Mythbuster 14: Religion, Sex and Sexuality

Religions all have different beliefs about the nature of sexuality, within any one religion there will be multiple branches with differing opinions on sexual issues, and even then, the people within those sects will still have varying levels of agreement. This all means intense debate about what religion preaches about gender roles, transgenderism, homosexuality and what sexual acts are allowed or disallowed.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate” – 1 Corinthians 6:9 (KJ21)

A photo of a builder in a thong
Metrosexual by Diego Martínez Castañeda

This is a quote taken from the King James Bible which is used by some religious people as a condemnation of ‘the effeminate’. Does this mean hell is filled with stereotypical flamboyant ‘Queens’ or simply all men who use too much hair-product? It’s hard to decipher since strict gender roles have changed considerably from 2000 years ago. The Book of Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, and of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch) however, contains a passage that seems to explicitly denounce cross-dressing (this includes women wearing trousers).

“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment” – Deuteronomy 22:5

This law may be more easily or accurately understood in context. Firstly, Hebrew law was codified by priests who believed these laws were based on the received word of God, and that Hebrews were God’s chosen people. Secondly, Hebrew invaders were horrified by the worship practices of the people they conquered. Several Palestinian pagan sects involved worship where priests would cross-dress in rituals, and they wanted to make sure that their own culture was not polluted by the displaced inhabitants of their new forcibly converted wives. So, not much to do with people wanting to look like how they feel on the inside.

The term transsexual didn’t actually come into use until 1949 when David Oliver Cauldwell first used it. Still that hasn’t stopped many people from interpreting various religious texts in a way that explicitly recognises, appreciates or condemns being transsexual. These arguments are along the lines of God created Adam and Eve, if Adam suddenly decided he wanted to live his life as Brenda we would never have been born or if God wanted you to be a man/woman he would have made you that way.

So does God make mistakes?

One transgender Christian writes:

The issue when it comes to our bodies is the problem lies in that since the fall of man (thanks Adam) our bodies are flawed… Matthew 9:1-3 is a perfect example… “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? “ “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

So according to this people are not always born how they were meant to be and only God knows why.

According to some authors the Qur’an explicitly recognises that there are some people who are neither male nor female. Verses 42:49-42:50 are translated by these authors as:

“(God) prepares for whom it wills females, and it prepares for whom it wills males. Or it marries together the males and the females”.

According to these authors the usual English translation of these verses which mention God giving ‘some people both sons and daughters’, argue that the verses in fact describe varieties of sexual orientation and gender.

‘Religions have changed interpretations of sexual behaviour and what their religion allows at different points in time’

The debate about sex in many religions usually revolves around the concept of sin. For many sex for the sake of pleasure is ‘sinful’ whilst others see nothing evil about it. This isn’t the case for all religions. Buddhists, have a Pali word kamma (Sanskrit karma) literally meaning ‘action’, which can be either skilled or unskilled. So in Buddhism people do not sin but indulge in akusala kamma; an ‘unskilled action’. They regard feelings of pleasure as a result not an action, and thus do not see it as either ‘virtuous’ or ‘sinful’. Lay Buddhists (those who live outside the monastery) are however, expected ‘not to engage in sexual misconduct‘; which is traditionally interpreted to include actions such as coercive sex, sexual harassment, child molestation and adultery.

That said, here are some of the common ideas about sex featured in some of the other religions:

• no sex during menstruation A symbol showing the fluidity of sexuality
• no birth control
• no abortion

• no same-gender sex

• no anal sex

• no oral sex
• no sexual fantasy
• no masturbation
• no non-monogamy
• no sex before marriage
• no marrying outside the religion
• no adultery



To make these restrictions even more complicated, different religions have changed interpretations of what their religion allows at different points in time.


“You shall not lay a male the layings of a woman; it is a to’ebah” (offensive thing) – Leviticus 18:22

A series of quotes on what the bible forbids
What the bible forbids


While homosexuality never made the Top 10 lists of commandments, a plain reading of the Book of Leviticus forbids male sex along with other practices such as wearing a polyester-and-cotton shirt (Leviticus 19:19). Questions scholars have asked include why does the text prohibits male homosexual acts and not female? Which acts does it forbid: only penetrative intercourse, or all acts? Is an act that is to’ebah always wrong? Scholars Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky conclude that (1) the biblical law forbids homosexual sex between males but not between females. And (2) the biblical prohibition is not one that is eternal and unchanging. The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive.

Moreover, the story of Sodom is treated by both modern scholars and by ancient Ezekiel as about hospitality, rather than homosexuality. As Mark Jordan notes in ‘The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology’, it was only in the 11th century that theologians began to condemn homosexuality as sodomy. Other theories have suggested that the men were not driven by sexual desire; but motivated by hatred and fear, and saw sexual violation as a means of showing brutality and hatred towards the enemy.

Religion has a troubled relationship with sexuality; which has often resulted in intense debate on gender roles, transgenderism, homosexuality and what sexual acts are allowed and disallowed. The main issue has been that society has changed, it is increasingly embracing different sexual orientations and genders, thus some religious interpretations have become more liberal in conjuncture with these changes in society and civil law whilst others have not. Subsequently, the debate about what religion says about sexuality is more heated than ever.


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