Sex + Religion

This 13 part series premiered in the fall of 2010 on Vision TV, produced by Creative Anarchy and Riddle Films.

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The clip is from an episode on Virginity.   It tells the story of two teenage girls from Columbia South Carolina who attend a special "prom" called a "Purity Ball" where girls go with their dads and promise to remain virgins until marriage.  One of these young women tells us she intends to retain her virginity.  The other young woman in our story is pregnant.  And her dad is not available to go with her.  But she decides to go anyway.

SEX + RELIGION: What is the relationship between sex and religion? Where does sex fit into the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment? Is it an integral part of who we are, or is it a blind biological drive that leads us away from the divine? In a world overflowing with divergent attitudes about sex and religion, the sacred and the profane, how are we to navigate this provocative landscape. In Sex + Religion we explore these questions through first person, personal stories.  And we seek out experts... from sex therapists to Buddhist monks, dominatrixes to Catholic priests – interviewing them both inside and outside the fold.  You'll meet devotees of tantric sex and celibacy, rabbis, priests, imams, Tibetan lamas, sex workers, philosophers and gurus – all of whom shed some much-needed light on the relationship between sex and religion.

13 X 30 Minute Documentary Series

Episode 101: In Praise of Sex

Synopsis: Throughout history, sex and religion have often been strange bedfellows.  But more and more people are working to bring the worlds of sex and religion closer together. Much closer.  

Story 1:  30-Day Sex Challenge, a plan to strengthen couples emotionally and physically, is the brainchild of Paul and Susie Wirth.  But there are two important footnotes: Paul is a Pastor and the idea stems from his own infidelity.

Story 2:  Dr. Heba Kotb is a devout Muslim woman and Islam’s only female Sexologist. She also has a phenomenally successful TV show.  And although she emphasizes the importance of having a good sex life, she courts controversy in both the East…and the West.

 

Episode 102: Divine Art 

Synopsis: Reaching as far back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and the Orient, sexuality and religion have often combined to create artistic inspiration.  In fact, Renaissance artists used religion as an excuse to depict sexuality. The question today is how far can artists go in depicting sex in a religious context.  At what point do religious objections venture into censorship?

Story 1:  Leonard Nimoy is best known for his role as Spock on Star Trek but he has another life as a renowned photographer. His photography took him on a search for the feminine aspect of G-d.

Story 2:  Artist Diana Thorneycroft uses her photography to take on the Catholic Church and give voice for to those who aren’t being heard.

 

Episode 103: Virginity

Synopsis: Why in most of the world’s major religions is virginity so highly prized?  What is the relationship between virginity and chastity?  In this episode we will explore the notion of purity.  We will journey to South Carolina where daughters, at a formal father-daughter dance, pledge to remain virgins until marriage and travel to France, where “re-virginization,” a surgical procedure to reconstruct the hymen, has become very popular with Muslim women. 

Story 1:  Eleven and twelve year old boys and girls are given “the talk” about chastity at a confirmation weekend retreat.  Talking mainly to the boys afterwards we find out how well these kids absorbed the lesson.

Story 2:  A purity ball, also known as a father-daughter purity ball or purity wedding, is a formal event attended by fathers and their daughters. Purity balls promote virginity until marriage for teenage girls, and are often closely associated with U.S. Christian churches.  Proponents promote a strong father- daughter relationship as a means to affirm what they consider to constitute spiritual and physical purity.  What makes this Purity Ball in South Carolina different is that Jasmine, the girl we’re following, is attending with her mother and is eight months pregnant.

Story 3:  In some Muslim families virginity is so strongly sanctioned that females who engage in pre-marital sex risk being disowned by their families and worse.  It’s often at these times that women turn to hymen reconstructive surgery.   In this moving segment, we see the extent some women go to regain their virginity.   

 

Episode 104: Sex + Religion on Display

Synopsis: Mixing the worlds of sex and religion is tricky at the best of times; presenting it for the world to see is another thing entirely.  This episode explores the consequences of bearing your creative soul…in public.

Story 1:  Actress/comedian Jamie Sneider wondered why JEWISH and SEXY are not words that often go together.  The result is a calendar called Year of the Jewish Woman, which is a celebration of sexuality, Judaism and…food.

Story 2:  Sixth generation Mormon Chad Hardy creates the Men on a Mission Calendar in an effort to shatter the stereotypes of Missionaries and pays the ultimate price.

Story 3:  Artist Makan Emadi has created a series of paintings that explores the relationship between sexuality and Islam. However, is the risk worth the potential consequences?

  

Episode 105: Contraception 

Synopsis: What do religions say about contraception? Is it a religious issue or also an issue of human rights?  In the 21st century, contraception is no longer just about family planning.  It’s also about saving lives.  Are religious views outdated or are moral values absolute and unchanging? 

Story 1:  Founder Percy Skuy travels to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio to attend the opening of the new Percy Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception. A look at the history of contraception and the role religions have played in shaping that history. 

