Gina OgdenSex therapist Gina Ogden had known for years that sexuality and spirituality are connected. But when she did a national survey of almost 4,000 women and men on their attitudes toward sex, she was amazed at how strong that connection actually is for so many. She has published the results of her "Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality" (ISIS) survey in her new book, "The Heart and Soul of Sex: Making the ISIS Connection." Ogden spoke to Beliefnet about getting past the "cultural missionary position," growing sexually through the decades, and why God has a place in the bedroom.

What is the relationship between sex and spirituality?
Open Your Heart & Mind to Pleasure
I find so often as a counselor and an educator, it really is about shifting your belief system about what marriage is, and what sex is, and what spirituality is. All of these are loaded terms because we've been trained in this culture to see spirituality as very separate from sex. Spirituality is about being good, it's about being holy, it's about attending worship services, etc. Sex, the way the culture frames it, is a dirty word, and particularly for women. It's not ok for a woman to feel lusty, to feel open, to really love sex. So the first thing I would go over with couples who were planning to be married, is to be able to understand that sexuality is part of our spirituality. In fact, spirituality is also part of our sexuality. You can't remove the piece called sex from all that we are as human beings and as married beings, and still have a whole picture.

How do you explain to couples that sex has spiritual aspects beyond procreation?
There are certain religious belief systems that say, go forth and multiply. That's part of fulfilling the commandments of the Lord. In my nationwide survey of 4,000 people on sexuality and spirituality, I found that it wasn't so much sex being one thing and spirituality, i.e. God's command, being another, so much as it was a whole picture of our sexual response involving our bodies, involving our emotions, what we feel about sex, what goes on whether we're sad, mad, glad, scared, or extremely joyous.

Also, we always have to remember the messages we've gotten probably as children, and certainly as adults, that good girls don't…or do they? It's a double-message of our culture that says sex is dirty, save it for the one you love. How do we put that together? 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about marital sex?
Open Your Heart & Mind to Pleasure
Let's say a couple has had sex before marriage, has perhaps been living together for weeks, months, or even years. What happens when you finally make that commitment? What is marriage? For most people it's a public commitment to be faithful, to be monogamous with one another, to really focus on one another and stay there through thick and thin, sickness and health, and to pool their resources, whether those are money, parenting skills with children, or sexual feelings. What I've found so often happens with couples who've been happily living together, suddenly it's, "Oh my God, I have this performance thing that is put on me, things are going to change once I've made this public commitment and announcement, things will never be the same." We can't just relax into our sexual pleasures. We somehow have to do something different. 

If I am the man, I have to take charge because that's what men are supposed to do. If I'm the woman, there's a lot of baggage in our culture that goes along with marriage that says that men are supposed to be on top. I call it the "cultural missionary position," where it's not ok for women to be equal anymore. Women somehow have less say. So couples can get scared that this is going to be the setup, that things are going to change. In preparing for marriage, again I say that you may need to get beyond the cultural norm that says men are bigger, better, stronger than women, and that women really don't want sex, women are "the weaker sex," we're not equal.

What about couples who have saved themselves for marriage?
I would say, go gentle into that good night. Be very gentle with one another, because there is so much loaded on you about sexual function, sexual dysfunction, who does what to whom, and what is appropriate, and how many orgasms you're supposed to have. I would say, allow yourself to love each other, and allow the love to come out physically and emotionally, and spiritually as well. Let each other know how much this means to you, and don't look for the benchmarks of sexual success like perfect intercourse, perfect orgasm, and above all, know that sex is much more than intercourse or orgasm or procreation. It's about your body, mind, heart, and soul—you're in it for a long life together, and that is part of the spirituality of it, your commitment.