Religion and sex

Mar 28, 2013

Discussion by: kbala

Hallo zusammen,

I have always wondered why religions demonize sex and often depict women as subordinates.

Any one who has visited ancient temples in India would have come across statues like these.

When growing up in India, I have seen Hindus cringe looking at these statues. Somehow, these statues, once a symbol or beauty and piety have become disgusting and hedonistic. Somehow modern Hindus consider the puritanical ideas of Islam and Victorians to be their own. Is there something inherently attractive in these ideas – ideas such as modesty, virginity, misogyny and sexual-oppression.

Another alarming trend would be the shift in number of people worshiping gods vs goddesses. Temples of goddesses have largely been ignored. Barely any major religious celebrations are now dedicated to goddesses. Polygamy in hindu vedic literature is discussed in detail in universities and schools while polyandry is never mentioned!

So to sum up, my question is this, how do these ideas spread around the world? What is so attractive about these memes?

19 comments on “Religion and sex

  • 1
    Jos Gibbons says:

    I have heard that empirical evidence indicates (I don’t know what mechanism explains it, or whether it’s known) that religions that developed in deserts demonize sex, whereas those which developed elsewhere demonize food instead. For example, Christianity developed in the Middle East, whereas native Hawaiian religion has no problem with your sex life, but is pretty mean on the whole food front. (Judaism has rules about each, but for food only in the sense that they had to prohibit some foods, and some methods of preparing others, on the grounds of hygiene. I’m talking more about the view that enjoying your food is bad. I’d hate to be a fat person in a community devoutly following such a religion. I’d probably be looked upon the way Christians traditionally look upon “sluts” or “whores”.) But I’m basing all of this on something I heard quickly; I’m no expert on this aspect of comparative religion.

    Report abuse

  • 2
    Dublin-atheist says:

    I think it’s about one religion trying to out do the other, many religions use the “cleanliness is next to godliness” line, unfortunately some take this line to extreme for example the use of circumcision or genital mutilation idea to put into practice their cleanliness rule,witch doctors in parts of Africa carrier out similar mutilations on young girls, if Muslims insist on washing their foreskin after urinating then the Jews will go one further and cut off the foreskin altogether.

    Report abuse

  • 3
    The Unicorn Delusion says:

    That dude in the statue has got some serious swag. As far as desert religions demonizing sex, I’m thinking that it could have something to do with population control, due to lack of available resources?

    Do you have any sources on this, Jos?

    Report abuse

  • 4
    QuestioningKat says:

    When viewing art as shown here, it is important to know the story behind the imagery. For instance, what is the symbolism of each item in his three hands and why is he holding the woman? The smaller woman on his right also has symbolic meaning. Until I know this information, I cannot judge this topic.

    Report abuse

  • 5
    Alan4discussion says:

    I have been looking for some links to help:

    Each of the Hindu Gods represents one aspect of Brahman. The Hindu God Shiva takes on the destructive aspect of Brahman. The Hindu God Vishnu preserves the working order of the universe. Each Hindu God is one tiny aspect of the Supreme Being.

    If you thought the Xtian 3 in one god was weird try these on the link above!

    This image of Shiva (linked below) has 4 arms and looks a bit like the OP picture.

    It seems there are lots of companies making copies of statues these gods.

    Report abuse

  • I assume the reason is that societies dominated by these memes are male-dominated societies, which are more aggressive about spreading their memes. Imagine a society where half the population practices free love and sexual equality, while the other half practices militant monotheistic fundamentalism. It’s not difficult to see how the latter group could quickly come to dominate both the meme and gene pools. On the level of memes, it’s not an issue of truth or morality, but of Darwinian success. It’s surprising how many atheists don’t seem to grasp this simple concept. If you want to curb religion, you can’t rely on appeals to reason; you have to find a way to defeat religious memes at their own Darwinian game.

