Tim LaHaye's sex-ed legacy

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Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University. He is the author of "Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education."

In 1976, a best-selling American sex manual proclaimed a new era of mutual pleasure for men and women. Deriding “the old Victorian nonsense that a ‘nice lady doesn’t act as if she enjoys sex,’” the book’s authors gave careful instructions for making sure that she did enjoy it: communicate openly, take things slowly and stimulate in all the right places.

Sex therapists William Masters and Virginia Johnson? Nope. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and one of his bunnies? Guess again. The sex manual was written by the conservative evangelicals Tim and Beverly LaHaye, who described shared sexual satisfaction — within marriage, of course — as a God-given right.

It was a huge step forward for millions of devout people who had been taught that sex existed only for procreation, not for pleasure. And it reminds us that the LaHayes were sexual revolutionaries as well as warriors for the Christian Right. Indeed, they made it alright for the Right to like sex.

It’s easy to lose sight of this progressive legacy when you look at the long life of Tim LaHaye, who died this week at the age of 90. From his start in 1958 as a fundamentalist minister in San Diego, LaHaye helped make Southern California one of the hotbeds of postwar religious conservatism. Thundering against abortion and homosexuality, LaHaye became a key organizing force for the Moral Majority and other groups aiming to rescue America from the wages of sin.

But LaHaye also embraced many aspects of contemporary life, departing from fundamentalism’s traditional emphasis upon the life thereafter. Even his enormously popular Left Behind novels — focused on the epic battle between Christ and Satan, preceding the end of the world — drew upon the very worldly themes of Hollywood action films: blood and gore, hero versus villain, guy meets girl. ...




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