Sex drives conservatives wild. It drives conservative Christians really wild. But it doesn’t drive them wild in a good way. Many of the social issues conservatives are most concerned about involve sex in one way or another. Pornography, promiscuity, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage all clearly involve sex. Other hot button issues are more of a by-product of sex. Abortion for example. Conservative Christians may say it’s about ‘life,’ but the whole issue clearly starts with sex. If you pin them down they’ll often say something along the lines of ‘well, they shouldn’t have had sex’ or ‘those are the consequences of having sex.’ Most conservatives hate former President Bill Clinton for many reasons, but they’ll never forgive the fact that he had sex in (or near) the Oval Office. They find it much easier to forgive former President Bush his many transgressions, not simply because he shares their views, but because his trespasses didn’t involve sex.
Conservatives complain about the moral decline of America over the past fifty years, and most of their complaints touch on sex. They hate the vulgarity of modern music, the provocativeness of modern fashion, and the tawdriness of contemporary television. I agree with them about television, but find it telling that they’re so outraged by sexuality on the small screen, but largely unconcerned by the pervasive violence on many television shows.
What is it about sex that drives conservative wild?
They’re wild about sex because, well because when you’re having sex, you are wild. You are fulfilling a wild, natural, animalistic urge. Biologists know that the sex drive is one of the strongest and most primal force in nature. Sex is life. Sex creates life. The main function of all living organisms is to pass genes on to the next generation, and most living organisms do this through sex. Therefore, sex is life, and life is sex.
Conservative Christians fundamentally disagree with this. They disdain Darwin, and abhor the idea that humans are animals. But here’s the problem: when they’re humping, they are animals. They might call it copulation, they may confine it exclusively within marriage, and they might do it staidly in the missionary position. But when they’re going at it, their hips are rocking, their butts are bouncing, and they’re grunting and groaning. Even the most religious person must understand, or at least feel, that they’re acting like an animal when they’re having sex.
It’s not surprising that European missionaries taught African natives the “missionary position.” Other positions are clearly animalistic. Seeing people copulate ‘doggy style’ is like watching … well, like watching dogs go at it.
Sex is a deeply natural urge. No one is taught how to have sex, they just figure it out. Perhaps two virgins will fumble around the first couple of times, but with very little practice they’ll be happily humping like rabbits. No one has to explain it because the conscious mind doesn’t really control it. The body insists on friction, and the hips comply. Even if you are conscious of what you’re doing, there comes a point when the body takes over and it’s almost impossible to stop. The body moves virtually on its own, often with a certain amount of animalistic moaning.
During sex, even the most committed conservative Christian must feel in his or her loins that the body has taken over. They must realize on some level that they’re doing what nature intended them to do. They may take comfort in the belief that God is the author of nature, and therefore what they’re doing is Godly, but they also must know that they’re behaving like an animal. And if they’re no different from an animal, then they are not a uniquely Godly creature, separate and apart from the animals.
Let me be blunt: sex is Darwin’s friend. There’s an old saying many Christians like to quote to justify religion: “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” It’s a cliché of dubious accuracy, but the point is that in certain situations there is doubt. Under fire everyone may seek divine intercession, which purportedly proves God’s existence. Let me suggest a corollary: “There are no creationists in the sack.”
Religious people sense this, and it worries them. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s definition of “Lust” talks about the inherent nature of sexual desire: “The pleasure which this vice has as its object is at once so attractive and connatural to human nature as to whet keenly a man’s desire, and so lead him into the commission of many other disorders in the pursuit of it.” Sex is gateway sin. It’s so desirable that people will engage in other sins – adultery, dishonesty, etc.—to get it. But perhaps the real problem is that once you’ve committed this sin and realized how un-sinful it really is, you may question the other teachings on sin.
Conservatives’ sex troubles don’t end there, because sex doesn’t just tug at your loins, it can pull at your heart and soul as well. This challenges many deeply held conservative beliefs, starting with the way that they believe that people interact with the world around them.
There’s a moment during intercourse when it seems as if everything in the world disappears except your own body, and the body in your arms. At that moment your only connection to the world is through another human being. You’re not connected to humanity by a shared acceptance of religious doctrine, or a shared sense of being one of God’s creatures. You are connected to humanity by a person. We’re Darwinists during the throws of passion, but at the end we’re Humanists.
There are many aspects of religion. People are religious because it provides lessons in morality, it provides historic continuity, and it provides social companionship. Some people seek tradition, some a sense of the supernatural or a way to understand things that seem inexplicable. Others seek moral clarity. But one common element is that religion provides a sense of connection to humanity, and an explanation for that connection.
Every person feels, on some level, that they’re connected to other people. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that empathy is universal, and extends even to people we’re not related to or don’t even know, though it’s stronger the closer we are and diminishes the further a person is from us. This innate sense of empathy provides a connection with other people, and creates a sense of the external. It makes us feel that there is something beyond ourselves. Throughout history the most common way to explain this feeling was through the divine. We are connected to each other because God made us all. We feel connected because we are mutually connected to our common creator.
But what happens when we feel that connection in a different way? What happens when that connection occurs during sex? We’re connected at the groin, but in that perfect moment when the world slips away and all that remains is what you hold in your arms, at that moment we’re connected to humanity not through God, not through shared beliefs, but through the person in our arms.
It shouldn’t be surprising that many young adults lose interest in religion at about the same time they become interested in sex. It’s no wonder that the least religious group is the most sexually active. According to a study by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, young adults age 18 to 24 are the group least likely to attend church, and a majority of people 18 to 34 don’t attend church.
