Can Christians be sex positive? These church leaders think so.
Traditionally, most Christian leaders have accepted the teaching that sex should only take place within marriage. This has been accompanied by a great stigmatization of sex outside of marriage, leaving Christians – women and LGBTQ people in particular – often feeling forced to choose between following their religion and embracing their sexuality.
In recent years, this has been confirmed in mainstream politics, with conservative Christian groups backing restrictions on abortion and bans on discussing gender and sexuality in schools.
But in some corners of the internet, church leaders and other public figures are fusing Christianity with sex positivity – that is, the belief that all forms of sexual expression between consenting adults is allowed and should be de-stigmatized.
‘I had sex…and Jesus still loves me’: How ‘The Bachelorette’ had a rare moment of sex positivity
This follows a general cultural trend: Over the past two decades, Americans have increasingly accepted sex outside of marriage, LGBTQ relationships and more, according to Gallup.
Thanks in part to the pervasiveness of these views on social media, some Christians say they are coming to see a healthy relationship with their sexuality as spiritually beneficial and even biblical.
In 2020, the Pew Research Center found that half of American Christians consider casual sex — defined in the survey as sex between consenting adults who are not in a committed romantic relationship — acceptable at least some of the time. .
And in a survey that year of 133 Christian students across the United States, Aditi Paul, assistant professor of communication studies at Pace University, found that 80% of Christian students masturbate, 68% watch. pornography and 60% had between one and six casual hookup partners.
The majority of students agreed that casual sex is okay; one night standards are nice; and an individual does not need to be related to someone to have sex with the person, Paul’s investigation found.
Xaya Lovelle, 28, a sex worker in New Orleans, said she always felt at odds with the sexual mores she learned in the Roman Catholic Church. But she didn’t feel validated from that perspective, she said, until at age 17 she read “The Purity Myth.” by feminist writer Jessica Valenti. The book argues that American society’s obsession with virginity hurts young women.
Two years later, she started using webcams (which involved live and private broadcasts) because she discovered that “sex was not incompatible with the teachings of Jesus”, she said. declared. Since then, Lovelle added, other Christians, including the non-binary Catholic mystical sex worker William Octoberaffirmed his belief that “sex positivity is largely about accepting others and withholding judgment, which reflects the actions of Jesus”.
Alexa Davis, 23, an Illinois blogger, was raised in a non-denominational church that taught sex was only for marriage. But she began to question that dogma as a teenager when she came across sex-positive ideas online, from secular figures, including video blogger Laci Green, and religious leaders, including the Reverend Beverly Dale, based in Philadelphia.
“It was reassuring to see this confirmation from a practicing minister that sex is supposed to be positive,” she recalled after reading an article about Dale, who created the “Sex Is Good” YouTube series.
Dale grew up on a farm in Illinois in the 1950s and attended the Christian church. Her family didn’t talk about sex at all, which made it seem forbidden and shameful, she said. The role of women in her community, she recalls, was “to look after and teach children and to work overseeing potlucks in the church”.
“It was the women’s movement that taught me that it was okay to be a woman and it was perfectly okay to be a sexual woman,” Dale added. “Once I realized that, I turned to my Christian teachings and the church with great anger.”
For today’s feminist writers, sex is coming back
Christianity in the United States stems largely from a Puritan tradition that sees the desires of the flesh as opposed to those of the spirit. It was not until the 1970s that women began to enter seminaries in greater numbers and to publish writings that criticized mainstream Christian views on sex, influenced by second-wave feminism. In the 1980s, Dale attended Chicago Theological Seminary, where she was able to read these works, she said, which helped her contextualize her “sex-phobic” upbringing.
“The reason I started healing was because of feminist theologians,” she added. “If I had been left with such a negative thought about myself as a woman and denied my own sexuality, I am convinced that I would have died – if not physically, then certainly spiritually.”
New Orleans-based minister Lyvonne Briggs, who shares her sex-positive beliefs on Instagram and hosts the online spiritual learning community Sensual Faith Academy, was similarly raised; she attended a sex-neutral Caribbean Episcopal church and was indoctrinated in the culture of purity in college, she said. She began to change her perspective while earning a master’s degree in theology from Yale Divinity School. There, Briggs said, she came to understand Jesus as a radical figure, different from the version of Jesus she had learned in church growing up.
Examining the Bible, Briggs said she discovered that Jesus had little to say about sex. “What we have been told Jesus said are actually gross misinterpretations of the Bible,” she said. “We need to be honest about who wrote the Bible, who translated the Bible, and who does it serve us to believe that Jesus was condemned.”
Dale believes that Jesus uplifted and associated with women in a way that was progressive in his time. “American Christians … taught ideas about sex to misogynistic and sexually conflicted church fathers instead of Jesus,” she said. “If Jesus were their guide, Christians would consider the fun police in the church to be party crap.”
Rather than coming from the Bible, Dale said, many sex-negative Christian ideas came from writers born after Jesus’ time, such as St. Augustine and St. Jerome. It was Augustine, for example, she said, who developed the concept of “original sin” – sin passed on to a child through sex itself.
Dale and Briggs argue for interpretations of the Bible that celebrate sexual pleasure. In the biblical book Song of Songs, for example, a narrator speaks of a lover in erotic terms.
“These lovers are not mentioned as being married; they are not in the same household,” said Joy Bostic, associate professor of religious and African studies at Case Western Reserve University. “This text, which is an official part of the Bible, echoes medieval mystics, who spoke much of spiritual ecstasy as akin to sexual ecstasy.”
As more Christians are exposed to alternative readings and less talked about parts of the Bible, some are speaking out against directives to wait until marriage to have sex or to condemn forms of sexual expression such as as LGBTQ relationships and sex work.
Others take elements of Christian thought without fully subscribing to them: in his study, Paul of Pace University found that many students had adopted modified versions of traditional Christian rules, such as not having sex sex with someone unless you intend marry that person, avoiding in-person sex but still sexting partners, or engaging in sex but abstaining from sex. She also found that a growing number of students identify as both Christian and LGBTQ.
Roya King, a retired Unitarian Universalist bishop in Ohio, was already working in ministry when she began identifying as gay in 2009. When other leaders in her church spoke out against same-sex marriage, she recalls, “the idea that I could perform a wedding ceremony but never got to participate in it kind of shook me to my core.
She later made a point of speaking to her congregation about LGBTQ rights, she said, “I talked about all people being in the image of God.” And she preached that everything God creates, including sexuality, is holy and should be celebrated, she said.
Other Christians say their sex positivity simply stems from what Jesus considered the most important commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself “.
“If what I do leaves me aligned with these three commands [love God, love yourself and love others]I can rest easy knowing that I am living in the fullness of this life that God has given me,” said Chris Chism, pastor of House Dallas Church who identifies as gay.
To that end, he added, “it is the job of our spiritual leaders to facilitate safe conversation – without condemnation or shame.” These negative reactions, he added, “drive unhealthy relationships, risky sex and even hardcore drug use that has ravaged our communities.”
For King, the most important thing is to spread the message that Jesus brings salvation to the whole world, not just certain people who live a certain way.
“We’ve ostracized so many people because of who they are, who they really are,” she said. “We must preach a gospel of inclusion and love. We can’t get where we need to be without it.