Skip to main content
×
×
Home

What Would Jesus Do? Sexuality and Salvation in Protestant Evangelical Sex Manuals, 1950s to the Present

  • Amy DeRogatis
Extract

When President Bill Clinton testified before a Grand Jury hearing on August 17, 1998 that he “did not have sexual intercourse with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” the American public learned at least two important lessons. First, the definition of sex was debatable and second, the authority to define sex as sexual intercourse was the crucial factor in the meaning of that pesky verb “is.” The questions of what is sex and, more importantly, who defines it have been studied and discussed thoroughly by scholars of U.S. history and culture. In American popular culture the social scientific findings published in the Kinsey Reports (1948, 1953) and William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson's Human Sexual Response (1966) provided information (or “scientific facts”) for lay people regarding the diversity and possibility of human sexual expression: what sex “is.” The growing awareness since the late 1950s that sex is more than one specific act has led many people to question whether sex as we learn it from our parents, teachers, clergy, friends, books, and science is “natural” (a matter of biological response) or socially constructed (a matter of cultural control). Opinions vary, tempers flare, and the mountain of sex advice manuals available at local bookstores attests to the U.S. public's insatiable appetite for knowledge about sex.

Copyright
References
Hide All

1. Wier, Terry and Carruth, Mark, Holy Sex: God's Purpose and Plan for Our Sexuality (New Kensington, Penn.: Whitaker House, 1999), 111.

2. I would like to express my gratitude to the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion for its financial support of this project through a 2002 summer research grant. I thank the members of the 2001–2 Wabash Center Workshop on Teaching and Learning for Undergraduate Religion Faculty, which was directed by Patricia O'Connell Killen and funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. I am indebted to Allison Andre for her research assistance and to Peter Berg and the staff of Special Collections at Michigan State University. I am especially grateful to the comments of those who attended my talks that were part of the University Libraries Colloquia Series at Michigan State (October 2002) and the U.S. Literature and Culture Group at the University of Michigan (December 2003). Chris Frilingos, Anna Celenza, Maria Sanchez, Alice Dreger, Matthew Edney, Dagmar Herzog, Martha Finch, Gary Laderman, and Julia Grant have read and commented on this article.

3. Walters, Ronald G., Primers for Prudery: Sexual Advice to Victorian America (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1974); Betts, John R., “Mind and Body in Early American Thought,Journal of American History 54 (03 1968): 787805; Gordon, Michael and Bernstein, M. Charles, “Mate Choice and Domestic Life in the Nineteenth-Century Marriage Manual,Journal of Marriage and Family 32 (11 1970): 665–74; Sidney, Ditzion, Marriage, Morals, and Sex in America: A History of Ideas (New York: Bookman Associates, 1953); Pivar, David J., Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1868–1900 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1973); D'Emilio, John and Freedman, Estelle B., Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); Elizabeth, Reis, ed., American Sexual Histories (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2001); Smith, Merril D., ed., Sex and Sexuality in Early America (New York: New York University Press, 1998); Thompson, Roger, Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649–1699 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986); Godbeer, Richard, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002); Sally, Banes, Sheldon, Frank, and Tern, Horwitz, eds., Our National Passion: 200 Years of Sex in America (Chicago: Follett, 1976); Lefkowitz Horowitz, Helen, Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Knopf, 2002); Battan, Jess F., “‘The Word Made Flesh’: Language, Authority, and Sexual Desire in Late Nineteenth-Century America,journal of the History of Sexuality 3:2 (10 1992): 223–44; Degler, Carl N., “What Ought to Be and What Was: Women's Sexuality in the Nineteenth-Century,The American Historical Review 79:5 (12 1974): 1467–90; Gardella, Peter, Innocent Ecstasy: How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Bullough, Vern L., “Early American Sex Manual, Or, Aristotle Who?Early American Literature 7:3 (winter 1973): 236–46; Foster, Thomas A., “Deficient Husbands: Manhood, Sexual Incapacity, and Male Marital Sexuality in Seventeenth-Century New England,William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 56:4 (10 1999): 723–44; Gordon, Michael, “Sex Manuals: Past and Present,Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality 5:9 (09 1971): 2037; Irvine, Janice M., Disorders and Desire: Sex and Gender in Modern American Sexology (Philadelphia, Penn.: Temple University Press, 1990).

