Sunday, July 5, 2009

Q&A - Atheism & Sex

My two favorite topics!

"You describe yourself, presumably tongue in cheek, as a "perverted atheist". I do think there is a special relationship between naturalistic thinking (inc. atheism) and sex positivity: how do you see the relationship? Have you encountered much sex-negativity in atheists that's an underlying hangup from their religious days (or the religious tone society is drenched with anyways)? What's your best counter to the related fundie claim that we're all atheists to just "satisfy our sinful lusts"?

- Michael"

First, I do not describe myself as a "perverted atheist" as a joke. Nope, I'm really just a giant perv. I'm pretty sure I have the mind of a 16 year old boy, and if I was male, I would be destined to be a dirty old man. I'm constantly thinking about sex one way or another, and it takes a lot of self control to not always speak what dirty ways my mind is interpreting something. Unfortunately for you guys (or fortunately), typing things up is the ultimate filter, so my perviness doesn't really come out on this blog. But give me a beer or two and you'll see the dark side of Jen.

As for the relationship between sex and atheism, I do think naturalistic thinking leads to sex positivity. The vast majority of the weird social rules about sex are based on religion, superstition, misconception, or bad science. Why should you wait until marriage for sex? 'Cause God told you to. Why is a girl a skank for sleeping with five guys, but a guy who sleeps with five girls still hasn't gotten around enough? 'Cause girls are supposed to be pure as snow...cause God told you to. Why are people too stupid to use birth control the first time they have sex? 'Cause our sex education and scientific thinking sucks in the US. I could go on forever with this list.

But that's not to say all atheists are going to be automatically sex positive. I think religious hang ups and society have a big part in it. While I was raised secular, I know people with religious upbringings who have certain things they're weird about. Sometimes they feel guilty that they didn't wait until marriage, or they're not comfortable discussing the topic with people. Some still feel it's wrong to occasionally have homosexual fantasies even though they're basically straight (come on, who doesn't do this?). But I also know formerly religious people who are even more sex positive than I am. So yes, religion influences it, but your personality has a lot to do with how you handle it.

Even without religious brainwashing, I think the way religion permeates culture still can affect us. I know I'll still occasionally feel a twinge of guilt because I've slept with more than one guy. I mean, I'm not (EDIT: Whoops, left out a key word there) near the double digits yet, but there's still this pressure for girls to keep guys out of their pants. But I deal with this guilt by taking a step back and dealing with it in a rational manner. One, it shouldn't even matter if I do go into the double digits, because me making an arbitrary cut off for girls is an irrational thing to do. Two, if I find a guy who's so backwards to care about how many men I've slept with, then I don't want to date him anyway.

But that's not just to say I go around constantly having sex with any stranger in some giant atheistic saturnalia. I have standards and rules, and some of them I guess were influenced by my parents. I'll probably leave something out, but here are my general safety rules for sex:

1. Don't be stupid. A general rule for life, thanks Dad.
2. You don't have to wait until marriage, but you should wait until you're mature enough to deal with sex and any of the consequences. Think how much better the world would be (and how many less teen pregnancies we'd have) if people followed this simple rule. I did wait until I was ready (well, at least for the Clinton definition of sex, which to me had the worst consequences...aka babies). There were times in high school where I was so tempted to "go all the way," but I knew I would probably regret it. I'm glad I waited until I was more mature and had access to the pill. That's not saying everyone should wait until college, but as a general rule, I think most high schoolers are too stupid to know if they're mature enough to have sex.
3. For the love of FSM, use protection and birth control. It's just irresponsible not to, for yourself and your partner.
4. If you're not comfortable doing something, don't do it. If your partner isn't comfortable doing something, don't make them do this. Within reason, of course. I agree with Dan Savage here. If someone doesn't want to do something considered fairly normal (ie oral) and doesn't have a good reason for it (ie rape memories) then you have the right to dump them for sexual incompatibility. But if someone wants you to wear a Ronald Reagan mask while pooping on your chest and you're not into that, and then they badger you about it constantly, then they're just an ass.
5. Don't do anything that could potentially harm you or your partner. Knife play and autoerotic asphyxiation are probably bad ideas. For me, sleeping with strangers also falls in this category. As a girl (and a generally paranoid person) I'm way too nervous to go home with a random stranger, so I guess I'm just stuck doing all my friends. Poor them.
6. Numbers don't really matter as long as you're safe, and as long as you're emotionally secure or dealing with emotionally secure people. What do I mean by that? If a guy has slept with 200 chicks because he's picking up low self esteem 16 year olds behind the football field, that's probably violating rule #4. If a guy has slept with 200 chicks because of some deep rooted psychological problems with commitment, his own self esteem, and his need for physical contact in order to be happy, that's probably not healthy either. But if a guy has slept with 200 chicks who all happily and knowledgeably consented just because he likes sex, then go ahead.

