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Sweet Reason, My Boyfriend is Hot and Bothered When God Gets Into Bed!

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This article originally appeared on the SSA website as part of SSA eNews No. 11 - The SSA Around the World.

Listen to the podcast of this article.

Originally for HumanistNetworkNews.org

May 17, 2006

Dear Sweet Reason,

This may seem a little ridiculous or out of your usual tenor, but my boyfriend is bothered by me saying, "Oh god!" while we are having sex. He is an ardent atheist, while I consider myself to be more of an agnostic. I've tried explaining that this is really a moot point, but he seems really bothered by it. I keep hoping he will forget about it, but he just keeps bringing it up. Honestly, it's the last thing on my mind. But when we're done, he wants to engage in some kind of discussion and I just want to go to sleep.

I've talked about it with my girlfriends, and we can't come up with any good answers. It seems like a moot point to us, but I guess he feels otherwise. He is constantly seeking to represent himself as an atheist, and is constantly examining his life for new ways of affirming that. This one seems a little over the top for me, but I am willing to work with him. This issue also comes up when we visit each others' families and what to do on holidays. So I guess I am asking for any advice for an agnostic and her ardent atheist in the bedroom and out in the wider world?

The Agnostic Girlfriend

Dear Agnostic:

You have some very serious concerns. Talk about them one at a time, and don't wait till the next time you're in the bedroom to get started! Choose a good time to tell your boyfriend that you want to work with him, and that you want to talk things over with him at appropriate times. If you don't get started at that moment, make a date for your next discussion.

On the bedroom problem, there's room for each of you to understand the other better. To understand your boyfriend's feelings, imagine that in the middle of love-making he called out, "Oh, cat whiskers!" or moaned, "E equals M, C squared." This would probably startle you and change the mood! Now, consider for a moment that, "Oh god!" is just as arbitrary and irrelevant. It's something we learn, from hearing people say it about yummy food or an exciting ball game. It is possible (though maybe not easy) for you to change if you decide to try -- maybe by adding an "O" (pun intended) and saying, "Oh, good!"

On the other hand, I hope your boyfriend realizes it's good news that you enjoy what he does for you, and that you let him know it! Does he really want to risk making you too nervous to enjoy yourself, because you are worrying that he will criticize you? Could he, instead, lead in a different direction by whispering romantically about how much you turn him on? Or, could he try to give you so much pleasure that you can't use words?

Dr. Marty Klein, whose columns appear in HumanistNetworkNews.org, has written a short, easily read article on Your Conditions for Enjoyable Sex that might help you and your boyfriend have a good conversation.

What I've been saying about your love life does lead us to your question about other decisions you need to make. One religion or another has touched on every aspect of life, and it isn't possible to avoid every "religious" action or reference, especially when some of them are opposites. There are many religious ceremonies that involve food, and you can't stop eating! Within Christianity alone, some churches forbid gambling, while others raise money with raffles and bingo games. What humanists can do is look for the best ways to apply our positive principles of reason, compassion, and acceptance of pleasure.

Sometimes you can approach a situation by starting with "absurd" extremes, and working your way to a middle that's comfortable for both of you. For example, you're not going to avoid all music because some is religious, but neither are you going to join a church choir. There are countless possibilities in between, from starting a band to going to a karaoke club or just singing in the shower.

When it comes to family and social gatherings, much depends on the specific situation. Sometimes religious people do try to manipulate relatives into praying or attending religious services, and one needs to stand up to them. But suppose a well-meaning host who doesn't know your beliefs tries to honor you by inviting you to say "grace" at dinner? (One possibility would be to say something like, "I'm not a praying person, so I'll just invite everyone to thank [the cooks] for their hard work making this great meal, and thank each other for the gift of friendship.")

Many humanists, atheists, and agnostics are recovering from growing up in very dogmatic environments. It can be all too easy for us to slip into insisting upon a single "right" answer. Instead of doing that, we need to support each other in making personally satisfying choices among reasonable alternatives. Giving that support is especially important in our most intimate relationships. You can find lots of different ideas in freethought discussion groups, in some stories in HNN (like this article describing how different atheists handle "the holidays"), and in some of my columns (like this article answering a mother who asked how to celebrate the holidays).

Mutual respect is the key, and a sense of humor helps a lot! I can see it now:

You [at an outdoor concert on a hot day]: I'm broiling. Oh, god, I could use a cold drink.

Boyfriend [rising gallantly to head for the refreshment stand]: Burn some incense at my altar and I just might grant your prayer.

You [if he brings back your least favorite drink]: What?! Brand X? Looks like you're a false god. [Winking suggestively] Now how do you plan to restore my faith in you?

©2006, Molleen Matsumura.

You may not republish "Sweet Reason" without the author's permission. To request permission, email: SweetReason@Humanists.[email protected].

This article originally appeared on the SSA website as part of SSA eNews No. 11 - The SSA Around the World.

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