4. Some of the most provocative scholarly work suggests that even the notion of typical genitals and the category of sex (male or female) is the result of a given society's need to arrange people into two categories of male and female. On this topic it is compulsory to cite Butler's, Judith groundbreaking text, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990). I have also benefited greatly from the insights provided by Dreger, Alice D., Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), and Anne, Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

5. Before I proceed further, a word about terminology is in order. I use the term evangelical as an umbrella term for Protestants who affirm the necessity of a spiritual rebirth, a “born again” experience, during which one accepts personal sinfulness and that Christ's atonement is essential for salvation. While evangelicals may tend toward more or less ecstatic forms of worship (pentecostals, fundamentalist, charismatics, holiness), they are grouped together by their literal reading of the Bible, their emphasis on inerrancy, the imminent return of Christ, mission-mindedness, and in many cases—though certainly not all—their suspicion of “worldliness” and the perils of secular culture. Although evangelicals purport to stand at a critical distance from “worldly” secular culture, they do not refrain from adopting the tools of culture to have their message heard. While I use evangelical to characterize the authors of these texts, it is difficult to ascertain the specific affiliations of the authors and impossible to know that of the readers. Most authors simply define themselves as “Bible-believing” Christians and their work as “biblically centered.”

6. It should be noted, however, that Comfort's 1972 book focuses on heterosexual sexual activity and deems homosexuality as a lesser and immature form of sexual behavior.

7. Neuhaus, Jessamyn, “The Importance of Being Orgasmic: Sexuality, Gender, and Marital Sex Manuals in the United States, 1920–1963,Journal of the History of Sexuality 9:4 (10 2000): 447–73.

8. Ibid., 450.

9. For general information on early-twentieth-century secular sex manuals, see Laipson, Peter, “‘Kiss Without Shame, For She Desires It’: Sexual Foreplay in American Marital Advice Literature 1900–1920,Journal of Social History 29:3, (spring 1996): 507–25; Epstein, Barbara, “Family, Sexual Morality, and Popular Movements in Turn-of-the-Century America,” in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, eds. Ann, Snitow, Christine, Stansell, and Sharon, Thompson (New York: New York University Press, 1983); D'Emilio, John and Freedman, Estelle B., Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); Barbara, Ehrenreich, Elizabeth, Hess, and Gloria, Jacobs, eds., Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex (New York: Anchor, 1986); Vance, Carol S., ed., Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (Boston, Mass.: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1984); Gordon, Michael, “From an Unfortunate Necessity to a Cult of Mutual Orgasm: Sex in American Marital Education Literature, 1830–1940,” in Studies in the Sociology of Sex, ed. Henslin, James M. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971), 5377; Gordon, Michael, “Sex Manuals: Past and Present”; Melody, M. E. and Peterson, Linda M., Teaching America about Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth (New York: New York University Press, 1999).

10. Van De Velde, M.D., Thomas H., Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique, trans. Browne, Stelle, rev. ed. (New York: Random House, 1966), 244.

11. Neuhaus, 460.

12. For general information on post-World War II secular sex manuals, see Gordon, Michael, “Sex Manuals: Past and Present”; Gordon, Michael and Shankweiler, Penelope J., “Different Equals Less: Female Sexuality in Recent Marriage Manuals,journal of Marriage and the Family 33:3 (08 1971): 459–66; Weinberg, Martin S., Rochelle Ganz, Swensson, and Sue Kiefer, Hammersmith, “Sexual Autonomy and the Status of Women: Models of Female Sexuality in U.S. Sex Manuals From 1950–1980,Social Problems 30:3 (02 1983): 312–24; Melody, M. E. and Peterson, Linda M., Teaching America about Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth.

13. Neuhaus, 450.

14. Podolsky, Edward, Sex Technique for Husband and Wife (New York: Cadillac, 1949), 70.

15. In her article Neuhaus directs readers to these two examples: Thomas Gill, John, How to Hold Your Husband: A Frank Psychoanalysis for a Happy Marriage (Philadelphia, Penn.: Dorrance, 1951), and Liswood, Rebecca, A Marriage Doctor Speaks Her Mind about Sex (New York: Dutton, 1961).

16. Altman, Meryl, “Everything They Always Wanted You to Know: The Ideology of Popular Sex Literature,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Vance, Carole S. (Boston, Mass.: Routledge, 1984), 116–17. Altman in this section refers specifically to Dr. David Reuben's 1969 Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (*But Were Afraid to Ask), but the article surveys a number of sex manuals including Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex. The reference to Michel Foucault's term “speaker's benefit” comes from Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Hurley, Robert (New York: Vintage, 1980), 6.

17. For readers who have never seen the first publication of this book, the illustrations will shock you mostly because of how our cultural representations of beauty have changed. It is impossible to imagine a bestselling sex manual today that would picture lovers as unshaved and untoned. Indeed, recent editions of The Joy of Sex have updated the illustrations to match our current taste in bodily beauty.

18. It is noteworthy that Comfort uses the same couple throughout his text. A larger theme of this book is that sexual freedom comes from experimentation with your committed heterosexual lover not by constant exchanging of partners or through homosexual sex.

