How will these resources help you? 

The sexual revolution of the twentieth century, and western society’s increasingly liberal views of sexual ethics today, seem to have left mainstream religious moralism far behind. The British Social Attitudes survey (2012) draws a direct correlation between the decline of religious observance and more open attitudes to sex and having children outside marriage, homosexual relationships and trans issues. Countries with less permissive attitudes to relationships also tend to be more religiously conservative and these moral strictures often seem to amount to human rights violations. So is there something inherently un-Godly about sex and relationships? These texts explore a range of different views on this topic, from moral conservativism to feminist and queer theology. My students find these discussions fascinating – it is important for them to recognise that social conservatism is not always designed to hurt and exclude, and that religious thought can include liberal views too. 

An outline of religious attitudes to sex

Religion and Intimate Life: Marriage, Family and Sexuality

by Sarah-Jane Page in The Routledge Handbook of Religion, Gender and Society, edited by Caroline Starkey and Emma Tomalin, published by Routledge, (2022), 9781032161402

This chapter explores the historical relationship between sexuality and religion and the increasing role of religion as a ‘counter-position’ to western society’s increasing social liberalism since the 1960s. Religion is now often seen as out of step with a society that celebrates being ‘decentred’ from the normative family unit. This helps students to consolidate a viewpoint that they often already identify with but have not considered academically. 

Feminist perspectives

The Bloomsbury Reader in Cultural Approaches to the Study of Religion

by Sarah J. Bloesch and Meredith Minister, (2018), 9781350039803

This book focuses on modern feminist and queer interpretations of theology from different religious perspectives, with several essays arguing that a traditional patriarchal interpretation of the monotheistic God of Judeo-Christian religions is a culturally loaded but ultimately inauthentic reading of the sacred texts. It includes essays on the celebration of sex in Song of Solomon and the inherent sexual equality in Genesis 1 and 2. It challenges the ideas that women are less, and that sex is something to be ashamed of. The essay on the feminine aspects of God’s character contrasts the Judaic God to Canaanite fertility gods, which were often ritually sexualised. It argues that God doesn’t hate sex, but he is transcendent of it. Some of the arguments can be challenging academically – I use extracts with my students to offer alternative interpretations to conservative monotheisms. 

Queer voices

Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives

by Loraine Hutchins and H. Sharif Williams, published by Routledge, (2014), 9781138023994

This book focuses on queer voices and argues that liberating God from binary structures is freeing both for us and for the divine, and that in order to be truly inclusive, God must be to some extent bisexual. Essays in this book also argue that sex can be spiritual and sacred and that the divide between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ needs to be rejected as we embrace a more physical and holistic spirituality. This offers my students an effective corrective to the belief that religious voices are always hostile to queer identities. 

Karmic religions and sexuality

I Am Divine, So Are You: How Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Hinduism affirm the dignity of queer identities and sexualities

by Jerry Johnson, published by HarperCollins India, (2017), 9789352774852

This book looks systematically at a range of karmic religious practices, including Sikhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism, exploring their views of sexuality more generally and queer identities in particular. It describes Buddhist views that sex belongs to the ordinary state of material desires and is therefore low. It also explores the privileging of transgender possibilities over homosexuality in Hindu mythology, in contrast to the world of Greek mythology. The book offers an alternative religious perspective to the Judeo-Christian Islamic tradition and helps broadens students' views on this topic. 

Audiovisual clip

Queer Britain: Does God Hate Queers?

published by BBC Three, (2017)

An investigation into Mrs Watson's covertly advertised 'Steel and Penny Royal Pills' in newspapers back when contraception and abortion were forbidden in society, the uncertain details of which can be found in a report from 1912 written by the British Medical Association. This shows us that sex outside of marriage was taboo at the time.

Further materials

Pure: Sex and relationships God’s way by Linda Marshall, published by IVP, (2010), 9781844745050 Find this book
Muslims Like Us: Being gay and Muslim, published by BBC Two Watch this clip
Susan Woodshore is a teacher in Edinburgh. She has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History and enjoys creating new educational resources across religion, ethics and philosophy.

Text © Susan Woodshore, 2023.