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Episode 8

“God loves you like a lover, and longs for you like a lover.” This is just one of the many surprising examples that Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers found while researching sexuality in religious scriptures. In this episode, she discusses how the Western church actually used to be sex positive- so where did everything get turned around, and why did religion end up cultivating and capitalizing on sexual fear and shame instead of sexual healing?

Dr. Tina Schermer is the author of the book “Sex, God and the Conservative Church,” founder of the Northwest Institute of Intimacy, and an advocate for Positive Sexuality.

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Sasza Lohrey 

Hello, and welcome to part two of our conversation with Tina Schermer Sellers learn more on our website and social media at The four elements of healing religious sexual shame going from there and how that could be for anybody in everybody. So I know that there’s a lot obviously to be overcome from people raised in kind of more traditional homes, more traditionally religious homes, and specifically, I’m wondering if there ever, for example, more positive messages that we could take away from religion in some way or in the Bible. Is there anything that we could take away from that?

Tina Schermer 

So there’s a phrase called cherry picking and that would be if you go in to any part of scraping so the Bible, New Testament Old Testament, or the Torah, or really any sacred text from any faith tradition, and you just open it up and you just dive right in, if you pulled out, outline text, and you pulled it out of context of the history and the time, and you just read a line, you could construe a particular meaning you’re gonna find all kinds of things in sacred texts, there is really so much that we don’t know there’s a whole lot we do know, but there’s so much that we don’t know and what’s so important about reading sacred texts is that you understand them in a literary kind of way, like a story. You know, like we understand so many of our so much of our good literature. We don’t just dive right in and pull out one sentence and go oh, It’s the sentence that helps me understand the whole story. No, it’s the whole story that helps me understand the value of the book. Right? When we cherry pick any scripture, we’re missing the point. Yes, you can. You can pull out lines and find things that are incredibly positive. And you can find things that are incredibly negative and painful and hurtful and all kinds of things and, and people have cherry picked the Christian scripture in very, very hurtful ways, and justified horrible atrocities across history.

Sasza Lohrey 

So in terms of, you know, scripture and religious texts, I’m wondering how much the messages have changed in the culture associated with it in terms of this sexual shame over time, is that something that you know, has improved a lot or kind of stayed the same or gone? through different phases throughout time,

Tina Schermer 

I think it’s definitely gone through different phases. And when you what i what i call lift up at the 30,000 foot level and looked at history across time, what you see is is that the church as a whole, the western Church has been very, very influenced by the socio political climate of what was happening at the time that it was functioning within, for example, in the last 3040 years, we’ve been in a very conservative kind of frame or kind of time, we had the Moral Majority and the religious rights in a socio political framework kind of came together. There has been this big sort of fear mongering that’s been happening and the church has been a part of that with the Moral Majority. There was an economic downturn, there was a reaction to second wave feminism. You In the early 80s, and we had a reaction to the AIDS crisis that happened in the mid 80s. And whenever you have times like this, we’ve haven’t had plagues in the past that capitalization of the fear with the public has been a great place to move in and control the larger public. And underneath all of that was this real push in capitalism. So that’s a socio political movement. And manipulation of people through fear has moved us into a very harsh political conservative movement that we’ve been in for the last 30 plus years that is restricted our research, it’s restricted the knowledge base that has moved among the people and we’ve been a very frightened people that hasn’t really lost learned very much we’ve been much more ignorant in the way that we’ve made decisions. And you can see that movement from more conservative, more fear based, more reactive to less conservative, more awareness, more knowledge, more relaxed, more education, kind of more caring for our poor, this kind of movement open too close to open to close and the church also being a part of that through time and history. The church is influenced much more socio politically that I think it recognizes that it is, but when you look at history from really high up, you can see the church follows the socio political movements of the time.

