Overcoming religious and cultural sexual guilt

By in Opinions

When I was a kid, I thought that “sex” was a bad word — a word to be hushed and only spoken of in secret conversations. Mediocre sex education followed by recess rumours and strange religious talks gave me a shameful perspective of sex.

Religion is a significant contributor to sexual guilt. In an eye-opening study by Sobia Ali-Faisal, I discovered that, out of the sample of young Muslim adults who had had intercourse, two-thirds had engaged in premarital sex — a religious prohibition in Islam. Similarly, 50 per cent of the young Muslims who had not had sex before marriage had considered doing the deed.

The study found that Muslims ranked higher in negative sexual self-judgement, which contributed to a lack of sexual knowledge. Both of these factors may lead to unhealthy relationships and marriages. Also, it showed that one of the greatest sources of sex education for young Muslim adults was the media — which I can I attest to.

Overall, the study found that “religiosity both directly and indirectly predicted sexual guilt and anxiety.” This is unfortunate because I believe that sexual guilt ruins what could be fun, exciting experiences. This guilt can even cloud sexual thoughts with shame.

Apart from religion, sexual guilt exists in Western culture and seems to specifically target women. We are guilty of describing women returning home from a hookup in the early morning as someone taking the so-called walk of shame. Why is it shameful that women have sex?

Another study found that, while heterosexual men are more likely to regret not taking sexual opportunities, heterosexual women tend to regret their sexual activity. That could include anything from “losing their virginity to the wrong partner” to “moving too fast.” The same patterns exist for gay men and lesbians.

It’s reported all too often that women struggle to orgasm far more frequently than men. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that feeling shame is not helping women experience pleasure.

Overcoming sexual guilt takes time, but it can be done with access to proper knowledge. This is difficult when we have people like Premier Doug Ford in Ontario scrapping the sex-education curriculum for future generations…

When a young man has sex, no one bats an eye, but when young women do the same, they’re often called sluts and shamed for having sex. How unfair.

Religion and culture have sanctified sexual abstinence for women. In the United States, there are purity balls held where young girls make pledges to their fathers to remain abstinent until marriage. I don’t know about you, but this creeps me out. Your thoughts and beliefs change drastically as you move from being a teenager into adulthood. Also, sorry not sorry, but I don’t think dads should dictate whether their daughters can have sex or not.

Here’s the thing, regardless of religion or culture, people are having sex. Researchers like Ali-Faisal are promoting sex education that teaches healthy relationships, consent and safe sex. And sexpositive movements are helping to combat slut shaming.

I think abstinence-only sex education is absolute bullshit because it fosters shame and guilt around the innate sexual desires that many of us are stuck with — unless you’re asexual, of course. It also prevents you from learning about safe sex. You can choose to be abstinent until marriage, but what about when you get married? Where is the sex education then?

Religion and culture, and the sexual guilt that comes along with them, are not going to keep people from having sex, but they prevent people from enjoying safe, consensual sex. Sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy are real outcomes.

Overcoming sexual guilt takes time, but it can be done with access to proper knowledge. This is difficult when we have people like Premier Doug Ford in Ontario scrapping the sex-education curriculum for future generations or when you have grown up with conservative values. But it is possible to find knowledge in other areas.

There are countless resources to teach you the sex education that you’ve been missing out on. One of my favourite resources is the YouTube channel of Shan Boodram, a certified sex educator and author, because it is a free educational space to learn about topics from healthy relationships to period sex. Both the Women’s and Pride centres on campus also carry a variety of inclusive, informative pamphlets and books as well as free condoms.

Religion and culture have definitely made me feel weird, awkward and uncomfortable when it comes to talking about all things sexual — including this article — but it’s possible to overcome your sexual guilt and become sex positive. Sex is not a secret — it’s natural, and regardless of your identity or abstinence, you should still educate yourself about it because everyone deserves to enjoy sex.

Aqsa Hussain

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor