Learn About Sexuality

The influence of religious beliefs on sexuality

Different cultures have their own set of values. Some families or individuals consider these beliefs to be more important than others. While we are children, our parents make choices for us in the belief that they are for our benefit. Once we are adult, we can decide on our own values. How we express our sexuality may also be conditioned by the cultural and religious beliefs we hold.

Traditionally women have been protected and strongly advised against having unprotected intercourse (without the use of reliable contraceptive). Marriage existed to ensure that a man was contractually obliged to provide support for a woman and any children before a couple had sex. This principle is still in force in conservative societies and places where there is no reliable contraceptive available.

Men might have thought that once reliable contraceptive became available that women would almost instantly behave as men do. That women would become just as willing to initiate and show enthusiasm about engaging in sexual activity. This has not happened. In general men still have to date women before there is likely to be any sexual activity. Men still ask women to marry them. The issue of consent is alive and well. Women primarily agree to sex in combination with a loving relationship because they are typically unresponsive especially with a lover.

Men can volunteer to be ‘sperm donors’ and their semen is offered to women who cannot (or don’t want to) conceive by natural means. Test-tube babies are conceived in an artificial environment. But the developing embryo must then be implanted into a woman’s womb. We can replace the male role in reproduction but not the female role. Test-tube babies must develop in the womb and are born as other babies. Women, called ‘surrogate’ mothers, volunteer their wombs in return for payment. New groups, such as gay men, can have a baby using one of the partner’s sperm.

The way in which we express sexuality depends in part on our desire to enjoy sexual pleasure as well as our need to satisfy moral constraints. Ultimately we each need to find our own personal balance between reconciling our moral beliefs and enjoying our sexual experiences. A person who doesn’t enjoy eroticism is not consciously choosing to be ‘inhibited’. It’s just the way they are and most likely they are happy to be that way. They simply don’t have the benefit of enjoying the pleasure of responding positively to eroticism.

Many people are happy to engage in the amount of lovemaking activity that feels appropriate to them for emotional and reproductive reasons. They may assume that they represent the norm and that others who engage in activities outside these socially acceptable ‘norms’ are perverted or abnormal in some way. People who object to the suggestion that couples can enjoy sexual pleasure have rarely experimented themselves to explore outside intercourse. They simply cannot imagine that they would ever enjoy more adventurous sex and so they believe that no one else should.

A boy is not initially embarrassed by sex. But as he matures, a man becomes aware of woman’s disgust and this causes him to become embarrassed. Men talk much more freely about sexual opportunities and turn-ons among themselves than when there are women around. Women are more sensitive to the negative aspects of sex: anti-social promiscuity, sexual disease, exploitative prostitution, degrading pornography, the world trade in sex slaves etc. Thinking of orgasm as an emotional or spiritual experience is a moral compensation.

We respond positively to eroticism because we enjoy (are aroused by) sources of eroticism. Since many women do not enjoy eroticism of any kind, even if they knew that arousal depended on erotic thoughts they would not be tempted. Anyone who lacks a response to erotic stimuli is unable to appreciate the mental turn-on of sex. They naturally question the purpose of sexual activity and often seek a moral or a spiritual justification for sex. Such an approach avoids attributing any kind of animal instincts to human sexual behaviours.

Research indicates that men who are practicing members of a religion tend to engage in sexual activity (of any kind) less frequently than others. Alfred Kinsey found that religious men have average orgasm frequencies up to at least a third lower than comparable males who are not devout. There is an influence from religions that teach the immorality of any activity outside intercourse with a spouse.

It is also likely that the concepts of celibacy and abstinence are much more appealing to those who have low levels of responsiveness. However, once a person has had experience, such as masturbation, there is little difference between those who are religious and those who are not. The effect of religious beliefs is primarily to deter people from gaining experience in the first place.

… after the female had once started masturbation, her religious devotion usually ceased to have any particular influence on her. (Alfred Kinsey 1953)

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