I’ve been following sex-positive politics for many years now; and something that i still see too frequently is open and unmitigated hostility towards all religion and spirituality.
There’s no doubt in my mind that religion and spirituality has, historically speaking, promoted sex-negativity and contributed to sexual repression and unhappiness. And mainstream, widely-socially-acceptable religions and spiritualities generally continue to do; the ongoing debates around homosexuality are but one example.
However, it’s also true that many people are finding ways of integrating sex-positive attitudes with their religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. There are reinterpretations of key texts; there are approaches which seek to extract still-relevant ideas whilst leaving behind sex-negative ones; there are beliefs being created out of whole cloth, based on people’s lived experiences. I know sex-positive, queer-friendly Christians, Jews and Wiccans, who are well aware of the sex-negative, heteronormative aspects of their traditions, and who have more than a passing familiarity with their traditions’ text and beliefs, but who have used that knowledge to continue living within a belief system that resonates strongly with them.
And I think this is wonderful!
I don’t, however, see a great deal of support for these people within the sex-positive community. On the contrary: what I frequently encounter is blanket condemnations of religion and spirituality, or, worse, of religious and spiritual people.
It feels to me that there’s a certain amount of born-again atheism involved: for people who have been raised in repressive religious atmospheres, for example, becoming a conscious atheist can be a liberating experience. It seems to me there’s often an earnest and well-meaning desire to ensure that other people don’t suffer or miss out on a variety of enjoyable life experiences due to religious or spiritual repression, whether internal or external. This is something I can certainly identify with: I myself was an atheist for many years, primarily driven by the sex-negativity I observed in various religions. And even though I’m now a panentheist, I still get irked by anti-atheism FUD (for example, that atheism necessarily results in a complete lack of morality) – I believe that misrepresentation of people’s attitudes and beliefs is not only unethical but doesn’t, in the end, benefit anyone.
Nonetheless, I feel that there’s a choice for sex-positive atheists to make here: to decide which is more important for them to promote, atheism or sex-positivity. I believe either choice is valid. But I also believe promoting sex-positivity means not making totalising statements about religion and spirituality or about religious and spirituality people; it means acknowledging the possibility that atheism is not the only possible framework in which sex-positivity can exist; it means recognising that there are people creating sex-positive religious and spiritual perspectives which provide concrete alternatives to sex-negative beliefs for those who are not ready or willing to give up their overall religious or spiritual paths.
Many years ago I was part of a group organising a protest. Our organising group had several members of the Young Christian Workers. One member raised an objection to the possibility of socialist groups being able to sell their newspapers at the protest, saying something along the lines of “After all, how would you feel if we were to hand out Bibles?” My personal response was: “That sounds great! So much reactionary stuff is done in the name of Christianity; it would be good for people, including Christians, to know that it’s not a given that Christians must take reactionary positions.”
If people in the sex-positive movement promote or support the notion that sex-positivity necessarily implies atheism, it puts people who – rightly or wrongly, whether supported by evidence or not – have strong religious or spiritual beliefs in the position of feeling like they must choose between sex-positivity and religion/spirituality. Though many might choose sex-positivity, it’s also likely that, given religion and spirituality often address a greater variety of issues than simply those around sexuality, many might feel that sex-positivity is the thing that needs to take a back seat. And that, for me, wouldn’t represent progress.