My mother always told me to leave out the following three topics at a social gathering: sex, religion and politics. With all due respect to my mother, religion professor Rebecca Alpert’s recent talk on the two most taboo topics was refreshing and necessary.
“Society wants to say sexual intercourse is sex. If it’s not a penis penetrating a vagina, it’s not sex,” Alpert said at the event, held March 23.
The discussion focused on sex and religion.
“I would suggest that religion, even Christianity, has some very positive elements relating to sexuality, and every religion has elements that are sex positive and sex negative,” Alpert said. “The most important piece in all of this is to determine where you fall in all of this.”
As a gay man, I cringe when “sexuality” and “religion” are in the same sentence. Religious followers typically view homosexuality in a negative light. As someone who was raised as a Christian—Catholic, specifically—it makes me nauseous when I am told I am an “abomination” or a “sinner.”
Until I spoke with Alpert, I didn’t care to hear about where homophobic hatred blooms.
Alpert said there are a lot of students who have trouble in the areas where their sex and religion overlap.
“If you’re a religious person, then sexuality isn’t that important to you unless you are a sexual person,” Alpert said.
Our society seems to dictate that one can’t be religious and sexual. Not everyone agrees, though.
Jay Mitchell is a senior religion major and a Christian of an Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Mitchell, however, is far from evangelical in his views.
“I’m very saddened that Christianity has forgotten two of the most important tenets of its belief: love and mercy,” Mitchell said. “With the addition of peace, these two are, or should be, very high on the list of priorities in a Christian’s mind. Sadly, bigotry and misunderstanding cloud the judgment of many.”
Senior Stephanie Bilinsky, an English and women’s studies major, spoke of her own struggles when sexuality and religion collide.
“I think my religion influences my sexuality in that I try to take an ethical approach to my sexual practices,” Bilinsky said in an e-mail. “This isn’t to say that people who aren’t religious aren’t ethical, but for me, being a Catholic has instilled me with a strong sense that I ought to consider others in my own pursuits.”
But Catholicism hasn’t completely kept Bilinsky from being both a religious and a sexual person and accepting herself for it.
“Mostly, believing in God and Jesus has helped me accept myself. I’m bisexual because I’m what God made me,” she said.
It takes time to accept that being religious and being sexual is possible. Sex, the most intimate act we experience with another person, shouldn’t be an issue — not when it comes to love.
But it is. And even a multitude of sexuality and religion discussions from Alpert or enlightening views from students like Bilinsky and Mitchell won’t change that. We can study reasons why sexuality is viewed as appalling, but it still won’t change that there are people out there who want nothing more than to point out the negative dimensions of sex and use God or some other deity to instill shame.
For now, the religiously self-righteous need to take a cue from Alpert and realize that everyone is doing it, even the religiously self-righteous.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .