well, maybe they’re ‘evangelical’… and not Christian… Matthew 22:36-40 and 1 John 2:6).

    I leave a link as a source for a POV from a person who has done a lot of leg work towards gaining a Biblical understanding of God’s view of sexuality: CARM on Sexuality.

    Happy blogging!

    Mike Shivar

  • amanda-marcotte

    RH Reality Check has been completely transparent from the beginning, that we promote a science-and-evidence-based approach to sexual health.  This does come into conflict with some people’s religious beliefs, but far from all.  And certainly people like me who have no religious beliefs are fine with it.

  • invalid-0

    This isn’t what “sex-positive” means. As you pointed out in the post, these groups are promoting having sex within their particular narrow definition of what the right kind of sex is. Being sex-positive means you are allowing people to have full access to information so that they can make their own decisions about when or if to have sex, who to have it with, and what sex and pleasure look like for them. That doesn’t overlap very much with what you are describing at all.

  • amanda-marcotte

    But they’re more sex-positive than your average evangelicals.  I assume sex positivity is on a scale, not an either/or proposition.  They fall short of the secular or liberal religious definitions of sex positive.  But they’re enough on the edge that they might be people that could be talked to.

  • invalid-0

    There’s still a good chance these people are mutilating their sons’ penises by circumcision.

  • harry834

    While I’ve never been involved either way with the "right to be uncut" movement, I appreciate your call for individual autonomy.

  • invalid-0

    I looked at your site breifly–enough to be thoroughly disgusted. The question on oral sex had a great answer and the one on masturbation was just ridiculous, but then I looked at the question on pedophila–the only problem with this is that it is not between a married couple? Sex with a child is on the same level as a gay couple or even an engaged couple? No wonder there is so much child abuse amongst the most conservative religious people. Child sexual abuse is one of the most damaging of crimes there is–and to treat it as just another sexual sin is wrong.

  • http://www.watcherslamp.blogspot.com invalid-0

    “Since the evangelical movement is basically competing with self-help for an audience, it makes sense that they’d have to branch out into one of the most popular forms of self-help, which is advice on how to make sex better inside relationships.”

    Dear Ms. Marcotte,

    Unfortunately, you have painted a very real picture of “popular Evangelicalism”. The self help promotions
    ( self esteem, finances, health, etc. ) that are so prevalent in the “seeker sensitive” church growth models exist to build larger congregations. So called “pastors” exhibit “pulpit envy” and use marketing programs for BIGGER pulpits.

    And we know sex sells.

    I am embarrased that these snake oil salesmen do this, on stage, in the Name of God. Folks who claim no “religious belief” may accurately assess the charade. Unfortunately, they may also feel justified in their unbelief.

    I would challenge the reader ( “church-going” included )to open the Bible to learn who we are and who God is and what He has done and what He will do.

  • invalid-0

    I’m assuming these comments were in reference to the CARM.org article. I am posting the actual text for clear reference, underneath the dashed line.

    Each person has their own POV on what level of wrong is reached when a particular wrong is made. I think most people agree that pedophilia is as bad as you say, and those who don’t are weak morally.

    But then, God’s word has its standard. It too believes pedophilia is bad, and sets standards for other sexual acts as well, among other moral issues.

    Here’s the issue that the people who do not believe in God’s word face – why don’t these religious types live out the moral standards from God’s word that they attribute themselves to? Two possible reasons come to mind: perhaps a person is mistaken about their status as a Christian or what it means to be a Christian, or perhaps a person has serious character issues that they have not addressed according to God’s word. Either way, the actions are not condoned by God, and a person who participates in not only this specific wrong, but other actions that are not inline with God’s word should be held accountable.

    What is seen as “the craziness of God’s grace” comes in when a person is able to accept the grace that God’s given through Jesus’ death. This doesn’t mean that they lose accountability for actions though. Pedophiles should still be arrested, charged and punished – justice for the victims should still be carried out. A person who accepts God’s offer of “goodness replacement” should be understanding that there are still real consequences for their actions. If a person’s spirit is sincere, they will face those consequences with bravery and humbleness, and not use it as a means of manipulating their circumstances. This applies to all wrongs, with God being the authority on what is right and wrong. Better to be disciplined for a time here in such a short life, then to spend the rest of existence in discipline.

    ——————————————————–

    Yes, pedophilia is wrong. Pedophilia is the the sexual actual act or sexual fantasy that an adult has with and/or regarding a child or children. Such acts are sinful. First of all, the sexual union is only properly had between a husband and wife. It is never to be had between anyone else. Therefore, pedophilia is a sin.

    * 1 Cor. 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
    * Heb. 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

    Clearly, this sin is forbidden by God since it violates the natural created order of sexual union between a husband and wife.

    —————————————————-

  • invalid-0

    I’m totally going to set up a site about what the FSM thinks about sex too!

    With all those noodly appendages- it’s going to get kinky in there though.

    Ah imaginary beings… what can’t they command us mortals to do huh?
    It’s almost as if the “word of g-d” was written by *gasp* MEN! Who had an agenda! *gasp*

  • invalid-0

    The great thing about the ability to choose is that we were designed with this ability. The great thing about truth is that it exists whether tangible evidence is readily available or not, and whether we accept it or not.

    As far as believing whether God’s word is actually from God (transcribed by men) or whether it’s just a bunch of mularkey to keep people in line, well, we make our decisions individually about that too.

    I do find it somewhat interesting about how many “experts” there are out there on God’s word and ways, who have actually been going off of someone else’s opinion of God’s word, and had never actually read it for themselves. Of course, doing this is a fearful thing, as there is a fear of being ‘brainwashed’ into loving God and loving other’s, a fear that a person would discover that there is a God and that they are not the ultimate authority (but, even life teaches this with elected officials holding authority), that there is indeed a set standard for living life, and it’s not by picking and choosing what I want as an individual, but living within guidelines and boundaries that are designed to increase my relationship with God and others and protect me from making dumb decisions. And as well, that there is mercy and grace available, as long as I am willing to accept the standards by which it is offered.

    Something to think about – is anyone getting mad here? I’m not upset… just discussing :)

  • invalid-0

    but I think I am “losing my religion” this is enough to make someone gag. I’ll just take Jesus.

  • http://www.meredithhaberfeld.com invalid-0

    As a Life Coach I work with people who have issues around sex and relationships. I think religion gives people a lot of issues around sex. However, whether the evangelicals are doing this for money and a new market or not, I suppose it is good that they are at least talking about sex education.

  • gogbama

    The god for me – that is the reason of existence of the world and me. The way to the god lays through love. Sex at me depends on belief in the god in such a manner that I dare to have sex only if sex does not contradict love and-or not for me it becomes more important than love.

    Sexual revolution can quite co-exist with beliefs.

    For example the violence contradicts love. But it is an extreme case, I and so I will not receive from violence of pleasure. Or for example, I like oral sex but when my wife was pregnant and when nursed, oral sex we were not engaged, because did not want that he was born with deviations. That is the love should be more important than sex and other pleasures. Such here regulations.