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Nov 12, 2019

Are We Embracing Religion as a Component of Our Sexual Selves?

         “As a Christian, how do I teach my daughter about sexual expression without endorsing premarital sex?” This was posed to a group of mothers who were discussing the challenges of child-rearing in a sexualized society. The question came from a devout Christian who was concerned that discussions about sex would be confused with permission for premarital promiscuity. Initially, I chose to sit quietly and listen to the varied responses. Religious discussions, when coupled with sexuality can create a spectrum of emotions, so I decided to tread lightly and contemplate both sides of the argument. On one hand, closely held core beliefs endorse abstinence until a marital partner is established. On the other hand, consensual sexual freedoms are a natural right not mandated by man. I began to wonder, just how ingrained is religion in our sexuality and do counselors avoid making the connection?

            I had the privilege of attending a Catholic school throughout my childhood. Simultaneously, I actively participated in the Baptist faith after being baptized at a young age. The concept of human sexuality was regulated to abstinence, STIs, and innuendos about the church parishioners. As a teenager, I honestly thought ‘oral sex’ was defined as a conversation about sex, and this fallacy would have continued if my older cousin had not intervened. Somewhere between the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, lessons about self-stimulation fell through the cracks. The miseducation of Cheryl Walker can hardly be blamed on religion however, rules, beliefs, and parameters impacted how I viewed human sexuality and myself.

            Counselors are taught to respect the worldview of others and refrain from interjecting personal biases and beliefs. As we navigate through therapeutic questions, are we avoiding some crucial insight? The way someone identifies as a sexual being can have an overwhelming effect on their overall wellness. If your religion admonishes homosexuality, yet you are attracted to the same sex, the likelihood of adverse emotional or psychological responses is high. If your higher power disapproves of the number of people you share your bed with, acceptance within your community may be challenging, at best. Yet as counselors, how often do we ask our clients whether religion impacted their sexual history and manifests itself in their mental health?

            The effects of intersectionality between religion and sexuality extends can also be seen in communication efforts. Some parents are apprehensive about discussing masturbation or contraceptives with their adolescents because of religious views. Let me be clear, everyone is entitled to their own views and there is no perfect parenting style. However, it is important for parents to be cognizant of the connection between what they believe about sexuality and how they present these beliefs to their children. Psychological distress ensues when belief systems are not congruent with perceptions and feelings, coupled with hormones and peer pressure. The results can vary, but oftentimes therapeutic intervention is warranted.

            Back to the original question, if you’re a Christian, how do you discuss sexuality with your child? Honestly and with facts. Children who are taught sex-positive facts, become adolescents who can make informed decisions, become adults who understand their sexuality. Religious beliefs, or lack thereof, determines the trajectory of these discussions and parents are generally the gatekeepers of how the information is disseminated. Counselors are exposed to some traumatic and arduous life scripts, yet we often fail to explore the religious imprint on sexuality. We can explore suicidality and psychosis, but we avoid religious reasons whey clients are shameful about BDSM or polyamory. Religion and sexuality can co-exist, often influencing each other and consequently affecting the behaviors and communication of our clients. Again, I am not blaming sexual distress or miseducation on religion, I am simply challenging counselors to discern the extent of which religious beliefs internalize perception of sexuality.

    Contributing Author

Cheryl Walker
 is a counselor in Atlanta, Georgia working with adults and children. She is currently training to become a sex therapist and advocates for the equal rights of all humans.

This blog is brought to you by the Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network.  SWIC is comprised of a group of individuals who value the richness and complexity of human sexuality. Intentional efforts are made to advocate for sexuality education and training of professionals and students through a multi-dimensional approach. Sexual wellness elucidates the salience of sexual freedoms, rights, and expression while honoring the holistic exploration of the human existence. SWIC advances this sentiment by providing support and guidance to professionals and students that recognize the imperative nature of sexual wellness.

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