Guilt, Sex, and God or Why I Feel Guilty about Everything Sexual

Guilt forever entangles sex.

Why?

The answer lies within the history of sex education.

Yep, you read that right; sex education is to blame for feeling guilty about everything sexual.

Now do not get me wrong, sex education has tremendous benefits for a person’s psychological and physical well-being — when it is applied in a comprehensive and scientifically-based fashion. However, sex education is rarely applied in this fashion, instead sex education is mostly applied in an abstinence-based and ideological fashion with a negative bias.

So how did we get here? Within a culture that is one of the most open and educated in the history of the world; but at the same time, a culture that is sexually guilt-ridden and systematically denying authentic sex education.

Knowing the history of sex education is the best way to answer this question. And this history; at least from a Westernized perspective, begins with one of the Greeks’ greatest philosophers, Plato.

The World’s First Sex Educator

Plato lived from about 428 to 348 BCE, he was a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle; and he may be considered, the world’s first sex educator.

Plato believed life’s purpose was about seeking divine knowledge; and this omniscient, divine knowledge is within ourselves.

In his dialogue, the Symposium, he argued critical thinking, learning, and questioning gets one closer to divine truth, whereas sex and carnal knowledge gets one further away from it.

Thus is born from Plato’s writings, two seminal themes of sex education:

Sex itself is immoral and sexual knowledge is bad.

These two themes will form the core of sex education and be ingrained within the human psyche for the next 25-hundred years.

Plato makes these themes clear by defining two types of love that drive our behavior: Vulgar Eros and Divine Eros.

Vulgar Eros is a love that drives physical pleasure and reproduction, whereas Divine Eros is a love that drives learning for its own sake — Divine Eros is autotelic, transcends worldly objects, and leads us to our true life’s purpose.

The further you get away from Vulgar Eros, the closer you get to Divine Eros. Conversely, the more knowledge you have of your body, the lesser knowledge you have of divine truth.

Divine and Vulgar Eros’ relationship shows why sexual knowledge is bad — if life’s purpose is seeking divine knowledge — as Plato argues it to be, then doing anything that stands in the way of obtaining this knowledge, like learning about human sexuality, must be immoral.

These themes of sex and sexual knowledge being immoral are reinforced in the Bible’s Old Testament, in Genesis, within the story of Adam and Eve, which was written somewhere between 950 and 500 BCE.

God Demands Sexual Ignorance

In the story, God allows Adam and Eve to do ANYTHING they want in the Garden of Eden — with one exception:

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

You probably know how the story goes from here, Adam and Eve do eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and there are some relatively severe ramifications for their transgression. (By the way, Adam blames their transgression on Eve and her deceptiveness.)

Before I talk about these ramifications, let me answer the question of what exact knowledge of good and evil God was trying to keep from Adam and Eve?

Is it the knowledge of good and evil as it relates to murder? Nope.

How about the knowledge of good and evil as it relates to deceit and lying? Nope.

Is it the knowledge of good and evil as it relates to violence, war, thievery, gluttony, jealousy, or envy? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Genesis chapter 3, verses 6 through 11, clearly shows the one piece of knowledge of good and evil that God does not want Adam and Eve to be aware of:

6 When the woman saw the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The one piece of knowledge of good and evil God was trying to keep from Adam and Eve was:

The awareness of their own bodies being naked — a basic awareness of their own sexualities.

With normal development, this knowledge and awareness occurs within all of us, beginning by at least two years of age with peaks during puberty, adolescence, and late adulthood.

So, does this mean God wants us to have an immature level of sexual knowledge?

To answer this question, let’s revisit what the name of the tree Adam and Eve obtained this knowledge from:

They obtained their sexual knowledge from a tree named “knowledge of good and evil” — and it’s obvious, that God viewed this knowledge of sexuality as being evil based on the dire ramifications He doled out for obtaining this knowledge.

