Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor



Angela Coker

Wolfgang Althof

Susan Kashubeck West

Lee Nelson


Grounded theory methodology was used to explore women’s internalization of religious messages regarding their sexuality. Two research questions served as the guide for this study: how are women’s sexual self-views informed by their religious teaching, and how are these messages, along with their experiences, lived in them sexually, psychologically, and spiritually? Eleven women (ages 30-74) were chosen who had been raised in a Western Christian tradition in the US (8 Protestant, 3 Catholic). Participants were interviewed through an in-depth three-interview process to gain an understanding of their experiences and how they resolved their concerns with sex and spirit. The findings revealed that fear, shame, and objectification served as the primary manner of regulating the women’s sexuality within their religious traditions, resulting in detriment to sexual, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing through ruptures of sexual and spiritual safety. Complex (developmental) trauma arose as the overall impact of their religious sexual socialization, captured through seven categorical outcomes: identity conflicts, shame, self-blame, self-objectification, sexual and relationship problems with men, spiritual and sexual conflicts, and affect dysregulation. The theory of negotiating safety best captured the participants’ attempts to reclaim psychological, sexual, and spiritual wellbeing, through their ongoing efforts to secure sexual and spiritual safety. Grace was found to provide the safety needed for sexual and spiritual growth, experienced in marital and therapeutic relationships that were egalitarian, and for one woman, her egalitarian church. Grace was shown to be manifested with self, others, and God through embodiment, whole-hearted relating, and trust. Recommendations for clinicians and faith practitioners were provided.

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