Young people often feel adrift, and clearly church and religion don’t provide a sufficient sense of connection, so some kids search for this connection elsewhere. Some find it through sports or drugs or gangs, or a variety of positive and negative associations. Any many kids find this sense of connection through sex, and the relationship that often comes with it.
But once these young adults begin to marry and have children, their attitudes change. According to the Evangelical Lutheran study, church attendance begins to rise when people have children, and becomes a majority when those children reach the age of six. These young parents are worried about how their kids will deal with society. No parent wants their child to venture out into a crazy world. Parenthood is the time when people start to wonder about the behavior and motivation of other people. It’s the time when parents want to start teaching their children more stable and traditional values, and religion certainly provides all of those things. It provides an easy and convenient framework for lessons about human behavior, as well as a safe social environment for children to interact.
But the cycle repeats. When these children reach adolescence, and have their first sexual experience, they turn away from religion. But the reason they turn away from religion is not simply that they gain a sense of human connection with another person, or feel the Darwinian tug in their loins. The reason they turn away from religion is that they are often pushed away. One of the reasons they abandon religion is because many religious people, particularly in deeply conservative denominations, have a convoluted, contradictory, and even hypocritical view of sex. Young adults abandon religion because it is through sex, more than anything else, that many religious leaders expose their base hypocrisy.
Young people turn away from organized religion at this point because of the illogical and inconsistent teachings they are hearing from religious leaders regarding sex. And this makes them question religion in general. The problem is that the Bible offers very contradictory lessons about sex. Conservative Christians promote abstinence, and justify it with scripture. “Don’t be immoral in matters of sex. That is a sin against your own body in a way that no other sin is.” (1 Corinthians 6:18 CEV) “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people.” (Ephesians 5:3 NLT) “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” (Hebrews 13:4.)
The problem is that while the Church and parents push this view, any mildly curious kid can read the Bible and find wildly diverging lessons about sex. Kids this age are curious about many things, and this curiosity certainly extends to the Bible. The Bible contains rigid rules regarding sexual morality, but there are also stories of wild promiscuity by some of the most famous men in the Bible, including Abraham (the father of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), King David, and King Solomon.
There are some choice lessons about sex in the Bible. For example a man who rapes a woman is to pay her father 50 shekels and marry her. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29.) That might have made sense in ancient times, but it sounds horrific today.
The Old Testament condemns adultery, (Exodus 20:14, Lev. 18:7-17, Deut. 5:18) but seems to defined it exclusively as a married woman having sex with a man not her husband. (See, Leviticus 18:20, 20:10 and Deuteronomy, 22:22-23.) Nothing prohibits a married man from having sex with a woman not his wife. In fact there are many examples throughout the Old Testament of men having concubines, like Abraham, or multiple wives, like Solomon and David. This double standard sounds grotesque to modern ears.
King David, one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament, had multiple wives. The Bible names at least three: Michal, Abigail, Bhinoam, (1 Samuel 25:42-44). But that wasn’t quite enough for David. A woman named Bathsheba caught his fancy, but she was married to one of David’s soldiers. So David sent the man to die in battle so that he could have Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-27). Of course the Lord was displeased, and punishes David by killing the child he had with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:15-16). Not only does this story make David sound like a total creep, it also makes God sound a bit misogynistic.
David’s son Solomon decided to outdo the old man, and had “seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.” (1 Kings 11:3.) Solomon clearly had an erotic bent, which can be seen in his poems, collected as the Song of Solomon. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.” Song of Solomon 1:2.
Giggling teenagers might like this stanza:
I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on?
I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door,
and my bowels were moved for him.
I rose up to open to my beloved;
and my hands dropped with myrrh,
and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh,
upon the handles of the lock.
[Song of Solomon 5:3-5 KJV]
Plenty of Biblical scholars believe that “my bowels were moved for him” implies an orgasm. Dirty minds throughout the ages have read that passage as a not so veiled metaphor for sex and its sticky byproducts.
Curious young minds are hearing parents and preachers promote abstinence with carefully selected scripture, while Solomon seems to encourage them to get their freak on. Teenagers are particularly aware of the hypocrisy of adults, and just at the time when they are skeptical of authority, authority figures give them ample reason to be skeptical.
It’s hard for anyone reading these stories not to conclude that the Bible is inconsistent, if not hypocritical about sex. And if it’s so inconsistent and wrong about sex, couldn’t it be wrong about other things? And if the Bible is wrong, could other aspects of religion be wrong as well? So the inconsistency about sex undoubtedly leads some kids to question not just the Bible, but also religion.
It seems strange that someone would give teenagers a reason to be skeptical, but a rigid adherence to inconsistent Biblical rules does exactly that. If, as the Fundamentalists say, the Bible is Truth, then how do the rules for sexual morality set out by Paul coexist with the rules applied to David and Solomon?
If David can pretty much get away with having a sexual rival killed, your average teenager might wonder, how much trouble can I get in to for a little tumble after school?
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said that sex, or sins of the flesh leads to: “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” (Gal. 5:19 – 21.) It also leads one to question authority, and in particular Biblical authority.
For Paul, sex was a gateway sin which leads to other transgressions. For modern conservative Christians, sex leads to curiosity and doubt. And so sex must be stigmatized, demonized, and punished. But the problem, as the Catholic Encyclopedia pointed out, is that sex is so central to human nature that it can’t be completely suppressed. It turns out that the harsher the attack, the greater the hypocrisy, and the more people are repelled. And so the harder conservative Christians fight, the more people they turn away. It’s enough to drive you wild.