Rachel Keller on Sex & Faith – Smart Sex, Smart Love

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On this week’s episode, Joe chats about Sex & Faith with Licensed Clinical Social Worker, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and author, Rachel Keller. Rachel grew up in the conservative Christian church and experienced both the positives and negatives of that culture. Today, she is passionate about helping others find sexual freedom, a sex positive Christianity, wholeness and empowerment. So passionate about sex and faith, she has co-authored a book called, Advancing Sexual Health for the Christian Client: Data and Dogma.

Rachel asks, “Why would God create our bodies with so many pleasure nerve endings if He/She didn’t want us to use them?”

Connect with Rachel Keller:
Website

Speaker 1:

[inaudible].

Speaker 2:

Welcome to smart sex, smart love. We’re talking about sex, goes beyond the taboos and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. I’m dr Joe Kort. Thanks for tuning in.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible]

Speaker 2: 

hello and welcome to my new listeners and hello again to my regulars. So pleased you’re back to join me on smart sex smart love. This week I’m talking about sex and faith with my guest, licensed clinical social worker and Asex certified sex therapist and author Rachel Keller. Rachel’s book is advancing sexual health for the Christian client data and dogma, which she coauthored with Beverly Dale. Rachel grew up in the conservative Christian Church experiencing both the positives and negatives of that culture and is now passionate about helping others find sexual freedom, wholeness, and empowerment. So we’re asking today what’s the difference between faith versus belief and what does a sex positive Christianity look like? Welcome Rachel.

Speaker 3:

Hi Joe, it’s great to be on your podcast. I have been listening to some of your other episodes and I love the work that you’re doing. Podcasts,

Speaker 2:

thank you so much and I love the work you’re doing and so important that you’re here. When I was, um, in the nineties, I started working with primarily the LGBTQ population and I was shocked at how much, and still this is the case, but even outside of the LGBTQ population, how shocked people came to me as a replacement for their, their religious leaders. You know, there’s their rabbis, their ministers, their clergy, because they had, uh, sexual issues, identity issues, and they couldn’t go to their religion. They couldn’t go to their, their mentors. And I would say to them, I’m not religious. I’m not, I can’t help you with this, but they would want to work with me to work it through. So it’s so important the work you’re doing to add sexual health to religious conversations.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] thank you. Yes. And that, that’s really what we were trying to do. My, my coauthor, uh, she goes by rev. Bez uh, Beverly Dale and myself. We really wanted to marry the two healthy sexuality and Christianity to kind of show people that it is possible to have a sex positive Christianity and find wholeness and find sexual health even in, in the midst of, of that belief system.

Speaker 2:

Can I ask you what interested you in this topic on a personal and or a professional level?

Speaker 3:

Sure. Um, so I, I came of age in an evangelical church environment in the height of the purity movement that started in the 90s. Um, and actually in your interview with her, Tina sellers did an excellent job talking about the impact on that of that movement. Teenagers once they became adults, which really revolves around a lot of internalized shame about the body and sexuality. Um, so, so that was kind of my story and you know, coming out of that and my coauthor Beverly Dale is a doctorate of divinity and a Reverend and a progressive Christian Church. She came of age at a different time, but also has a personal story that brought her to the issue, um, about some of the trauma she experienced, uh, you know, growing up

Speaker 2:

[inaudible] and professionally. What, what, what, what, what did you decide to make it part of your profession

Speaker 3:

