Lifestyle

How do you cope when a religious upbringing makes you feel guilty about sex?

Until recently I was about as likely to feel sorry for Justin Bieber as I was to embrace the return of low rise jeans.

After all, this is a man who wrote about himself in the guest book at Ann Frank’s house and sang made up Spanish while performing Despacito.

But if you grew up religious and therefore struggling with sex guilt, his recent interview in Vogue might make you feel some sympathy for the man.

In the interview with Vogue, Biebs explained that he and his new wife Hailey Baldwin were celibate before they got married.

He explained this quite surprising revelation, saying: ‘I found myself doing things that I was so ashamed of, being super-promiscuous and stuff, and I think I used Xanax because I was so ashamed.

‘My mom always said to treat women with respect. For me that was always in my head while I was doing it, so I could never enjoy it.

Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing.’ To start with, let’s clear up a bit of that confusion. Having sex with women is not inherently disrespectful.

You can have sex with someone in a respectful way, and you don’t need to be married for that to be the case.

Bieber then goes on the explain why he decided to become celibate for God, saying: ‘He [God] doesn’t ask us not to have sex for him because he wants rules and stuff.

‘He’s like, I’m trying to protect you from hurt and pain. I think sex can cause a lot of pain.

Sometimes people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. ‘Because they lack self-worth. Women do that, and guys do that.

‘I wanted to rededicate myself to God in that way because I really felt it was better for the condition of my soul.

And I believe that God blessed me with Hailey as a result.

There are perks. You get rewarded for good behavior.’ These are sentiments that anyone who was raised in a religion which forbids sex before marriage will understand.

I grew up Catholic, going to church as a child and then Catholic boarding school between 11 and 18.

While my parents aren’t strict and never made sex seem taboo, 18 years of church and Catholic school were enough to send the message loud and clear: sex before marriage is bad, dirty and wrong.

The problem with teaching people that sex is forbidden is that when you’re a teen you’re so full of hormones that your body is telling you you want sex all the time. You’re a seething mass of hormones. You are, to put it bluntly, really horny.

The idea that you’ve got to wait until your mid twenties to get rid of this feeling is terrifying.

Even masturbation, medically condoned as being healthy, is forbidden.

It’s hard to explain to anyone who grew up in a secular household just how bad it makes you feel when you believe that masturbation is a sin.

Every time you do it there’s an initial relief, followed by a huge wave of guilt.

Just like Justin Bieber, I believed that sex was inherently bad, and that I wouldn’t meet someone I could have a long term relationship with until I stopped doing it.

Any unhappiness I experienced I assumed was some kind of retribution for my sexual sinning.

When I got married in 2017 I had my first guilt-free sexual experience of my life.

For the previous eight years of sexual activity I had been trying to silence a small voice in the back of my head which claimed that fun, consenting sex was wrong because it wasn’t with my husband.

I’m far from alone. ‘I used to cry after sex,’ Lola*, 24, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I was raised in a devout household where sexual relationships outside of marriage were forbidden.

I went to university and did the predicable rebellion thing. ‘I enjoyed exploring, but I felt so bad after.

Like I’d hurt my mum, even though she didn’t know. ‘In the end I got counselling. Reading about being sex-positive helped as well.

I’m in a long term relationship now and it’s better, but I still pretend to my family that we haven’t had sex. I’ll pretend on my wedding day that I’m a virgin.’

It’s not just women, either. William*, 29, tells us: ‘I was only told once, at religious school, that masturbation was a sin.

But that was enough. ‘I felt like I was doing something dirty every time I touched myself.

When my friends started having sex I couldn’t understand how they all felt so relaxed and free about it, when we’d been told our whole lives that giving in to our urges basically meant going to hell.

‘I thought that having sex with a girl meant that I didn’t like or respect her.

‘In the end I dated a girl who had similar problems and we worked through them together, but I still have to work to remember that having sex with a woman isn’t a bad thing.’

According to sex therapist Sarah Berry, it’s possible to work through sexual shame.

She told Metro.co.uk: ‘Putting the shame into sentences can help people make sense of what they think and why.

Also, write down any fears, judgements that have been made, might be made or that you make on yourself.’

‘If your shame involves a fetish or sexual activity, maybe do some research online to see how other people feel about their activities.

‘Contact with others can help normalise your thoughts, give you more information and if you like, new friends and playmates.

‘An open-minded psychosexual therapist can help you work through this.’

Sex is not wrong, dirty or bad. It can make people behave badly, and it requires a responsible behaviour.

Sex can certainly be part of a problem.

But it’s not the problem within itself, and as long as it’s between two consenting adults, there is no good reason t0 feel guilty.

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