Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 15, July 20, 2012


Book Review


How Religion Distorts Sexuality

Darrel Ray, Ed.D.
IPC Press, Bonner Springs, KS
279 pages plus bibliography and index
Paperback $10.85


Click on cover to buy this book from Amazon.com

Reviewed and enjoyed by David S. Hall, Ph.D.

As this Journal’s publisher, I receive many books and films to review. I tend to shy away from books and films about religion except in my role as an educator. I need to expose my students to the wider view of sexuality held by the world’s religions. When this book arrived from Dr. Ray, author of The God Virus, I took it on as a learning project. I am very glad I did. Anyone living in our religion filled culture should read this book, especially anyone concerned that our young people receive the information they need to make safe and responsible choices regarding their sexual lives.

Dr. Ray has been a psychologist for 35 years, and in his early education planned to become a minister. He spent years training ministers, chaplains and other church officials, and learned that they were just the same as the people they ministered to, having sex in ways they preached against, cheating on their mates, and pretending they were not doing it, while feeling shame and guilt. They all knew their god was watching them have sex. The cycle of having fun sex, feeling guilty about it, experiencing shame that drove them back to religion for forgiveness, and then, unable to give up the fun, repeating the cycle over and over. This book is designed to challenge the reader “to look at the sexual training and  indoctrination you received from childhood and make informed choices about how to conduct yourself as a sexual being."

Chapter 1, Religious Foreplay, is a masterpiece, noting that fear is the foreplay of religion. It points out that “Religion’s goal is to propagate religion.” He lists the “toxic trio” of key beliefs:

  1. Belief in an afterlife.
  2. Belief in a voyeuristic, all-knowing god that determines your status in the afterlife.
  3. Belief that the god dictates a specific kind of sexual behavior to the exclusion of all others, as a condition for entry into the afterlife.

All this is part of our sexual map, one we learn early in our lives, and then try to follow as we become adults. But what good is a map that is thousands of years old? Why would a religion try to keep us to such an old and outdated map? Because all sexual restrictions are critical to the propagation of religion. It does not matter what religion, because, with few exceptions (Unitarians and Pagans), they all use the same techniques.

Chapter 3 is titled Screwing with Religious Myths. There are a lot of them, this book has a short list that makes the point. “One of the most pernicious Christian myths is the myth of monogamy.” It lets us overlook the many individuals in the Old Testament who had hundreds of wives, including King David who God loved. Monogamy as Jesus defined it is not practiced among most Christians today.

Chapter 4 discusses the difference between religious shame and guilt. In particular the power of shame in Islam is reviewed. Honor killings, stonings and other punishments await an Islamic woman who breaks the rules, even to showing an ankle. Modern cults are more shame based than typical Christianity. Shame is a powerful tool to ensure conformity, both with religion and with other cultural norms.

Section 2 of the book begins with Holy Biology, a short list of the errors in some holy writings on biology. Then it covers UnHoly Biology, a summary of animal, and especially primate, biology. A review of the genital anatomy of the Great Apes is very informative. This information is used to discuss the why’s of monogamy. A discussion of genes and epigenetics follows, pointing out that our sexual maps and gender behavior are likely not a choice. “Choice is a theological concept, not a biological one.”

Section 3 is Follow the Culture. Discussions of pre-agricultural societies, and current hunter-gatherer tribes points out that religion is not required for moral behavior. They are egalitarian in behavior, humans do not run amok, children are raised within the community. Three examples are looked at in depth, and I suggest reading Sex at Dawn to further explore this discussion.

This is followed by a lengthy section on the history of modern religions and the misogyny of the gods of these religions. Sexual exploitation of women and girls is common in highly sexually restrictive cultures. Rules regarding sexuality are justified because humans cannot be trusted to control themselves. Control is important in maintaining a religion. In time, religion superseded culture as a means of control. Sexual training begins almost at birth by sexualizing nudity. The message is that nudity is always sexual. The story of Adam and Eve in the garden is taught to small children, even before they can understand it, but clearly god did not like to see naked people. Then breastfeeding became sexual and scandals regarding seeing a baby sucking on a nipple were common. Consider the recent Time magazine cover photo! Religious marking of children, such as circumcision of both male and female infants and children, became common in Western society.

Most religions in the US teach that sex should be saved for marriage. This teaching clearly does not work, adolescents keep on having sex at about the same rates as non-religious teens. But the religious kids feel guilty and keep coming back to church for forgiveness. Parents who masturbated and had sex before marriage try to teach their kids to wait. Most of my college students, many of whom admit to having sex in college, still state they will teach their kids to wait for marriage. This is not a problem in Europe where good sex education is the norm. We have teen pregnancy and birth rates that are orders of magnitude greater than those in western Europe.

Chapter 16 covers the author’s research on the impact of religion on sexuality for over 14,000 secular subjects. Most were born and raised in a religious environment, and had left the churches. The first figure is “Sexual Guilt” by denomination. No surprises here, the more fundamental, the higher the sexual guilt. Regarding early sexual experience, there was virtually no differences between those raised in the most and least religious homes. To the question “How has your sex life changed?” after leaving religion, only 2.2% said worse, 29.6 % said the same, the rest said much better with 35.4% rating it at 10, the highest end of “much better”. This corresponds to my life experience as an educator.

The balance of this section deals with relationships and the mostly unwritten rules we are expected to follow. It discusses NRE, the New Relationship Energy we experience when we first fall in love. This cocktail of endorphins facilitates initial bonding, and leads us to do some very irrational things. It lasts for a limited time and must be replaced with what the author calls LTS, Long Term Security. It feels solid and reliable. Otherwise, the relationship ends, sooner or later. Arranged marriages are a tool to prevent NRE from taking control of a life.

The final section of the book is devoted to programming ourselves for change, if that is what we want. It points out that one size of marriage does not fit all of the people in a culture or society or religion. The chapter on jealousy is very valuable.

I have learned a lot by reading this book and want to share it with you. I encourage you to read this book and explore what it means to you in the light of your own beliefs and background. If you are a sex educator, this book is a must for helping you understand what your students need to understand.

Return to Front Page