An Uneasy Relationship: Sex and Religion

Masimba Biriwasha

In its purest essence, religion seeks to promote justice, dignity and compassion. These core values can be harnessed in the effort to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Since time immemorial, sex and religion have had a difficult relationship — each one always seeking
to free itself from the other.  

Religions play a fundamental role in
defining the attitude of society and governments to matters of reproduction
and sexuality. The influence of religion in individual decision-making
on sex-related issues is beyond doubt, even among self-declared anti-religion

Yet there is so much more that could
come out of a comfortable co-existence between sex and religion, and this interconnection
is usually sacrificed at the altar of both conservative views or self-justified

Suffice it to say that around the world
there are many religious organizations that are already engaged in work
to improve the lives of women; that work oftentimes touches on sexual
and reproductive health and rights. Unfortunately, religious and secular
organizations have largely failed to forge links that than can advance
the cause of sexual and reproductive health and rights, opting instead
to regard each other as enemies. Sexuality and reproduction are at the
core of religion’s attitude toward women, and in many parts of the
world, improving the status of women needs to work at the nexus of religion
and reproductive health and rights.

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To achieve this requires the religious
and secular groups and individuals working in concert to ensure that
men and women can have satisfying and constructive sexual lifestyles. 

In its purest essence, religion –
whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu – seeks to promote justice, dignity
and compassion. These core values can be harnessed in the effort to
advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

In fact, the religious sector can play
a significant role to challenge patriarchal systems that legitimate
violence, abuse, and exploitation of men by women. Oftentimes, the religious sector
turns a blind face when atrocities are committed against sexual minorities
and women in the name of religious doctrine. Conversely, secular organizations and
individuals will often employ blame tactics and adversarial attitudes
towards the religious sector, grabbing media headlines in the process,
but without making headway to change the status quo. 

When the secular and religious sector
can collaborate and interconnect on commonly held values, much more
progress will be made in promoting sexual rights. 

In Africa, for example, where HIV and
AIDS are widespread, religious organizations find themselves having
to deal with the disease and they are often forced to deal with human
sexuality. Instead of helping matters, the religious
have been found wanting in dealing with human sexuality due to a stiff-necked
moralistic approach to sex and sexuality. Much of stigma and discrimination
against people living with HIV in Africa has its roots in the religious

The faith based sector can certainly
serve its adherents better by incorporating evidence-based information
in a sensitive manner that advances the cause of social justice and
human dignity. 

Overall, there is need for more collaborative
work at the intersection of religion and sexual and reproductive health
for the betterment of our societies. 

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