Bible Readings as Material for Sex Instructions

Anthony Zimmerman
Presented at 38th Bi-monthly meeting of Japanese
Population Resource Association,
Tokyo, May 31, 1969
Published in Child and Family magazine,
Spring 1969
Reproduced with Permission

Before civilizations became sophisticated, tribal elders and religious prophets spoke openly, frequently, and plainly about sex. Instead of permitting the subject to go underground, the appointed educators of youth took the initiative in sex education with energy and imagination. Preachers hurled denunciations at whores and fornicators until the ears of their hearers rang. Elders isolated adolescents in camps until they were satisfied that the new generation appreciated its sex responsibilities.

Old Testament Prophets did not mince words. When Ezekiel urged the Israelites to stop idolatry, he caught their attention with a sexy allegory and roared at them:

How easily led you were-it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks--to behave no better than a bold faced whore.... The Lord Yahweh says this: For having undressed and let yourself be seen naked while whoring with your lovers and with your filthy idols.... I am going to band together all the lovers who have pleasured you; ... I will strip you in front of them, and let them see you naked. And I mean to punish you like women who commit adultery and murder; I intend to hand you over to fury and jealousy; ... they will tear your clothes off, take your jewels and leave you completely naked. They will then whip up the crowd against you; you will be stoned and run through with a sword.... I will put an end to your whoring; no more paid lovers for you. (Ezekiel16)

But today's preacher must be bland of expression; he hides the raw flesh of sex under well-padded phraseology. The school teacher, who replaces the elders, may lecture on chemical and psychic processes during mating, while students take notes to pass exams. Parents stutter through the story of the bees and flowers, while the children yawn.

Commercial monopoly

Commercial interests have almost monopolized the field of sex education instead. For a price, children and adolescents can ogle through their girly magazines, or observe intercourse on the movie screen. Before long they do more than that.

Of the 2,000,000 abortions per year in Japan, most are done on married women, but a considerable number of them are performed on the still unmarried. When adolescents migrate from villages to the Tokaido Megapolis for employment, chances are high that they lose their shame in a sex jungle. In Sweden, youths experience their first sexual intercourse at the median age of 17; the majority has a second intercourse five weeks after the first. Men age 18-30 have had a median number of eight sex partners already. (See Reader's Digest, May, 1969.) In America, adolescents begin to yawn during heterosexual intercourse; they graduate to homo experiments, and to drawn out thrills while on pot. One of four marriages ends in divorce.

If educators intend to challenge the monopoly of commercial pornographers, they will need a method which is attractive, aggressive, imaginative, and convincing; millions will have to cooperate in the teaching activities. Youths must be saturated with responsible sex attitudes before prurient commercial sex begins the work of erosion.

Trial balloon

Perhaps the Bible, especially the Old Testament, presents educators with an opportunity. The study of the rich, frank, and detailed references to sex in the Old Testament formed an integral part of Jewish education (Cf. Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion,"Chastity"), and earlier generations of Christians made more use of these passages than we do. In order to stimulate the study of such a possibility, subjects for chapters in a possible textbook for sex education based on the Bible are given at random below, with a minimum of suggestions for supplementary teaching material. Since this is a mere trial balloon, not much effort was made to be complete and systematic.

1. God's plan concerning sex

Yahweh God said,

It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.... So Yahweh God made the man fall into a deep sleep.And while he slept, be took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. Yahweh God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed: "This at last is bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh! This is to be called woman, for out of `her man' this one has been taken." This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself, to his wife, and they become one body.

Now both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame in front of each other. (Genesis,2, 18; 21-25;translations are from The Jerusalem Bible)

From the passage, a text, or the teacher, can elaborate: God created sex, wanted it, and still wants it. Man and woman are essentially equal, superior to animals. Sex is for personal development, and sex is for children. Marriage is best if monogamous. Nakedness would not embarrass us if our instincts were under closer control of reason. But as things are now, we need various helps to control the sex instinct.

2. Moral laws and civil laws are necessary for the regulation of sex behavior

Yahweh spoke to Moses; he said: Speak to the sons of Israel and. say to them:

I am Yahweh your God. You must not behave as they do in Egypt where once you lived; you must not behave as they do in Canaan where I am taking you. You must not follow their laws. You must follow my customs and keep my laws; by them you must lead your life. I am Yahweh.

