Religion Crowds into America’s Bedrooms

Evangelical, right-wing groups are engaging in a vast, many-pronged “cultural war” to manipulate sexual anxieties and determine what goes on in American’s bedrooms.

To help roll back the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the Bush administration spent over $1 billion on abstinence-only programs. Thousands of sermons, workshops and other propaganda reinforced the message. Under the pithy slogan ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms), ultra-conservative religious groups, such as Focus on the Family, American Family Association and Concerned Women for America, promote marriage as a solution to everything from suicide to poverty and self-worth issues.

“How could an aggressive minority successfully push the most grotesque message of abstinence, and why are 95 percent of Americans who claim to have had premarital sex unable to admit it publicly?” asks Dagmar Herzog, a professor of history at the City University of New York.

She became interested in the topic from her studies in European history that revealed: Far from discouraging sex, the Nazis promoted it among both married and unmarried Aryans. At the same time, they targeted Jews, who supposedly engaged in “dirty sex,” and “immoral” supporters of the Weimar Republic, and enlisted German Protestants and Catholics to clean up the “sex mess.”

“The conservative evangelical sexual politics of the 1990s and early 21st century are totally new,” Herzog says. “Premarital sex was perfectly normal in the South when I grew up. The churches weren’t hung up on sex back then so I knew that this new sexual repression was recent.”

In Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics (Basic Books), Herzog shows how the origins of today’s anti-tax, anti-government movement began during the Civil Rights era when the government revoked the tax-exempt status of the religious-oriented Bob Jones University that first denied admission to African Americans and then banned interracial dating. The “cultural war” strategy also coincided with the AIDs epidemic and gays and lesbians coming out of the closet.

Far from being anti-sexual, today’s evangelicals push “a hyper-sexualized” message, complete with Christian pornography and bragging about having great sex. Evangelical sex advice books emphasize the dangers of sex outside marriage, but revel in titillating sexual details. Even if they aren’t interested, Christian wives are told to be “available” to their husbands at all times, especially for “quickies.”

“Although the evangelical movement is contradictory and hypocritical, it’s important to understand that it’s pro-sex,” says Herzog. “The evangelicals promise physiological orgasms, called ‘soulgasms’, which combine psychological orgasms, a close emotional connection with the spouse, and the blessing presence of God in the bedroom. At the same time, they’re homophobic and hostile to all sex outside marriage.”

To develop a strategy to focus on state and local legislation that would target homosexuals and gay rights, leaders of Focus on the Family, the Eagle Forum, Traditional Values Coalition, the National Legal Foundation and other Christian political groups met in Colorado in 1994. Most importantly, they decided to shift their tactics away from strictly religious messages to adopt the secular language of fermenting fear and disgust of disease. Subsequently, religious conservatives turned their attention to pushing abstinence. Their message would adapt to the new age and human potential movements with talk of self-help, individual empowerment, self-improvement and personal perfection.

Playing on increased primal sexual anxieties that include confusion about the relationship between sex and love, and doubts about one’s own attractiveness to one’s partner, doubts that increased with exposure to Internet porn and Viagra, evangelicals promoted a relentless no-sex-outside-marriage program.

In 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services issued sex-education guidelines that mandate teaching about “the potential psychological side effects” of sex, such as drinking, disease, depression and suicide. Money for abstinence education discouraged sex among unmarried Americans between the ages of 19 and 29.

This assault on sexuality doesn’t work. According to surveys conducted by evangelicals, 95 percent of adults admit to having premarital sex. Half of all Christian men claim to be addicted to Internet porn, along with 20 percent of Christian women. Adolescents who take the abstinence pledge wait 18 months longer to have sex, but girls are much more likely to become pregnant when they do have sex.

In contrast, Europe teens are taught that sex is natural, healthy and pleasurable. They get free contraceptives, medical care and counseling. Despite what Americans would call a permissive society, some would say sinful, American teenage girls are three times more likely to get pregnant than those in Sweden and four times more likely than those in Germany. American teens are 70 times more likely to get gonorrhea than those in France or the Netherlands.

Presenting premarital sex as “risky behavior” hides an intrusive and insidious attack on sexuality. Far healthier would be to recognize human autonomy and self-determination of sexual expression. America needs comprehensive sex education, contraceptive distribution and counseling to overcome the destructive social and personal effects of sexually repressive religious morality.

“Reproductive rights and sexual self-determination are human rights,” Herzog says. “We need to affirm humans’ rights to sexual expression, sexual pleasure, and the freely chosen formation of intimate relationships.”

