In 1854, the Pope declared that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without original sin — the Immaculate Conception. In Catholic doctrine, original sin means the stain all humans inherit from Adam, whose first sin was disobedience. This sin supposedly is part of the human soul from the instant of conception. Only Mary, according to the Catholic Church, was conceived with no original sin.
Popular culture, though, misunderstands the phrase Immaculate Conception to mean instead Mary conceiving Jesus without sexual intercourse. Songs, jokes, TV shows, all use the phrase this way. So reproduction is assumed to be “immaculate” only if it takes place magically without sex. Somehow that type of reproduction is cleaner, purer. In the same way, women (and occasionally men) who are virgins are thought of as pure.
Why the link and who first devised it? One of my guesses is it was meant to push people to marry and stay together to raise their children. If sex could be made sinful and shameful, at least sex outside of marriage, both desire and reproduction could be more easily controlled so children would be cared for. The odd thing about that theory is the punishment and approbation mostly fell upon women, when it was, and still is, far more likely that men would disappear on their offspring than would the women who birthed the children. Also, women already have much more incentive to control their sexuality and reproduction, since pregnancy happens only to women. It’s obviously much harder for women to hide being a parent, or to be unaware they’ve conceived a child. All this leads me to believe the shame heaped on women who are sexually active relates more to the society controlling women and making it easier for men to keep more power. But that’s a topic for another day.
Another reason I suspect for linking sexuality with sin is it is a way to control everyone, both male and female. In one scene in Atlas Shrugged, a government scientist tries to blackmail Hank Reardon, inventor of a new metal, into “voluntarily” signing away his intellectual property rights. Reardon has broken one of many new laws designed to constrain business and innovation. He naively believes the government wants citizens to abide by its laws. Floyd Ferris, the scientist, sets Reardon straight. Ferris explains that the government’s only power is over criminals. If there aren’t enough criminals, the government creates them by passing laws impossible to follow. Then the government cashes in on the guilt.
If an authority can convince people to feel guilty and sinful over sex or the desire for sex – an innate, intense desire to do something that is an imperative for the human race to survive – then everyone needs forgiveness, expiation, a path to redemption. And anyone offering it can cash in.
Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening