Talk About Sex: The Battles Over Sex Education in the United States by Janice M. Irvine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002, 271 pp., $25.95 hardcover.
Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance by Janet R. Jakobsen and Ann. Pellegrini. New York: New York University Press, 2003, 152 pp., $21.95 hardcover.
Some years ago, I asked a devout young evangelical colleague a question that had long perplexed me: "Why are evangelical Protestants so obsessed with sex?" My question perplexed "John" too. "Evangelicals are not obsessed with sex," he replied, puzzled. John's religious life centered around trying to live in a way worthy of Christ, which included caring for those weaker than himself, committing himself to the Christian fellowship and trying to lead a good, just life. Discussions about sex played little if any part.
"What about all the people who follow Jerry Falwell, and The 700 Club and all the talk about homosexuality and sex run rampant in our society?" "Oh, that." John, embarrassed, shrugged it off. "That's just parents worrying about their children. That's not central to evangelical life."
As I read Janice M. Irvine's Talk About Sex and Janet R. Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini's Love the Sin, I kept remembering John's comment. These two important books tell us a great deal about the relationship between religion and sex in the US. Today, it seems almost inevitable that tight-wing politicians should appeal to a "pro-family" Christian conservatism, mobilizing voters by demonizing homosexuality, sex education and blurry gender roles. These books force us to question that inevitability. While Irvine shows us how we got to this pass, Jakobsen and Pellegrini suggest a new and powerful strategy to move past it.
Irvine gives a riveting account of how the Christian Right came to control much of the sex education curriculum taught in public schools. She traces how …