Friday, 22 July 2011

Religion and Unnatural Sex

Bonobo (Pan paniscus)
One of the appeals of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) seems to be its obsession with sex. It provides an excuse for loudly jubilant condemnation of any sexual activity other than for procreation between people who have been granted permission to procreate by one of their god’s representatives, in a special ceremony called marriage.

Even for these favoured people, sex is supposed to be something of a guilty activity, definitely not for enjoyment, especially for the woman, and not something to be discussed in polite circles.

For a possible explanation of how this sex obsession became a central part of the religion meme, see The Evolution of Gods.

This seems to appeal to fundamentalists in particular, though not exclusively so, because it gives them an excuse to interfere in other people’s lives at the most private and personal level and so ensure that they aren’t getting more fun out of life than the person doing the condemnation.

One of the excuses put forward to justify this sanctimonious condemnation and interference is that sexual activity is in some way degrading; not worthy of an exulted creature like Man who is above such base, ‘animal’ activity. Animals don’t know any better and are driven by base instincts but Mankind is possessed of intelligence and so should know better. Getting pleasure from sex is being like an animal.

Let’s look at that in some detail.

Of all known non-human species, hardly any use sexual activity socially or for pleasure. Two exceptions to this are bonobos (so-called pygmy chimpanzees, and one of Man’s closest relative) and dolphins. Both these species are amongst the most intelligent of all non-human animals.

Almost without exception, sex between males and females of all other species is for procreation. Even amongst the other great apes sex only occurs during the female’s oestrus period when conception is likely. In these apes, females only become receptive at a particular time in their oestrus cycle when conception is most likely.

On the other hand, sex between humans is possible and frequent outside the female's oestrus period; indeed the oestrus period is only detectable by measurement of body temperature and then not with any certainty. The human female is almost always potentially arousable and sexually receptive regardless of the point in her ovulatory cycle.

Human females cease to be fertile in mid life, yet many women find their sexual appetite actually INCREASES after the menopause and sex becomes more pleasurable, not less. For these couples there can be no possibility of procreation yet sexual activity continues, often in advanced years.

Clearly, sex has evolved in humans for other uses than just procreation. Sex is used socially to maintain pair-bonds between a man and a woman for the long childhood of offspring and to retain this pair-bond into grandparent hood. And, as with our close relative, the bonobo, sex is not restricted to male-female sex; sex is used recreationally and for social bonding between some same gender couples too. This strongly suggests this behaviour has its origins from before divergence of Homo and Pan.

Sex is not purely procreational in humans; sex is recreational and a social activity too, unlike its function in most animals. In short, recreational and social sex is one of the things which distinguishes us from most other species where sex serves an almost entirely procreational function.

Ironically, the very thing which sanctimonious Christians, Jews and Muslims insist mankind should use sex for, is the one thing which almost all other animals use it for. The use of sex for recreational and social purposes which they most decry is one of the basic things which set us apart from almost every other species and is probably due in part to our intelligence.

If censorious religious bigots had their way, sex would not elevate mankind above other animals; it would reduce us to their level. We would truly be behaving like animals when it came to sex.

The tension this produces between the very strong desire for sex and the feelings of guilt it produces in people infected by the religion meme for even feeling these desires, let alone giving in to them, is a very frequent cause of mental health problems. Religion imposes an intolerable burden of unjustified guilt on people who are merely behaving naturally in ways in which millions of years of evolution have prepared them.

And of course, priests, rabbis and imams offer the only 'salvation' from this guilt. Without them and their magic spells and incantations, and above all, their permission or 'blessing', all is lost once you have yielded to the ‘temptations of the flesh’. Please give generously so that we can help other poor ‘sinners’... Yeah, right! Much easier than working for a living.

If Christians, Jews and Muslims truly wanted to celebrate our ‘elevation’ above the level of other animals, they would promote and extol recreational sex. Couples should be exhorted to enjoy sex for the sake of pleasure and to use it for social bonding and group cohesion, the way it has evolved almost uniquely in humans and certainly in ways which are unique to species with a high level of intelligence.

Clearly, they are pursuing some other agenda. Whatever it is, it’s nothing to do with humans being better than other species.

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  1. You're right that the grey beards of all those faiths use sex to bully people. Ironic since those same grey beards are usually the ones breaking sexual taboos.

  2. Maybe all the recently exposed activities of Catholic priests are an indication that at least one Abrahamic branch is coming to terms with recreational sex? For the young boys involved, I doubt they see it as social-bonding.

  3. Interesting way of opposing the common religious view of sex. I've written a bit debunking that view myself on my own blog, but never thought of attacking it from this angle.

    A few notes, however: Humans are no closer related to bonobos than we are to common chimpanzees - as far as we know, both species are tied for "closest relative."

    Also, regarding sex, it's important to remember that having frequent sex with concealed ovulation is just as much an evolved phenomenon as having infrequent sex with conspicuous ovulation. We evolved to seek sex at any time of the season for a reason.

    You seem to be implying that humans are somehow "reaching beyond our evolution" when we have sex purely for recreation. But this too is part of the evolved procreational strategy. Species with concealed ovulation have to have frequent sex, because you never know when it's going to lead to conception! And as you can see from the link above, concealed ovulation seems to go hand in hand with monogamy, and monogamy only works if you create bonds between mating pairs.

    Tim Martin

  4. Sex will be the downfall of organized Christianity. the younger generation, the not-devout, think things like anti-GLBT issues and premarital sex are so their parents...or even gradparents. awesomeness


  5. Gosh, what a sensinble person, with reasoned and sensible views, that coincidentitly match thos eof my own!

  6. Interesting article. If you want to go into agendas, a theory I've picked up on (granted, it's by Roger Scruton, but still) is that sex is supposed to be something special, almost sacred if that's what you want to call it, and something which has a stake in the life of the community. (Don't ask me how that works, I'm still trying to figure it out.) Casual sex is supposed to be more individualistic, therefore less focused on community, therefore contributes to the breakup of the community...something like that.

    It's pretty much the only justification I can find for being anti-sex. Not that I agree with it...I'm just interested in trying to find out why people think the way they do.

  7. Whoever wrote this blog did not actually read the bible. Proverbs 5:15-20, Song of Solomon and 1 Corinthians 7 are open and explicit regarding the matters of sex for recreation. Sure, the bible does set boundaries, but it never says you cant have sex for fun.

    1. What a coincidence because whoever wrote this blog said nothing whatsoever about the Bible.

      What a give-away, eh?

      More than happy to be told that sanctimonious Christian condemnation and judgementalism has no biblical basis, by the way. I expect they just use the Bible as an excuse for their obnoxious meddling in other people's lives.


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