What does sex have to do with… religion?

Many people argue that religion and sex do not intertwine. Sex is often portrayed as a ‘fragile’ or ‘sacred’ topic that is seldom talked about. Religions around the world all have different views on sexual intercourse.

The most popular religion worldwide, Roman Catholicism preaches that sex is a precious virtue that should happen only after marriage. Engaging in sexual activity before marriage in considered a mortal sin. In Catholicism, mortal sins are considered the most severe type of sin, and it is recommended to go to communion before you receive the Holy Communion after committing a sin of this kind. However, in most churches, it is advised that activities like cuddling, holding hands, and sometimes kissing are thought of as okay when dealing with intimacy before marriage. Sex within marriage for Catholics is completely normal. Couples are encouraged to have sex as it is said to unite them.

Some forms of birth control are also aloud, so that couple can engage in sex without the wife having to worry about constantly having children. However abortion is viewed as murder. To Catholics, the beginning of life starts at conception, making abortion a mortal sin.

Regarding sex in Buddhism, buddhism.about.com says sex is seen as an okay act, as long as it is not abusive, and if the couple loves one another. It is not okay if sex between a married couple is abusive. Desire to have sex is described as a type of suffering, and is called tanha, which is the second noble truth.

In Judaism, sex is considered to be virtually the same type of evil as hunger or thirst. However, sex does come from an evil impulse and is told to be controlled. The only permissible sex is between a husband and wife and is called a mitzvah. This is a significant combination of both love and desire. Sexual contact outside of marriage is not allowed, as Jews believe such acts will lead to sexual intercourse.

In India, there are a group of girls who dedicate their lives to a Hindu deity and they support their families through sex work. On independent.co.uk, Sarah Harris talks about her experience traveling to and talking to the girls. Otherwise known as Temple prostitutes, the Devadasi practice was made illegal in 1988. However, this practice still continues, and ceremonies are held underground. Girls who participate in the practice are usually ashamed of what they do, and typically very poor. Some girls join the practice as early as two or three years old, and are raised in Devadasi communities, where there are no men. This way, the girls grow up not expecting to marry and have a husband, because they have never had a father figure.




Here is a video link to a documentary about Hindu girls in the Indian city of Sangli that sell their bodies to Hindu Goddess Yellamma.


If you traveled to India, and saw this practice, would you try and talk to one of these girls?

How does this make you feel knowing that this happens, especially at such a young age?

Do you think this is considered okay because it is part of a religion?

Do you think that law enforcement should further push to make this illegal and not let it slide in some of the more poor, rural areas?

Do you think this should be legalized?

An Empowering Experience

On October 10th this semester, we had a guest speaker come in and inform us on her work as a doula. Her name was Merrill Durham and she is a birth doula that serves clients in Middle Tennessee. Merrill’s presentation was both personal and informative. She began the presentation by telling her own story of how she became inspired to pursue a career as a birth doula. She first stated that she was probably just as confused by and uniformed of home birthing and the job of a doula when she was invited by her friend to attend her home birth. Merrill continued to describe the experience as an immensely sacred one and one that changed her life forever. This experience was one that inspired her to begin to learn and study everything she possibly could about labor and childbirth. She attended a number of home births and also births that were held at hospitals. She also had a first-hand experience when she became pregnant and chose to have a natural birth at home. She repeatedly stated how empowering that experience was for her and it became her goal to empower other women in their own birthing experience.

Merrill’s presentation included a lot of information on what exactly home birthing and having a natural birth entails. A beneficial aspect of this presentation was that she did not express bias or a purpose for persuading the audience to participate a natural home birth. She provided factual information about both home birthing and birthing at hospitals with the use of drugs. Another beneficial aspect was the information provided about birthing in a hospital that I, personally, was not aware of. She informed us on the dialogue that exists within the hospital and the ability for the birthing mother to request for or refrain from any procedure that occurs in labor. She informed us that sometimes hospital doctors will inform the patient that she will “need” a procedure done while this may be implied that the patient has no choice in the matter when in fact she most certainly does.

A limitation of this presentation would be that she could have provided more history regarding natural birth and possibly include references to birthing from previous centuries and how the development of modern medicine has influenced the success rates of birth. I feel this may provide more substance or support for her presentation.

This presentation connects to previous course content we have covered including feminism and gender. The birthing experience is one that is unique to women and should be done so in a way that best empowers the woman. A woman should not be told how or in what setting the birth of her child should be done. Feminism involves political, social, and economic quality among both men and women and women’s method of birth should not be dictated by another, whether it be the husband, partner, or friends and family. Women should not be kept in the dark at hospitals about their birthing process and made to feel inferior to doctors’ authority.


An example from media that I immediately thought of during this presentation was an episode from Keeping Up With the Kardashians. My sisters and I watch this show regularly and I had remembered an episode that I watched with them over the summer involving Kourtney Kardashian’s birth of her daughter Penelope. In this episode and scene attached above, Kourtney talks with her sisters, Kim and Khloe, about thinking about a conversation she had with a midwife. Kourtney explains how the midwife she spoke with has owned a birthing center for seventeen years and they help do at home births. Kourtney ponders this idea as she says how the birthing could include all of her close relatives to come over to her house and have her own son be able to watch the birth. Kourtney says, “I feel like it’s empowering to know that you can do it.” Her sisters remind her that during her previous birth to her son Mason, she was numbed using medicine and that she doesn’t remember how painful the birth was. Her sister’s advise against this type of home birth however Kourtney still questions if it is right for her.