None of you may approach a woman who is closely related to him, to, uncover her nakedness. I am Yahweh.

You must not uncover the nakedness of your father or mother. She is your mother -- you must not uncover her nakedness.

You must not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness.

You must not uncover the nakedness of your sister, whether she is your father's or your mother's daughter. Whether she is born in the same house or elsewhere, you must not uncover her nakedness....

You must not lie with a man as with a woman. This is a hateful thing.

You must not lie with any animal; you would thereby become unclean. A woman must not offer herself to an animal, to have intercourse with it. This would be a foul thing.

Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these practices, for it was by such things that the nations that I have expelled to make way for you made themselves unclean.

The land became unclean; I exacted the penalty for its fault and the land had to vomit out its inhabitants....

If you make it unclean, will it not vomit you out as it vomited the nation that was here before you? Yes, anyone who does one of these hateful things, whatever it may be, any person doing so must be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 18, 1-9; 22-25; 28-29)

From the passage, the text and teacher can elaborate on why incest, sodomy, and bestiality are shameful; how important it is for the nation to have good morals.

3. The strong are chaste, and chastity has its own rewards.

Now Joseph was well built and handsome, and it happened some time later that his master's wife looked desirously at him and said, "Sleep with me." But he refused, and answered his master's wife, "Because of me, my master does not concern himself with what happens in the house; he has handed over all his possessions to me. He is no more master in this house than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How could I do anything wicked and sin against God?" Although she spoke to Joseph day after day he would not agree to sleep with her and surrender to her. (Genesis 39, 7-10)

The rest of the story would be given in the textbook, and need not be printed here. It illustrates the importance of chastity on the part of policemen, deliverymen, etc., and the dangers to women alone in their homes. Those who hope to enter a successful career, and those who hope to remain faithful to a husband in the future, must become strong in chastity; and must be ready to suffer for the virtue.

4. The sex instinct in males is tyrannical, aggressive, sudden, dangerous; the best among us must guard against surprises.

So Tamar took the cakes she had and brought them to her brother Amnon in the inner room. And as she was offering the food to him, he caught hold of her and said, "'Come, lie with me, my sister." But she answered, 'No, my brother! Do not violate me. This is not a thing men do in Israel. Do not commit such an outrage. Wherever should I go, bearing my shame? While you would become an outcast in Israel. Go now and speak to the king; he will not refuse to give me to you." But he would not listen to her; he overpowered her and, raping her, lay with her.

Then Amnon was seized with extreme hatred for her; the hatred he now felt for her was greater than his earlier love. "Get up and go," he said. "No, my brother," she said. "To send me away would be a greater wrong than the other you have done me." But he would not listen to her. He called the soldier who was his servant. "Get rid of this woman for me," he said. "Throw her out and bolt the door after her." (She was wearing a long-sleeved gown, for this was what the king's unmarried daughters wore in days gone by.) So the servant put her out and bolted the door after her. Tamar took dust and put it on her head, tore the long-sleeved gown she was wearing, laid her hand on her head, and went away uttering cries as she went (2 Samuel 13, 10-19).

Admittedly, it is a messy story; and the consequences which follow are worse, as they include the murder of Amnon by Absolom, plots and counterplots, and civil war. Rape and quasi-rape are real threats today, and our children should be put on their guard, even if the Bible story makes them feel squeamish. The teacher can elaborate on what a lout and skunk a rapist is, and what a silly duck the victim is sometimes. Perhaps he will even prevent some of his pupils from becoming rapists, or victims.

The story of David's adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel,11)and its consequences, can be employed to illustrate that every man is obliged, by unhappy necessity, to take various preventive measures against surprise manifestations of the instinct. And it can illustrate that sex control is not only an obligation of the unmarried; it will also be one of the tensions after marriage; control learned in youth will be of great help in married life.