Sasza Lohrey 

So stepping back in time quite far and now stepping outside of Catholicism as well. I’d love to have you touch a bit on the valve owner, which you guys kind of discovered in your research that you were doing the right book This is something that you talked about at a sec conference. And I will tell you, I took a photo of this slide and sent it to minimum 10 people on the spot and just said, Why? Where is this? Why don’t we still have this today? And why did he want 1000 years ago and then disappear when it’s everything?

Tina Schermer 

But yes, I went. I asked the question on the Abrahamic line, which was the line of there’s one God, you know, the Abrahamic line, I said, well did. Was there ever sex positivity anywhere? And when I asked that question, I went deep into Hebrew mystic writing and Hebrew sacred writing, and I found some incredible sex positive writing. Like one story was inside the Holy of Holies, which is a sacred part of the Jewish temple. All Jewish temples have a holy of holies. It’s an area where the Ark of the Covenant is and where these staffs are on top of each staff and on top of the Ark of the Covenant are always depictions of these angels with these cherub M and the cherubim. They have wings on them. And the wings are often in different sort of configurations. And the way I was taught was that the wings were always out showing how God was always protecting the people. And so I just always thought, well, the terrible always look just one way and then I found out that the cherubim were always in different depictions. So showing a different aspect of God’s character. And then I found out that the chairman in the very last temple that was destroyed in 72 ad, which was just after Jesus death, what we’re actually in seeded sexual embrace, and that the rabbi’s would once a year Paul, aside, because the rabbi’s were the only ones that could go into this very sacred place. The people could not go in there. They were pulled aside this very, very heavy curtain. And they would show the people the chair BAM and the ark. And they would say to the people this and they would point to the chairman, this is so you can know that God loves you like a lover and longs for you like a lover. And when I read that I was so shocked that I needed to find it in three other sources before I would tell anybody, because I thought no one would believe me that this is actually in sacred texts, you know. And I thought, Christians, no matter what kind of Christian they are, they would think of God so differently, rather than a father some patriarchal figure. They would think of God so differently if they thought of God longing for them like a lover, because that’s a peer longing kind of relationship rather than a more top down kind of relationship. And it would help you think of sexuality different If you thought that God longed for you like a lover, and then you look at the Song of Songs, which is this beautiful erotic book right in the center of the Old Testament in the Torah, and that is a book that’s just all about longing and deep, deep love. And then I came across a first century Rabbi that said that the Jewish people believe that the whole Torah is to serve the Song of Songs, in other words, the Song of Songs they thought of as the Most Holy Book of the whole Torah, and that all of the Torah was to remind you of the Song of Songs, that you are beloved of God. Now, if you grow up a Christian of any kind of any ilk, you will be hard pressed to ever hear a pastor talk about the Song of Songs because they don’t know what to do with it. Because it’s such an erotic book and yet, you have Jewish rabbis from the very first century saying this is the most Holy Book of the whole Torah. So I was coming across story after story after story after story, saying, we have an erotic God who gave us our sexuality. So we might know how loved we are. And we might experience in our sexuality, something of God’s love. Like to me, I was falling over myself all over the place. And then I found the valve. And the valve owner is these like eight guidelines. And men still take this bow when they get married, and so I’ll read them all forms of sexual touch are to be recognized and valued, the purpose of all sexual touches to reinforce the loving bond over the lifespan. So the idea that the elderly were not sexual is a completely foreign concept in the Torah. And I’ve talked to many Orthodox Jews who’ve said, Oh, yeah, no, we totally expect that people who are bonded to each other committed to each other will remain sexual their whole life like this is an important part of life. The third one is sex is considered a woman’s right. And not a man’s. The husband yeah has a duty, the valve owner, to ensure that all forms of sexual touch are pleasurable to her. They are to bring her pleasure and joy. He has to study and learn from her. This one is, you know, rocks everyone’s world, right? Because it’s so counter intuitive, and counter Western culture, because we raise our boys to think that sex is all about them. And we raise our girls to think that sex is all about him.

Sasza Lohrey 

I just literally can’t get over it. Like where did this go?

