Sex and the Spirit

Sex and the Spirit

By Megan Jicha

Across cultures and time, humans have struggled with the balance between spirituality and sexuality. With freedom to experiment with one’s sexuality, college students in particular can look toward their religion for guidance on what to do when their spiritual and sexual worlds collide.

“In reality, we are aware that college students will have sex, but students should be smart about it,” said Beth Meltzer, Jewish chaplain and director of Northeastern University Hillel.

Students should be educated not only on the health-related side of things, but the religious side as well, Meltzer said.


Although Christianity has many denominations with various views on sexuality, it is possible to draw general conclusions about Christianity and its take on sexuality and the act of intercourse by examining the scriptures, said Brother Joseph Donovan, Northeastern’s Catholic chaplain.

“Sex is a gift of God and a way to collaborate with him in creation,” Donovan said.

However, Christianity only condones sex when it takes place within the right circumstances. The notion is that sex is to be had only in a committed relationship between a man and a woman, with the purpose of being fruitful, mutual, and to bring unity to the couple, Donovan said.

“If missing just one component, then it is deemed to be not a good thing,” Donovan said.

If one engages in intercourse outside the set parameters it is considered a sin. However, God loves all man no matter what sins are committed, whether they be sexual or not, said Nathan Chase, a senior environmental engineering major and President of Agape Christian Fellowship.

“God will always offer forgiveness. This is what confession is for,” Chase said.

Donovan said birth control is frowned upon, but does have appropriate uses in Christianity. For example, if it helps to protect the health of a partner in a relationship.

When it comes to satisfying one’s sexual urges outside of engaging in sex, masturbation is strictly viewed as sinful since it is a sexual act that does not lead to an opportunity for reproduction, Donovan said.

It is important to remember that just because Christianity has strict views on sex, it does not mean it does not have a healthy, happy or joyous view of human sexuality, said Donovan.

“I actually dare anyone to read the books of Pope John Paul II, “Love and Responsibility” or “The Theology of the Body,” and say Christianity does not view sex as a joyous thing,” Donovan said.

Religions set guidelines for life, including the sexual side; not to guilt people, but to help show them how to live the best life possible now and for eternity, Chase said.

Donovan urges people to remember that not only do these views vary from denomination to denomination, but may also vary locally between different congregations within a denomination. Therefore, it is best for people to talk with their own local chaplains about their views.


Judaism has views very similar to Christianity’s.

Just as in Christianity, the different denominations of Judaism vary on their views of sexuality. Orthodox Jews have views close to those of traditional Christianity, while Reforming Conservative Jews have ideas similar to those of Reformed Protestants.

Orthodox Jews are very strict about waiting to engage in sexual activities until marriage, Meltzer said.

“Once married though, Orthodox men and women are strongly encouraged to engage in intercourse so many children can be had,” Meltzer said.

Reforming Conservative Jews have a more relaxed perspective.

“Being a Reforming Conservative Jew, I have never been aware of strict rules regarding sex before marriage,” said Lauren Perreault, a sophomore athletic training major.

Reforming Conservative Jews usually would propose that people wait until marriage before engaging in intercourse, but the doctrine encourages people to be careful and to not take sex for granted, Meltzer said.

Other guidelines in Judaism include a commandment to have sex on the Sabbath and to abstain from sex during a woman’s menstrual cycle, Meltzer said.

When it comes to birth control, Judaism permits it as long as a couple eventually plans on being fruitful or have already been fruitful, Meltzer said.

Masturbation is not condoned in Judaism. The reasoning for this can be read in the story of Onan in Genesis 38: 8-10. In this story Onan sleeps with his late brother’s wife, but since he does not want to bare children with her, he practices the withdrawal method, meaning he would never ejaculate during intercourse. This method angered God and Onan’s punishment is death.

Although withdrawal is not exactly masturbation, this story is applied to this belief because withdrawal and masturbation both involve the voluntary loss of sperm.


Islam has very rigid rules when it comes to sexuality.

“[Muslims are] very pro-sex, but only after marriage. It is something every human should experience and enjoy,” said Sobaika Mirza, a middler political science major and member of the Islamic Society of Northeastern University.

Once committed to an accepted marriage, Muslims are very supportive of intercourse. According to the book “Marriage and Morals in Islam” by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, it is considered a very spiritual activity and a reward from God.

Outside of marriage, engaging in sex is considered a sin.

“I believe most Muslims do adhere to the teaching that premarital sex is a sinful act and understand the reasoning as to why this is so,” said a senior marketing major who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Birth control is frowned upon, since engaging in sex is supposed to aim for reproduction, but it is not completely forbidden, Rizvi said in his book.

According to “Marriage and Morals in Islam,” masturbation is a controversial issue to Muslims. Some believe it is sinful while others believe it is not sinful if they are not married.

Homosexuality and the church

The relationship between sexuality and spirituality is even more controversial when homosexuality is involved.

The aforementioned religions mostly agree that homosexuality is not generally an acceptable practice. However, the details of these views vary.

Most Christian denominations do not condone homosexual acts or engaging in homosexual sex because it does not lead to fruitful reproduction, Donovan said.

“Homosexuality is viewed as a condition. Therefore, it is the acts that are out of communion with the church, not the person,” Donovan said.

Chase said Romans books 1 and 2 make it plain that homosexuality is not intended for humans.

Judaism”s acceptance of homosexuality differs within its denominations.

Orthodox Jews agree with the traditional Christian view, and do not condone it since people involved in sexual acts should be able to be fruitful, Meltzer said.

Reforming Conservative Jews are much more accepting of homosexuality. There are many Reforming Conservative Jewish synagogues that have large homosexual communities, Meltzer said.

According to Rizvi’s book, homosexuality is forbidden in Islam. It is even a crime in some Muslim countries, but that does not mean it is held across the religion.

“I have a more progressive view than most of those in my religion,” Mirza said. “I believe God made each person different and He made some of them homosexual. So we should embrace them because they are His creation.”

Just as some religions do not understand or accept homosexuality and bisexuality, some homosexuals and bisexuals do not accept or understand religion.

“I am not sure where (religion) gets their phobias of homosexuality from,” said Brenda Cole, a junior journalism major. Cole is an atheist and has been since she was a young teenager.

Amy Lippincott, a middler criminal justice major and Director of Education, Advocacy, and Activism for NuBiLAGA said that if most religions were to reexamine their texts and combine the ideas they present with the ideas of today’s world, they would be more understanding and accepting of homosexuality and bisexuality.

“The people that wield their religion against gays now are the same people who used to use religious tracts to say that women need to be subservient to men and that slavery was necessary,” Lippincott said. “They are trying to have their cake and eat it too because they are only using the parts of religious books that serve their purpose. For example, in the Bible, in the book of Leviticus, the verses before the one that mentions homosexuality, it says that wearing clothing of mixed fibers is also an abomination as well as eating shellfish, but you do not see too many religious groups swearing off polyester blends and Red Lobster.”

Maybe due to the strong positions being staked out, the controversy that results from combining spirituality of any faith and sexuality will always remain a hot-button issue.

“No matter how controversial of an issue this may be, the church just hopes that people will educate themselves on the issue before making decisions, about their spirituality or before entering acts of sexuality,” Donovan said.

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