Sex, Sex Toys and Christianity
Marketing "intimacy products" for a Christian audience.
Posted Jun 25, 2011
I first encountered Kelsy Burke's research on online Christian sex toy stores at the 2011 Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality Eastern and Midcontinental Conference, and I was more than a little mystified. Kelsy laughingly informed me that this is a common reaction: "When I describe my research to friends and colleagues, a common response is bafflement that Christian sex toy stores exist"
Kelsy is currently engaged in a study of online Christian sex toy stores as part of a larger project for her Ph.D. dissertation that examines how evangelicals promote sex practices within marriages. I asked her to elucidate her research: "Since the latter half of the 20th Century, evangelicals have thrived, in part, by participating in the capitalist marketplace, producing Christian versions of rock music, movies, and self-help books. Evangelicals have written sex manuals that have produced booming industry since the 1970s and new best-sellers continue to be released every year. A Google search for ‘Christian sex toys' will bring you to Christian websites that sells ‘intimacy products,' including traditional vibrators and dildos; anal play; g-spot and dual action toys. Customers can find just about any sex toy, other than video pornography, on a Christian-owned site."
What do Christian sex toy stores have in common?
• They are evangelical-owned. Although owners label their stores as ‘Christian,' they espouse distinctly evangelical beliefs, such as a literal interpretation of the Bible, an emphasis on being born again and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
• They sell sex toys to a married Christian audience. Store owners insist their products are intended for married couples only, and fantasizing about using their products, as long as it is with a spouse, is not a sin. Store owners go to great lengths to ensure that sexuality (including sexual thoughts) is contained within the confines of marriage.
• A belief by owners that God all but demands satisfying sex within Christian marriages. According to the owners of one online store, "Christian sex should be sexy, fun, passionate, pleasurable, and extremely intimate! God created sex as a gift to be shared between a married man and woman, so enjoying it within the context of His creation should only increase the delight!"
• All Christian sex toy stores advertise themselves as "pornography-free." As one online store declares, ‘pornography is the number one reason for failed marriages.' What being pornography-free means however varies from site to site. One store sells "married erotica" and does not consider it to be pornographic; other sites remove or cover packaging that depicts pornographic images, while other sites refuse to sell anything that requires label modification. One store owner goes so far as to replace pictures of nude models with line-drawing outlines of models in product instruction manuals.
Kelsy concludes by detailing the inherent complexity of Christian sex toy stores: "Not all evangelical Christians would condone Christian sex toy stores. Still, the presence of evangelical-owned online sex toy stores is symbolically meaningful. They serve to validate sexual intimacy that can't be found in the Bible. Evangelicals interested in certain sex practices that are stereotypically taboo within conservative Christian communities, such as anal play or sex involving light bondage, can find confirmation that their sexual interests are approved in Christian settings. But on the other hand, Christian sex toy stores also create a particular dilemma for the evangelical community. By talking about and selling products related to sex, Christian sex toy stores may sexualize thoughts or actions in ways that go against evangelical principles. They blur boundaries of permissible and forbidden, challenging a coherent notion of Godly sexuality."