Tina Schermer 

Well, and I have explained this, that there’s the obvious shock in this but there is something so powerfully elegant in as well, because in a culture like ours that does give that message that it’s all about man, we actually do men no favors with that message. And we do women no favors with that message. Because men naturally lean in that direction. And women naturally lean in that direction. Part of partly because of culture and partly because of how our brains are structured. So with this idea, what happens is, that instead, we raise our boys to begin to pay attention to the nuances of others from the time that he’s a child on and we raise our girls to pay attention to how they’re treated and what their passions are, and what their voice is. From the time she’s a girl, little girl up so what happens in our culture Right now when we don’t do those things, is we have to wait until a man is often in his 50s before he begins to naturally realize that what makes all that hard work he’s been doing in his life and in his career, really matter for him is his relationships. And we have to wait till a woman gets almost into her 50s before she realizes what makes all of her life really make sense, is not giving everything away to everyone else, but that she has purpose in this world so she has a voice she has something to contribute, other than just doing for everyone else. But when we raise our boys to pay attention to others from the time he’s little, and we raise our girls to know her passion and her voice and to pay attention now she’s treated. Now we have half a chance that our boys and girls in heterosexual relationships will have much more more egalitarian relationships in their 30s and we know from research that a gala terian relationships are so much more satisfying for people than hierarchical relationship. It’s brilliant, and it works in the human experience. The fourth one is sex is to be celebrated in joy, not in sadness, anger, disinterested self interest or when chemically influenced. Sex for selfish or personal satisfaction without regard to your partner’s pleasure is considered wrong, or evil, and the word evil is rarely used in the Torah. A man is never to force his wife to be sexual through emotional or physical tactics. Sex is not to be used as a weapon against a spouse either by depriving sex or compelling sex. It is considered a serious offense to use sex in any way to manipulate or punish a partner. So that really gets both Have those get to consent issues, which of course we don’t teach in the US sexual enjoyment is recommended also at times when procreation is impossible, and you know, that’s something we have had laws against, you know, the last one is all forms of sexual touch are permissible as long as they’re desired by both people. So it really doesn’t matter what goes on in your bedroom, if you’re both okay with it. Nobody needs to be in there telling you what you can do and what you can’t do. And again, we’ve had laws on the books and we still have laws in the books in some states in our country that tell you what you can and can’t do in your bedroom. And that’s baloney.

Sasza Lohrey 

Right? And that’s how non judgmental we were 1000 years ago. And I think exactly the words that you said brilliant and elegant and especially when you touched on, you know the importance of relationships and realizing that value in in your life because that is exactly kind of what we are trying to help people reach Realize and live out is that your close relationships are responsible for 70% of your happiness 90% of your wellness and you know, I’d say almost 100% of your fulfillment in life. So we’re really just trying to provide any information about how to live better relationships, how to live a better life as a result, and one of our value propositions is that we are not just for women, because we truly try to strive to make this equally for men and women and you know, half of our clients and listeners being men, because it does seem like they get left out a lot of these conversations. And for me, these conversations aren’t getting anywhere. We know half the population on board and you know, arguably, it’s hard to even say who would be more important for any of, you know, the strives and the progress that we want to make and how important it is to have this be a collaborative you know, education, collaborative realization, a collaborative effort, and again, going back to like, what Peggy orange Teams said about, you know, in these places where the education is different Dutch boys are raised, assuming that they are capable of giving love just that is I’m inherently capable of giving love. My default is love. And then in the US, we end up with this culture where your default is I’m not capable of giving love. And then if you know I’m not capable of having casual sex, or I feel like I’m falling in love, boys are raised to think, Oh, well, I’m the left out one. I’m the weird one. I’m the one who’s unhealthy where it’s like, oh my god, I know. It’s our culture that’s unhealthy. So I’m in total agreement with what you mentioned previously, so incredibly important.

