Monday, December 31, 2012

Sex and God and Shame

The church insists that sex is God's gift to humankind.  Yet few organizations are more clumsy or more repressive on issues of sexuality than the church.

I was thinking about how I was raised. Not just how I was raised but how many young women in my age group and before were raised...  For us, sex was the taboo subject. It was a subject that everyone wanted to have a conversation on, NEEDED to have a conversation on...but few actually did. Who would we talk to?

I have a uniquely informed perspective on the Catholic church's point of view on sexuality for several reasons. One, I worked as a pregnancy care caseworker for the local Catholic Charities. I worked there at least twenty years ago but WOW oh WOW was that an eye opener. I remember feeling very confused about my job with the girls. A part of the organization that I worked for was so very shaming for young, sexually-active people and my part of the organization was, supposedly, support for a pregnant girl. But we really didn't have support beyond emotional support. In fact, it took me awhile to realize that we were funneling babies into perspective-adoptive parent homes. No wonder that job messed with my mind so much!

And two, I was a pregnant teen in the Catholic church at one time.

On the whole, Catholics in those days that I was growing up harbored such a truckload of shame regarding one's own body, sexuality in general, and sexual maturation during adolescence.   Many religious traditions want to claim sexuality as a divine activity, while maintaining the vulgar, uncleanliness, and filth of the human body. It's no wonder teens have no idea how to handle their own feelings! Personally, I remember feeling very confused about these attitudes and about the messages that there was something fundamentally unsavory about certain parts of me.

It starts with the human body its self. Both boys and girls from religious homes are often raised with wrinkled noses, zero correct terminology, and staunch discomfort with anything related to their body. I realize that parents addressed these issues from their own comfort zone, there is no blame intended here. But if most of the "knowledge" comes from the church, then why didn't I think to ask this question:  If God doesn't make bad things, they why is the human form treated with such puritanical discomfort?

Is it possible I am a generation behind on this one?????? Are religious families doing better with this these days? Because this is exactly how I and all of my Catholic friends were brought up with regards to knowledge about sex and our bodies. I would love to know that things are improving vastly with regards to the messages we are passing along to our children.

I like being friends with the younger parents 
that it is my honor to know. These parents are thinking people. They call a penis a penis, a vagina a vagina. I can't remember those words ever, EVER being spoken in my home while growing up. Hopefully the forbidden parts of the past are today's open books. I think the way we bring up healthier adults with good self esteem is to make sexuality a topic of conversation that is open and honest and educating.

As our children mature, along come normal human sexual longings, feelings, thoughts.

And WOW does the church have a schizophrenic field day with this one. It angers me when I remember the mixed, shameful messages that children and teens got, that I got, with regards to these normal and healthy energy and sensations in their bodies.  Girls begin maturing physically between ten and twelve, but don't usually get married until their mid-twenties. That's FIFTEEN YEARS of sexual maturity.

Are we really going to pretend that those years are not happening?

I am determined to be open and honest with my own kids about sexuality, at their level, at their interest. I am just at the beginning of this journey with my teen, but we have been working on this issue since the kids were tiny. Hopefully, my kids will grow up with healthy sexual messages and sexual intelligence.


Addendum, Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist of The Thinking Atheist Podcast, spoke with sex therapist Marty Klein.  Dr. Klein's book sounded pretty good.  Here's a link.
Seth also talked to Dr. Darryl Ray, secular author, who recommended his book God and Sex:  How Religion Distorts Sexuality.

Second Addendum:  The Thinking Atheist Podcast from this week is "Atheism and Sexuality" and I highly recommend listening all of the way through until you listen to the conversation with Greta Christina.  She is BRILLIANT and speaks so wisely.

If you like this post you might enjoy this one:
25 Ways to Pass on "Love" and "Tolerance" to your Children


  1. good posts. I got no sex education at all. Its insane.