19. Comfort, 9.

20. Ibid., 225, 235.

21. Ibid., 40

22. Ibid., 74.

23. Ibid., 124. I am not the only reader to notice this curious statement. Almost all of the scholars that mention Comfort in their work are struck by his inclusion of this “fact” at the end of the book. As Meryl Altman notes, Comfort concedes the “missionary position” is “not the most moral, or the most correct (that would be Puritanism); simply the most satisfying,” Altman, 125.

24. Morgan, Marabel, The Total Woman (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1973); Morgan, Marabel, Total Joy (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1976); Dobson, James, What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women (Wheaton: Ill.: Tyndale House, 1975); Tim, and Beverly, , The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976, 1998). There is little secondary literature written specifically about evangelical sex manuals. The best overall summary is Lennon, Patricia M., “Bible Believers Have Better Sex: Popular Sexology and Gender Ideology in Biblical Marriage” (master's thesis, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University, 1993). Other secondary sources include: Gardella, Peter, “Sex and Submission in the Spirit,” in Religions of the United States in Practice, ed. Colleen, McDannell, Princeton Readings in Religions (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), 2:173–93; Ehren-reich, Barbara, Hess, Elizabeth, and Jacobs, Gloria, Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex (New York: Doubleday, 1986); Woodward, Kenneth L. with Salholz, Eloise, “The Bible in the Bedroom,Newsweek, 1 02 1982, 71; Mark Oppenheimer, “In the Biblical Sense: A Guide to the Booming Christian Sex-Advice Industry,” posted Tuesday, November 20, 1999 at 12:30 a.m., p.t. Url: http://slate.msn.com; McMahon, Michael, “Come, All Ye Faithful,” The Spectator (London) 283, 12 15–25, 1999, 1819. Publishing statistics taken from Lennon, Patricia M., “Bible Believers,” 5.

25. This is also the time when Wessel's, HelenThe Joy of Natural Childbirth: Natural Childbirth and the Christian Family (New York: HarperCollins, 1963), a Christian approach to the Lamaze technique of childbirth, became a bestseller. This book is now in its fifth edition.

26. A list of the evangelical sex manuals that I consulted that are housed in Special Collections at Michigan State University is appended to the end of this article.

27. LaHaye, , The Act of Marriage, 111. Quoting from Miles, Herbert J., Sexual Happiness in Marriage: A Positive Approach to the Details You Should Know to Achieve a Healthy and Satisfying Sexual Partnership (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1967, 1982).

28. Ibid.

29. Harris, Joshua and James, Rebecca St., I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude toward Relationships and Romance (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1997); Harris, Joshua, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 2000); Harris, Joshua, Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 2003).

30. Bellafante, Ginia, “Single Evangelical in Need of Advice? Books Have Plenty,New York Times, Monday, 19 07 2004, 1.

31. LaHaye, , The Act of Marriage, 71. The LaHayes make the point that the sexual education they advocate is not taught in the public schools but through books like theirs that stress the Christian approach to sexual education.

32. Ibid., 102.

33. Ibid., 91.

34. Ibid.

35. Laqueur, Thomas, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).

36. Webber, Stu, Tender Warrior: God's Intention for a Man (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1993); Andelin, Helen B., Fascinating Womanhood, rev. ed. (New York: Bantam, 1992).

37. Male authors who write to female audiences include: Getz, Gene A., The Measure of Womanhood, 12th printing (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1983); Jakes, T. D., Woman, Thou Art Loosed, 29th printing (Shippensburg, Penn.: Treasure House, 1997); and Dobson, , What Wives Wish.

38. Davies, Bob and Rentzel, Lori, Coming Out of Homo-Sexuality: New Freedom for Men and Women, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsiry, 1993). Other antigay Christian texts that discuss the sexual side of deprogramming homosexuality include: Jones, Stanton L., The Gay Debate, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1994); LaHaye, Tim, The Unhappy Gays: What Everyone Should Know about Homosexuality (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1978); Ackerberg, John and Welson, John, The Facts on Homosexuality: Scientific Research and Biblical Authority: Can Homosexuals Really Change? (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1994); and Worthen, Anita and Davies, Bob, Someone I Love is Gay: How Family and Friends Can Respond (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1996).

39. Some exceptions include Love Life for Every Married Couple: How to Fall in Love and Stay in Love, written by Ed Wheat and Gloria Okes Perkins who are not married; Sexuality by Letha Dawson Scanzoni, and Holy Sex: God's Purpose and Plan for Our Sexuality, co-authored by two men, Terry Wier and Mark Carruth.

40. Ed, and Wheat, Gaye, Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in Christian Marriage, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 1997), 148–62.

41. Dobson, , What Wives Wish, 114.

42. Tim, and LaHaye, Beverly, The Act of Marriage, 34.

43. Ibid., 125.

44. For example, Clifford and Joyce Peruier trained at the Masters and Johnson Institute. Clifford, and Penner, Joyce, The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God's Gift of Sexual Intimacy (Dallas, Tex.: Dallas Word, 1981).