as you, as you alluded to, it’s, it’s really hard to separate the impact of Christianity on the sexuality of people in our culture. When I began working as a sex therapist, I realized that the impacts of Christian history about sex are rampant in our culture, which includes things such as a separation of, of mind and body or body and spirit. Uh, sexual scarcity, which I can explain a little bit later. Uh, sexual boxing in kind of limited options for sexual expression and identity and sexual ignorance. And you know, uh, rev. Bev and I spoke at the ASX sexuality conference four years ago on this topic for the first time. And we realize that sexual health professionals are by and large not comfortable talking about sexuality with Christian clients. And in addition to that, the group of sex therapists and educators that were in the room for our talk, it turns out had a lot of their own unresolved experiences about shame and sex negativity from the church or just from, from their upbringing. So we, we really realized that there’s a need for more information around this topic and people, you know, even even professionals feeling more comfortable talking about that.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. It’s so important. And I have to be honest, I am increasingly angry that our religion is so uninformed. And I like what you said sexually naive and then they go ahead and teach about sex as if they know what they’re talking about when they don’t and they give all this bad and misinformation and then it ended. That’s why I think there’s such a need for sex therapy because people are misinformed and they believe their minister, they believe their rabbi, whomever the clergy is and they don’t know what they’re talking about. Just, you know what I’m saying? I’m sure you know what I’m saying. You wrote the book

Speaker 3:

exactly, exactly. And you know, that’s evidenced very clearly in the debacle of abstinence only education and you know, T Tina sellers, I’ll reference her podcast again. Uh, the interview did with her cause she talks about, um, she does a good job talking about the impact of that, but there’s so much in the sex education that’s provided, um, for youth and a lot of that is so influenced by the church and you know, yes. Back to your point of, of what, you know, people are advised within the church. Um, there’s a lot of sort of bad advice going on and, and false information, um, for people looking for answers.

Speaker 2:

I always joke that, um, you know, for me as a Jew being raised in a synagogue, reformed Judaism, uh, I really wasn’t screwed up around sex and homosexuality with the religion because everything was said in Hebrew and I couldn’t understand a word they were saying anyways, so I was sort of, I escaped all that. But, um, not necessarily really, but so can you talk about, um, before we go on, I want to make sure everyone knows what a sect is. We keep saying that word. It’s American association of sex educators, counselors and therapists, which you and I belong to. Um, which is a certification body and a sexual health organization that informs educators, counselors and therapists and how to work well with, um, their clients around sexual issues. Can you tell us though, because you’ve written in your book the difference between what faith is and what your beliefs are

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] sure. This is a key distinction that rev Bev makes. Um, she separates the experience of faith, which is a deep and profound belief in something bigger than yourself, which for Christians is, is there a belief in God and Jesus as separate from the beliefs or the dogma of the church itself? And it’s key to make that distinction because the faith is, is usually what people most hold dear. It’s what provides hope in the midst of suffering, inspiration when needed, most motivation to do good community and belonging. And what we’re saying is that the face can be retained even if the belief change. And that’s an important foundation for our book and what we’re saying because we do challenge some of the beliefs of the church.

Speaker 2:

Have you had, go ahead. Yeah, no, go ahead.

Speaker 3:

One more piece to that is, um, is uh, rev. Bev prevents a, a four-part model to help Christians use the art of discernment, which is, is sort of a, a biblical interpretation concept. And it means that, you know, helping people consider not only scripture and church tradition, but also personal experience and intellect, which includes modern science and reason.

Speaker 2:

Can you do know, can you tell us the four parts? Cause I think people would be interested in that.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] yeah, those are the four parts. So it’s um, scripture. Um, the second one is true church tradition. The third one is personal experience. And then the fourth one is intellect or reason.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Sorry. I think because you didn’t number them. I didn’t hear it. So now thank you. That makes sense.

Speaker 3:

It doesn’t hurt to repeat it because it really is. Um, you know, this four-part model comes out of John Wesley who, um, did, you know, he called it the quadrilateral. And so, you know, in, in church history, this four part model has been used a lot. So it’s not something we just came up with sort of a model that Christians have used for hundreds of years to, to find answers to the questions that they have about how to live their life.

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Um, can you, you mentioned sexual scarcity. I love those two words together. Can you explain what that means?

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] sexual scarcity, the way we use it refers to a scarcity of available options for sexual identity and expression. So, you know, we talk about the concepts of being boxed in, which means that a lot of messages from the church create a box and inside the boxes where you’re supposed to stay. That means heterosexual, cisgender, traditional marriage relationship, no sex outside of marriage. You know, a lot of times, no, no kinkiness traditional gender roles, et cetera, and outside the boxes. Everything else, anything that wouldn’t fit into that, you know, those acceptable options. And um, many of the people that we interviewed for the book have had the experience, the stifling experience of trying to fit themselves into that box when they didn’t fit. And people really try, you know, try to try to make it work, try to follow those rules.