  2. I remember when my oldest first asked me about erections. He was probably six. Of course, he didn't know the word, but he asked about it just the same. I felt faint, but I sat him down and we discussed intercourse, and the purpose of erections in that process. I didn't go into ridiculous detail (he was six, after all), but I forced myself to use real words. I forced myself to be honest and tell the truth. That was the hardest conversation I ever *started*, but after a few minutes, we were talking freely, and when it was all over, I thought, "Wow, that wasn't even that bad." Ever since, I've spoken clearly and honestly with my children about sex, menstruating, even masturbation. I've decided these conversations are hard for parents for two reasons. First, because discussing sex in a casual way includes discussion of pleasure, which means admitting that you yourself do it for pleasure, and talking about your sexual pleasure (no matter how twisted and roundabout) to a child just feels wrong to them (even if those things are never actually mentioned). And Second, the suggestion of pleasure may lead kids to WANT TO HAVE SEX (like your talking or not talking about it has anything to do with that, haha). It's like a secret we don't want to let them in on, because we're afraid they might go busting into the Secret Lair and throw parties for all their friends.

    I've been practically militant with my daughters when it comes to menstruating without shame or embarrassment. I wasn't raised Catholic, but I was raised with some pretty shameful feelings around puberty.

    I think you're approaching this in exactly the right way. Honesty and truth cannot possibly be a bad thing, and I hope future generations of children can grow into their own bodies and sexuality without fear, judgement, or shame. I am so glad to see other moms with this attitude about discussing sexuality with their kids.

    1. You know, Heather, I have talked very honestly with my daughter (who is 15 1/2) and she is ALWAYS to so interested and has intelligent questions. I remember being her age and having deep yearnings, feelings, etc, and not understanding them at all... I didn't even have any idea HOW to talk about them...SO glad to offer this to my kids.

      You're right, it's a tough conversation to get into, but easier than you expect it to be once you get into it.

      I'm always glad with having had the conversation with her...and a get HUGE hugs afterwards.

  3. Hi! I stopped by your blog for the first time. This is a topic I think about A LOT! My kids are only 7 and 4.5 but I want to have some things figured out before they get to their teens so I think about what values to pass on a lot. I was raised evangelical. My school teachers taught me about the biological aspects of sexuality. The talk my mom had with me was, "Don't have sex until you're married. If you do use protection." The end. =) I did wait to have actual intercourse until marriage, but engaged in much other sexual experimentation (touching, dry sex, oral sex, etc.) which I always believed was wrong but just couldn't get myself to care enough to stop doing. =) Ha! Thanks for talking about this!

    1. I appreciate your words.
      I think the title of this post FREAKS some people out (given the feedback I have received...!) But, honestly, this is an issue that you don't see around much. That's exactly why I felt like I had to write about it.

      I'm so glad you could relate to it.


  4. I think it's important to let them know that the communication chanels are always open. That they can ask whatever question they have. Lily (5 years old) has asked questions about babies so far and knows now that they are part mommy, part daddy, and grow in mommy's tummy. I'm actually thankful that she hasn't asked how the daddy part gets into mommy ;-)

    I was raised in an open family, and sometimes actually too open. I was never allowed to lock bathroom doors, my parents never knocked before coming into my room, etc. We are indeed teaching the girl that it's ok if they want privacy, but also that they can come to us at all times.

    Thank you for sharing this helpful information, Karen!

  5. Oh dear, I could talk about this for hours and bore everyone silly so I'll try to be restrained!
    I think it is really important to think about what happens to the gaps in conversation/knowledge if parents don't talk about these things. In my experience and I think many other people from similar backgrounds would agree, it isn't the things that were or weren't said that did the most harm, it is the implications we drew from what little knowledge we had and the general atmosphere to fill in those gaps. For example at Libby-Anne talks about getting yeast infections because "I never paid those parts attention and didn’t even know what all I had down there". My mother never told her not to wash my genitalia, but the general impression I had was that I wasn't really meant to be touching the area and consequently I never paid much attention to hygiene. If you create an atmosphere of shame and secrecy, it results in both misinformation, confused emotions but also increased titillation! There is so much focus on how powerful and hard to resist temptation is, how naughty and dirty sex is... it makes it fascinating ^ _~

    1. "My mother never told *me* not to wash my genitalia"


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