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Religion and Sexuality - Intersections of Control and Obsession


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Lecture in the event Religion and Sexuality in Beirut, Lebanon (August 2016). The event was organised by Freethought Lebanon.

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Religion and Sexuality - Intersections of Control and Obsession

  1. 1. Religion and sexuality Intersections of control and obsession August 2016 Tommi Paalanen Finland
  2. 2. Who? MA, D.Soc.Sci., Philosopher, Ethicist Executive Director, Sexpo Foundation Chair of Sexual Ethics Committee, Finnish Association for Sexology Co-Chair of Sexual Rights Committee, World Association for Sexual Health Sexual ethics, sexual rights, professional ethics, philosophy of sexuality, ethical liberalism, equality, humanism, atheism, human rights
  3. 3. Today’s questions 1. What forms of control religion exerts on sexuality? 2. Why control is (or has been) important to religion? 3. What is the problem with religious norms on sexuality? 4. What is the alternative?
  5. 5. Axis of control How is sexuality viewed? sex negative sex positive How restrictive the rules are? restrictive free Who is in control? external internal
  6. 6. Axis of control How is sexuality viewed? sex negative sex positive How restrictive the rules are? restrictive free Who is in control? external internal
  7. 7. Shared norms Sex belongs to marriage Focus on reproduction – enforced with rules Strong control imposed on women Virginity in women is highly valued Patriarchal power structures – opposition to feminism Fear and hate against homosexuality
  8. 8. Cultural history of control Patrilinear kinship system Kinship is established through the father  requires controlling women to ensure paternity Keeping power and property within the family as father’s sons inherit titles and property Justifying and enforcing the power structure with religion
  9. 9. Evolutionary mechanisms Reasons behind sex negativity and control 1. Westermarck effect – incest taboo Avoiding public sexual activities Need to hide sexual activities from close relatives Natural disqust amplified by religion 2. Fear of alpha males Hierarchy of males inherited from chimpanzees Access to sex as a valued resource Fighting for access to sex Preserving power through sexual privileges
  10. 10. Ideological manipulation Sin and purity as manipulation 1. Religion labels natural and recurrent urges as sinful and/or impure 2. Almost no-one can escape this definition 3. Succumbing to sin causes shame and remorse 4. Religion offers relief and ritual purification
  12. 12. Amplification of norms Multiple sources of norms Example: young couple has sex together without permission from parents or community (unmarried, using contraception) Dangers according to religion and customs • Breaking religious rules and community norms • Multiple sins: disobedience, lust, using contraception • Contradictory concerns: e.g. sinfulness of contraception vs. fear of getting pregnant • Bad moral character • Ignoring what have been taught • Bringing shame and bad reputation to the family • Questioning the power of the family heads
  13. 13. Diffuse net of power Shaming from multiple sources Family members Community members Community authorities Religious authorities Peers  Internalised control through shame and fear Fear of rejection, loneliness, religious judgement, bad social consequences, being a bad person…
  14. 14. Effects of shame Sexological Problems in achieving satisfying sexual life Incompatibility in relationships Pain disorders in women Power and autonomy Submission to injust conditions Difficulties in recognising and asserting one’s own boundaries Sexual rights Dismissing violations as cultural issues Dilemma Internalised norms appear as individual choices
  16. 16. Counter-culture Sub-cultures and private sexuality Disregarding and circumventing the rules Anonymous dissidence Organising against religious powers Professional approaches Correct evidence-based information about sexuality International networks Pride in sexuality Pioneer work Open discussion and publicity Rattling the cage
  17. 17. Sexual freedom Martha Nussbaum’s argument Characteristics of religion from individual’s point of view: 1. Deep personal significance 2. Important part of identity and everyday activities 3. Actualising is essential Freedom of religion is essential to meaningful life, and accordingly it should be promoted in a just society which cares about the well-being of its citizens. Sexuality shares the same characteristics, therefore sexual freedom is essential…
  18. 18. @TommiPaalanen THANK YOU!