45. LaHaye, , The Act of Marriage, 94.

46. I thank Allison Andre for doing this. She drove around mid Michigan (Lansing, East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Detroit) and visited dozens of Christian bookstores. She followed my instructions to refrain from any kind of organized approach. Ms. Andre visited bookstores when she found them, she spoke casually with clerks and sometimes patrons, and she browsed shelves. We talked throughout the summer of 2002 about her impressions, and through these conversations she helped me to develop some of my ideas about the availability and popularity of these texts.

47. Miles, , Sexual Happiness, 8991.

48. Ibid., 92.

49. Ibid., 94.

50. Ibid., 95, 96.

51. Ibid., 96.

52. Ibid.

53. LaHaye, , The Act of Marriage, 96. Emphasis added.

54. Miles, , Sexual Happiness, 100.

55. Rusbridger, Alan, A Concise History of the Sex Manual, 1886–1986 (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 21.

56. Podolsky, , Sex Technique for Husband and Wife, 60.

57. Of the over thirty evangelical sex manuals I looked at, I found only one exception. Rosenau, Douglas E., A Celebration of Sex, provided eight explicit depictions of couples to illustrate the textual explanation of different sexual positions.

58. Miles, , Sexual Happiness in Marriage, 57, 59, 60.

59. Ed, and Wheat, Gaye, Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in Christian Marriage (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 3rd ed., Rev. ed., 1997).

60. Ibid., 98.

61. The illustrations are also literally centrally situated at the midpoint of the book.

62. DrRosenau, Douglas., A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God's Gift of Sexual Intimacy (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 150.

63. Ibid., 248.

64. Ibid., 157.

65. Tim, and LaHaye, Beverly, The Act of Marriage: the Beauty of Sexual Love, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1998), 37.

66. Ibid., 44.

67. LaHaye, Tim, How to Be Happy Though Married (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1968), 63.

68. Ed, and Wheat, Gaye, Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in Christian Marriage, 3rd ed., 93.

69. Ibid., 135.

70. Piper, John, What's the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books, 1990), 26.

71. Dobson, , What Wives Wish, 115.

72. Rosenau, , A Celebration of Sex, 88.

73. Morgan, , The Total Woman, 117.

74. Ibid., 97.

75. Marty, Martin E., “Fundies and the Fetishes,The Christian Century (12 8, 1976): 1111.

76. Maynard, Joyce, “The Liberation of Total Woman,New York Times Magazine, 28 09 1975, 47; Safran, Claire, “Can the Total Woman ‘Magic’ Work for You?Redbook, 02 1976, 90.

77. Gardella, Peter, “Sex and Submission in the Spirit,” 174–75.

78. Morgan, , The Total Woman, 163.

79. Ibid., 127.

80. Ibid., 20.

81. Wier, Terry and Carruth, Mark, Holy Sex: God's Purpose and Plan for Our Sexuality, 13.

82. Ibid., 77–78.

83. Ibid., 83. The authors provide a table labeled “Some Typical Symptoms of ‘Infections’ with a Sexually Transmitted Demon” to chart out the spiritual, mental, emotional, and body symptoms that accompany STDs. The symptoms consist of—but are not limited to—hearing or sensing demonic spirits, an uncontrollable compulsion to repeat sexual sin, unusual, unpleasant, or disturbing sensations in your body. The authors note “Some of these symptoms can have causes other than demonic ones. Having just one of these symptoms does not mean you have a demonic infestation. But having one or more in each category is a strong indication that you might. I (Terry Wier) recommend seeking help from a reputable Christian counselor who has broad experience in dealing with mental, emotional, and spiritual problems, and expertise in deliverance.”

84. Ibid., 110.

85. Ibid., 111.

86. Haye, La, The Act of Marriage, 275.

87. Ibid., 287.

88. Ibid., 288.

89. For further reading on the image of Jesus as a “manly” man and the Muscular Christianity movement in general, see Hall, Donald, Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Putney, Clifford, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001); Vance, Norman, The Sinews of the Spirit: The Ideal of Christian Manliness in Victorian Literature and Religious Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Morgan, David, “The Masculinity of Jesus in Popular Religious Art,” in Men's Bodies, Men's Gods: Male Identities in a [Post]Christian Culture, ed. Björn, Krondorfer (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 251–66.

90. Historian Randall Balmer has argued that a big concern among evangelical parents is that their children will not grow up in the faith. Although evangelicals vehemently defend the sanctity and privacy of marriage, I wonder if many of these books are bought as wedding gifts by well-meaning parents and relatives who cannot trespass on the privacy of their children's marriages but are still eager to have a role in instructing them in the most intimate aspects of their spiritual lives.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed