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Sex and religion

by Beth Divine 26 Sep 2018

Sex is great. It is enjoyable (done right), it propagates the species, and is one of the basic needs of humanity along with food and shelter. But humanity has a long record of shooting itself in the foot when it comes to living fulfilling and complete lives, getting enough sleep, food and sex and avoiding bad stress and dangerous behaviours. And one of the worst facets of this capability is highlighted when it comes to religion, organised or otherwise.

Most of the major religions have restraint and so-called self-control as one of their main tenets, advocating that their practitioners refrain from sex at all times. There is no real rationale for this, and in fact, in some cases this restraint actually goes completely against the religion’s stated aims for people, namely that they be fruitful and populate the earth.

It is very likely that sexual constraint is a relatively recent addition to religious strictures. Authorities like to keep their people under control, and this often involves telling them how to live their lives, even behind closed doors. While this can be a good thing, offering protections to women, children, and the vulnerable, it can also be intrusive – unnecessarily so.

It is only relatively recently that deeper understanding of human sexuality has become common knowledge and the realisation that those who abstain from sex – or who are forced into celibacy – are not heroes, bravely resisting baser instincts and showing the rest of us the right way to live; rather, they are more likely to suffer from stress and depression, their sexual desires may become subverted or perverted and they can suffer ill-health, both mental and physical.

As a result of these new understandings, it is now acceptable for religious leaders to be married (in Jewish teaching rabbis have always had a requirement to be married, unlike with some Christian denominations) as it is understood that a person can manage a personal life and one devoted to religion without either of the two suffering from the time shared with the other one – in fact, a happily married religious leader might be a better leader for having a deeply satisfying home life…