Tina Schermer 

Yeah, I’ve been reading this summer, Bell Hooks book, The will to change which is about masculinity and love. And you know, just reminded that we have done men no favors at all. And a man we know we’ve done women, no favors. We Done men no favors. And we’ve done relationships, no favors. And it’s true. You know, I worked in oncology for 10 years and what you care about at the end of your life is how well you give and receive love. That’s it. That’s the only thing you care about, and where we hurt people with sexual shame as we hurt them in that place of being able to give and receive love. And that’s why it’s so important that we start to get sex education out there. We start to really listen to where people have experienced sexual shame. We help people heal sexual shame. We help people facilitate their ability to give love and to receive love to have fulfilling relationships in their life and to be able to call out where bs is happening in culture, so people can live the lives they want to live. Yeah, the work we do is so important and I think

Sasza Lohrey 

says it says it all and that can have realization having good scientific evidence to that truly the loving feel in your life and then you give us everything. And as I always say that if you have one minute left to live in your life, and your entire life flashes before your eyes, it would be the faces of all the people that you love most it would be moments of you holding them smiling, laughing, being together, sharing and receiving love. And that’s how your entire life would be summed up like nothing else. And just think it’s, it’s incredible. So I guess going off of all this amazing is kind of in conclusion with all that we’ve learned and all that, you know, you’ve learned in your research and everything, regardless of religion or not, what’s going to be the one message that you would want to send to everybody, like a takeaway from what you’ve learned, in addition to what we just went over, but also kind of actionable piece of advice for them to kind of take that piece of learning and incorporate it and live it out in their life,

Tina Schermer 

I guess I would say, to really see, to pay attention to how you think about yourself, listen to the tapes in your mind of how you think about yourself, as a sexual being as a person, and pay attention to how you’re receiving love and how you’re giving love. I think all of us can wear masks in the world, but you, you who you are as a person, you are beloved, exactly the way you are now for what you do, not for what you don’t do, but who you are. Just the way you are, is Beloved. You don’t need to change anything. And even though we get thousands and thousands of messages that tell us that we’re not okay, the way we look, what we’ve done, how we’re working, what you know, all these things we need to change that is marketing. So I think that if I would give anybody any message, it’s that to pay attention to what’s going on in your own head that might want to be letting you know that you’re not okay, that you’re unworthy of love and belonging, which is what shame says to us, and that will likely be somewhere in your sexuality too. And our sexuality needs to be a place of love and of healing, and of nourishment. So I think to just be working on soaking up that belief that you are beloved, and that you deserve to experience beloved newness in every area of your life, including your sexuality, and where that’s a struggle. You know, I would encourage people to read my book and to keep on that good work. Keep on that good struggle. Frame name, claim and aim and tell yourself you can keep embracing your beloved ness because you want your ability to love to grow, to both give love and to receive love to grow because that’s where your happiness lies. 

Sasza Lohrey 

 And I think that’s so true how you said, you know the those four elements and I mentioned earlier how they’re not even just applicable to you know, sexuality, let alone just shame but your identity in general and I loved what you said about really needing to kind of nourish them, because it’s not like any of this happens easily. You know, people think, oh, there’s something wrong with me there’s something this No, it’s just that it’s not easy. You know, self acceptance is really hard. Relationships aren’t so difficult, but half because we simply weren’t given the tools and the knowledge that we need. Once we have that it really doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. I mean, they still will be hard, but they are always worth it. So I just love that message. Thank you so much for being on the show with us today everybody again, Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers. 

Tina Schermer 

Thank you for having me. 

Sasza Lohrey 

And, we look forward to continuing the conversation with you. 

Tina Schermer

Great, thanks so much love being here.

Our conversation with Dr. Schermer was so good that this is the first episode in a two part series!

Tina Schermer Sellers is the author of the book Sex, God and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy and an Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy and Director of Medical Family Therapy at the Seattle Pacific University.

