Many people had a religious upbringing during childhood, and the effects of growing up with religion last long into adulthood. Whether or not you’re still religious, it’s essential to take note of how certain faiths treat sexuality to combat unconscious habits that may keep you feeling ashamed of your sexual self.
Separation of Mind and Body
One of the most harmful things that religion does for sexuality is to teach people to treat their mind as separate from their body. Certain religious teachings will say that the body’s desires are sinful, and people involved in those religions may begin to tune out of their bodies. However, mindfulness is an important component of a satisfying sexual life, so unlearning this behavior will pay off.
Many religions shame sexuality and sexual desires—especially for those in the LGBTQ community or who are not yet married. The stinging messages of sex-negativity start during early childhood and are hard to shake, even much later on in life.
For instance, it’s natural for children to touch themselves as they explore how each part of their body functions. But many religions sexualize this natural occurrence and may even categorize it as a “sin.” When kids are told that their exploration is wrong, it sets them up for a shame-based relationship with their body and sexuality. These messages instill a feeling of their genitals being dirty, and they will want to separate themselves from activities that involve them.
Even safe, healthy behaviors like masturbation are often discouraged within more conservative religions. Pornography is roundly condemned, too. People involved with religion may masturbate and watch porn like most of the rest of the population, but they carry around a heavy burden of embarrassment. And without healing the sexual shame they feel about these behaviors, it can poison other aspects of their sexuality and will unquestionably reduce the pleasure and satisfaction they feel.
The Language of Purity
Common concepts in many religions include the notions of sexual purity, saving oneself for marriage, and virginity. However, ideas like virginity often leave out many sexual activities and are so hetero-centric that LGBTQ people are not even mentioned. Penis-in-vagina sex is considered the moment one’s virginity is lost, which would mean that lesbian and gay people never have sex. The idea of purity is rather extreme, too, in that it creates a dichotomy: you are either pure or impure, and there is no in between. Even people who have masturbated may feel impure whether or not they’ve never had partnered sex. And those who internalize these ideals will think that sex is something to be hidden rather than expressed, which is detrimental to a healthy sex life. Examining parts of sex that feel dirty or wrong can help you bring to light activities that you may feel undue shame toward.
Take the Good and Leave the Bad
Some ancient religions believed that sex was a sacred activity, which is an empowering view. The belief systems that hold sex as something that transforms humans into the best version of themselves can help retain the gravity that religion confers onto sex—minus the sex negativity. Transcending sex negativity and moving toward sexual empowerment can help you find freedom beyond the constraints of sex-negative messaging from your childhood.
Walking Away From Religion May Not End the Shame
Even if you’re no longer a part of organized religion, you might retain a sex-negative view unless you make a concerted effort to leave it behind. Luckily, you can take some practical steps to separate yourself from the shame. First, you need to find out what you like—exploring everything from types of touches, fantasies, and even power dynamics can help you learn about yourself. Next, you need to practice articulating your sexual needs and desires to your partner. The vulnerability can create deeper intimacy; plus, it will help increase your likelihood of sexual satisfaction.
Shifting the focus of sex from a “necessary evil” that you rush through to a sacred connection you enjoy with your body or your partner can be difficult. To find a solution, consider contacting a therapist to work through shame toward healthy sexuality.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. She works with various individuals to understand and improve their sexuality. Dr. Moali conducts personal consultation sessions in her Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, or via a secure, online video-counseling platform. Click here to download the 101 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Hot checklist. Download her new ebook, How to Increase Your Libido – For Women, here.