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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"Is it Okay for Christians to Use Sex Toys?" (An Exercise in Missing the Point)

Vibrator. Image source.
[content note: talking about sex in this post, NSFW]

Well I came across this podcast where four married Christian women discuss this question: "Sex Toys: Is it Okay for Christians to Use Them?" Actually, a lot of their advice is good, but the way it's all framed totally misses the point.

First of all, I'll say what they did well: This is a website for married Christian women to actually talk about sex. It's really really important that something like this exists. In Christian culture in general, people don't usually talk about the specifics of sex, and that leads to married people wondering "is there something wrong with me?" when they run into extremely normal problems related to sex. And having a site specifically for Christians is, unfortunately, necessary, because good Christians aren't allowed to go anywhere near those immoral worldly sex-ed sites like Scarleteen that say it's okay to have sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage.

Also, one of the speakers in the podcast was adament that, if you're a married woman who has never explored your own genitals and experimented to figure out what feels good, you should DEFINITELY try it. I totally totally agree. Oh my goodness this is SO IMPORTANT, and I think it's really great that it was talked about in this podcast so strongly. I was taught that masturbating is a sin, and that when you get married, sex will just work totally fine (or, if it doesn't, you and your spouse can "learn together" and aren't you glad you're learning with a partner who's committed to you for life)- in that ideology, there's no room for getting to know your own body and how to stimulate your genitals so it feels good. Really really good that this was emphasized so strongly in this podcast.

Another good thing was they said if you're a woman who can't orgasm just from vaginal intercourse, "there is absolutely nothing wrong with you." And they recommended getting a vibrator and learning how to orgasm from stimulating the clitoris. Yes, very good advice.

But anyway, the topic they're discussing is "Is it okay for Christians to use sex toys?" and framing the question like this is just all wrong. "Is it okay?" assumes that there's some kind of absolute answer, a "yes" or "no" and we have to search in the bible and get advice from Christian leaders to find out what that answer is. You can't just research the pros and cons of sex toys and make a decision based on your own personal situation, and then give it a try and maybe change your mind later- oh NO NO NO. Because what if it's a SIN? What if GOD is not okay with it? What if it destroys your marriage?

At the beginning of the podcast, one speaker says, "The bible doesn't tell us whether marital aids [sex toys] are prohibited or permissible. So how can a Christian couple decide whether it's okay to incorporate them into their love-making?" And that's the starting point this discussion is coming from. The idea that there's some "Christian answer" out there, that God has an opinion on whether or not you use sex toys, and you have to figure out this "answer" rather than just, you know, trying it and evaluating if the results are good or bad.

So here are a few areas they talked about, in deciding if sex toys are "okay":

1. Couples could become "dependent" on them

They said that sometimes people can become "dependent" on sex toys- and they took for granted that this is a BAD thing. I don't see why needing to use a sex toy every time you have sex is inherently a bad thing. If it works and both partners are cool with it, then what's the problem?

Yes, maybe someone feels like "I really wish I could get an orgasm without using a vibrator" so yes, of course if you have that kind of desire then you would be unhappy about being "dependent" on a sex toy. That desire is perfectly valid and you should totally go ahead and learn how to get an orgasm without a sex toy. But if you don't feel that way, and the sex toy feels good, then why would it be a bad thing to be "dependent" on it?

The assumption is that the "correct" way to have sex is to NOT use a sex toy, and you really should only use them if you have a good excuse for why you can't have sex the "correct" way. They mentioned health problems- and at one point, one of the speakers even said that yes, for some people they really do need a sex toy in order to have sex, and that's fine for them, but the vast majority of couples are physically capable of having sex without one and therefore it would be wrong to use them. It seems that she believes if you are at all able to have sex without a sex toy, then you're morally obligated to. I am really really not okay with this kind of language because it's just like when disabled people have to "prove" that they're disabled "enough" to deserve accomodations, and the idea that it's better to not use any accomodations so if you're at all able to, then you should go without them. I have autism and this kind of thinking has actually hurt me a lot, and some day I'll blog about it.

