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.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”