#46: Dr. Tina Sellers – Sex, God, and the Conservative Church

Overcoming Sexual Shame

In her work, Sellers places considerable emphasis on reversing sexual shame in her clients’ and readers’ minds. Growing up in a sexually-open environment, with parents who were very transparent about sexual function, health, and education, Tina learned the importance of communication over the suppression of sexual fact. And by extension, she is a vocal opponent of abstinence-only techniques which are ineffective and detrimental to the overall sexual wellbeing of all who are involved.

Tina also likes to probe the depths of religious history to offer broader perspectives on how sexuality and religion can function symbiotically instead of antagonistically.

Without further ado, much more is expounded upon within the episode. It is an absolutely phenomenal experience, navigated by an equally phenomenal guest. Enjoy!

Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: A Sexual Autobiography?
Not exactly. Tina had an upbringing that runs counter to a typical conservative church experience. She grew up in a Swedish immigrant family where everyone was body and sex positive. In addition, sexuality was taught in a transparent manner. This meant that the typical drip-feed of sexual shame had been replaced with a far more positive apparatus for sexual wellbeing and curiosity. Tina goes on to say much more about her background and the importance of her upbringing throughout the episode!

Transforming a Fragmented Narrative into a Sexual Legacy
So, why would Tina write a book about the suppression of sexuality in religiously-centered families, when she herself had experienced a far-from-stifling upbringing? To completely answer this question requires a brief review of a moment in her life that determined the direction of her research.

The pieces for her book began to fall into place during her time as a professor. And more specifically, when she organized assignments that directed her Human Sexuality students to make autobiographical accounts of their own sexual experiences. And it was during the countless drafts she read that she started to notice an influx of narratives that all became pointedly self-conscious and self-disparaging. What had originally been a fragmented narrative began to congeal into a fleshed-out profile of individual sexuality. But what could have caused this shift in perception? Tune in to find out more!

The Limitations of Legalism and Abstinence-Only
Sellers delves into some of the origins of the more Evangelically-driven modes of thought. Legalistic adherence to biblical laws, literalism, a harsh criticism of sexual expression, and the power and money at the root of all socio-political movements. In addition, she accentuates the fact that the abstinence-only strategies are mentally detrimental for children. Eventually, once a child matures and becomes sexually active, abstinence-only techniques prove to be much more harmful than establishing regular dialogues on sexuality. Most of this is socio-politically and religiously driven, like the Purity Movement. Seriously, this information is worth its weight in gold. You won’t want to miss it!

The Phenomenology of Sexual Shame
At one point in the episode, Tina shares a quote which provides an absolutely nuanced and fresh perspective on the idea of sexual shame. But at the same time, it is heartbreaking in its accuracy. This is a portion of what is said on the phenomenology of sexual shame: “A visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust towards one’s own body and identity as a sexual being. A belief of being abnormal, inferior, and unworthy.” And this has been reinforced by our socio-political climate. For more on the phenomenology of sexual shame, listen along.

Comprehensive Sex-Ed: 100, 1-minute conversations
Tina says that a comprehensive sexual education is imperative for shifting the legacy of sexual of shame. With enough discussions, just 100, one-minute conversations, the statistics show that individuals will almost always go on to live healthier sexual lives. They also feel much better about their bodies overall. This means that parents must start very soon with their kids, shouldn’t have ‘heart attacks’ when children show curiosity towards their bodies (or the differences in others’ bodies), and let things come about naturally without “childproofing the mind,” so to speak.

The Model For Erasing Sexual Shame (MESS)
Tina shares one of the most important facets of her book with listeners. Using a four-part strategy for reversing sexual shame, she teaches us that we need to frame, name, claim, and aim if we expect to get rid of our sexual shame. First, we must have the proper frame for sexual education. This means that instead of porn, which often reflects only a male-driven fantasy, individuals need to have a sexual education that is instead based in reality. The frame is the “scaffolding” for a healthy sexuality, as Sellers says–it could even be called a frame of reference. The second, name, is equally important: we must name, or tell our story. To learn what claim and aim mean in this formula, check out this enlightening talk.

The Mind/Body Divide: A Perspective Shift Towards Sinful Sex
In some of the closing moments of the interview, Tina gives listeners a history lesson dating back all the way to Aristotle and up to Constantine. She states that the severance of the mind from the body started with the original Greek thinkers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) and largely affected the overall ideological shape of Christianity. Using eastern religion as a foil for western thought, she shows how the mind and body are actually unified in Eastern-based religions and thus generally have a more positive impact on sexual wellbeing for its adherents. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches the supremacy of the mind over the body, leading to a sexual suppression that is hard to shake. This can lead to unhealthy levels of sexual shame in those who are taught that the body must be grappled with and suppressed.

The Vow of Onah
Sellers shows us that there are a lot of Hebrew sources that portray sexually-positive messages. The most powerful of these being the Vow of Onah, which reverses the typical gender roles of the time period, favoring women over men. One of the oaths of The Vow of Onah is that “Sex is considered a woman’s right, not a man’s.” For the full list and a detailed response, check the key links and information below and read the blog post that Tina wrote on the subject. It’s eye-opening.

Background
She is the celebrated author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy. In addition to her exemplary research and compositional work on that book, she has a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology and has established a very impressive reputation as a marriage and family therapist, medical family therapist, and also, a certified sex therapist.

She has been a professor for many years now, starting as a Latin and science teacher in La Jolla, California. Eventually, this would lead to her teaching a sexual education course in the same prep school. And this launched the specialized career she has been diligently working at for years.

Key Links and Information Regarding Tina Sellers
Tina’s Website: http://tinaschermersellers.com/

Link for Tina’s book – Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1138674982

‘Vow of Onah’ Blog Post Written by Tina Sellers: http://tinaschermersellers.com/2011/02/12/the-vow-of-onah-and-other-jewish-attitudes-about-sex/

Northwest Institute on Intimacy: https://nwioi.com/

4-D Network: https://4-dnetwork.com/

Thank God For Sex: http://www.thankgodforsex.org/

She Is Called: https://www.sheiscalled.com/

More info:

Book and New Course – https://sexwithoutstress.com

Web – https://www.bettersexpodcast.com/
Sex Health Quiz – http://sexhealthquiz.com/

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Jessa Zimmerman

Jessa Zimmerman is a couples’ counselor and nationally certified sex therapist. On Better Sex, she and her expert guests share their insights, strategies, and ways of thinking about sex that will help you improve your intimate relationship.