I felt this scene not only provides an example of a woman that is considering an at home birth and replicates the type of setting that Merrill had described as an at home birth, but also attests to the pressures from others that a woman faces when deciding a method for her own birth. The aggressiveness of Kourtney’s sisters’ responses gives an idea of how often loved ones feel as though they know what is best for another’s birthing experience. Even as Kourtney tried to further explain the process of an at home birth that she learned about through talking to a midwife, her sisters interrupt and respond in an almost appalled way. This relates to the idea that birth is an extremely personal experience and is unique for each woman, as Merrill mentioned in her presentation. Society attempts to put pressures on woman and voice opinions about birthing methods and can influence the overall perception of birth and how it “should” be done.

Do you feel that a natural at home birth is a popular option for pregnant women?

Do you feel as though there is enough information made possible about doulas and the option of a natural at home birth?

Do you think that a birth in a hospital appeals as safer than an at home birth with a doula?

Would you consider a hospital the safest place to be in labor and birth a child?

Merrill Durham’s Doula Presentation


A few weeks ago, a local Nashville Doula (named Merrill Durham) came into our class to explain what she does for her profession and why. A doula is a woman who helps pregnant women throughout the magical journey of pregnancy. Doulas provide both essential moral and necessary physical support to expecting mothers and guide them through the grueling nine-month process of being with child. The word doula actually comes from the Greek meaning “a woman who serves.” Doulas understand birth as an irreplaceable experience that women will remember for the entirety of their lives. Doulas offer a close companionship and comfort to pregnant women and help lead them through their processes with reassurance and encouragement.

Merrill Durham was first introduced to natural birth only a short 4 years ago in 2010. Immediately after experiencing her first home birth, she began to understand how natural, normal, and pure birth is and should be. She began to attend multiple in home natural births over the next few years. She studied up and read every book and watched every movie on natural births and doulas and fell in love with the profession. It was clear in class as she was presenting how passionate she is about her work and about in home births. Merrill, herself, then became pregnant in the year of 2013 with her own child and her passion for natural births continued to grow. She birthed her daughter in her own home and experiencing the birth first hand only made her realize how special and natural birth really is. Merrill Durham was in labor for four days. While this seems crazy (opposed to a hospital birth in which labor typically is much shorter), Merrill loved the experience and it brought it her closer to her daughter in a unique way.

Studies have shown that there is an increasing amount of benefits to having a doula available at births and throughout pregnancy. When doulas attend a birth, there tends to be 25 percent shorter labors, a 50 perfect reduction in Caesarean births, a 40 percent reduction in pitocin use, 30 percent fewer requests by women for pain relief, and 60 percent fewer epidural requests by women. A lot of women also choose to do home births instead of hospital births because there are multiple benefits. While hospital births are now most popular and well known (due to their convenience), home births historically have been very normal. A lot of women choose to have a natural in home birth because they are in the comfort of their own home and are mentally much more open to giving birth. Also, it is more beneficial for the child because the mother is in a much more relaxed environment. Furthermore, the absence of medication is better for the mother as well as the children in the long run—and doulas often encourage a completely natural birth with no pain medication.


For some reason, there are various myths about pregnancy that have been spread over the years that scare expecting mothers. While pregnancy should be thought of as a wonderful, happy, and joyous experience—it is stereotypically categorized as extremely painful, tiring, and altogether terrifying. This is where doulas come in. Most doulas grow to be very close to their pregnant patients because they spend a lot of intimate time and help the expecting mothers get rid of all of their pregnancy fears. A lot of women think that pregnancy will ruin their body and stretch out their vaginas, which is very untrue. Women also think that pregnancy is going to be the most painful thing they will ever experience—and that will make it a horrible experience.


After Merill Durham’s presentation in our class, I thought a lot about in home births versus hospital births. Although most people do not traditionally use a doula, I think I definitely will when I decide to have children. The way Merrill explained her experience—it made it seem like she grows extremely close with her patients and they are exceptionally comfortable around her. I think it is very important to have that tight nit relationship with the people and doctors involved in your own pregnancy. Women who have negative experiences during their pregnancies most likely are unfamiliar and distant from their doctors and nurses. I feel that if I had a doula who I was close with while going through my own pregnancy, it would be much more pleasant and comfortable. Doulas usually attend births for women who desire to have natural births without medicine or painkillers. I am not sure if I could have a baby with no medication—although Merrill explained natural births as being very beautiful. Whether or not I have a natural birth or choose to use pain medication, I will definitely hire a doula. I want my pregnancies to be as sacred and memorable as possible and enjoy the process instead of being uncomfortable and scared.


Would you prefer to have a home birth or a hospital birth? Do you want to have a doula present at your birth? Why do you think there’s a certain stigma on doulas and in home births? What stigma do you see associated with them? Why do you think women aspire to be doulas instead of nurses? Aside from the physical benefits, what are the mental benefits (provided by the doula) for a woman giving birth?

Empowering Pregnant Women

CVS animated GIF “There was a time when the pregnant woman stood as a symbol of stately and sexual beauty. While pregnancy remains an object of fascination, our own culture harshly separates pregnancy from sexuality. The dominant culture defines feminine beauty as slim and shapely. The pregnant woman is often not looked upon as sexually active or desirable, even though her own desires and sensitivity may have increased. Her male partner, if she has one, may decline to share in her sexuality, and her physician may advise her to restrict her sexual activity. To the degree that a woman derives a sense of self-worth from looking ‘sexy’ in the manner promoted by dominant cultural images, she may experience her pregnant body as being pregnant and alien” (53).
Iris Marion Young, “Pregnant Embodiment” Continue reading

Spotlight on… Vandy Sex Educators!


It is important that students are aware of the safety precautions and risks associated with having sex, so they can make healthy choices during their time at Vanderbilt and in the future. For this Campus-Community Connections Project, we decided to investigate the Sex Educators Club at Vanderbilt University. Continue reading