Speaker 2:

I remember watching this documentary called trembling before God, and it’s about Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality. It’s really a good documentary. Even still today. I think it’s, it’s a little older now, but I remember this gay man talking to this Orthodox rabbi and saying, and the rabbi was saying, I’m sorry, you know, sodomy is a sin and it’s against what we believe. And the, and the gay man said, but I don’t engage in sodomy. I do. I don’t have anal sex. It’s never been part of my sexuality. So now what, what does that mean? And the rabbi was completely perplexed. He didn’t even know what to do with that because in his mind, every gay guy engaged in sodomy and that was his final word. He just didn’t know better.

Speaker 3:

Hmm.

Speaker 2:

Really very ignorant.

Speaker 3:

Right, right. And it shows a real limited understanding of what people are actually experiencing in their lives and what they’re actually doing.

Speaker 2:

Very much. Your book talks about the bad news, which you and your coauthor group into three symptoms and causes of sex negativity within the church. Could you tell us a little bit about what those are?

Speaker 3:

Sure. Um, we, we talk about the, the three symptoms of sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction, which are prevalent among Christians. Uh, the second one is sexual guilt and shame. And the third one is problematic sexual behaviors. And you know, so when we can go into those a bit and the causes that we identified as sort of the main culprits for these problems are sexual ignorance, sexual scarcity, and a suspicion of pleasure. So, you know, for each of these, we, we interviewed people who came out of the church on their experience with issues including closeted sexual orientation, so-called sexual addiction, which I know you, you’ve spoken a lot about. Um, shame about masturbation, inability to orgasm, dysfunctional gender roles, sexual abuse, and shame about a lack of knowledge about sex.

Speaker 2:

That’s so helpful. And when you mentioned pleasure, that’s so much of not what we talk about in our culture. Um, and in terms of even sex education, it’s how to and what not to do and performance, uh, terms. But when we talked, we, when pleasures needing to be talked about, people stop talking. And I’m so glad you added that in your work.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] thank you. Yeah, and that’s, that’s a, a big part. And you know, we talk about, um, this mind body dualism, which you know, is a reference to a concept that came out of the Greek philosopher Plato and his student Aristotle, which was 400 years before Jesus came. You know, they talked about the superiority of the mind and reason over the passions of the body. And that’s more of rev, Bev’s area of expertise. And she’s studied the impact of those philosophies on Christian dogma through the years and dabs. But I can speak to it in summary. Um, you know, basically that philosophy was popular at the time that Jesus came and his followers, most notably st Augustan incorporated it as a central tenant to Christian doctrine. Believing all passion is bad because it thwarts reason and the body is a necessary evil because it houses the soul and intellect.

Speaker 3:

The Saint Augustine and the early church fathers believed that the best way to be close to God was to denounce and deny the body as much as that’s how the doctrine of priest celibacy and the Virgin Mary came about. So in modern times, the conservative church maintains this bias against the body and pleasure. You know, we’ve come a long way from, from Saint Augustan and all that, but the church still has rooted within it, this bias against the body and pleasure, you know, and that, and that’s why I have to coach the clients, you know, the Christian men and women on how to get it good. And it’s okay to experience pleasure, which is a real, you know, there’s a lot of inhibition around that for, for people.

Speaker 2:

Did you know that recently the world health organization removed the, the word pleasure from its sexual health? Um, conversation?