Sexual shame is an issue that many of us deal with at some point in our lives, as it is ever present in the messages we receive from our family, the media, and our faith/religion. In this episode, Tina lays out a blueprint of sexual shame – where it comes from, how we can heal from our past in order to accept our humanness, and how we can have a positive and empowering view of our sexuality.

The Culture of Shame

Many believe that religiosity creates shame, however, Tina’s research has concluded that “abstinence-only” sex education denies youth necessary sexual knowledge, and this lack of information coupled with shame for sexual curiosity equates to adolescents who don’t know how to relate to sex and sexuality in healthy ways. This knowledge vacuum allows for misleading ideas about sex and bodies projected by the media. What religion can add to that, is the message: “If you do A, B, C or D” God will be disappointed in you, or will not love you”.

Many times kids have several shaming experiences that they don’t even remember, but what sits inside of them is that sense that “I am not ok, something is bad about me that has to do with my body”

The Importance of Connection

Tina asserts, “We are hardwired for connection and pleasure” of which our sexuality is a huge factor. The most human thing about us is connection.

We actually are seeking connection and pleasure throughout all of our lives… because we are bonding creatures, that is where our humanness is.

Sexual Shame

From Noel Clark: “Sexual shame is a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust towards our own body and identity as a sexual being, as well as the belief of being abnormal, inferior, or unworthy. This feeling can be internalized but also manifests in interpersonal relationships, having a
negative impact on trust, communication, and physical and emotional intimacy
. Sexual shame develops across the life span.”

Feedback Loop

Beginning very young, children learn shame from their caretaker(s) by feeling ashamed for something they don’t understand, despite it being natural, so those feelings of shame tell them whatever they’re doing is very bad. This continues throughout one’s formative years, reinforcing
that something is really bad.

There is also a fear and uncertainty related to one’s power or right to make decisions, including safety decisions regarding sexual encounters and internalized judgement towards our own sexual

This book is for people who have been affected by abstinence-only sex education and conservative church doctrine as well as therapists, or clinicians, who have not been exposed to the church culture. Tina discusses how we got here and how it happened, so that people understand the history and that this was never meant to happen.

We were never meant to be sex negative.

Getting Out of the Mess

The model for erasing sexual shame is to: Frame, Name, Claim, and Aim

  1. Frame: Begin by getting yourself a framework with solid sex education.
    North West Institute of Intimacy : a resource page with books and sex ed that you can access. 30 people telling their stories on video. Is like the It Gets Better Project, but for sexual shame.
  2. Name: Put names and language behind your body and your story: “Tell your story, find out that you are not alone, that almost everybody has sexual shame.”
  3. Claim: “Learn to claim your body as a good, wonderful, wholesome thing, regardless of it shapes and size. We are told constantly that our body is not good enough exactly the way it is, simply for us to go and buy more crap.” After we do those three things, we begin to aim!
  4. Aim: Creating a new sexual legacy for ourselves which is sex positive and that we can pass onto others. This legacy has no sexual shame and will allow us to claim our sexual lives so that we can live boldly and change our culture for generations to come. This is what we deserve.

Our sexuality is one of the most vital, dynamic, luscious, and powerful parts of ourselves and we deserve to have it, and have it out loud and stop having people tell us that is bad and dirty or whatever, because it is not. It is vibrant, it is wonderful, and it can be so good. It is one of the most wonderful gifts we have as humans. We can use it to heal ourselves and our world, and we don’t have those messages out there.

Recommendation: Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein

No additional resources found for this episode.

About the Expert

Tina Schermer

Because sex is better without shame.

Dr. Tina Schermer is a sex educator, author, therapist, and speaker who provides tools and resources that help free people from sexual shame. She is the author of the book "Sex, God and the Conservative Church," founder of the Northwest Institute of Intimacy, and an advocate for Positive Sexuality.

