Is it a sin to use sex toys? The history of sex toys and Christianity

One of the most interesting things about blogging for sex toy companies is you get to find out the sort of things people search for when they’re looking for information about their sex lives. I’m constantly fascinated by the questions people ask Google – and in my time I’ve tackled everything from ‘is it OK for straight men to use butt plugs?’ (YES!) to ‘is there something wrong with my vagina if I need to use lube?’ (NO!). Well, alongside these questions, it turns out that there are also lots of people asking whether it’s a sin to use sex toys.

Far be it from me to tell you what your individual religion may say about sex toy use – I’m an atheist, so I don’t have the kind of in-depth theological knowledge required to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for your particular god or gods. I’ve focused in this article on the Christian church – for the simple reason that I was raised C of E and so it’s the religion I know the most about. Although I can tell you that Hindus are encouraged to seek kama, and the Kama Sutra includes detailed passages on different ways to use dildos, I’m by no means an expert in that area. Likewise, given that I used to live in Japan I can’t help but mention that the Japanese religion Shinto gives rise to the annual penis festival at Kanayama Shrine where people parade huge phalluses around, as well as buying smaller models to take home themselves.

But interesting factoids aside, the religion I know most about when it comes to ‘sin’ is Christianity, so when my colleagues in the website department told me this was a frequently asked question, it seemed like a good opportunity to look at sex toy use throughout history, and the role the Christian church has played in telling people what they can or can’t do with their genitals.

Is sex just for reproduction?

The first thing to note, when we’re talking religion and sex, is that many religions focus very heavily on sex-for-procreation. The early Christian church (as well as many branches of the modern church) frown upon sex that is had for pleasure rather than procreation. The idea is that sex is ‘designed’ by God for the purpose of producing babies, and any other kind of sex is technically ‘sodomy’ and therefore bad and wrong.

One of my favourite bloggers – the historical scholar Dr Eleanor Janega – has written extensively on this. Here’s an extract from her fantastic overview of medieval church rules on sex over at BishUK:

“As you can expect, a bunch of dudes who were not allowed to have sex (the clergy, i.e. priests and monks who had to take a vow of chastity) didn’t really think that anyone else should be having any fun either, so they decided to make a bunch of rules about what sex people could have and they made the definition as narrow as possible.

“As far as the Church was concerned, the only time you were ever supposed to be having sex was specifically if you were: 1) a man and a woman; 2) married; and 3) trying to get pregnant when you had sex.”

So when we ask the question ‘is it a sin to use sex toys?’ it’s worth also asking who gets to define what a sin is. Where do these rules come from, and what impact do these rules have on people?

As I say, I’m not religious, so I don’t claim to know what’s going on in any specific religious texts, but it’s worth noting that if a religion does tell you using sex toys (or having any other form of sex that isn’t specifically about conception) is a sin, there’ll be a lot of people shut out of sexual pleasure completely. Not just many LGBT people – though of course they have often been persecuted in the name of religion – there are also many people who can only achieve pleasure through the use of sex toys themselves! People with mobility issues, arthritis, or other problems that make orgasm difficult to achieve, often rely on sex toys to provide them with the kind of sexual release that others may be able to achieve during Church-sanctioned ‘acceptable’ sex.

Are sex toys mentioned in religion?

The answer to this question will depend on your religion, of course, but there are plenty of examples throughout history of sex toys being used. Dr Janega writes about how Catholic penitentials often included references to women making dildos, and although we can’t guarantee the sources are 100% reliable, we can make an educated guess that this happened because… well… humans have been making dildos for tens of thousands of years. The oldest recorded dildo dates from around 28,000 years ago, because our ancestors were just as horny as we are.

So: is it a sin to use sex toys? Personally I find it hard to believe it could be, but then I’m an atheist so what do I know? All I know is that throughout history, religions has often been used as a means to suppress people’s urges to pursue pleasure and love in their own ways – whether denying LGBT people the right to love, or denying individuals the right to self-love, or issuing weird penances for people who make their own dildos. I also know that even where certain branches of a particular religion declare that something is a ‘sin’, there may well be other branches of the same religion that welcome that very thing. So while some Christians may believe that using sex toys is a sin, there are others that have opened sex toy shops to cater specifically to the Christian market. If you’re worried about your soul, talk to your spiritual advisor, but if you want to use sex toys, you’re in good company: humanity has been chasing pleasure for thousands of years, regardless of religious belief.

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