16 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Thus, according to the Book of Genesis, obtaining sexual knowledge is evil and leads to fear, shame, pain, subordination, and an untimely death.

The World’s First Place for Sex Education: Religion

Using these suppositions about sexual knowledge, for the next 2,000 to 3,000 years of human history, Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques were the ONLY places sex education was taught.

Bear in mind, Genesis not only serves as a basis for teaching sexuality in the more than 33,000 Christian denominations we have today, but it also serves as a basis for the Jewish faithful (the 8th largest religion in the World), and the Islamic faithful (which is the largest religion in the world).

Interestingly, most of these major world religions primary teachers did not have a lot to say about sexuality — and two of them Muḥammad (the primary teacher of the Islamic faithful) and Jesus (the primary teacher of the Christian faithful) did not even write anything down about sexuality.

But these teachers’ followers talked and WROTE a lot about sexuality — often “quoting” their primary teachers — even though they never met them.

The Saints of Sexual Guilt

For example, St. Paul, who lived from 4 BCE to about 64 CE, never met Jesus, yet history views him as Jesus’ greatest apostle — and he is attributed as writing 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament.

St. Paul believed sex stands in the way of one’s relationship with God, therefore abstinence gets one closer to God. (Hmm, this sounds more like Plato’s ideas than Christ’s ideas!)

St. Augustine — lived from 354 to 430 CE, four centuries after Christ’s crucifixion yet he has the greatest effect on developing Christian doctrine when it comes to sex. He takes St. Paul’s beliefs about sexuality to a whole ‘nother level.

In his books, Confessions and City of God, St. Augustine argues sex is shameful, lustful, and guilt-inducing — No matter who is engaging in it — whether it be consenting adults, people in love, or even married couples. And not only is sex a sin, but anything resulting from this sinful act is a sin too — including children. Thus, baptism is needed to remove the original sin — not what happened in the Garden of Eden — but what happened between the mother and father to cause the child to be conceived.

St. Aquinas, who lived from 1225 to 1274 CE, twelve centuries after Christ’s crucifixion, makes St. Paul’s and St. Augustine’s beliefs about sex concrete — in his writing of Summa Theologica (Highest Theology); a five-volume, one-million-word monolith that defines morality and concludes the highest moral state as being abstinence.

Preaching and Printing Sexual Guilt

At about this same time during the Renaissance (from about 1300 to 1600 CE), the advent and eventual wide use of Gutenberg’s printing press (invented in 1439 CE) allows sex education to go beyond the walls of religious houses of worship and into mass religious propaganda in the forms of pamphlets and books.

One of the most popular of these books was the Reverend John Todd’s, The Student’s Manual, after being published in 1835, it sold more than 100,000 copies in Europe.

Like Martin Luther before, who singled out masturbation as one of the gravest of all offenses, The Student’s Manual’s “sex education” mainly focused on discouraging masturbation — arguing that it leads to memory loss, depletion of energy, and death.

Finally, Schools get to Teach Sexual Guilt Too

Sex education was not formally taught in public schools until 1913 when Chicago schools superintendent Ella Flagg Young developed “sex hygiene” courses.

Based on physiology and sexual anatomy, Young presented these courses as serving both medical and moral purposes to combat sexually transmitted infections.

But within a year, local Catholic leaders began infiltrating the Chicago school board and removing the courses from the schools’ curricula — and within two years, all of the sex hygiene courses were gone, along with Young herself — because she was fired.

War, Death, and Science Takes Some of the Sexual Guilt Away

It would take two World Wars and 100 million deaths caused by them to put sex education back into public schools.

With the wars came an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections. And the best way to stave off this epidemic was with education.

In 1919, a White House task force on child welfare endorsed sex education in schools; and in 1922, the US Public Health Service released a manual with “suggestions of education related to sex.”

