Sex & Relationships

'Sex-Crazed' Evangelicals Talk Spanking and Anal Sex

There is a growing movement of 'sex-positive' evangelicals, who bluntly talk about how to have better (married) sex.

We all know that the growing evangelical movement is one (with a few left-leaning pockets exempted) obsessed with sex.  Controlling it.  Punishing it.  Using it to control women.  Stomping out most versions of it completely.  Shaming people who enjoy it.  And now, believe it or not, promoting it as an important part of healthy marriages.   

Wait, come again?  Sex-positive evangelicals?  Well, sort of. While they're not bringing in enough numbers to drown out the dominant attitude of shaming, there does seem to be a trend in the evangelical community of promoting more and better sex within marriage -- for the good of the marriages.  There are now Christian sex shops, Christian sex advice columns, and Christian sex blogs.  Most of it is tame compared to secular counterparts, but the fact that it exists at all gives pause to those of us who spend quite a bit of time wrangling with evangelicals who want to ban abortion, restrict contraception, put virginity rings on girls, and teach nothing but abstinence-until-marriage. 

But should this trend surprise us?  Upon further reflection, the whole thing makes perfect sense.  One of the favorite selling points for abstinence-only, reiterated endlessly by abstinence-only "educators," is that waiting until marriage means that the sex will be even better, with the implication often being that it works seamlessly without the learning period the rest of us have to go through, and that it's so hot that others couldn't even imagine it. (It's a false promise -- just listen to reports from couples who waited, only to find out that they had compatibility issues.  But it's never been beyond fundamentalists to treat the truth as disposable in pursuit of a larger agenda.)  Evangelicals have an investment in making sure that married sex is hot, so they can push the abstinence-only line with more confidence. 

But there's another aspect to it that's even more important -- people come to evangelical churches because they need help running their lives, and if the churches want to keep members, they need to offer that help.  In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of the modern evangelical movement is how self-help-y it is. Matt Taibbi discovered this when he went undercover at James Hagee's San Antonio megachurch.  Most of the work done in the church borrowed heavily from the dreck of the self-help world, except with demons thrown in as a twist.  Certainly Rick Warren has exploited the melding of Christianity with the self-help section of the bookstore with his book "The Purpose-Driven Life," which, from the title alone, sounds just like a self-help book.  

Since the evangelical movement is basically competing with self-help for an audience, it makes sense that they'd have to branch out into one of the most popular forms of self-help, which is advice on how to make sex better inside relationships.  This kind of thing isn't exactly new to evangelical Christianity.  In the 70s, the right wing power couple Beverly and Tim LaHaye co-authored a sex manual that at least said female orgasms were important -- but scolded people who used the popular oral sex method to get there.  Modern sex-positive evangelicals are a lot more open-minded about oral sex, I discovered as I perused various Christian websites.   

What I found in my research was a surprising diversity in attitudes about what sex acts were acceptable, though a shared fondness for obsessing over the potential sinfulness of each act.  Of all the people pushing the "more sex for marrieds" message, I found Joy Wilson, who owns the sex shop Book 22, the most pleasant person who really seemed happy to be helping people have more and better sex.  Like the rest of the sites I read, Book 22 had the same nit-picking "sin or not?" specificity -- dildos are out -- but on the whole, her website sells the same kind of products that feminist sex shops do, with the same goal of making sure that women are getting as much pleasure out of sex as men do. She blogs about sex in a blunt, generous style that I found appealing.   

The Marriage Bed is co-authored by a married couple, and while it's refreshingly positive about things like oral sex and even spanking, it's homophobic and sexist, like pretty much all the sites I visited.  Women are characterized as wanting more snuggles and men as wanting more sex, and it's not even hinted that it might be reversed in some marriages, or even that snuggles might not be a chore for some men. What I found most amusing was their acceptance of fantasy was contingent upon making sure that you only fantasized about sex between married people. Like most of the sites, they demonstrate hostility towards female-controlled hormonal contraception. 

Christian Nymphos had a refreshingly explicit nature, which is what people go to sex advice websites for.  If you don't have details, you haven't learned enough to do it yourself.  Unlike Book 22 or the Marriage Bed, they don't seem to have any problems with dildos or anal sex, so point in their favor.  Like Book 22, they consider their mission mainly to make sex more fun for women, who they assume have strong sexual desires.  They even avoid the fear-mongering about female-controlled hormonal contraception. Despite refreshingly sex-positive views, though, they maintained the same disappointing levels of sexism, telling women to suck it up if they are left unsatisfied by sex or promoting female submission as romance.  

What I discovered was that women's influence on the message made it, if far from perfect and often downright offensive, much more positive than the sex advice and help that came straight from male ministers.  By contrast, look at Paul Wirth of the Relevant Church, who recently made headlines with his 30 day sex challenge.  Unlike the female-run sites that thrived more on suggestions and discussion, the 30 day sex challenge comes across like a dictate.  You're to have sex (if you're married, of course) for 30 days whether you're in the mood or not.  The reason Wirth gives for this is unsurprisingly sexist: "Every man's fantasy: 30 days of sex!" "Every woman's dream: 30 days of intimacy!"  This idea -- that the sex part of sex is for men, and women just want the intimacy--threads through many sites, unsurprisingly showing up more when men are doing more of the writing.  The challenge just struck me as another way to use sex as a tool to control, the flip side of abstinence-only. 

Minister Mark Driscoll of Seattle is positively obsessed with sex, and belongs to this category, even though there's something unnerving about it.  A big proponent of wifely submission, and just generally bagging on women (Driscoll blamed Ted Haggard's wife Gayle for Ted's infidelities with male prostitutes, claiming that she had let herself go), Driscoll also offers a video series in which he answers people's questions about sex. These videos are pretty hard to take, since he's arrogant and pushy and just a little too interested in what's going on in the bedrooms of his parishioners for comfort. 

I suspect if the pro-sex movement in Christianity starts to really take off, we're going to see more men like Driscoll take over, and the control will be wrested away from the women who are currently out there writing a kinder, gentler form of evangelical sex advice.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the popular blog Pandagon. She is the author of It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.