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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.