Ending shame around sex

Dr. Tina Sellers talks sexual shame, purity culture, and living an abundant life

Kyle Morrison, News Editor

Former Seattle Pacific University professor and licensed sex and gender feminist psychotherapist Tina Sellers spoke at a virtual event hosted by The Falcon on Jan. 21 about sexual education and the sexual misconceptions pushed by the church.

Sellers, who left SPU in 2019 after serving as a marriage and family therapy professor for over two decades, is now the head of the Northwest Institute of intimacy, which is an organization that hopes to provide comprehensive sexual training to psychotherapists, physicians and clergy.

The talk began with Sellers describing what she believes is a mischaracterization of sex in the church. Sellers believes that the purity movement of the 1980s and its “abstinence only approach” led to widescale sexual shame which matched certain psychological characteristics of sexual abuse.

“What I saw around the year 2000, was that there was this dramatic increase in sexual shame,” Sellers explained. “And what sexual shame looks like is a deep feeling of humiliation and disgust about yourself as a sexual being.”

Sellers believes that the purity culture pushed by the church is not in line with Jesus or his teachings. In fact, Sellers outlined an argument that purity culture and sexual shame was actually placed in the church almost three decades after Jesus’s time on earth.

“That was when the sexual ethic of the Christian church was determined… the beginning of the empire church took a left turn at that point away from what Jesus was teaching about love, justice, grace, women, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the body and created a dramatic, dark sexual ethic built on hierarchy, patriarchy, misogyny, exploitation, and the denigration of the body,” Sellers argued.

According to Sellers, Jesus would not approve of the Church’s current policies on sex, because he created our bodies to enjoy the sexual aspects of our life.

“Jesus never wanted you to distrust your body or see it as something that separated you from God,” Sellers said. “How could he? Your body was created by God on purpose to be exactly as it is, each part wonderful.”

Senior Emma Hamman, who attended the presentation explained that Sellers’ point on Jesus’s intended image of our bodies really hit home for her.

“Dr. Sellers presented information in a way that many Christians can understand and relate to, like when explaining how God wouldn’t have given us bodies that desire pleasure and then want us to feel shameful about our created bodies,” Hamman said.

The talk tied in the original sexual ethic back in the early days of the church to what the church believes now. Sellers believes that in the 1980s, the religious right and moral majority “climbed into bed together” creating a damaging sexual ethic that focused on denying the body instead of living an abundant life.

She believes that America’s culture of sexual shame and lack of comprehensive sexual education has been disastrous for the society as a whole.

“Every country that has comprehensive sex ed, and we have so much research to support this… has better statistics in all health measures. Lower teen pregnancy rates, lower STI rates, lower divorce rates, people marry later, describe more positive first sexual experiences, choose more compatible partners, more sexual literacy, describe better sexual communication in their relationships, describe more varied and satisfying sexual lives as adults,” Sellers explained.

Sellers says that a Christian sexual ethic is one that requires the individual to think and negotiate with their partner to satisfy and enrich the lives of both parties involved. This is in stark contrast to what Sellers describes as a passive approach to sexuality that draws arbitrary lines and tells people not to cross them.

Hamman, who grew up in the church, believes that this approach to sexuality makes a lot more sense than what she was taught growing up.

“Passive sexual boundaries create black-and-white rules with little to no explanation, whereas active sexual boundaries encourage both partners to reflect and communicate on if their actions make them feel safe, loved and respected,” Hamman explained. “In the church, I have only ever been taught about passive sexual boundaries and been told not to question these boundaries. These rules have never made sense to me and seemed to discredit my ability to critically think and feel for myself.”

In March, Sellers will be releasing a new book titled “Shameless Parenting- Everything You Need to Raise Shame Free Kids”. Sellers hopes this book will deconstruct some of the misconception parents have about sexual maturity, while also dismantling sexual shame in the next generation.

“Parents don’t know that when their 10-month old is getting their diaper changed and their hand finds its way to their genitals and it finds there, these fabulous nerve endings and it’s a great day as far as the kid goes, but the parent isn’t quite as excited isn’t as excited as the kid is about what the child just found, so the parent often slaps the hand away,” Sellers explained.

She went on to explain, that this message of sexual shame will slowly lodge its way into the kids’ brain, breeding an unhealthy attitude towards sex that rears its ugly head as children reach sexual maturity.

As the talk began to come to a close, Sellers made it a point to talk about consent. She believes that young adults have a lot to learn about the concept in order to honor their partners in the best way possible.

“Consent is not something we talk enough about. Consent is a voluntary agreement made without coercion between people with decision making capacity, knowledge, understanding, and autonomy,” Sellers explained. “Please listen to yourself. To have sex when you don’t want to, whether it’s on this side or on the other side of a commitment is to violate yourself and to let your partner violate you.”

Sellers believes that it is every person’s duty to leave a healthier and more rewarding sexual legacy for the generations that follow.

“Claim your body as something good. When you work to frame, name and claim you will actually aim for a new legacy,” Sellers explained. “You want to pass down to anyone who’s going to be after you: children, nieces, nephews, whatever, you want to pass down a different legacy if the one that you have had is a burden.