My grandma was shunned by her entire family for 10 years for getting a divorce from her abusive, alcoholic husband. Her family was Catholic, and divorce was considered a serious sin, regardless of the circumstances.
There were sexual undertones to the shunning. My mom, remembers hearing her aunt say, “The devil lives on the block of the divorced woman. Her daughters are going to turn into prostitutes. In fact, I just saw one of them trying to sell herself on the street yesterday.” (This was untrue, of course.)
The only times that sex was ever discussed in my mom’s family was in the context of a sin against God. But no one actually talked about what sex even was.
My mom recalls hearing about sex on the playground at school, and asking her parents if the simple description she had heard was true. Her parents simply responded, “No, that’s not true.”
When my great aunt got married while still a teenager, nobody told her what was going to happen on her wedding night. The next morning, she told my grandma that she felt like she had been assaulted. It had been a horrible trauma for her.
I understand that not everyone’s religious upbringing was this intense, but at the end of the day religion plays a powerful role in how we relate to our sexuality.
That’s why I wanted to include it in this month’s discussion of the most common sexual blockages.
I have been asked to write about religion before, but I’ve been a bit hesitant because I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what their relationship with their higher power should be like.
When I did my 2018 survey, so many people asked me to talk about religion. So I figured there had to be a way for me to talk about it with sensitivity and respect.
I want to be clear that today’s post is for people who are grappling with their religion’s teachings about sex, and want to believe something different about sex. If you’re religious and are perfectly content with your religious beliefs, I’m not going to try to get you to change your mind!
I’m going to address two specific situations:
• If you’re religious, but you don’t agree with all of your religion’s views about sex.
• If you were raised religious, and you no longer consider yourself religious, but your religious beliefs are still blocking you.
What did your religion teach you to believe about sex?
For either situation, the first step is to start with writing down what your religion has taught you about sex. Write down every belief that comes to mind.
From there, separate those beliefs into two categories:
• Beliefs that are serving you in having a healthy and pleasurable sex life.
• Beliefs that are blocking you from having a healthy and pleasurable sex life.
If you’re religious, but you don’t agree with all of your religion’s views about sex
Next, think about this question, “What’s the relationship that I want to have with my religion/higher power, especially when it comes to beliefs about sex?”
I know that a lot of people don’t think you can pick and choose which specific beliefs you’re going to follow within a religion. I understand that. And at the same time, I believe that religion is such a personal experience that it’s worth at least examining how we fit into it.
In reality, most people have their own takes on religion. There are very few people who follow religious teachings completely. So if you can be a Christian and still eat shellfish, or be Jewish and still get a tattoo, then maybe there’s some space for you to be religious and have a different kind of relationship with sex.
If you take the time to think about the kind of relationship you want to have with your religion or with your higher power, some nuances might arise.
For example, maybe you think, “I would like to believe that my higher power would want me to experience joy and pleasure with a partner, so long as I’m honoring myself by choosing loving and respectful partners.” Or, “I would like to think that my higher power would want me to love my body exactly as it is.” Or, “I want to believe that my higher power would forgive me for the mistakes I’ve made with my sex life in the past, and would want me to move forward.”
There are also a lot of brave people within religious communities that are opening up conversations about reconsidering the relationship between religion and sex. Try Googling the name of your religion, plus the words “alternative views sex.” Even just reading about the ways other people are navigating their own beliefs can be powerful.
If you were raised religious, and you no longer consider yourself religious, but your religious beliefs are still blocking you
In this case, it’s really important for you to get clear on what you want to believe about sex. Remind yourself that you’re an adult. You get to choose what beliefs you want to have, and why you want to have those beliefs.
I highly recommend checking out my Take This Back technique from earlier this month. It can be a super powerful way for you to let go of religious teachings that are no longer serving you.
It can also be helpful to think through the lens of what you would want a younger generation to believe, whether they be your kids, your nieces or nephews, or younger people in general.
What would you want to teach a child about their body, pleasure, sexuality, and relationships? Sometimes stepping outside of ourselves can make this murky issue much more clear.
This is a tactic that worked well for my mom. She was raised in an intensely strict Catholic family, but she said she always felt conscious about not wanting to instill the same guilt, fear, and shame that she felt, into her kids.
My mom had her own struggles educating me about sex, but as a child, I had much healthier views on sex than she had when she was a child.
After all, I ended up deciding to make it my life’s mission to help people realize that sex is perfectly normal, natural, and healthy!
So tell me, how did religion impact your relationship with sex? I’m so curious to know!