Rejecting Religion’s Sexual Shame

Posted on March 28, 2021


Good Sunday Morning, Freethinkers!

Last week, I wrote about Alice Greczyn’s memoir, Wayward: Spiritual Warfare & Sexual Purity.

This week, I continue to look at the influence of Christianity on self-image, sex, and relationships. A few days ago, and much to my delight, I discovered an amazing interview with Dr. Darrel Ray, founder of Recovering from Religion, an organization that serves and supports people who are waking up and leaving religion, titled, “Why are religion and sexuality so tied together?” My friend, Al, the Algorithm, suggested this video, and I didn’t realize until the end that it was Part 2 of a 4-part series, so you may want to start with Episode 1 in the series.

When you’re ready for Part 2, here’s what you’ll find, according to PsycHoe‘s description:

Dr. Ray, religious trauma specialist, goes into the intrinsic relationship between religion and our sexualities, how approaches to sex and sexuality vary across different cultures, the topic of pair bonding, and the phenomena of the hidden oestrus in humans.

If you’ve spent any time in evangelical Christian communities, you may have internalized some of the harmful, self-defeating harmful ideas at the core of the religion, such as body shame, sexual shame, guilt, fear, and self-hatred that are part of Religious Trauma Syndrome and that can stand in the way of healthy relationships with ourselves and others. I know that these harmful ideas had hurt my self-image when I was far too young to know where the ideas originated. Even though my parents’ main religion was Freemasonry/Eastern Star, Mom had some sort of tie to the Federated Church, and she dutifully took us kids to services on Christmas and Easter.

She communicated body shame and sexual shame in vague ways, like refusing to give me permission to pierce my ears until I was twelve, like discouraging the wearing of red nail polish or lipstick because it meant “she’s loose.” My mom had such tremendous body/sexual shame herself that she couldn’t even tell me the basics of puberty or sex. Her “sex talk” with me was: “Do you know about the birds and the bees?”

Her discomfort and palpable fear were too much for me. I just said, “Yes.”

She said, “Good,” and handed me a small stack of books on the subject. From that moment on, the subject was closed, except for the day we were in my doctor’s waiting room, and she suddenly said, “When you go in there, find out about birth control and pick one.” These incredibly rare, incredibly awkward moments were all I learned about “becoming a woman” from Mom. Luckily, I’m a strong reader. (Later, I’d learn everything I wanted to know and many things I didn’t particularly want to know in a Human Sexuality course at Jackson Community College. I highly recommend such a course for all youth, where they can learn about sexuality from beginning to end, and proceed with all pertinent information to make good decisions.)

When I was seventeen, I was staying with my niece’s mom and her new husband (and my niece and her two new sisters), and I began to attend church with the family. Soon after, I was love-bombed into Jesus Land, where I would spend the next four years, from age eighteen to twenty-three, praising, worshiping, praying, studying the Bible, teaching Sunday School, and learning to serve the community through lay ministry. By the time I was beginning to recognize the harm that Christian ideology was having on my psyche, I had developed much more sexual guilt and self-hatred than I’d had before “getting saved.” I also had a lot more anxiety, which sometimes manifested as nightmares and night terrors.

It would take me until age thirty to attain self-love and self-acceptance, but living where the dominant culture puts Christian quotes and symbols EVERYWHERE, one is constantly reminded that the neighbors think we should feel guilt and shame over being born human. “Fuck that,” I say with conviction and without hesitation, but I do wonder what it would be like to live in a community where one is not reminded to practice self-hatred countless times per day, on yard signs, bumper stickers, real estate signs, signs for businesses of all stripes, and the signs in church yards that are as numerous as dandelions in spring.

Fortunately, there is a LOT more support and information available now for people in recovery from religion. I’m glad to have discovered PsycHoe, Margaux Underwood, and Dr. Darrell Ray, who offer great information, inspiration, and networks of support. I am grateful for the work they are doing to educate and support folks who are walking away from religion and embracing their full humanity. I look forward to learning more about them and from them.

If you’re of a mind to, you might want to offer some financial support to Margaux, Dr. Ray, and/or The Secular Therapy Project. Should you decide to contribute, please enjoy this week’s “offertory,” “Free To Be…You & Me” by Marlo Thomas.

I hope that one day, every single child will be free from religious indoctrination, body shame, sexual guilt, and all the Religious Trauma. Until then, let’s educate ourselves and be there when they’re looking for the Helpers.

As you go forth into the next week, I hope you find peace, joy, and love. Be well, friends. Happy Spring!

lisa eddy is an atheist writer and editor for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate, musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy
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