Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality
her feel worthless. In other words, shame leaves a deep psychological mark. Here is a story that illustrated this point from an American Muslim woman who is now an atheist:
    When I started maturing, my mother came into my room, sat down and said, ‘Never touch yourself; it will ruin your marriage.’ That was the extent of my sex education. I knew what she meant but had never had the urge to that point. Over the next year, I began to have urges and thoughts. I resisted doing anything for almost two years, then one night I succumbed and gave myself my first orgasm. The next morning I was so ashamed that I becamesick. I stayed home from school. I cannot express the feelings of filth, disgust and horror that I experienced. I was afraid that I had already ruined my marriage at 14 years of age. I wondered if my future husband would be able to tell and would reject me. Not long after, I became very religious. I hoped to show my devotion to Allah and find a way out of my shame. While I mostly resisted, every so often I would succumb, and the whole process would start again with an even stronger devotion to Allah
.
    Fortunately, this woman left Islam and happily masturbates or has sex with her boyfriend without any shame or guilt. Her ordeal, however, is shared by millions of women in Islam as well as Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism and many other religions.
    Due to its deep-rooted nature, shame is far harder to erase than guilt. The shamed person actually creates a new identity that incorporates a permanent condition of defilement. Guilt may be forgiven with a prayer or confession, but shame indelibly marks the identity. The shamed person may feel so defiled or diseased that she may engage in irrational, self-defeating behaviors. 36 Often she dives deeper into religion, hoping to get some relief.
    Shame is often more destructive than guilt, which is why I will focus on it here.
Shame and the Family
    Shame invokes a stronger response from family and community than guilt. A girl may be guilty of disobeying her mother. She may feel guilt and her mother may be angry. She may do extra housework or cooking to get back in her mother’s good graces and then move on. But for a person who violates a shame rule, no amount of penance or praying will wash the spot clean. No amount of forgiveness from mother or father will cleanse the shameful action. Additionally, other people in the community, especially the family, take on the dirt and filth identity. As a result, the girl or woman (and it is mostly focused on women in shaming cultures) is punished and isolated like a leper.
    In ancient Greece, the word “aidos” (shame) applied to men and women but with a sexual meaning for women and a more “honor” meaning for men.Men could be shamed on the battlefield. Women were shamed sexually. According to Greek legend, the goddess Aiskhyne gave people a sense of shame so they would avoid certain behaviors.
    In the New Testament (which was originally written in Greek), “aidos” is only used twice, once in reference to female modesty so as not to bring shame on themselves or the community. The other reference is non-specific:
    1 Timothy 2:9, KJV, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.”
    At different times in history, Christianity has used shame as an important tool, but the use of shame often requires a tight-knit community or tribe that can punish violators.
    With the protestant reformation, the idea of the “priesthood of all believers” pushed Christianity away from shame and more toward guilt. Protestants were accountable directly to their god and must ask him for forgiveness, not a priest or church official. This idea reduced the emphasis on community and increased focus on the individual. That is probably why Christianity, especially Protestantism, places a stronger emphasis on guilt than on shame.
Islam, the

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