When Sex and Christianity Get In Bed
Brent and his wife are the perfect picture of the typical American Catholic couple — modest, family-oriented and devoted to their community. They work together, attend the local Catholic church every Sunday in Louisiana and love celebrating their state’s warm Christmas at home with their three school-aged children. Which is why it’s hard to imagine them selling sex toys.
We’re talking furry handcuffs, edible lubes and even nipple clamps. But the couple, who started a company called Married Dance for those who think it’s awkward to buy hardcore products in traditional sex shops or even from graphic online sites, have cracked the door wide open on bringing the worlds of piety and bedroom pleasure together. Even if that means this couple, for one, are still too shy to give their full names.
Not surprisingly, the growth in this sector cuts across all religions. There are Christian-run online stores such as Covenant Spice as well as the Pure Bed, and an Amsterdam-based company making Sharia-compliant lubes and massage oils for Muslims under the slogan “Take care, pray and love.” Recently, Orthodox Israeli rabbi Natan Alexander began selling pleasure enhancers to Jewish couples through his online sex shop Better2gether, complete with animal-shaped vibrating pleasure rings like “happy hippo” and “wicked walrus.” Selling kinky toys to church-, mosque- and synagogue-goers is part of a growing business. The U.S. sex industry alone makes $15 billion in sales a year, according to market research firm Statistic Brain, and TechNavio’s analysts forecast the global “sexual wellness” market will grow 7 percent a year until 2020. If you consider that more than 80 percent of the world’s 7 billion people are religious, that makes for a potentially huge market.
Mixing sex and religion may seem counterintuitive — after all, most organized religions have spent centuries regulating (when not straight-out banning) sex. But these religious sexpreneurs believe they’re doing God’s work by strengthening the institution of marriage. “People think marriages can’t be fun, but that’s not true,” says Jeff, a salesman from Nevada who founded the site Bedroom Blessings in 2013. (He’s got teens and didn’t want to share his last name.) “We want to create a safe space for couples to explore the gifts God gave them.”
So how, exactly, are these businesses different from conventional sex shops? For starters, their candid color palettes (hello, eggshell and pink!) will likely make you crave a cupcake more than a vibrator. And there’s typically no trace of porn or nudity — even lingerie products are showcased without the models. The language is also markedly different. “Give her multiple orgasms” turns into “enjoy the intimacy He gifted us,” while vaginas are referred to as “intimate areas” and anal plugs are labeled “posterior toys.” Yet the key difference is in their terms and conditions, where they promise to use the most discreet packaging possible to ensure you don’t scandalize your devout mailman.
But some religious followers fail to see the value here. Isaac, a 26-year-old Jewish salesman from San Francisco, calls this “nonsense,” adding that “only ultra-Orthodox people would care about where their sex toys come from!” But even more conservative members of religious groups complain, shop owners say, and God-fearing sex-toy providers can’t seem to agree on a definition of what’s sinful and what’s not. Some draw the line at anal stimulation — “we don’t want to lead people in that direction,” says Jeff — while others refuse to sell bondage items. The only things they all seem to refuse to carry? Porn and condoms.
Still, mindful sex shops could be part of a long overdue sexual-empowerment movement within the largest religions. “Offering religious-friendly sex toys shows people that there need not be a divide between their faith and their sexuality,” says Teresa Delgado, an associate professor of theology and ethics at Iona College in New York state. She thinks this is crucial because if young adults can’t find spaces to talk about sex within their faith, they’ll just leave the church. Some go even further and hope selling these kinds of products will help fight nonbelievers’ stereotypes toward religion. Abdelaziz Aouragh, for one — the founder of El Asira, a Sharia-compliant line of sex-enhancing products — says he wants to help change the image of Islam as hostile to women and sex. And some shops are even starting to offer marriage counseling or sex tips, blurring the line between sexuality and spirituality, one scented tube of lube at a time.