Don Monkerud is an California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He is the author of America Unhinged: Politics and Pandemic in the 2020 Election (2021). He can be reached at: Read other articles by Don.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said on January 29th, 2009 at 12:24pm #

    It’s a sad day for mankind when a small group of right wing religious extremists have managed to successfully convince many American Christians that sex is un-natural, when in fact, it’s a biological need.

    Humans have been having sex since Adam and Eve (if you believe in that sort of stuff), but hey, it’s dirty and wrong! We should also cut off our eyeballs so that we can’t gaze longingly at other people’s bodies, and then.. VOILA! on your “God-recognized” wedding night, you’ll get your eyeballs back so you can set your sight upon your new bride’s naked body for the first time.


  2. Michael Kenny said on January 29th, 2009 at 1:25pm #

    Perhaps there should be some sort of award for Americans who are capable of arguing a point without feeling the need to assimilate those who disagree with them to Hitler!

  3. Tim Joiner said on January 29th, 2009 at 10:53pm #

    I realize this isn’t a research paper or dissertation, but with so many facts and figures, you would expect some source citations. A lot of the numbers you give are very hard to believe. “95 percent of adults admit to having premarital sex?” Really? Says who? How large was their sample size? Was it random? I just don’t buy that number, or a lot of other ones, either. And, while I’m on the “not buying” subject, I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t buy your conclusions, either.

  4. Ramsefall said on January 30th, 2009 at 8:04am #

    Right-wing kooks and their never ending battle to control/manipulate humanity according to their self-proclaimed Godliness. My reaction in short, fu*k em!

    The world will be a better place when they’re all gone.

    Best to all.

  5. Jim Cronin said on January 30th, 2009 at 10:39am #

    As a retired psychotherapist, I would like to offer a comment on the idea that viewing internet porn is an “addiction.” This idea of porn addiction is now common, but is it accurate? An addiction can be understood as the excessive and compulsive use of a substance or activity (such as watching television!) that is an attempt to self-medicate for some form of suffering. This definition also includes the idea that the addiction leads to some form of harm, which is the key point.

    So if no harm can be scientifically shown, there is no addiction. Is masturbation once per day while viewing internet porn addictive? Watching TV sports all weekend while ignoring one’s spouse and children? I would say daily masturbation is pretty normal sexual behavior. If the porn watched is abusive of women (much of it) or involves children, or if someone is masturbating very frequently every day, underlying problems and harm can be shown. So one should be careful when throwing this term around. And, as much as I like your writing, you really should include citations for data sources as a matter of course.

  6. ali said on January 30th, 2009 at 9:10pm #

    just do what fuck yu want to do,and pelase use condoms,we dont want our tax money to spend on your basterd kids and basterd gran kids and when they grown up they join amry and attack our land for oil.

  7. lichen said on January 31st, 2009 at 3:37pm #

    Yes, representatives of anti-life, child-beating religions will oppose all revolutions and youth movements, and they are irrelevant, as is their disgusting moralizing and bigotry-spreading from the pulpits.

  8. The Angry Peasant said on February 1st, 2009 at 7:49pm #

    Dr. Cronin, I’d like you to please speak with my girlfriend.

  9. Brian Koontz said on February 1st, 2009 at 9:27pm #

    In reply to Jim Cronin:

    There are some key cultural links to understanding addiction. Addiction is very similar if not identical to fanaticism and also to religious fundamentalism.

    Some commonalities between these – all are attempts at achieving intimacy through repetitive and deep exposure. Far from “self-medicate”, addiction is primarily about loneliness and disconnection and the attempt to solve that problem with a kind of manufactured state of intimacy.

    It’s also a form of learning. Most people addicted to television choose that addiction in order to learn about (and create) culture. Religious fundamentalists choose that addiction to learn about (and create) morality.

    Addiction is found only in devastated or destroyed communities, where there is no longer a functioning civic society with frequent and positive bonds between people. In the absence of society itself, humans manufacture their own social reality and their own education and self-identity from whatever means are available to them. Hence they might be “fans of a sports team”, a hardcore video game player, a follower of Paris Hilton, or whatever else.

    It’s not a matter of addiction being harmful – the harm always occurs *before* the addiction. The addiction is always an attempt at a solution to the harm – a kind of desperate attempt that the addict always recognizes as such and likely to fail or succeed only in very limited ways. Addicts are usually contemptuous of non-addicts – they consider them naive or ignorant (not knowing enough about their own devastated condition to attempt the cure of addiction).

    One might think that since the cause of the addiction is the devastation of civic society more people would seek to rebuild that civic society. But this runs into the major problem that the cause of the devastation of civic society is the opposition of the elite to the existence of civic society. Despite their devastated condition, people in the West still support the elite due to the imperial benefits they receive from such, and thus cannot contradict the wishes of the elite by constructing civic society.