5. Prostitutes are professional seducers. Young men are no match for them.

From the window of her house she looked out on the street, to see if among the men, young and shallow, there was one young man who had no sense at all. And now he passes down the lane, and comes near her corner, reaching the path to her house at twilight When day is declining, at dead of night and in the dark. But look, the woman comes to meet him, dressed like a harlot, wrapped in a veil. She is bold and brazen; her feet cannot rest at home. Now in the street, now in the square, she is on the look-out at every, corner. She catches hold of him, she kisses him, the bold-faced creature says to him...Come, let us drink deep of love until the morning, and abandon ourselves to delight....

Bemused, he follows her like an ox being led to the slaughter, like a stag caught in a noose, till he is pierced to the liver by an arrow, like a bird darting into a snare not knowing its life is at stake.

And now, my son, listen to me, pay attention to the words I have to say; do not let your heart stray into her ways, or wander into her paths; she has done so many to death, and the strongest have all been her victims. Her house is the way to Sheol, the descent to the courts of death. (Proverbs 7, 6-1-3; 18; 22-27)

A good teacher can bring the problem of prostitution into the open with this and similar passages. Girls can be forewarned about deceptive promises by white slave canvassers; boys should be told what problems await them after marriage if separated from their families for long periods, when employed in the large cities while the family remains behind. It is also an opening to speak about venereal disease; and it offers an opportunity to discuss ways of spending leisure time usefully.

6. The sex drive in women is diffused in the emotions, is seductive. Men are deceived.

A woman's wantonness shows in her bold look, and can be recognized by her sidelong glances. Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control, or she will abuse any indulgence she receives. Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye, do not be surprised if she disgraces you. Like a thirsty traveler she will open her mouth and drink any water she comes across; she will sit in front of every peg, and open her quiver to any arrow. (Ecclus. 26, 9-12)

The story of how easily Eve tripped up Adam, how Delilah ferreted out the secret of Samson (Judges16), how the wise man Solomon went to offer sacrifices at the altars of the false gods of his wives (1 Kings 11)and many others can be used to fill in the picture, to help women to know themselves better, and men to know women better.

7. Men are urged to remain faithful, to make their love for one exclusive.

Drink the water from your own cistern, fresh water from your own well. Do not let your fountains flow to waste elsewhere, nor your streams in the public streets. Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers at the same time. And may your fountain-head be blessed! Find joy with the wife you married in your youth, fair as a hind, graceful as a fawn. Let hers be the company you keep, hers the breasts that ever fill you with delight, hers the love that ever holds you captive. Why be seduced, my son, by an alien woman, and fondle the breast of a woman who is a stranger? For the eyes of Yahweh observe a man's ways and survey all his paths. The wicked man is snared in his own misdeeds, is caught in the meshes of his own sin. For want of discipline, he dies, and is lost through his own excessive folly. (Proverbs5, 15-23)

8. Common sense rules to help men stay clear of mischief.

Do not dally with a singing girl, in case you get caught by her wiles. Do not stare at a virgin, in case you and she incur the same punishment. Do not give your soul to whores, or you will ruin your inheritance. Keep your eyes to yourself in the streets of a town, do not prowl about its unfrequented quarters. Turn your eyes away from a handsome woman, do not stare at the beauty that belongs to someone else. Woman's beauty has led many astray; it kindles desire like a flame. Never sit down with a married woman, or sit at table with her drinking wine, in case you succumb to her charms, and in your ardour you slide down to your ruin. (Ecclus. 9, 4-13)

9. Chaste love and the matrimonial union is the masterpiece of God's creation.


My beloved is fresh and ruddy, to be known among ten thousand. His head is golden, purest gold, his locks are palm fronds and black as the raven. His eyes are doves at a pool of water. His appearance is that of Lebanon, unrivaled as the cedars. His conversation is sweetness itself, he is altogether lovable. Such is my Beloved, such is my friend, 0 daughters of Jerusalem.


