Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Contexts 15:4 (Fall 2016), pp 30-35.

doi 10.1177/1536504216684819


Copyright © 2016 American Sociological Association. Published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


At least within western popular culture, “good sex” has seemingly won out over sexual shame and become a prerogative of modern adult life. From advice books like The Joy of Sex to TV shows like Sex in the City and popular podcasts like Savage Love, a fulfilling sex life is promoted as integral to happiness and personal fulfillment. But religious traditions are notorious for sexual rules and norms that seem to fly in the face of modern secular culture, with its emphasis on sexual expression, experimentation, and satisfaction. In fact, many observers associate the expansion of progressive sexual norms and practices with the decline of organized religion.

It is in this context that we examine how some religious followers live and love amid secular and religious messages about sex and sexuality. Kelsy observed, surveyed, and interviewed American evangelical Christians who used websites or attended workshops to discuss sexual pleasure in Christian marriages. Orit interviewed Orthodox Jewish women in Israel about the sexual education that is part of an elaborate marriage preparation. The believers, educators, and experts we interviewed and observed contradicted the stereotype that religiosity is incompatible with sexual pleasure. They self-identified as “traditional,” “conservative,” and “devout,” yet insisted that their religious traditions encouraged sexual pleasure and could even improve how they experienced sexuality. Our respondents learned to navigate the religiously prescribed boundaries surrounding sexuality and embrace “good,” religiously sanctioned sex.