In a recent TED TALK, Mary Roach discusses the case of a woman who experienced an orgasm whenever she brushed her teeth. Instead of rejoicing over this odd phenomenon, the woman assumed a demon was the cause of such pleasure and replaced her toothbrush with oral rinse.
This may be an extreme case, but millions of other humans also implicate dark spiritual causation when dealing with their own sexual urges. In some cases they may blame some demonic entity, but in most cases, the urges are attached to a culpable “sin nature”. Some religions go so far as to claim “lust” is deserving of eternal damnation.
What is it about our sexuality that makes us feel guilty about our urges and conjure up all manner of spiritual entities in an attempt to cope with and manage our “shameful” sexual selves? Here are a few factors.
Our sexuality is part of the autonomic system of the body just as is our impulse to breathe. It is quite remote and inaccessible from the executive control room of our higher cognitive functions and, in spite of our best efforts, we cannot easily ignore erotic stimuli. We can employ higher cognitive processes to suppress any response to our arousal, but we cannot deny that we have been aroused. Because this arousal does not submit to our will, it feels external to our sense of self, and we attempt to categorize it as something emergent of a dark and malicious agency, whether that be demons or a sin nature of which our “godly nature” must be purged. Of course, demons and sin nature are not concepts that occur naturally in our minds. These must be introduced by religions that have a vested interest in maintaining a belief in the supernatural.
This attempt to alienate the sexual self from one’s core essence can lead to no good. At the very least, sex become something only guiltily enjoyed. At worst, imagining that our sexual impulses are demonic or sinful can lead to presuming that perusing our sexual desires can only lead to perverse expressions of those desires. Then when we are sexually aroused, our minds involuntarily default to these perverse expressions just as an imperative not to think about waltzing elephants will always yield visions of waltzing elephants. If, on the other hand, we accept our initial sexual urges as integral to self, and not belonging to some slippery slope of perversion, the chances of developing sexual fantasies that society would deem deviant are much reduced.
What I’m claiming is that religions such as Christianity and Islam will generate more sexual deviancy than what is found in non-religious contexts. My evidence for this is largely anecdotal and personal. As a teenager, I attended a church that was shepherded by a man with a preteen son who gave me explicit detail about how his father molested him. I myself was molested by a Christian university professor who was married with two kids. I lost a girlfriend when I was 19 to the trauma caused by molestation by her father who was a Christian youth pastor. A close relative has suffered trauma all her life from the sexual abuse of her and her siblings by an Evangelical father. Initially, I supposed that my experience was merely an outlier in a statistical spread, but as I explored other versions of Christianity, I heard many similar stories. Then the story of sexual abuse by Catholic priests also broke. During this time I still believed that sexual deviancy was much worse outside the context of Christianity. That was before I deconverted. Now that I am an agnostic, I’ve discovered my godless friends to be much less deviant than what I was taught they must be.
My own experience is worth noting. I struggled with sexual urges many would categorize as deviant for many of my younger Christian years. I was told that this was due to my “sin nature”, and that faith in and dependence on God was my only source of deliverance. And so I struggled for years with only intermittent relief. It was only after I left Christianity and accepted lust as natural rather than “sin” that I developed an healthy normal sex life. This concept of “lust” as “sin” is just one of many debilitating lies that I’ve realized Christianity had fed me during my 30 years under its influence.
I’ve searched for, but have not been able to locate studies that might have queried a much larger sample group to identify any or no correlation between Christianity’s notion of a “sin nature” and sexual deviancy. If any readers know of such studies, regardless of the conclusion, I would be happy if you could post a link.