How beautiful are your feet in their sandals, 0 prince's daughter! The curve of your thighs is like the curve of a necklace, work of a master hand. Your head is held high like Carmel, and its plaits are as dark as purple; a king is held captive in your tresses. How beautiful you are, how charming, my love, my delight! In stature like the palm tree, its fruit clusters your breasts. "I will climb the palm tree," I resolved. "I will seize its clusters of dates." (Song of Songs,5, 10-12; 15-16;7, 2; 6-10)

The teacher may supply advice on points about how to make marriages successful, not excluding advice to keep up standards of physical culture, dress, and manners after marriage. For those who are preparing immediately for marriage, suitable advice by a physician or marriage counselor, and pastoral directions from a priest are helpful. The above passage and others can be contrasted with passages describing the miseries of a free-footer or a prostitute. (Cf. the great allegory in Ezekiel16.)

10. Motives for chastity

The chaste are strong, are admired: Joseph of Egypt, Susanna, Judith. In the New Testament we have even more elevated motives: "Happy are the pure in heart; they shall see God." (Mt. 5, 8)Purity gives entrance to the joys of communion with God. Impurity excludes life under the guidance of God's Spirit:

Let me put it like this: if you are guided by the Spirit you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, which self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit.... When self-indulgence is at, work the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; .... (Gal.5, 16-17; 19)

Chastity helps a man to concentrate his energies, to exert powerful efforts for the battle field. The soldier Uriah refused to have intercourse with his wife Bathsheba while the war was in progress (2 Samuel, 11) ; it was a general practice of soldiers to abstain from intercourse during and before campaigns, not only among the Jews, but also among many other peoples. Those who approached the altar for sacrifice had to abstain from sex, so that they would be ritually "clean" and so that they could concentrate better. St. Paul consents to temporary abstinence "to leave yourselves free for prayer." (1 Cor., 7, 5) He also states that the married man is "torn in two ways" between devotion to his wife and devotion to his God, hence he prefers celibacy as a means of preserving his freedom: "I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord's affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord" (1 Cor. 7, 32).

The motive can be applied logically to children and young people in school: they will be free to give full time and energy to studies, to pursuits of culture, to sports, if they abstain from sexual entanglements. But premarital affairs distract them greatly, and they cannot expect to become outstanding in their fields.

Advantages of Using the Bible for Sex Instructions

Christ, who was educated in the Jewish milieu, gives evidence in the Gospels of ample acquaintance with sexual matters, and a mature attitude. When the Pharisees. brought the woman who had just been caught in the act of adultery and flung her before Christ, He was not shocked or unduly embarrassed. Neither did He stare at her. He began to write on the ground, distracting people's attention. And He calmly asked her not to sin any more.

Christ punctuated His discourses with references to sex to good advantage, and with great ease. When anger flared, He termed the unbelievers an "adulterous generation" as the prophets had been wont to do. He implied that the Pharisees were "bastards" illegitimates, not born of His Father. He referred to Himself as the bridegroom of the Church; the apostles need not fast so long as the bridegroom is with them. He furnished good wine for the gaieties at the wedding feast in Cana. He reminded the Samaritan woman that she was living with her sixth male already. His time of crucifixion would be, for the apostles, like the time of labor pains for a woman.

Where had Christ learned about sex, insofar as He learned it through education from other human beings and from society? On the Sabbath He attended Bible lessons with the other children in the synagogue. Perhaps He learned some of it there. He imbibed it from the social atmosphere around Him. which was conditioned by the Bible textbook. And He learned it from Joseph and Mary who were even more mature about sex than Adam and Eve before original sin.

If the Bible was an effective instrument in the sex education of Christ, as is probably the case, should we not use the advantages of the same Bible to educate our children today? We have the additional bonus of the higher perfection of the New Testament in regard to sex teachings.

Sex Education Via Bible Readings Has Competitive Potential

Chroniclers of Bible events relate sex experiences as they happened, spurning prettified terminology. They take us with them into the chambers of kings and into the enclosures of maidens. There is an endless variety of stories; and the meanings of the events recorded become progressively intelligible as our insights increase with the passage of years. Skillful teachers can make sex education classes interesting and profitable for the students.

Bible poets compete with the best. Their imaginations surpass the wonder of Disney. Bible preachers on sex speak with wisdom, force, and passion. Their thunderings make our ears ring. Bible teachers use every device to prepare the young for what lies before them. Their lectures are fascinating. Students who have acquired a taste for the Bible type of sex education will not be completely immune against the sales pitch of pornographers. But they will more easily discover the shallow, unrealistic, and prurient nature of pornography.