With the federal government acting as a facilitator, and the seminal scientific studies about the psychology of sex by Alfred Kinsey and the physiology of sex by Masters and Johnson, positively in the public eye, the 1920s through the early 1960s were the heyday of sex education: An exponentially growing number of public schools and colleges in the US were finally incorporating sex education curricula.

Communism, Christianity, and Name Calling: Sexual Guilt is Here to Stay

But all good things must come to an end, the sexual revolution of the 1960s was anything but that for sex education; shortly preceding the 1960s, the greatest proponent for sex education at the time, Alfred Kinsey, would be called a communist by the McCarthy hearings and die a short-time later; and ending the 1960s, a religious group, calling themselves, Christian Crusade, widely distributed and made popular a propaganda pamphlet titled “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” and the head of the powerful John Birch Society, branded sex education a “filthy Communist plot.”

Thereafter, many state and local governments began restricting sex education in public schools, and the percentage of public schools in the US offering sex education courses began significantly decreasing.

The outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s and a search for its cure ever since — have given proponents of sex education a powerful argument in its favor.

But opponents have come-up with a counter proposal: Abstinence-based sex education, which preaches no sex at all until marriage.

Sexual Guilt Through Abstinence-Based Sex Education

In theory, abstinence-based sex-education should decrease unsafe sex, but in practice, abstinence-based sex education programs increase unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and unsafe sexual activity.

This brings the history of sex education to present day: A lack of truth and an abundance of ignorance intentionally built into “abstinence-based sex education courses.”

This sexual ignorance and the guilt that comes with it will continue driving our culture’s understanding of sex until we stop denying and begin recognizing our culture’s history of sex education.

For more than 2,500 years we have been ideologically, consciously, and unconsciously repeating:

Sex is immoral.

Sexual knowledge is bad.

Sexual knowledge stands in the way of general knowledge.

And sexual knowledge is evil and leads to guilt, fear, shame, pain, subordination, and untimely death.

If we recognize this history, then we can contrast it with the empirical facts of today, and develop a sex education rooted in a collective unconscious that states:

Sex is amoral.

Sexual knowledge is adaptive.

Sexual knowledge facilitates general knowledge.

And sexual knowledge gives life — and the ability to fight guilt, fear, shame, pain, and subordination.

Sex education’s future depends on a recognition of its past, if we continue denying its history, sex education in the future will increase guilt, sexual assaults, rape, domestic violence, violence-in-general, sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancies; and decrease self-esteems, understandings of self, and lengths of marriages.

However, upon an authentic recognition and awareness of its past, sex education in the future will decrease guilt, sexual assaults, rape, domestic violence, violence-in-general, sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancies; and increase self-esteems, understandings of self, and lengths of marriages.

References

Bailey, J. M., Vasey, P. L., Diamond, L. M., Breedlove, S. M., Vilain, E., & Epprecht, M. (2016). Sexual orientation, controversy, and science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17, 45–101.

Gager, J. (2015). Who Made Early Christianity? The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul (American Lectures on the History of Religions). Columbia University Press: New York City.

Halpern, C. T. (2010). Reframing Research on Adolescent Sexuality: Healthy Sexual Development as Part of the Life Course. Perspectives on Sexual Reproductive Health, 42, 6–7.

Herdt, G., & McClintock, M. (2000). The Magical Age of 10, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 587–606.

McKee, A., Albury, K., Dunne, M., Grieshaber, S., Hartley, J., Lumby, C., & Mathews, B. (2010). Healthy Sexual Development: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Research. International Journal of Sexual Health, 22, 14–19.

Moran, J. P. (1996). “Modernism Gone Mad”: Sex Education Comes to Chicago, 1913. The Journal of American History, 83, 481–513.

Don Lucas is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.

If you like this story, then check out Don’s videos on his YouTube channel, 5MIweekly: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQFQ0vPPNPS-LYhlbKOzpFw/featured, follow him on Instagram @5MIweekly, and like him on Facebook: http://fb.me/5MIWeekly

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