Sex-Positive Evangelicals? Oh, Yes

Amanda Marcotte

Despite a strain of "sin or not?" nit-picking, sex advice on Christian websites often emphasizes female pleasure and benefits of healthy sexuality.

We all know that the growing
evangelical movement is one (with a few left-leaning pockets exempted)
obsessed with sex.  Controlling it.  Punishing it.  Using
it to control women.  Stomping out most versions of it completely. 
Shaming people who enjoy it.  And now, believe it or not, promoting
it as an important part of healthy marriages.   

Wait, come again?  Sex-positive
evangelicals?  Well, sort of. While they’re not bringing
in enough numbers to drown out the dominant attitude of shaming, there
does seem to be a trend in the evangelical community of promoting more
and better sex within marriage — for the good of the marriages.  There are now Christian
sex shops,
Christian sex advice columns, and Christian
sex blogs.
 
Most of it is tame compared to secular counterparts, but the fact that it exists at all gives pause to those
of us who spend quite a bit of time wrangling with evangelicals who
want to ban abortion, restrict contraception, put virginity rings on
girls, and teach nothing but abstinence-until-marriage. 

But should this trend surprise
us?  Upon further reflection, the whole thing makes perfect sense. 
One of the favorite selling points for abstinence-only, reiterated endlessly
by abstinence-only "educators," is that waiting until marriage means
that the sex will be even better, with the implication often being that
it works seamlessly without the learning period the rest of us have
to go through, and that it’s so hot that others couldn’t even imagine
it. (It’s a false promise — just listen to reports
from couples who waited, only to find out that they had compatibility
issues.  But it’s never been beyond fundamentalists to treat the truth
as disposable in pursuit of a larger agenda.)  Evangelicals have an
investment
in making sure that married sex is hot, so they can push
the abstinence-only line with more confidence. 

But there’s another aspect
to it that’s even more important–people come to evangelical churches
because they need help running their lives, and if the churches want
to keep members, they need to offer that help.  In fact, one of
the most remarkable aspects of the modern evangelical movement is how
self-help-y it is. Matt
Taibbi discovered this when he went undercover at James Hagee’s San
Antonio megachurch.
 
Most of the work done in the church borrowed heavily from the dreck
of the self-help world, except with demons thrown in as a twist. 
Certainly Rick Warren has exploited the melding of Christianity with
the self-help section of the bookstore with his book "The Purpose-Driven
Life," which, from the title alone, sounds just like a self-help book.  

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Since the evangelical movement
is basically competing with self-help for an audience, it makes sense
that they’d have to branch out into one of the most popular forms
of self-help, which is advice on how to make sex better inside relationships. 
This kind of thing isn’t exactly new to evangelical Christianity. 
In the 70s, the right wing power couple Beverly and Tim LaHaye co-authored a sex
manual
that at
least said female orgasms were important — but scolded people who used
the popular oral sex method to get there.  Modern sex-positive
evangelicals are a lot more open-minded about oral sex, I discovered
as I perused various Christian websites.   

What I found in my research
was a surprising diversity in attitudes about what sex acts were acceptable,
though a shared fondness for obsessing over the potential sinfulness
of each act.  Of all the people pushing the "more sex for marrieds"
message, I found Joy
Wilson
, who owns
the sex shop Book
22
, the most pleasant
person who really seemed happy to be helping people have more and better
sex.  Like the rest of the sites I read, Book 22 had the same nit-picking
"sin or not?" specificity–dildos are out–but on the whole, her
website sells the same kind of products that feminist sex shops do,
with the same goal of making sure that women are getting as much pleasure
out of sex as men do. She
blogs about sex in a blunt, generous style that I found appealing.
   

The
Marriage Bed
is
co-authored by a married couple, and while it’s refreshingly positive
about things like oral sex and even spanking, it’s homophobic and
sexist, like pretty much all the sites I visited.  Women are characterized
as wanting more snuggles and men as wanting more sex, and it’s not
even hinted that it might be reversed in some marriages, or even that
snuggles might not be a chore for some men. What I found most amusing
was their acceptance of fantasy was contingent upon making sure that you
only fantasized about sex between married people. Like most of the sites,
they demonstrate hostility towards female-controlled hormonal contraception. 

