My recent literary digests have included memoirs and nonfiction audiobooks on sex, relationships, and non-monogamy. A recent listen, Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage by feminist activist Jenny Block, provides insight into the paradigmatic features of open marriage drawing on the personal experiences of a bisexual woman. Currently, I’m musing over my latest read: The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures written by psychotherapist Dossie Easton and author and sex educator Janet W. Hardy. Through my literary adventures, I can’t help but reflect on my own sexual conditioning and upbringing in the Pentecostal church.
The authors of these feminist-friendly, sex-positive books and social movements did not exist in the church I grew up in, and I feel quite saddened by this. While my sexual conditioning in the church was far from liberating, these reads have helped me realize that the religious community wasn’t as mundane as I thought. My early sex education which was conservative consisted of the anatomical and biological basics (Arizona education system, need I say more?) and early conditioning of sex morals and ethics in the church. The latter was more influential to my perception of sex, gender, and relationships. Of course the media and my peers constructed my views of sexual culture and gender norms, but the church had the greatest impact during my childhood and adolescence.
When it came to sex education, role models were limited. My parents rarely spoke of sex, with the exception of my father encouraging me to be fearful of boys because they were all uncontrollably hormonal. As if girls didn’t have their fair share of raging hormones; I know I did. The religious community was open about sex and relationships, holding sexual purity conferences and retreats, and openly discussing sexual sins and confessions during testimonials.
My rigorous religious sex education consisted of female-only bible studies, sermons, Christian book clubs on sex and relationships, and purity retreats.
Key discussions included:
- How to have a godly sexual relationship in marriage
- How to court one another and maintain spiritual flirtation
- Secrets to keeping your husband/boyfriend attracted to you
- Christian principles of romantic relationships
And there was more where that came from.
Multiple Partners and Adultery
There were men and women in the church who confessed to adultery, and the community along with pastoral leadership, helped the couple through Christian counseling and accountability. I recall a male leader in the church who admitted to having an affair with another Christian woman. The church initially supported him, but once it became apparent that he no longer wanted to reunite with his wife, given he had fallen in love with the other woman, he was asked to step down from leadership. Soon after, he was exiled from the church because of his social deviance and spiritual disobedience. My own father practiced non-monogamy throughout my life. While my stepmother knew about it, we never actually discussed it.
I remember on one occasion my father telling me that God allowed men to have multiple female partners and that this was widely practiced throughout the Old Testament.
Examples include: King of Solomon, David, Abraham, Hosea, Jacob, and many more.
In my youth, I didn’t know how to respond to what seemed like a provocation. I thought it spitefully unfair that men were allowed to practice non-monogamy but women were not. Why would God allow such a sexual inequality to exit? Women in the church also confessed to adulterous behavior, and they weren’t necessarily treated differently, but the church’s teachings on “promiscuous” men and women greatly varied. A social equality was maintained in the Pentecostal church; yet it was clear that the rules were different for the sexes when it came to matters of sexuality. For example, slut, whore, seductress, Jezebel were pejorative terms used to describe the sexually deviant women of the bible, and it also served as a guide to help us in detecting these types of women in society and the church.
There weren’t many derogatory classifications for men who committed adultery. In fact, they were rarely called adulterers. While the act was still condemned, there was forgiveness for both sexes in the religious community. The ex-wife of the man who was exiled from the church was treated like a fragile victim who may never find love again by the older women in the religious community. The women in the church coddled her, gave her sympathetic looks, and took turns visiting her house with home-cooked meals. My perception of her was vastly different. I thought she was incredibly strong. She always remained composed and had a confident energy about her. I never once witnessed her being resentful or vengeful towards her husband and his new partner during her “trial” as the church called it, and she even remained friends with her ex-husband.
I wonder if the church supported open relationships and non-monogamous values, would gender equality also be promoted? I believe so. The church had already established a comprehensive guide and teaching on sex and relationships; it’s a shame that energy and investment was wasted on upholding gender and sexual inequalities.
No longer a Christian, and now an advocate of responsible and ethical non-monogamy, I believe that if the church’s pedagogical and operational apparatus utilized a more open paradigm of sexual and romantic partnerships, we would practice safer sex, reduce the divorce rate, and strengthen our spiritual connections with the divine and the community.
What do you think?
Andreea Nica is a freelance writer, scholar, egalitarian, and yogi. She holds a M.S. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Gender, Media, and Culture Studies. Andreea also holds a B.A. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. Currently, she is writing her memoir on transitioning from Pentecostalism, focusing on institutional power, subjectivities, and socialization. She is the Founder of OrganiCommunications, empowering startups and social enterprises in strategic and digital communication ventures. She is the author of 2 blogs: OrganiCommunications and Progressive Thinking. You can find her in Seattle, WA. with her partner and kitty, probably doing yoga.@convergingearth @integratedcom
Categories: Activism, Belief, Bible, Body, Christianity, Church Doctrine, Community, Education, Ethics, Gender, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Love, Patriarchy, power, Relationships, Sexism, Sexual Ethics, Women in the Church