So anyway, on the topic of being "dependent" on sex toys, I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with that. If you personally prefer to not use sex toys all the time, then yes that is a completely valid preference, so you should do what you need to do in order to not be dependent on them. But in the Christianity I learned, there's no room for personal preferences; it's all about "is this a sin or not?" And as I said, that's the direction this podcast is coming from. They are trying to find a "correct answer" rather than just let people do what works for them.

2. It can be a way to shortcut intimacy

They talked a lot about how sex toys can harm the intimacy in the relationship. I guess if a couple is more focused on using the sex toy to get an orgasm than on each other's needs and helping each other feel good, that could be a problem. Then again, this assumes that the primary purpose of sex in marriage is intimacy. They even said that's what God meant for sex to be.

I mean, I guess for most people, the intimacy in sex is a big deal. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the most important thing. Especially if you're asexual, like me. Like, this should be something that the partners talk about- discuss what's important to them in sex and how to accomplish those goals. I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with not really being interested in intimacy in sex specifically. There are lots of other ways to be intimate.

They also mentioned that, for some women, they want to use a vibrator because their husbands don't really make enough effort to help their wife get an orgasm. Yeah, the husband should be working on that. The couple should really communicate about it if that's the case. Nothing wrong with buying a vibrator though.

Basically, yeah I see how it could be really good and intimate for a couple to work hard at making each other feel good, and if you use a sex toy as a "short cut" then you miss out on that. Again, it comes down to how people personally feel about the purpose of having sex. There's no "right answer."

3. Could be very very helpful and increase intimacy if you have trouble getting an orgasm the "natural" way

Continuing on with their point about how OBVIOUSLY the "correct" purpose of sex in marriage is intimacy, they said that sometimes sex toys can be really beneficial and increase a couple's intimacy, if they're having a lot of trouble having sex without them. They mentioned medical issues or women who are really inexperienced and having trouble figuring out what feels good. I would say sure, yeah, in those situations it could be really helpful to use a sex toy. But again, you shouldn't have to prove that your situation is "bad enough" that you're justified in using one.

4. The two partners should communicate and be in agreement about this- don't pressure each other

In the podcast, they said that the 2 partners DEFINITELY need to be in agreement about using a sex toy. It shouldn't be one pressuring the other. Yes, I agree.

5. Be honest with yourself and your partner about why you want to use the sex toy

Also, they talked about how you should think about your motives for wanting to use a sex toy. (And you should pray about it. Ugh, no, I am SO not praying about whether it's "okay" to use a sex toy.) Is it to increase intimacy, or not? And you should be honest with yourself and with your partner about how you feel.

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So yeah, some of their advice is good, but why do they have to frame it like "we are searching for the right answer from God"? Why can't we just teach people how to have healthy relationships and how to understand their own emotions and needs?

Like, all of their good advice could have been drawn from these principles:

1. Your body is your own and there's nothing wrong with desiring sex. (Or not desiring sex.) Go ahead and explore and figure out what feels good, and what your desires are and why.

2. Consent is SUPER IMPORTANT. Don't pressure your partner into doing things.

3. Communication is SUPER IMPORTANT. You should first of all be honest with yourself, and then talk with your partner about how each of you feel about sex and what your needs are, and figure out how best to go about meeting those needs.

4. It's totally fine to try something and then change your mind later. If you know how to care for yourself and your emotions, then you'll notice if the sex toy is damaging the relationship, and you can make necessary adjustments.

Why don't we just teach people what a healthy relationship is, and teach people that their desires matter and their emotions matter and they should do what they need to do to take care of those desires and emotions? Why all this fretting about "oh no, the bible doesn't say anything about sex toys, how will we ever know if we're allowed to use them or not?"

Instead, Christians believe there's some kind of "right answer" from God for all these little details in their lives. "Is it okay to use sex toys?" WHO THE HELL CARES? Like, just go ahead and try and see if you like it or not. It's not a big deal.

This obsession with "is it okay for Christians or not?" is so unhealthy. It teaches people that "sin" is from a list of bible-based rules which may or may not be arbitrary and will by definition be beneficial even if our limited brains can't understand how. It says that we're not capable of knowing what's good for us; instead, we have to figure out what "God's" opinion is.

Just teach people what a healthy relationship is and that their emotions and desires matter, and avoid all this nonsense about "is it okay or not?"

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