    Report abuse

  • 7
    Dom 2061 says:

    I have always believed that most religions stem from observations of natural phenomena. The delusion of the presence of a deity and the idea that you can infer its will from these observations can arise quite easily if you are ignorant because you are either a) australopithicus afarensis, or b) an idiot. I suspect the logic may go something like this:

    One: you don’t understand anything around you – weather; the stars; earthquakes; disease; volcanoes; emotions; sex; the sun; floods; pain; pleasure; food; rabbits, (okay, maybe not rabbits).

    Two: none of these things can possibly just happen. You are the centre of your universe and you are the agent of change within that world, therefore everything around you must also be the result of similar agency. Except some of the things around you are massive. And scary. So the agent must be hugely powerful.

    Three: one of the scariest things the agent can inflict on you is illness.

    Four: generations of observation tell you that if you behave in a certain way, (for example, have many sexual partners), you will be struck down by disease.

    Five: it is therefore perfectly logical to conclude the agent is punishing certain behaviours – and actively wants you to behave in a certain way to avoid such punishment.

    As far as the mistreatment of women goes, I think applying the same system may provide an insight:

    Uncontrollable lust is inexplicable and bad because it overrides self control.

    For those two reasons, it must come from outside and therefore, by default, an agency, (perhaps a demon).

    Women are the trigger for this, ergo women are bad.

    Report abuse

  • 8
    prabo.bhil says:

    What about the Draupadi case, having 5 husbands? Polyandry of such type (is Mahabharta a vedic literature?) is well described.

    Report abuse

  • 9
    prabo.bhil says:

    What about Durga puja in north-eastern India- a 4-5 days celebration with grandeur? Lakshmi, Kali, Saraswati? Who is giving you the misinformation that the goddesses are not celebrated?

    Report abuse

  • I think that the entire demonizing of sex by some religion is a means of control and has little to do with being a good person or righteousness in today’s world with all the birth control available. That said, I can see some value in terms of health such as spreading aids. But it is the DEMONIZING of sex that makes me upset and is one of the many reasons I am an atheist (as well as their stand on Evolutionary Biology) . Their “faith” and strong cultural conformity that causes a continuation of this irrationality. What should be demonized is the spreading of STDs or causing unwanted pregnancies, not sex per se.

    Report abuse

  • 11
    maria melo says:

    I don´t really know what to answer, but…

    The sculptures are beatifully erotic.

    I guess we can cover up intolerance and ignorance and present it as “religion”, and that will be ok for many people (not for me).

    I wonder what would I be missing if someone banned something I couldn´t appreciate anymore, I guess I would fight to have the right to appreciate it.

    One of my favourite writers, a feminist (that wrote a book about erotism) when in parliament as deputy used to make jokes with the puritanism of her colleagues, “why don´t you cover up the nudes in all sculptures here ?”
    (some of my colleagues actually told me they made the inventory of her books after her death).

    Am I different ? (actually as a child, in my cousin´s house, there used to be erotic drawings all over her room, and they never sounded strange to me as a child, actually I have a book about the spirituality of sexuality and genders with some hindu paintings, and sculptures, I guess).

    What do I see in the beauty of this dance ? I actually don´t know, but if someone banned it as sinful I would fight back.


    When in a class learning about marriage forms and polyandry actually the Professor almost had a fight with a girl that, despite coursing anthropology, found it “immoral” or “ugly”.

    Report abuse

  • 12
    This Is Not A Meme says:

    I believe India is an excellent example of how artificial these values are and how deeply they can be imposed. Homophobia may have existed in some form in societies globally, but the British brand definitely stands out from the rest. It’s imposition into other cultures is as discernible as driving on the wrong side of the road.

    I also believe there are organic inputs and it all mixes together. Oppression of sexuality strengthens patriarchy. This goes for homophobia, prohibition of prostitution, chattel laws, female genital mutilation, or even using women as currency (arranged marriages with polygamy). This is where I wonder if patriarchy is organic, arising from of ‘human nature’, or if it too is just a pervasive meme. As Sam Harris points out in his TED lecture on the Moral Landscape, there is an issue of what to do with women’s bodies. My take on this is a biologically driven power of female beauty over men. Consider the precedent of Phryne’s acquittal.