Episode Discussion

Home Forums Episode 7 & 8 – “The Power of Sexual Healing” – with Tina Schermer

  • Episode 7 & 8 – “The Power of Sexual Healing” – with Tina Schermer

  • Valentina 

    September 7, 2020 at 6:58 am
    • What did you learn about yourself?
    • What did you learn about culture?
    • What was your favorite quote?
    • What surprised you most?
    • What is one way you can enact what you learned in your own life?
    • How can we each help shift the culture and the conversation surrounding this topic?
  • Jessica

    September 7, 2020 at 11:55 am

    Growing up with abstinence-only sex education and a conservative family, I faced a lot of sexual shame. I’ve only recently started to become more and more comfortable with my sexuality because I thankfully attended a liberal college and was able to have safe, open conversations with my college friends. I’m still on my journey but I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m thankful I found this space to grow alongside others with similar stories.

  • BBXX 

    September 7, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    My school had used scare tactics during as sex ed instead of teaching us how to stay safe, sexuality, and other useful lessons we should have learned. A lot of my friends and I had learned about sex through the internet which helped us understand ourselves and what to expect, but it also exposed us to incorrect information that we’re still unlearning.

    I hope that our sex education changes for the better soon. People deserve a right to know what’s going on inside their bodies and how to stay safe. I also hope that the next generation gets more opportunities to learn in a safe, non judgemental environment.

  • Amy

    September 8, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    The thing that I learned about myself listening to this episode is that I go through sexual shame in that I sometimes feel that I would not be enough for a potential partner. The thing that I learned about culture is that it tells women that you have to look a certain way for a man to think that you are worth his time. The thing that surprised me most is that a person’s religion plays a major role in how someone values themselves. The way that I can enact what I learned in my own life is to see the value of myself and my body. The way that we can shift the conversation and culture when it comes to sex shame is to educate people more and hopefully improve sex education and not focus so much on abstinence only.

    • Hope

      September 10, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      I completely agree, Amy! Due to my lack of education on sex amidst middle school/high school I imagined myself having to be a virgin or someone who had a developed body to even be considered desirable, by anyone…and that is ridiculous. I believe that with better sex-ed courses kids won’t have to feel like they have only one option (abstinence) and that they can feel comfortable speaking to their parents about contraceptives or how to be safe if they don’t choose to abide by their “only option.” Sex has arguably been framed as being something you want to do when you’re in love with someone or wanting to have a kid, so often times it is discouraged completely to just feel pleasure and this is something kids growing up need to know is ok. Feeling pleasure is o.k. If you don’t want to marry the person? That’s fine! If you do want to marry the person? That is also fine! Luckily I had an open relationship with my mom and she encouraged me to take my own path, but I can’t imagine all of the poor kids that don’t have this resource to aid them in discovering what is the safest path they do want to take,

  • Valentina 

    September 14, 2020 at 5:44 am

    This episode made me think about the sex education I had when I was younger and made me realize that I actually had none. At my school they only tought us about the anatomy part and the multiple diseases you could get from having sex and as for my mom she has always treated that topic as taboo.

    I was lucky enough to have great friends to talk to when I had questions and doubts. They got the same sex education from our school but their moms had opened conversations with them so I felt safe talking to them about it.

    But that doesn’t happen very often. So I really hope that parents are becoming more open and understanding with the topic and that willl probably allow schools to start changing their methods on how to talk about sex without any shame or taboo.

  • BBXX 

    September 14, 2020 at 10:29 am

    Don’t we all as women receive little to non sex-ed at home? Coming from a highly conservative Latin family, I got used to the idea of labeling “sex” as a “taboo” topic that should not ever be mentioned in public let alone with the opposite sex. Even at school I remember they would split us up (men vs women) to give us “the talk” and by different educators and therefore we all had different concepts about how to express our sexuality and what having sex really meant being a women vs being a men. It was not until college that I started deconstructing these archaic ideas that for so long caused in me self-shame. I no longer feel like I am disrespecting my culture or any other institution for that matter, I feel more empowered and free by just enjoying myself safely and getting more information from actual experts like in here at BBXX!

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