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Sin No More: Sex and religion - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Sin No More: Sex and religion

By Anjana Murali / Staff Writer

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In his sophomore year of high school, Spencer Schlecht realized that his abstinence from sex wasn’t developing his faith, so he stopped repenting his sexual sins.

Schlecht, a freshman pre-pharmacy major, is a nondenominational Christian. For him, if two people want to and agree on terms to have sex, then it’s fine as long, as one person isn’t using the other.

“I realized, as I grew older in my faith, that loving Jesus is the point,” Schlecht said. “I don’t think that sex managed correctly is going to hinder me any more than following the rules would hinder me.” 

Religious doesn’t automatically equate to conservative anymore. In 2009, the Higher Education Research Institute conducted national surveys and found that 83 percent of students affiliate with a religion, and the American Psychological Association reported in 2013 that 60 to 80 percent of college students have participated in hook-up culture.

More than 70 percent of the Allegheny County population affiliates with a religious congregation —  most with sects of Christianity: 68.7 percent identify as Catholic, 6.5 percent as Presbyterian and 5.2 percent as Methodist. Judaism follows at 3.8 percent, making Christianity and Judaism the two most prominent religious groups in the area, according to information collected from Allegheny County records. 

These two religions, despite sharing roots in the Old Testament, hold different perspectives on sex.

Certain sects of Christianity, including Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist and Wesleyan sects, believe premarital sex is sinful, though it’s not taboo in Judaism. 

Father Tom Byrnes, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Monroe, N.Y., said the Catholic Church views sex as a gift from God that should be saved for marriage. 

“It’s designed for a couple to express their love for each other in a very powerful way, and it’s supposed to be open to life — to bring a child into the world,” Byrnes said.

People’s greatest gift to offer is themselves, Byrnes said, which is why it’s important to save sex until marriage. 

“If it’s just done haphazardly, such as with premarital sex, that’s opening someone to be thrown away — their gift being treated as an object,” Byrnes said.

Schlecht said his faith is based on his love for Jesus and not necessarily what he does on a day-to-day basis.

“The biggest sin is not believing or loving your Lord,” Schlecht said. “Sex is not the overall sin I think of.”

Although sex is a sacred act, Schlecht said a person shouldn’t have to wait until marriage to experience it.

“I’ve been to a lot of Christian groups, and they say no sex before marriage, and abstinence, but I don’t really agree with that,” Schlecht said. “I’m 19 now, and I haven’t even thought about getting married. I have hormones and desires and needs, too.”

Byrnes, however, cautions against premarital sex and one-night stands.

“A person can never experience the full sense of joy unless they are in marriage or commitment,” Byrnes said. 

Jewish people don’t see sex as only for procreation, according to Danielle Kranjec, senior Jewish educator at the Hillel Jewish University Center.

“Jews see sex as part of the human experience and as part of how one has a healthy relationship,” Kranjec said. 

In the Jewish tradition, within the context of marriage, a woman can divorce her husband on the grounds of lack of sexual satisfaction. Sexual satisfaction is considered the woman’s right, and not the man’s, in marriage, according to Kranjec.

Growing up, Melana Dayanim, a freshman biology major, was a conservative Jew and went to Jewish Day School from kindergarten to fifth grade, where sex was never addressed. When she went to public school after fifth grade, her ideology about sex changed.

“I started taking sex education, and I didn’t understand what was going on,” Dayanim said. “Before ninth grade, I had very negative outlooks on sex, because my parents also didn’t talk about it.”

As she has matured, Dayanim said that she has become a lot less judgmental about sex and other people engaging in sexual activity. 

“Acceptance of other people, independent of their personal lives, is very important,” Dayanim said.

In Judaism, there is no disconnect between the mind, body and spirit, according to Kranjec.

“Physical pleasure is considered a part of the human experience, and Jews don’t seek to deny themselves pleasure for any spiritual reason,” Kranjec said.

According to Kranjec, Judaism tends to be more sex-positive than other traditions. One Pitt student, though, said he thinks his religion is often misunderstood when it comes to sex.

As someone on the trajectory toward priesthood, Reed Frey, a junior majoring in religious studies, politics and philosophy, said pop culture has distorted the Catholic Church’s views on sex. Even as far back as 1977, in the song “Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel sings of Virginia, a Catholic girl who refuses to sleep with him.

“I think the Catholic Church has gotten a bad reputation in recent years for being anti-sex, but, in fact, when you really look at it, the Catholic Church places sexual relations on a very high level,” Frey said. “The mechanics of human sexuality, which is what pop culture wants to focus on, are really quite far down the line from the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The mechanics of sex are implications of the grander scheme of love, Frey said.

“If you keep your eyes on the beauty that the Church places on human sexuality, I think you can actually get a better essential understanding of human sexuality,” Frey said.

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Sin No More: Sex and religion