Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Holiness Sex: Conservative Christian Sex Practices as Acts of Sanctification

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Holiness Sex: Conservative Christian Sex Practices as Acts of Sanctification

Article excerpt

While there is a movement to broaden Anglo-American Evangelical public discourse to include care for the environment and concerns with global poverty, this inclusion of wider social issues did not come at the expense of Evangelical concerns about gender and sexuality. (2) The right order of the sexes is a central focus that not only motivates political evangelical discourses but also produced a flurry of debates among Evangelicals themselves about how to live a God-ordained sexual life. Marriage and sex advice manuals are prominent sites for these internal debates. They present to the scholar, therefore, an excellent place to analyze what is at stake theologically for Evangelicals when it comes to matters of sexuality. Such a theological analysis is needed if we want to gain a deeper understanding of why Evangelical Americans are prone to reproduce over and over again a discourse in which "men are naturally aggressive," "women are ordained to be submissive," and where homosexuality is connected with deviance and disease.

The classic text dealing with these manuals is Amy DeRogatis' 2005 article "What Would Jesus Do? Sexuality and Salvation in Protestant Evangelical Sex Manuals, 1950 to the Present" (DeRogatis, 2005). In it, she contrasts the development of Evangelical Marriage manuals with those of so-called secular authors, using Jessamyn Neuhaus' work on the history of sex manuals in the U.S. as a reference point (DeRogatis, 2005; Neuhaus, 2000). Whereas Neuhaus shows that post-World War II secular manuals up to the sexual revolution focused on male sexual satisfaction in marriage, DeRogatis presents us with Evangelical texts that are very concerned about mutual sexual satisfaction, for example Beverly and Tim LaHaye's (1976a) The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love. (3)

A few other texts have since appeared analyzing the intersection of secular and evangelical marriage guides, most notably among them Rebecca Davis' (2010) More Perfect Unions: the American search for Marital Bliss. (4) However, in this article I will focus on DeRogatis' important analysis by extending it on three points: First, I want to continue her examination of printed marriage manuals by adding Internetbased texts, culled from discussion forums and marital advice websites. Doing so will add the dimension of user-feedback, which was inevitably absent in DeRogatis' 2005 article. Thus, we can see how ordinary users adopt and adapt the message of elite evangelical advice columnists.

Secondly, and more substantially, I want to follow her tantalizing suggestion that sexuality for evangelicals is of salvific importance. Under the heading "Sexual Bodies and Salvation," DeRogatis discusses how some of the marriage manuals, particularly Marabel Morgan's (1973) Total Woman, empower the wife to be the guardian of her husband's delicate ego and masculinity. (5) By making herself erotically attractive, the woman can shore up and restore her man's virility, which may have suffered from the indignities and failures endured in his work-life and broader society (DeRogatis, 2005, pp. 125ff). Yet, the question remains how sexual practices relate to the wider project of Christian salvation for the Evangelical consumers of these texts. Already in 1986, Lionel Lewis and Dennis Brisset noted in their overview of Christian marriage manuals the theological dimension of sexuality in those texts: "Not only does God reveal himself in sexual love, but, as one book poetically argues, the only way mortals can find Christ is in the marital act, which is the holiest of acts" (Lewis & Brissett, 1986, p. 69). Apparently, salvation involves more complex activities than the verbal act of "confessing" Jesus as the Lord and savior. In order for this confession to be authentic the entire life-performance must be styled in a particular way, namely that the Christian should submit to Jesus. However, Lewis and Brisset's article misses a precise theological analysis as to how sexual activity is theologically pertinent. …

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