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  • Writer's pictureJanice Selbie

How Religious Trauma Syndrome Affects Sexuality

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

How does religious trauma syndrome affect sexuality? For those of us who grew up in fundamentalist religious homes that followed the Torah, the Bible, or the Koran, acceptable sex could only take place within a heterosexual marriage. In such homes, the fanatical worship and rabid protection of “virginity” is known as Purity Culture, which can have life-long impacts on children. In some Muslim nations, school girls are subjected to medical examinations to determine whether their hymen is still intact. For more on virginity and hymens, go here: Planned Parenthood: Virginity.

In homes where parents indoctrinate their children with Purity Culture or hymen worship messaging, it’s not just that sex outside of marriage is sinful or that sex that is not heterosexual is sinful – even thinking about sex is sinful. In these homes, masturbation – the original form of self-soothing - is also a sin. Children and teens in such families are bombarded with the message that self-pleasure is wicked and even thinking about the opposite sex is dangerous.

Here is some of the fallout from Purity Culture:

  • Self-hatred

  • Body shame

  • Sexual shame related to thoughts or activity

  • Disconnection from our own physical body and pleasure

  • Ignorance about basic bodily functions, including how pregnancy occurs

  • Vaginismus and dyspareunia

  • Premature ejaculation/erectile dysfunction

  • Confusion about anatomical sex

  • Denial around our own gender identity, gender expression, and attraction

  • Fear and ignorance about dating and sex

  • Poor understanding of consent

  • Easy grooming by sexual predators

  • Emotional enmeshment with parents who refuse to allow their kids bodily or mental autonomy

  • Feeling worthless if we have experimented with sex or been assaulted because we are no longer “pure”

  • Marrying too young/someone we don’t know adequately/someone we don’t love simply to “let the marriage bed be undefiled;” I.e., forced to marry as virgins.

Sexual shame is the result of religious indoctrination, which is neither accurate nor necessary. Your body is your own - no one knows what turns you on better than you do! If you have gaps in your sexual knowledge and experience due to growing up in Purity Culture, it’s time to start your sexual education. This resource list from Somatica covers a lot of ground. I also recommend the book Becoming Cliterate, by Dr. Laurie Mintz.

Reach out to a qualified secular therapist, religious recovery consultant, and/or sex therapist. You might feel safest taking it slow, just learning the parts of anatomy first. Learn about consent, what it means and what it feels like, to offer it and to decline it. As you feel more comfortable, you might begin exploring your own body. Learn about vibrators and other sex toys that can enhance pleasure. Watching romantic movies can be a gentle start, as well. At some point, you may feel comfortable learning about and watching ethical porn (intimate videos made with the full consent and adequate compensation of all involved, including safety protocols). You are under no pressure to do anything you don’t want to do. A good secular therapist will help you feel at ease and free to share any thoughts or questions.

Contact me to book your free 20 minute consult to learn about recovery from religious trauma syndrome.

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Fernando Silva
Fernando Silva
21 oct 2022

Ellen G. White, co-founder of the Adventist Church, on masturbation:

"In An Appeal to Mothers, one of her early publications, she attributes a number of maladies to its practice. These include headaches, dizziness, depression, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, guilt, absent-mindedness, forgetfulness, bodily pain, sullenness, rebelliousness and jealousy, all of which may be at least partly psychological.

She connected masturbation with more physical problems as well. “Everywhere I looked,” she wrote of one of her visionary experiences, “I saw imbecility, dwarfed forms, crippled limbs, misshapen heads, and deformity of every description.” She stated that in females, who possess less vital force than men, the consequences of self-abuse are “seen in various diseases, such as catarrh, dropsy, headache, loss of memory and sight,…

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