Speaker 3:

Wow. I did not know that. The impetus for that,

Speaker 2:

I don’t know. I don’t remember. I learned it from Doug Brown, Harvey, and it may be coming from outside the organization because things are getting so conservative, but it shocked me that it was in and then it was removed. So here we, you know, there’s this, like even on Facebook, I don’t know if you promote or do any, uh, advertising on Facebook, but anytime we try to pay for any advertising, if it’s sexual health related, um, it gets scrutinized to the point where most of my stuff and other sex therapists get rejected. It’s crazy. And it’s not like we’re talking about anything that’s other than, um, you know, sexual health. We’re not talking about, uh, things that are controversial. Have you had those issues?

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] I’ve certainly, yes, I’ve seen those issues and that, I mean, that’s further evidence for how prevalent this influence is, which is ages old, you know, there’s prejudice against the body. Um, yeah. Uh, and, and you know, I like to, to sort of reduce some of the shame of that. I like to talk with people about how the body was created for pleasure. And that resonates with Christians too, because, you know, if God created our bodies and you know, like there’s 8,000 nerve endings on [inaudible] and the, you know, the only purpose of the clutter is, is his pleasure. So why would it sort of like, why would God create our bodies to be able to experience so much pleasure if he didn’t want us to?

Speaker 2:

I love that. That’s so important. I’m going to highlight that when we promote this podcast. Cause that’s, so, that’s such a great thing to say. Can you, so many of my listeners, you know, um, are also, you know, LGBTQ and the parents of, and how do you think very religious parents can cope better when their kids come out to them LGBTQ?

Speaker 3:

Hmm, that’s such a tough question. And you know, we do talk about that in depth in the book. Um, because there are, there’s basically eight we call clobber passages in the Bible that people use or have used to say that being gay is wrong. And, you know, it’s, it’s sorta hard to talk about it when someone’s gonna want to use those scriptures. But I’d say check out that chapter in our book and see what you think, you know, um, rev. Bev, I mean, she’s a scholar of the Bible and she has all the, you know, the history about it, and she goes into interpretation of those scriptures and why she believes that it doesn’t support, you know, heterosexual only that, you know, that it’s supportive of all kinds of LGBT orientations. Um, so, so that’s important. And then of course, the message of, of love and acceptance from Jesus himself in the sense that he did reach out to people on the margins. Um, you know, that was sorta his thing. And he was accepting of, you know, all, all different types of people, which we believe indicates he would be accepting of LGBT, you know, people in communities.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible] yeah. They, um, a lot of, even outside just sexual practices, a lot of people say, I’ve heard them say this to me. Ah, yeah. Jesus would love that you and accept you, but he wouldn’t want you to act on them. Have you, you know, how do you respond to that?

Speaker 3:

Yes, yes. Um, that, that’s a tough one. I mean, you know, I guess it, I feel like it keeps going back to the, the Bible passages. That’s what always what I run into when I talk to people about it. Cause at the end of the day they’re like, well, the Bible says it’s wrong. And unless you can get around that point, it’s, it’s hard. Yeah. Um, but if someone’s able to get on board with the fact that, well, wait a minute, maybe these scriptures don’t quite mean that it’s wrong. They have these other interpretations that were more relevant for the time. Um, then I would say that Jesus and God want us to be whole. They want us to be healthy. They want us to be fulfilled. And I don’t see how telling someone that you, you know, you have to deny yourself and your true nature. Um, in order to be a Christian, to me, that doesn’t fit in with the other things that you read in the Bible. You know, like you kind of have to take the Bible and especially Jesus because that’s who Chris, that’s the person that Christians are following. You have to look at his words. And his example as a whole and what he would want for someone. And you know, I mean, we know the suicide rates for LGBT community and all the mental health impacts of, of having to hide your identity and, and that to me just does not seem like something that God would want.

Speaker 3:

I really appreciate you saying this because when I talk with people, well, my sister in law has always said she’s, she’s very Christian woman, very progressive. And she says, we wouldn’t use the medical books in the 50s to do surgeries today. We’ve learned so much. And that was a book that was great at the time. That’s what we knew. But we know more. Why would we use a and be strict about the Bible. The Bible can be looked at and, and as a tool, but not in the rigid terms, it was meant it was written in at the time it was written. Does that make sense? It does. Exactly. And on that point, the term homosexuality wasn’t even coined until the 18 hundreds so when, you know, when, when all this, this was written and now the words in those Bible passages are translated to say homosexuality, it’s like, well they weren’t really talking about that cause that concept didn’t exist at the time.