Christian
Nymphos
had a refreshingly
explicit nature, which is what people go to sex advice websites for. 
If you don’t have details, you haven’t learned enough to do it yourself. 
Unlike Book 22 or the Marriage Bed, they don’t seem to have any problems
with dildos or anal sex, so point in their favor.  Like Book 22,
they consider their mission mainly to make sex more fun for women, who
they assume have strong sexual desires.  They even avoid the fear-mongering
about female-controlled
hormonal contraception.

Despite refreshingly sex-positive views, though, they maintained the
same disappointing levels of sexism, telling women to suck it up if
they are left unsatisfied by sex

or promoting
female submission as romance.
  

What I discovered was that
women’s influence on the message made it, if far from perfect and
often downright offensive, much more positive than the sex
advice and help that came straight from male ministers.  By contrast, look at Paul Wirth
of the Relevant Church, who recently made headlines with his 30 day sex challenge.  Unlike the female-run sites
that thrived more on suggestions and discussion, the 30 day sex challenge
comes across like a dictate.  You’re to have sex (if you’re
married, of course) for 30 days whether you’re in the mood or not. 
The reason Wirth gives for this is unsurprisingly sexist: "Every man’s
fantasy: 30 days of sex!" "Every woman’s dream: 30 days of intimacy!" 
This idea–that the sex part of sex is for men, and women just want
the intimacy–threads through many sites, unsurprisingly showing up
more when men are doing more of the writing.  The challenge just
struck me as another way to use sex as a tool to control, the flip side
of abstinence-only. 

Minister
Mark Driscoll of Seattle
is
positively obsessed with sex, and belongs to this category, even though
there’s something unnerving about it.  A big proponent of wifely
submission, and just generally bagging on women (Driscoll blamed
Ted Haggard’s wife Gayle for Ted’s infidelities with male prostitutes,
claiming that she had let herself
go), Driscoll also offers a video series in which he answers people’s
questions about sex. These
videos are pretty hard to take
,
since he’s arrogant and pushy and just a little too interested in
what’s going on in the bedrooms of his parishioners for comfort. 

I suspect if the pro-sex movement in Christianity starts to really take
off, we’re going to see more men like Driscoll take over, and the
control will be wrested away from the women who are currently
out there writing a kinder, gentler form of evangelical sex advice.

News Abortion

Study: Telemedicine Abortion Care a Boon for Rural Patients

Nicole Knight

Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

Patients are seen sooner and closer to home in clinics where medication abortion is offered through a videoconferencing system, according to a new survey of Alaskan providers.

The results, which will be published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, suggest that the secure and private technology, known as telemedicine, gives patients—including those in rural areas with limited access—greater choices in abortion care.

The qualitative survey builds on research that found administering medication abortion via telemedicine was as safe and effective as when a doctor administers the abortion-inducing medicine in person, study researchers said.

“This study reinforces that medication abortion provided via telemedicine is an important option for women, particularly in rural areas,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, one of the authors of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “In Iowa, its introduction was associated with a reduction in second-trimester abortion.”

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Maine and Minnesota also provide medication abortion via telemedicine. Clinics in four states—New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington—are running pilot studies, as the Guardian reported. Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

The researchers noted that even “greater gains could be made by providing [medication abortion] directly to women in their homes,” which U.S. product labeling doesn’t allow.

In late 2013, researchers with Ibis Reproductive Health and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health interviewed providers, such as doctors, nurses, and counselors, in clinics run by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands that were using telemedicine to provide medication abortion. Providers reported telemedicine’s greatest benefit was to pregnant people. Clinics could schedule more appointments and at better hours for patients, allowing more to be seen earlier in pregnancy.

