Since no one has ever told me why conservative branches of organized religion found it necessary to demonize sex, I decided to come up with a few theories of my own. No doubt they will disagree with me.
In his powerful hit song "Dont Get Me Started," Phil Collins tells us "dont even mention sex and religion, and who they take to bed." All right, I wont mention them to Mr. Collins, since the last thing I want to do is risk starting an argument with my favorite singer and composer. Id probably lose anyway. However, neither he nor anyone else can deny the two are red hot buttons for discussion, and no doubt have been since organized religion began. In fact, if you take a good look at the more fundamentalist branches of religion, traditional Catholicism and conservative Christianity to name just two, one could argue that these religious groups declared a silent war on sex many centuries ago...with no signs of a truce in sight.
The question of course, is why. Why do some religions have such hostility to the idea of sex for pleasure without purpose? What is it about sex that compels conservative religion to use it as both a weapon and a reward? Actually, the answer is absurdly simple, for those of us who enjoy it; it just feels good. So, as a stern parent may use sweets and other pleasures to bribe or punish a child, sex can be and is employed by religious leaders as a tool to control, for better or for worse, the behavior of their adult members. Let us examine some of the ways this is done.
"No Sex Before Marriage"
One of the biggest taboos of conservative religious groups is that of premarital sex. Although this rule, for lack of a better word, may have had its place in the days when birth control was non-existent and questions about legitimate parentage could surface, it seems rather antiquated in the 21st century. With all of the methods of contraception available, including elective sterilization for men and women who choose not to be parents, some religions stubbornly cling to the "no sex unless married" mandate, which for many people can be harsh, even cruel. And no sex means just that...no sex, whether it is enjoyed with a partner or not. This includes masturbation, which is as heavily frowned upon by several conservative religions as much as partner intercourse. Where does this leave the person who, for his or her own personal reasons, decides never to marry? Well, if this person is a faithful Catholic or conservative Christian, it leaves only one option; celibacy for the duration of his or her life. Again, this is use of sex as a reward and a punishment. A reward when enjoying sexual relations as a married couple, and punishment in the form of withholding if a person decides not to marry.
"Sex For Procreation Only"
Just when married couples thought it was safe to enjoy sexual intercourse, or any other activity that came to mind in the bedroom, the other shoe was dropped on them by their priest or pastor. The primary purpose of sex is to create new life, not to be enjoyed on its own merits. Which means if they dont want kids right away and want to experience life as a married couple for one or several years, the church would prefer they abstain from sex altogether. When couples ask why that is necessary, they are only told that the doctrine of the church is clear, and if they want to continue to be members in good standing, they should just do as theyre told. Couples who refuse to accept this song and dance from their church will do one of two things. Either they will pretend to go along with what the church says, but will practice contraception anyway, or they will simply leave their particular church or religion and find one that is more in line with their way of thinking.
Can They Tell Us Why?
Since we know the rules are already there, the next logical question is why leaders of fundamentalist religious groups are still keeping them alive after all this time. Why do they have such a problem with members of their respective faiths making their own decisions on these highly personal matters? One possibility is the very real fear of losing the power and control these leaders have over their members. Another reason could just be pure laziness. After all, the anti-sex attitude that pervades the religious fundamentalist philosophy has been around since the early days of Christianity, and many see no compelling reason to change. Whatever the reasons, many Christians and Catholics have already left the churches that refuse to compromise on these issues for ones having a more progressive or liberal philosophy concerning sex, marriage, and contraception. Liberal Christians and Catholics For Free Choice are two groups within their original faith that clearly prefer sexual independence over sexual repression.
Will They Ever Get A Clue?
One has to wonder if conservative religion will ever heed the wake-up calls that their departing members are leaving: using sex as both a carrot and a stick just isnt working. More adults are discovering that they dont need or want to have these decisions about sex, marriage and contraception made by a group that is more concerned about its rules and regulations than the spiritual well-being of its members. They dont need or want to be treated like children who must be controlled by a harsh and uncompromising parent. So far, the leaders still dont get it. But they will take notice of the wake-up calls one day; when they walk into their church expecting a full house and instead, finding it completely empty. By then, however, it will be too late.