Story 2:  In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared that condoms might in fact be worsening the spread of AIDS in Africa.  In the first of two stories from the continent, filmmaker Jeremy Gans travels to South Africa to meet Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowling who may be leading a revolution against his own church in the fight against AIDS.

Story 3: The Treatment Action Campaign has been called the world’s most effective HIV/AIDS organization.  Their 16,000 volunteers cannot do their work alone however.  They find both an ally and an obstacle in the mosques and churches of Cape Town.

  

Episode 106: Polygamy

Synopsis: Some experts cite 40 polygamous relations in The Bible.  Based on this, early Mormons practiced polygamy.  A century ago, however, mainstream Mormonism rejected polygamy.  But despite it being illegal in North America, sects of Fundamentalist Mormons still practice polygamy.  Mohammed had four wives in the Qu’ran so Islam accepts polygamous marriages.  In Iran, polygamy is legal.  In this episode we will explore the world of plural marriage.  

Story 1:  Centennial Park, Arizona is a Fundamentalist Mormon community that still believes in polygamy.  Holed up in a sparsely populated area, the residents prefer to keep a low profile, flying under the radar.  But recently they have agreed to allow a camera into their community.  This is a rare and intimate close up of Ariel Hammon, his two wives and their 12 children.

Story 2:  4 Wives, 1 Mantakes a look at polygamy in the Muslim world in rural Iran where it is legal and religiously sanctioned:  the intricacies of the relationships between the four wives, their husband, their astoundingly free-spoken mother-in-law and their numerous children. Sometimes humorous and often heartbreaking, this story follows the daily lives of the wives whose situation has turned them into both bitter rivals and co- conspirators against their abusive husband. 

Story 3:  Women born into polygamy – we visit a matriarch who was married to a Mormon man who had ten wives and more than fifty children. Then she left and discovered Jesus and monogamy.  She is reunited with four of her daughters for a surprise party for her daughter Connie who has just left a 28-year-old polygamist marriage.   

 

Episode 107: Pornography

Synopsis: It’s a dramatic understatement to say that religion has a problem with pornography but it’s an issue largely hidden from sight. In the West the issue of how to deal with the effects of pornography is paramount, but in the world of Islam, the question of what is and what is not pornographic still takes center stage.

Story 1:  Talking about the problem of pornography is not a comfortable subject for most Churches - which is precisely why Pastor Craig Gross started the XXXChurch. The “Number 1 Christian Porn Site” on the web, XXXChurch is tackling Christianity’s dirtiest secret! 

Story 2:  Ahmed Khaled’s short film, The Fifth Pound, fuses suggested sexuality within a Muslim framework.  The film has been labeled pornographic and banned in Egypt.  Some have even called him an enemy of Islam.  But that was never his intent.

  

Episode 108: Wedding Night 

Synopsis: The beginning of a couple’s life together as husband and wife marks an important turning point in each of their lives.  For those who due to religious observance are virgins the anticipation of the sexual consummation on their wedding night can run the gamut from thrilling to terrifying. Without education or guidance from religious leaders, newly married couples may find themselves lost in a sea of confusion and self-doubt. This episode will explore what – if anything – exists in the way of instruction for the pious. 

Story 1: Newfoundlanders Loretta and Harvey are in their 70’s.  Both are devout Anglicans and are getting married.  Together, they discuss life, love, faith and their wedding night.

Story 2: In September 2001, filmmaker Noura Kevourkian was in Syria making a film called Veils Uncovered.  Then 9/11 happened and she was forced to leave, her filming unfinished.  Noura returns to the Middle East and meets Abir, a young Syrian migrant worker about to be married to a man she’s only been engaged to for two weeks.  They’ve never even held hands. Abir’s life is about to change forever.

 

Episode 109: Sex as Religion

Synopsis: Most religions preach abstinence before marriage.  You connect with the divine and then, when you’re married, you have sex.  Tantra, at least the way it’s taught in North America, sees sex as the way to connect with the divine.  But is this just a way to have more sex in your life or does it help the practitioner glimpse the divine. 

Story 1:  Jessie and Kevin are living together, but there are problems, sexual problems.  Lots of couples would go seek a marriage counselor, but their plan is to try to explore their sexuality solve their problem” at a tantric weekend retrear in Northern Ontario.  Mid-weekend it looks like their problem is about to destroy their relationship.  Catching up with the couple a couple of weeks later, we find out if the tantric weekend helped rebuild their relationship signaled its demise.  

Story 2:   Sex Magic is a feature-length documentary about a tantric guru who has slept with between 1,000 and 2,000 women and uses his sexual prowess in “hands-on” therapy with female clients who have sexual problems.  As the movie premiere begins we see an edit segment of this controversial guru engaged in his sexual healing while living a tantric and polygamous existence that suggests that a man “can have your cake and eat it, too.” 