Nearly twenty-one percent of patients nationwide end their pregnancies with medication abortion, a safe and effective two-pill regime, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska began offering the abortion-inducing drugs through telemedicine in 2011. Patients arrive at a clinic, where they go through a health screening, have an ultrasound, and undergo informed consent procedures. A doctor then remotely reviews the patients records and answers questions via a videoconferencing link, before instructing the patient on how to take the medication.

Before 2011, patients wanting abortion care had to fly to Anchorage or Seattle, or wait for a doctor who flew into Fairbanks twice a month, according to the study’s authors.

Beyond a shortage of doctors, patients in Alaska must contend with vast geography and extreme weather, as one physician told researchers:

“It’s negative seven outside right now. So in a setting like that, [telemedicine is] just absolutely the best possible thing that you could do for a patient. … Access to providers is just so limited. And … just because you’re in a state like that doesn’t mean that women aren’t still as much needing access to these services.”

“Our results were in line with other research that has shown that this service can be easily integrated into other health care offered at a clinic, can help women access the services they want and need closer to home, and allows providers to offer high-level care to women from a distance,” Kate Grindlay, lead author on the study and associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, said in a statement.

News Abortion

How Long Does It Take to Receive Abortion Care in the United States?

Nicole Knight

The national findings come amid state-level research in Texas indicating that its abortion restrictions forced patients to drive farther and spend more to end their pregnancies.

The first nationwide study exploring the average wait time between an abortion care appointment and the procedure found most patients are waiting one week.

Seventy-six percent of patients were able to access abortion care within 7.6 days of making an appointment, with 7 percent of patients reporting delays of more than two weeks between setting an appointment and having the procedure.

In cases where care was delayed more than 14 days, patients cited three main factors: personal challenges, such as losing a job or falling behind on rent; needing a second-trimester procedure, which is less available than earlier abortion services; or living in a state with a mandatory waiting period.

The study, “Time to Appointment and Delays in Accessing Care Among U.S. Abortion Patients,” was published online Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute.

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The national findings come amid state-level research in Texas indicating that its abortion restrictions forced patients to drive farther and spend more to end their pregnancies. A recent Rewire analysis found states bordering Texas had reported a surge in the number of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care.

“What we tend to hear about are the two-week or longer cases, or the women who can’t get in [for an appointment] because the wait is long and they’re beyond the gestational stage,” said Rachel K. Jones, lead author and principal research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute.

“So this is a little bit of a reality check,” she told Rewire in a phone interview. “For the women who do make it to a facility, providers are doing a good job of accommodating these women.”

Jones said the survey was the first asking patients about the time lapse between an appointment and procedure, so it’s impossible to gauge whether wait times have risen or fallen. The findings suggest that eliminating state-mandated waiting periods would permit patients to obtain abortion care sooner, Jones said.

Patients in 87 U.S. abortion facilities took the surveys between April 2014 and June 2015. Patients answered various questions, including how far they had traveled, why they chose the facility, and how long ago they’d called to make their appointment.

The study doesn’t capture those who might want abortion care, but didn’t make it to a clinic.

“If women [weren’t] able to get to a facility because there are too few of them or they’re too far way, then they’re not going to be in our study,” Jones said.

Fifty-four percent of respondents came from states without a forced abortion care waiting period. Twenty-two percent were from states with mandatory waits, and 24 percent lived in states with both a mandatory waiting period and forced counseling—common policies pushed by Republican-held state legislatures.

Most respondents lived at or below the poverty level, had experienced at least one personal challenge, such as a job loss in the past year, and had one or more children. Ninety percent were in the first trimester of pregnancy, and 46 percent paid cash for the procedure.

The findings echo research indicating that three quarters of abortion patients live below or around the poverty line, and 53 percent pay out of pocket for abortion care, likely causing further delays.

Jones noted that delays—such as needing to raise money—can push patients later into pregnancy, which further increases the cost and eliminates medication abortion, an early-stage option.

Recent research on Utah’s 72-hour forced waiting period showed the GOP-backed law didn’t dissuade the vast majority of patients, but made abortion care more costly and difficult to obtain.

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