You may see a trend, that my "rules" are very humanistic. Don't hurt others and don't hurt yourself. They're also humanistic because they're for me. I might suggest that they're good ideas for others - I mean, if they were bad, why would I be following them? - but I won't judge a person for not. Had a one night stand with a stranger? I don't really care; that's your own business. Now, will fundies still think I'm just coming up with excuses to satisfy my sinful lusts? Probably. But, like every other aspect of my life, until they prove that there is an invisible angry skydaddy, his rules won't be touching my vagina. Nor will any body parts of fundies.


  1. I agree. Though that doesn't mean I won't play with my roommates' preconcieved notions about things for shits and giggles.

  2. This was entertaining. Thank you.

  3. Even IF they prove there is an angry skydaddy, his rules still won't be touching my willy. He can touch his own willy.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I wish there were more people in the world you think like you.

  6. Yep, great post. Although I do wish there were some more Giant Atheistic Saturnaliae, if only for curiosity's sake...

  7. "The vast majority of the weird social rules about sex are based on religion, superstition, misconception, or bad science."

    ... plus misogyny and preservation of male privilege.

  8. I grew up in a Christian family, and one of the things that started to put me off was in High School the church made us, extreme peer pressure, sign one of those purity pledges. First off it disgusted me because it was as if they couldn't trust us without signing a document. Second it was my body and my choice and some stupid little "contract" really meant nothing.

    It is inanities like this that lead to people thinking sex is a disgusting act used only for procreation. My ex-wife started to get this way before we divorced. A friend of mine's ex-wife was the same way also. All four of us grew up religious, I had the most liberal upbringing and mine was still quite fundie.

    Growing up like that just does not lead to a healthy sex life.

  9. As the anonymous comment above pointed out, many, many backwards attitudes about sex are rooted in patriarchy. Of course, religion is part of (at least, in the Western world) the patriarchy, and thus a culprit. It is a bit simplistic, though, to point to religion alone as the source of all bad attitudes about sex. Misogyny and double standards existed well before Christianity (or Islam, or Judaism, etc.). Feminism is a much more effective way of driving out sex-negativism, but then, most atheists I know are also feminist, and thus sex-positive. It's unfortunate that feminist and atheist organizations so rarely join forces, since there is a ton of overlap, particularly when it comes to sex and sex education.

  10. semi-related: Agnostic Virginity

  11. Good post! I found you via the humanist carnival.

    I recall the average age of first intercourse in America is a little over 17. If you are right that most 17 year olds are not old enough to handle all the consequences of sex, then something should either be done to better prepare them, or done to enourage them to wait until they are more mature.

  12. Great post. One little nit-pick: Since you seem to be tuned in to gender oppression, I'd like to point out that it's possible that phrases like "I think I have the mind of a 16 year old boy" tend to perpetuate sex-negative thinking; lots of 16 year old girls have sex on the brain just as much as 16 year old boys--and more probably would if it weren't looked down on when girls admit what they're thinking. Just food for thought.

  13. Great stuff! Unfortunately, even our best sex education is focused on "this does this, that does that, use a prophylactic, and good luck!" What we as a culture completely fail to teach ourselves is the other important stuff like, "everyone's different, informed consent is what really matters, you can stick it in the naughty place however you like, and don't tell other people how to get their rocks off."

    That's the most frustrating thing to me. So many people I know are either "sluts" or "prudes" (neither thing is bad!) and think that the other group is doing it wrong. What's really wrong is "thinking there's a right and a wrong way to get your jollies." So long as everyone involved is informed of the risks and a consenting adult, I say do as much or as little of whatever you like!