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Sexual Modesty

I’ve signed up with the Universal Life Church, and came across this post on female sexual modesty. It tends to emphasize the negative impact of religion as implemented in repressive cultures: I am aware that many religions have teachings that celebrate and heighten sexual experience, most commonly known through the discipline of the Tantra. But I also think that the post tends to see religion principally as a political activity, which misses its purpose.

My response follows:


Much of what is presented here is not limited to religion – modesty in dress and control of women’s bodies has a long cultural pedigree. This should not be surprising: perhaps the most powerful biological urge we have inherited from our Darwinian past is the procreative urge. Religion is not the source of the difficulty we have in managing it, nor is it surprising that people with principally secular motives (property inheritance, for example) often project their program into the religious sphere.

But I think that there’s also a talking past the point of the religious proscriptions. Let me offer a definition: taking religion as management of our spirituality, and spirituality as the negotiation of the boundaries between the “I” and the “we,” the proscriptions have to do with preventing our spiritual landscape from being polluted by lust.

Our society tends to facilitate that pollution in two ways: by celebrating adolescent sexual license, and by limiting our opportunities to express self-love. Intercourse is often the only time that we are allowed to really enjoy our bodies. Even in exercise, our culture has so objectified the outcomes of that effort (both in terms of our self-image and competition) that we rarely enjoy sports.

Here’s an experience: I was doing child-care at a battered woman’s shelter, and the children liked to have me push them on the swing. One night, I was pushing a seven-year-old on the swing, and began to get a distinct feeling of sexual arousal. I stopped pushing the swing and said “I would appreciate it if you would keep your energy HERE” – placing my hands on her heart – “and HERE” – putting my hands on either side of here cranium. The sexual feelings evaporated, and when I began pushing her again, she shook her head and laughed with joy.

You see, she was managing me in the same way that her mother managed her abusive father. I was mature enough to recognize that and demonstrate that a caring man encourages women to manifest other potentials.

So I tend to side with the Rabbi here: little girls should cover their bodies. I also understand why some women in orthodox religions wish to avoid revealing their bodies to lust-filled men. On the other side, I have explained to my sons how to manage unwanted attentions coming from women.

As science currently offers us no explanation or tools for managing our spirituality (except drugs, unfortunately), we need religion. I would also agree that we need religion to do better that command prohibition. But I don’t think that the spiritual aspect of the problem can be ignored. I recommend the chakra model in the vedantic traditions

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