Speaker 3:

Right. So once you start to realize that and how much room for interpretation there is, that’s where it’s, you know, going back to that four part discernment model, helping people really question some of the things that they may have been told by their church and, and you know, do a little more research for themselves and compare what they’re seeing. You know, modern science says it’s, it’s natural to some people are born gay and you know, and, and take a look at and compare those things rather than just believe with blind faith. What you know, what you hear.

Speaker 2:

Yes. Well let me ask you, what would you say is what you want most from tea for Christians or former Christians to gain from reading your book?

Speaker 3:

Sure. I would want Christians, former Christians, anyone to know that sexual wholeness and vibrancy is available for everyone. Whether you’re a conservative Christian, you’re a progressive Christian, you’re an atheist, you’re a former Christian and everyone in between. Um, you know, and, and on top of that as a sex positive approach within Christianity is possible.

Speaker 2:

Have you gotten pushback from your book, from people who are very religious?

Speaker 3:

We have not gotten as much pushback as we thought we were going to and which is, which is interesting. And you know, we’ve been pretty clear that the audience for our book is people who are already seeking answers rather than people who are kind of firmly rooted within their conservative beliefs and they don’t really want to consider, um, things outside of that. Um, and yes, I mean the, the, the beliefs and the things that we promote in the book are, would be considered radical for that, for those real conservative communities. So I think because of how we promoted it and everything, I don’t think it really hit the radar for those, um, those communities. If it did, I would expect some backlash. Mmm. But yeah, cause we, you know, we promote acceptance of all sexual, sexual and gender orientation, alternative to monogamy, the ability to question and negotiate gender roles and comprehensive sexual education for children and teens, which are all things that tend to be pretty, you know, controversial.

Speaker 2:

I would say that also. That’s great. I would also say that you’re probably not getting much backlash because you’re not at know this such a well spoke. You’re well-spoken about all this and you’re not bashing the religion. You’re really coming out and just sort of wanting to add to the conversation, not take away or bash. That’s how it sounds to me, your book and this interview.

Speaker 3:

Well thank you. I, I’m glad to hear that. That is definitely the tone that we have wanted to have because you know, as, uh, Beverly is a Reverend and she holds her faith very dear and we’re not at all anti-religion or anti faith.

Speaker 2:

Yes.

Speaker 3:

Um, there’s a lot of wonderful things that come along with being a Christian, so I’m glad that that comes across. You know, we’re not trying to tear things down, but we are trying to address the very real issue of all of these problems that people are having from the sex negative beliefs that are coming out of the church, which we think are separate from the message that Jesus actually would have intended.

Speaker 2:

Yes. I love it. We’re going to be wrapping up. What, is there any last minute things you want to say and also tell them people how to get ahold of your book and how to get ahold of you.

Speaker 3:

Sure. Um, so I would say, yeah, check out the book. You can find it on Amazon. Just search for the title and you know, there there’s some, some cool tools and resources in there. Um, there’s a, a sexual belief chart where it kind of, it lists it’s eight pages long, so it’s pretty extensive and it lists a lot of the negative sexual beliefs that people will have and then has a sex positive therapist response, NSX positive pastor response, which I think is, is helpful for people. Um, and then one last thing. We have some, uh, sex positive Christian meditations in the book that are written and read by Rav Bez. Um, so I hope, you know, I hope people can check it out and find it helpful. And, um, yeah, thank you for, thank you for having me on to talk about this important topic.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And let’s mention your book one more time. It will also be a link on our website, uh, advancing sexual health for the Christian client data and dogma by Rachel Keller and Beverly Dale. Thank you so much, Rachel, for being on this podcast with me.

Speaker 3:

Thank you.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex smart love. I’m dr Joe court and you can find me on Joe kort.com. That’s J O E K O R t.com. See you next time.

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