We catch up with Sex Magic at it’s American premiere at the Maui Film Festival.  The program guide warns, “There is film is guaranteed to spark lots of comments.” The audience, true to the program guide, offers pithy, sexy and delicious off-beat reactions to this glimpse inside the fascinating world of tantra.

  

Episode 110: Preaching Sex

Synopsis: For some couples in today’s faith communities, there is much confusion regarding the role sexuality plays in a marriage. More and more, religious leaders are having to point the way and are pushing their congregants to expand their sexual expression and the potential to deepen the sacred bonds of marriage.

Story 1:  In this animated prologue, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach finds scriptural evidence in the Torah that God sanctions the use of sex toys in a Jewish bedroom.

Story 2:  Carnell Borden and his wife Angela run an online company selling “relationship enhancement” products. It’s called The Pure Bed. The catch is that he’s a pastor and – until now - he’s managed to keep The Pure Bed a secret from his congregation.

Story 3:  Meet Habeeb Alli. Writer. Poet. Sexual Educator. Imam. Together with a Rabbi and a Priest, Imam Habeeb is organizing his first ever multi-faith workshop on sexuality. Oh, and Habeeb is also calling on Sex Educator Carlyle Jansen to facilitate and provide a few of the more outrageous props.

  

Episode 111: Prostitution

Synopsois: In the Old Testament, Tamar, twice widowed and childless, disguises herself as a prostitute to get what’s rightfully hers – and the Bible totally approves of her and yet the Whore of Babylon is associated with the Anti-Christ.  These days most churches disapprove and exclude sex worker. What is the relationship between the prostitution and religion?  

Story 1: The story of Tamar and Judah in Genesisis rarely taught in Sunday school.  To fulfill God’s purpose, Tamar resorts to prostitution and is the first woman the Bible totally approves of.  The story is recreated and sets up the context for the episode on religion and prostitution.

Story 2:  Rev Ruth Wright tells about a church conference in the 15th century attended by the Pope, attended by the Pope, 29 cardinals, 100 "learned doctors of law and divinity," 134 abbots, and 183 bishops and archbishops, oh yes, 700 prostitutes.  Interestingly enough prostitutes then were not looked down upon as they are today.  Rev. Ruth tells us about her experiences ministering in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area flooded with prostitutes.

Story 3:  Annie Lobert was a high-price hooker in Las Vegas for eleven years before she woke up from an attempted suicide and found Jesus.  Now she spearheads Hookers4Jesusand is committed to getting other hookers off the Vegas strip.  Annie believes that only someone who’s lived it can reach these girls.  “The girls” will only trust someone who’s lived that life.

 

Episode 112: Same-Sex Attraction

Synopsis: Sexual union has been a fundamental organizing principles of human society since history began. But since the nature of relationships is changing in modern times, with people coupling for love and companionship rather than social need, should the traditionally man-and-woman only club admit new members?  Does sexual orientation negate a person’s ability to have a meaningful relationship with God?  

Story 1:  People from all walks of life address the issue of same- sex attraction in direct to camera testimonials. 

Story 2:  Tony & Peggy Campolo are Baptist ministers who believe strongly in opposing points of view on the subject of gay marriage.  The thing is, they’re married and they’ve taken their disagreement on the road in a public debate. 

Story 3:  Mitchell and Orrin became the first gay members of First Narrayver Synagogue to get married after the congregation voted to allow gay marriage.  As they watch their wedding video for the first time, they recount the road that got them there and discuss the importance of staying true to their faith and their identity.

 

Episode 113: Sexual Fantasy

Synopsis: Sexual fantasy is mental imagery that an individual considers erotic.  This fantasy can be a long, drawn-out story or a quick mental flash of sexual imagery; its purpose can range from sexual arousal and reaching orgasm, to simply passing time or helping a person fall asleep. A person may not wish to enact a sexual fantasy in real life, and since the process is entirely imaginary, they are not limited to acceptable or practical fantasies.  On the other hand, many Western social scientists today see a lack of fantasy, or guilt surrounding fantasy, as a contributing factor to sexual dysfunction.  What do religions says about sexual fantasy?

Story 1: Where does sexual fantasy become a sin and what happens when the Church tries to censor it?  As described by antiquity detective  Sarah Dunant (“The Birth of Venus,” “In the  Company Of The Courtesan”) this is a true account of how 16  pornographic pictures ended up on the Pope’s summer palace in 16th century Italy.  And the unexpected consequences of the Pope’s attempt to white-wall the incident. 

Story 2:  Jesus said to fantasize about another was to commit adultery.  What do people think these days?   Is it okay to fantasize about others if you don’t act on it?  A cross-section of people give us their take on sexual fantasy.  

Story 2:  Rudy (not his real name) grew up in a strict Mennonite household where masturbating and thinking about sex made you evil.  Rudy became a sex addict.  He got heavily into pornography and had multiple affairs when he was a young married man.  As a result his life fell apart. This is a story of a man who purposely sought an atheist therapist to solve a sexual problem he felt was engendered by religion.