Faith,
Hope and
Chastity
Part II
Why should one of mankind's most intellectually advanced ideas to date --- Christianity was revolutionary in so many other ways --- have imploded on itself in this way?

The historian of sex Reay Tannahill can only suggest that authoritarian societies had worked out that in disciplining sexual relations, it was possible to control the family and thus, critically the stability of the fragile new phenomenon that was the state.

However, she says that even so, the legislators of matters sexual limited themselves to intervening only when sex impacted on areas ot public concern such as legitimacy, inheritance and population control. Setting aside its peculiar obsessional Nature, the new Christian morality ran perversely counter to human psychology in the way it denied any legitimate outlet for sexual feelings.

The terrible distortions and corruptions of personality that this would create were not unknown to contemporary physicians. Soranus of Ephesus remarked in the second century. "If the body feels no sexual desire it seems to suffer just as the spirit does." Much later, Ambrose, the official poet of the Third Crusade, confirmed the medical belief that lack of sex was bad for the health. "A hundred thousand men died there" he wrote of the Crusade,

    Because from women they abstained
    They had not perished thus
    Had they not been abstemious.

Furthermore, around the time of Magna Carta in England, the Church, whilst proscribing sex at practically all times, simultaneously set down detailed instructions on how husbands should have sex with their wives to best effect. A sage known as Giles of Rome, according to a 2003 book, The Year of Magna Carta, advocated Galen's venerable advice on raising the "temperature" of women by foreplay so as conception might successfully take place. When the wife began "to speak as if she were babbling," Giles said, it was time for the husband to make his grand entry. The idea that missing orgasms was unhealthy was almost certainly the perception of the ordinary man and woman.

This sentiment continues to be a commonplace in the contemporary West, where it coëxists a little uncomfortably with Christian abstemiousness and fear of sexual desire. To choose but one example of semi-scientific confirmation that denial of sex is harmful, a 1983 survey, "Sex and Self-Esteem, Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality," noted in conclusion:

    Orgasm and other forms of sexual expression are such a source of self-affirmation that two-thirds of psychiatrists believe people "nearly always or often" lose self-esteem when deprived of a regular outlet for sexual gratification.

Yet the madness traceable to one peculiar obsession of a few misguided, if idealistic, men 2,000 years ago did not abate. The damaging effects of lack of sex have continued to rear their ugly Hydra head for thousands of years now, in a range of unpleasant manifestations. The obscene pædophilic excesses of a handful of Catholic clergy the world over in the modern age is just one of the more dramatic and corrosive of these.

Some of the most egregious examples of the twisted behaviour engendered down the centuries by the Christian cult's rejection of sex and, worse still, denial of the enjoyment of orgasm, occurred when Europeans attempted to export their "civilised" Christian ideals to colonial subjects whose ideas on sex, to our current view, were rather advanced and sophisticated.

Spanish colonists in particular encountered an ancient tradition of sexual equality and reverence for the orgasm in South and Central America. They attempted to introduce the radical new idea to the "primitives" that women's genitals were partes vergonzozas, "the shameful parts," and that female sexuality was an abomination.

The indigenous people sometimes argued the case for their own ways. There is a description of a cleric, Fray Tomas Carrasco, preaching to a crowd against their "promiscuity" and urging them to embrace monogamy. A woman bravely stood up and spoke out against the new European ways of male domination and female sexual shame. Unfortunately, she was killed by lightning in mid-oration, which the friar interpreted as proof she was a witch, while her own people saw it as evidence that she was quite right.

As Naomi Wolf has written:

    Europeans who witnessed these native women's assertion of their sexuality saw not divinity but depravity.

According to the colonisers, Pueblo women could not even conceive of modesty or shame in relation to their bodies. Since, in the Western tradition human beings in Eden were redeemed by shame, and particularly, as Christian theology evolved, by feminine shame, Europeans were inclined to see Hell where the Pueblo saw everyday pleasure.

One of the world's most grotesque examples of a community warped to near destruction by the belief that Christianity and shame about sex go hand in hand is provided by the primitive island of Inis Beag, off the west coast of Ireland, as it was when anthropologists discovered its bizarre sexual culture in the 1960s.

Nudity, the researchers found, was abhorred by the islanders, even among small children, and animals regarded as sinful for going about undressed. Dogs would be whipped for licking their genitals. Girls and boys were separated at all times. Bathing was unknown, dressing was done only under bedcovers, and breastfeeding was highly uncommon. Any type of sexual expression needless to say, masturbation even to open urination, was severely punished by beatings.

Parents believed that after marriage, "Nature would take its own course." As a result there were many childless couples due to neither spouse knowing what was expected of them. Marriages were arranged and forced on couples, their average ages at marriage being thirty-six for men and twenty-five for women. A man was considered a "boy" until he was forty. The Church taught women that sex was a duty to be endured and that to refuse sex with their husband was a mortal sin. Underwear was kept on during sex and menopause regarded as an inevitable madness that afflicts women, some of whom confined themselves to bed at forty and lived as invalids until old age. Psychologists studying the island found that its inhabitants sought escape from sexual frustration by masturbation, drinking, and alcohol-fuelled fights.

There is a popular view of the human psyche as a mattress; if our desires are thwarted in one area, they will simply prompt something else to pop up like a broken spring elsewhere in our behaviour. The mattress theory is famously illustrated in antiquity by Teresa of Avila, the fourteenth-century Spanish saint, who experienced rapturous visions of "angelic visitation" which sound suspiciously like nothing more or less Godly than a rather spectacular orgasm. As St Teresa put it:

    In his [the angel's] hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love of God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several sharp moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it.

Orgasmic-style, rapturous bodily sensations may be more common in those of a religious disposition than has been generally acknowledged. We spoke earlier of the oddly copulatory rocking of Orthodox Jews praying and reading the holy scriptures. Burgo Partridge, in his history of orgies, wrote wisely in reference to the early days of Christianity:

    Abstinence from sexual activity leads to an almost total mental preoccupation with the subject and psychoneurotic symptoms and sexual hallucinations were developed on a really astonishing scale. A terrific outburst of 'incubi' and 'succubi' swept the bedrooms of Europe. These were nocturnal visitors, connected in the minds of the Christians with witchcraft and devilry, who indulged in liberties with the afflicted person, always of a sexual Nature. They were particularly common in nunneries, and seemed also to be highly infectious.

--- From The Intimate History of the Orgasm
Jonathan Margolis
Grove Press
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Part I

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