Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Burke, Kelsy (2016) Christians under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on ther Internet, Oakland, Univ. of California Press.


Copyright © 2016 by The Regents of the University of California


American evangelicals have a rich history when it comes to promoting sexual pleasure within marriage, having drawn upon multiple mediumslike books, workshops, and radio shows-since the 1970s.4 Today, evangelicals encourage sexual expression through all of these channels, as well as through a wide range of digital media, including online sex toy stores, online message boards, blogs, podcasts, and virtual Bible studies that discuss a plethora of topics related to marital sex. The content of these digital resources reflects the ideas presented in print literature written by well-established and respected evangelical authorities, but unlike a book that is already written, the internet is like a book that is constantly being rewritten by a collective of ordinary believers, each with unique experiences and perspectives. These spaces also allow non-evangelical religious collaborators who buy into the parameters set forth by evangelicalism (that sex is intended only within heterosexual, monogamous matrimony) to contribute to online religious dialogue. The Internet allows creators and users of Christian sexuality websites to draw from existing religious doctrine while also talking about God in personal and sometimes unorthodox and unprecedented ways.

Although many scholars and cultural critics claim that conservative Christian messages about sexuality simply reproduce gender inequality and homophobia, I show how online discussions about Christian sexuality enable and limit women's agency and reinforce and challenge heteronormativity.6 On Christian sexuality websites, women's discussions of sexual pleasure and men's discussions of gender-deviant sex practices move beyond hegemonic understandings of men as dominant penetrators and women as submissive actors. Website users find ways to integrate women's multiple experiences of pleasure and men's interest in non-normative sex into a religious framework. They maintain beliefs that privilege men and heterosexuality while simultaneously incorporating feminist and queer language into their talk of sex: they encourage sexual knowledge, emphasize women's pleasure, and justify marginal sexual practices within Christian marriages. These findings suggest that Christian sexuality website users present themselves as sexually modern rather than prudish, distancing themselves from stereotypes about conservative religion and sex.

Chapter 1 examines how some evangelicals draw from existing religious doctrine to talk about sex in strikingly different ways from evangelicals in the past, constructing a new sexuallogic for what counts as "godly sex." Chapters 2 and 3 examine how Christian sexuality websites become context and culture for the online communities that work to reconcile religion and sexuality. Chapter 3 details how website users get to know each other and trust that they are among a community of like-minded believers. Chapter 4 examines how women frame talk of their own pleasure by telling sexual awakening stories. Chapter s focuses on men who take the advice given in evangelical print literature to a logical extreme--extending the emphasis on mutual pleasure and sexual permissiveness within marriage so as to justify sex acts that are seemingly inappropriate within an evangelical context.