    Is there something inherently attractive in these ideas – ideas such as modesty, virginity, misogyny and sexual-oppression.

    I forget the specifics, and I’m sure inflation and the recession has changed it, but according to the Bible one gets several head of cattle and some asses for their daughter if her hymen membrane is intact. If it’s not intact, the best you’re gonna get is a dozen chickens and maybe a few pigs. Virginity definitely has a monetary incentive.

    “Prostitution is the crime of selling one’s body out of wedlock.”-Emma Goldman

    Prostitution is older than occupations themselves. Capuchin monkeys practice prostitution. That is a natural drive, a fundamental form of interaction. I realize as I write this, readers may think I am being flippant or that my ideas are silly or flawed because Abrahamic attitudes that are culturally instilled. Rationally, prostitution is a good thing and there needs to be more of it.

    “For I am convinced that women will never be normalized, will never cease being ‘other,’ until sex and sexual activity are normalized. And sex and sexual activity will never be normalized until the sale of sexual activity is normalized (and vice versa.) If sexual activity is normalized, then its sale is unremarkable. Even if one believes that sexual activity is, or involves, or should involve intimacy, its sale, like that of psychological counseling, massage, or professional physical aid for geriatric patients, should be unremarkable.” -Dr. Lenore Kuo

    Report abuse

  • 13
    Ted Foureagles says:

    Well for one thing, I imagine that it’s been clear for some time that there is no shortage of humans. One sect may want to take temporary advantage of another by outbreeding it, but the carrying capacity of the environment imposes limits. And so creeds develop wherein breeding is OK, but only within strategic limits. Those limits tend to be defined by whoever interprets them, which are mostly the warriors who drove the sect’s success.


    Report abuse

  • 14
    Robert Kubik says:

    The first command God gave to the people according the Bible was: ” Have sex.” and it is written a lot about enjoying sex with your marriage partner in the Bible, so obviously Bible is not against sexual pleasure IF it is in the marriage.

    Report abuse

  • 15
    This Is Not A Meme says:

    In reply to #14 by Robert Kubik:

    The first command God gave to the people according the Bible was: ” Have sex.” and it is written a lot about enjoying sex with your marriage partner in the Bible, so obviously Bible is not against sexual pleasure IF it is in the marriage.

    Such as a marriage consecrated by rape. Deuteronomy 22:28-29

    Report abuse

  • 16
    SearchingForClarity1991 says:

    Repression, I think. Perhaps there is a correlation between lack of sex appeal and the associated religious dogma? These are only assumptions, but I think they’re the best guess we’ve got on the matter from a social perspective.

    Report abuse

  • 17
    Peter Grant says:

    When growing up in India, I have seen Hindus cringe looking at these statues.

    That makes me sad. These statues are very beautiful and part of a rich cultural heritage.

    Report abuse

  • 18
    gottagetoutmore says:

    I don’t know much about this topic. For what it’s worth though, here’s an interesting quote from someone much smarter than myself:

    “Woman was an idol of belly-magic. She seems to swell and give birth by her own law. From the beginning of time, woman has seemed an uncanny being. Men honored but feared her. She was the black maw that had spat him forth and would devour him anew. Men, bonding together, invented culture as a defense against female nature. Sky-cult was the most sophisticated step in this process, for its switch of the creative locus from earth to sky is a shift from belly-magic to head-magic.” ~ Camille Paglia

    Report abuse

  • 19
    cartridge_uk says:

    It could be do with sexual transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy or women being left with babies to fend for themselves. Then the idea of sex being a sin came into being and only acceptable withing marriage. Also there is a certain amount of emotional attachment associated with sex and maybe this was a way to stop people from having the pain of breakups, jeaslousy etc. Maybe that was something to do with the original thinking behind it but like with all religion it seems to get warped into to weird stuff and sudddenly sex is disgusting, dirty etc. When the truth is that it is fun, intimate and very beautiful connection between 2 people and you cannot be truly happy without it as it is a basic human need.

    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.