“Do you think God is punishing me for having sex with a man 20 years younger than me?”
This was the question I asked a close friend when I was about to file for bankruptcy back in 2011. I was 55-years-old, and yet my Christian upbringing still had a stranglehold on my sexuality.
I was raised Baptist — saved, baptized, the whole nine yards. Growing up, my family attended church every Sunday, said grace before meals, and prayed before bedtime. However, there was another side of the church that I didn’t love so much: The stigma of being a sinner that caused me guilt, shame, and self-doubt.
Much of what we hear from society today is constant shame and guilt concerning gender-appropriate behavior, sexual experimentation, and the search for authentic and personal sexuality. These external influences can include family members, the media, religion, and culture, and even if we are fully aware of them, they deeply affect how we experience and express sexuality.
I sat down to talk about the effects that religion can have on sexuality with Dr. Celeste Holbrook, a sexologist who has dedicated her life to helping women achieve soul-centered sex through thoughtfully planned mental and behavioral changes. She inspires women to move through mental blocks in their intimate lives to truly experience the sex that was spiritually designed for them, and in our interview, she shared her thoughts on where many of these blocks come from:
“Most of the women I see in my practice identify with a religion, often Christianity, and quite a few of my clients are over 50. I find that, often, sexual shame is a major factor.
“Sexual shame and feelings of unworthiness can often be traced back to a barrage of messages from childhood and the young adult years. Many of us were told things like, ‘Don’t touch yourself. That’s dirty.’ ‘Nobody will want you if you have sex before you are married. You will be used goods. ‘Don’t dress like that — it sends the wrong message.’
“The purity culture that is especially pervasive in the Christian community can leave a woman feeling like her sexual purpose is to fulfill her duty as a wife and that any pleasure she feels is a privilege, not a right.
“So, how do we change our belief system surrounding sex to create the most fulfilling and connective sex life ever? Here are four steps to challenging your sexual belief systems and moving toward sexual authenticity and pleasure:
One exercise that I have every woman do on her first visit is a sexual awareness exercise. They get a paper that says, “Sex is…” on which they quickly list all the adjectives, nouns, colors, feelings, and phrases, both positive and negative, that describe their feelings toward sex. Next comes a paper with, “My dream sexual experience is…” written on it, and they follow the same process. We then compare the two lists and work on discovering how their current view of sex keeps them from reaching an enjoyable sexual experience.
Deconstruction involves exploring the history of your ideas about sex. How and from whom did you first learn about sex? Was sex explained as something that was only for marriage? Did you ever hide your sexual interest or activity out of shame? Did your mother tell you not to touch your clitoris because it was wrong or dirty? These messages have a lasting effect and can hold you back (even decades later) from moving forward in your sex life. Confronting these messages as false is vitally important in moving forward toward sexual fulfillment.
Everyone follows a sexual script that includes cues for your partner that show you are ready for sex. For many people, this script begins with massage or sensual kissing, while for others it simply begins with, “Hey baby, I brushed my teeth!” Regardless, becoming vulnerable involves deviating from this script in a way that is new and emotionally stretching, but not incredibly uncomfortable. For example, some couples may try engaging in foreplay with handcuffs and floggers while another couple may find that simply keeping the lights on during sex is enough of a stretch. However you want to make yourself vulnerable, be sure to communicate well with your partner and keep things fun and light.
The more vulnerable you become in your sex life, the more confidence and forward momentum you will find in developing your own unique, fulfilling sexuality. If you can work on strengthening your sexual confidence in the most vulnerable space — your bedroom — those same strategies and healthy communication techniques will help you with the rest of your relationships.
How does all of this connect to religion and what your God thinks of your sex life?
For me, it was only when I began to embrace my personal freedom that I could reflect on how my entire life had been spent living in fear of God judging me as a sinner. This is not unusual. Many of us are surrounded by the “sinner stigma” before we even speak our first words, and this inevitably shapes how we think about sexuality.
What I’ve discovered, though, is that God is not some old, cranky, white-bearded man sitting on a throne and looking down on me, constantly determining if I’m worthy or not. I now believe God created me in His/Her/Its image and pure essence, and that, as a pure source, God is unconditional love, supreme intelligence, and unbreakable connection, and is therefore incapable of judgment against me. This God wants me and you to enjoy the personal and sexual freedom that flows through us and wants us to continue the cycle of awareness, deconstruction, vulnerability, and confidence until we can finally step into a positive, fulfilling sexual mindset that can carry us through a lifetime of growth and expression.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on October 21, 2016.