In trying to keep up with “what’s happening now” in the field of sexuality, I came across the phrase “sex-as-a-hobby”. Recently, this way of looking at sex has become popular, especially among those who identify as asexual. They find the perspective useful because it understands sex as something that one does and not as a defining characteristic of who one is. Sex As A Hobby: A Transhumanist’s Perspective – Philosophy, Politics, and Science – Asexual Visibility and Education Network (asexuality.org)
Others, such as sex coach Ruth Ramsay, employ the sex-as-a-hobby approach to de-mystify the highly emotional topic of sexuality. She finds the concept useful to help couples learn to discuss and deal with sex-related problems more rationally. Revamp your sex life in 6 minutes | Ruth Ramsay | TEDxDaltVila – YouTube
At first I laughed at the notion of thinking of sex was like a hobby but, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it made sense. Although a hobby might not be the best metaphor, it is clear that we need to change how we think about sex. Here’s why:
Traditional ways of thinking about sex: Don’t Talk about it
Why is it that so many people find it difficult to talk about sex? Research shows that people who see sex from a religious perspective have a much more difficult time talking about sex than those who do not.
The conventional way sex is thought of is problematic because, for many, it stirs up guilt and shame. Many have learned about sex from negative religious teachings which preached that normal sexual impulses or feelings were sinful. These negative emotions make it very difficult to talk openly about sex .Christianity, Sex & Shame | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)
This difficulty is problematic because being able to talk about sex calmly is an important part of relational communication. More specifically , surveys consistently show that many couples report that, although they have issues with sex, they can’t talk about them with their partner or even their doctor.
Religion, Guilt and Shame
As an ordained minister and pastoral counselor, even I can recognize the emotional damage created by church’s view toward sex. Far from being a hobby, sex, according traditional Church doctrine, is a quasi-sacred experience. The church had a very narrow view of sex. It was only to be engaged in by those who were married and , then, mostly for the purpose of procreation.
This view not only ignores the dimension of sexual pleasure, it is wary of it. So wary, in fact, that its leaders had to be celibate. Sexual pleasure or lust was seen as one of the seven deadly sins. This belief created a fundamental conflict between normal human desire and religious belief. Guilt and shame are the inevitable consequences of this contradiction .
For example, many folks were caught in a paradox. On one hand they enjoyed masturbating but , one the other, they felt reperoach for not resisting the temptation. Likewise, couples who had pre-marital sex often had their experience contaminated with knowing that they were doing something wrong in the eyes of the church or even God.
Thus, the cognitive dissonance between natural desire and religious beliefs often creates problems within a relationship. Instead of speaking openly, a person would, out of shame, hide, lie or be unable to talk honestly with their partners about their real sexual feelings and behaviors. Wiithholding, in turn, damages trust.
At base, negative religious beliefs about sex contribute to the the inability of a person to accept either their own or their partners’ sexuality. Low self-asteem and lack of self acceptance casues problem not only for sex but for other aspects of an intimate relatiionship.
A Non-Religious Sexual Outlook
1) Sex is a Normal Part of Life:
Conceiving of sex-as-a-hobby can help us to re-orient our whole approach to sex. Seeing sex more like tennis than a religious experience allows us to feel entiltled to enjoying the game. It also frees us up to talk about when we would like to play.
Perhaps most helpful, seeing sex as an ordinary activity allows us to discuss and openly and acknmowledge problems that occur. It is amazing to me how many couples avoid mentioning physical/pain-related issues connected to due to embarrassment.
Freed from embarrassment and guilt, one is more likely to get help for medical, emotional or relational issues involving sexual difficulties.
Simply put, a non-religious perspective to sex can help us to understand sexuality without shame and thus to feel freer to discuss issues, honestly, with our mates. Removing the religious shroud from sex helps folks to approach sex like any other human concern.
Pleasure is Good
The other huge advantage of a non-religious outlook, its attude toward pleasure. Although procreation is obviously a part of sex, pleasure is the main attraction. Thus, freed from religious constraints, one is allowed to feel entitled to actively pursue sexual pleasure … without guilt.
Real Guilt not False Guilt
A non-religious view of sex doesn’t mean that anything goes. Broken promises or commitments are legitimate reasons to feel guilty. Authentic guilt come from violating a held moral standard and not based on who one is. In essence, Christianity falsely condemned as sinful our sexual nature.
One final thought. Seeing sex as a hobby is a simple concept but it is revolutionary in its implications. Fortunately, helping folks look at sex in a different way is not as big of a task as it first might seem.
The fact is that I have discovered, from many years of experience, although folks may belong to a church, most admit that they have never truly agred with some of their religion’s harsh beleifs about sex.
Sometimes, all that is needed to asssist individuals or couples to disconnect religion from sex is for a therapist to grant permission. Many just need to know that they are not alone in their skepticism and that many others share their normal feelings.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC 8 2 2023