Educators Have the Advantage of a Captive Audience

Many children attend special religion classes, most attend school, all have parents. The children are, in each case, a captive audience. A massive sex education program potential lies ready to be exploited, if educators are provided with proper tools. Not every educator is inclined or able to give sex instructions as we think of them in the usual sense. But practically everyone can read Bible stories and explain them.

Sex Education from the Bible is Wholesome

True, sex in the Bible is sometimes raw and straightforward. A book came out in Japanese using Bible material as pornography (Seisho,Kappa Publishers). But the reader of the Bible sees sex through the eyes of God, and of a sacred writer. When sex in the Bible is good, it is wonderful;when bad, it is ugly, and God punishes the offenders. Readers will be ashamed of their own sins, proud of their victories; they will be looking forward to marriage with pride, and see the advantage of chastity before marriage. Those who resolve to "make themselves eunuchs" for the Kingdom of Heaven" will know that they have accepted a hard challenge freely, whose rewards are beyond the world of sense.

Sex education from the Bible is given in wholesome surroundings, not in dark alleys. The frank approach to sex in broad daylight, with the sense of God's abiding presence as a living influence, would help to ferret sex education out of the underground. There wouldn't be much to learn on the street after so many Bible readings have been studied.

Bible Sex Education is for All People

In the Bible, polygamists, monogamists, and virgins parade over the pages. Prostitutes ply their trade, prophets fulminate against them, police round them up, crowds stone them to death, the royalty patronizes them, youths become their victims. Love affairs bring on wars, and settle family feuds. Kings trample upon family rights, God punishes kings. Soldiers degrade captured women, dignity is restored with the return of peace. Women awaken dormant potentials in men, and destroy men with seductive arts. Men violate women and deceive them as well. God gazes constantly from heaven upon all the good and all the mischief; His wheels of reward and punishment grind slowly, but exceedingly fine. Nations are "vomited" into oblivion because of sexual corruption, and new ones take their place. When even God's People become corrupt, God castigates them with punishments which send shivers down the spine of the reader; when they return to their moral duties, God blesses them again. Every nation on earth can find its own sex experience reflected in the many-facet mirror of the Bible. And every nation can profit from viewing itself in this mirror. The Bible ought to become a treasure accessible to people of all nations, to the new generation of every land.

Supplementary Material Needed to Complete the Sex Education

Well prepared material of existing sex education courses could be integrated into Bible courses to round out the education process. This is not to say that the courses should deteriorate to become the kind of "exaggerated physiological education" which is scorned in Casti Connubii(Pius XI, Dec. 31, 1930). Nor should it descend to "describe in full detail the intimacies of married life under the pretext of instructing, guiding and reassuring." (Pius XII, Address to Midwives, Oct. 29, 1951). The program should certainly offer more than "a means by which society can shift its control of the consequences of sex from taboo and fear to reliance on contraception" as is advocated by Professor Hans L. Zettergerg (see Reader's Digest,May, 1969, p. 96).

The supplementary material should provide the children and students, with "an effective sexual education which, quite safely, teaches calmly and objectively what the young person should know for his own personal conduct and his relationship with those with whom he is brought into contact" (Pius XII, To Congress of Psychotherapy, April 13, 1954).

The Bishops of Vatican II instructed that children and young people "as they grow older, should be given positive and prudent education in matters relating to sex" and should be helped "to acquire gradually a more perfect sense of responsibility in the proper development of their own lives by constant effort and in the pursuit of liberty, overcoming obstacles with unwavering courage and perseverance" (On Education, 1).

Closer to ideal

Good texts, combining Bible readings and practical additions, and employed during successive years of education from childhood to adolescence, might approach closer to the ideal than anything we have at present. They could help each new generation to arm themselves, through Bible instructions, to engage in the pursuit of self-control with knowledge and encouragement....

I have offered for your consideration the suggestion that religion teachers, school teachers, and parents might be able to recapture the initiative in providing education in matters related to sex for the new generation, if Bible readings are made the basis for many and widely used courses of religious instructions. It is my hope that the idea offers enough promise to merit discussion and further exploration.