Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Women, Sexuality, and the Devil

906bf8b935a4eab74c1d91f443f3970aNothing bothers me more than the fact that religion has such a bad relationship with sex. In my particular experience, I am sick and tired of Christians having so many hangups about sex. I don’t necessarily have an issue with some Christians wanting to wait to have sex until marriage—I don’t agree with it, but as long as Christians don’t judge people who chose to do something different with their sexuality, then I’m fine with it. But that tends to not be the case. Individual Christians might be fine with it, but many Christian institutions tend not to be. I can’t tell you how many times as a kid I attended events that said “sex is a gift from God” but then proceed to say things like “but if you ever masturbate you’re sinning, if you think about sex you’re sinning, if you have sex ever then not only are you sinning but you’ll probably get a sexually transmitted disease, get pregnant, and even (especially if you’re a woman) you’ll be used up and broken.” This might not always be the intentional message, but I have seen and talked with enough teens to know this is the message that often gets through. The constant push from Christians to avoid any sort of sex or even exploration of sexuality certainly diminishes the belief that sex is a gift from God. But these modern problems aren’t the only thing that makes it seem like sex isn’t a gift from God. It’s Christianity’s long history of portraying sex as evil. Christianity has long listed numerous demons whose whole purpose was to tempt humans into some sort of “sexual perversion”, from Satan to Lilith and many others. There is also an obsession in Christian history with regulating peoples’ sex lives. There was a time when even married sex was considered lustful if it wasn’t done for procreation. Anything beyond married procreative sex was seen as the temptation of the devil.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. According to many religious teachings, this temptation into sexual sin was often seen to manifest itself primarily through women. Women were often thought to be more susceptible to lustful urges and temptation. Women were furthermore thought to have a closer connection to the devil because of this and because of their connection to Eve, the first woman, who was believed to have caused the downfall of man. And this is even reflected in our pop culture. I’m more than a little annoyed that more often than not in our pop culture, any and all sexuality is connected to the devil or demons, and that is all often wrapped in a nice sexist bow. While it’s understandable that our pop culture gets these ideas from religious sources, it’s certainly not healthy or helpful.

I started thinking about this problem after I began watching Penny Dreadful, which specifically shows Vanessa struggling with being possessed and being sought after to be the bride of the devil. Everything with Vanessa’s possession is kicked off with her coming of age and beginning to awaken to her sexuality. She starts having her sexual awakening as a young girl when she sees Sir Malcolm having sex with her mother. From there, Vanessa’s sexual desires grow stronger, which allows the devil to possess her. Almost each time we see Vanessa deal with a moment where she loses control and the devil takes her over, she engages in some sort of sexual activity. This always bugged me—not just because of the constant connection to the devil and sex, but also because of the sexist implications. While Penny Dreadful is certainly an interesting and creepy show, this story continues to perpetuate the idea that women, the devil, and sex are somehow intimately connected.

Vanessa Penny DreadfulThis constant connection between the devil and sex can also be seen in the TV show Lucifer, though the issues here do improve a little bit. In Lucifer, both Lucifer and the demon Maze are rather big hedonists who engage in a lot of sexual activity whenever they feel like it. Since Lucifer is more humanized in this show and portrayed as just flawed rather than evil, his sex life and that of Maze are never shown as evil or reprehensible. However, there are still some problems. The first is how Lucifer seems to inspire sexual desire, specifically in women, wherever he goes—almost as if that is part of his power. The only time we see him able to do this with a man is when the man was gay, and as of yet we have never met a woman (other than Chloe, who is immune to all of Lucifer’s powers) who is able to resist him. While Lucifer being able to inspire sexual desire in everyone could have potentially demonized sex in general, having only women be affected by it once again perpetuates the idea that women are somehow more susceptible to sexual sins and have a stronger connection to the devil.

Many shows portray sex as connected to the devil, and therefore evil. This could be solved if we showed good religious figures who are more connected with sexuality. There’s an angel named Amenadiel in Lucifer who engages in sexual activity in the show, but sadly it’s implied that the first time he has sex is with the demon Maze, making it seem like Amenadiel is being corrupted, again, by a woman. However, there is still some hope here as Maze and Amanadiel actually seem to both care about each other. If the two were to develop a healthy relationship, this could be a step in the right direction.

LuciferThe overall problem is that when our pop culture shows any link between sex and religion it’s almost always evil. It’s always “sex is sinful and a part of Satan’s realm” and it’s tiring and frustrating. It certainly doesn’t promote healthy ideas about sex in our society, but this is one instance where I don’t entirely blame writers for these tropes. I have to blame religion. It’s no surprise with Christianity having such a long and negative history with sex and sexuality that any connection between the Christian religion and sex in pop culture would be portrayed negatively. And it is really just incredibly upsetting. But I also don’t want to let writers entirely off the hook. Good writing at its core should be able to subvert tropes. Simple things like having more good religious figures like angels engage in sexual activity, not because they are tempted by evil or sinning, would work. Even simply having Christian characters who have a more progressive view of sex and sexuality would be incredibly helpful. Heck, I would pay good money for a writer to have enough courage to cast Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as a character in one of these supernaturally themed shows and have her reveal she wasn’t a virgin her whole life, and talk about how horribly she was slut-shamed while she was alive. Now that would be interesting and subversive. And of course, if writers feel they must conflate sex and evil for whatever reason, they have to make sure that it isn’t always women who are affected by this.

If creators don’t want to do any of the above, it would also be nice to see the devil tempt people with something other than sex for once. There are six other Deadly Sins, people! Pick one!

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3 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Women, Sexuality, and the Devil

  1. Perceptive and welcome in opening a historic tension present within Christian theology and continuing to find expression in popular culture. ‘The Confessions of St. Augustine’ have had a profound and lasting effect in Western thought in this field but his is not the only voice nor the last word – time to talk…

  2. Pingback: Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Problem with Exorcisms | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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