Life & Love


“Jesus had a penis. And wet dreams.” This was the philosophy that inspired Heidi Johnson to found the Pussy Club, a sex-positive group at Duke Divinity School where Christian female students would discuss, among other things, masturbation as a spiritual practice, in 2014. They also gathered to buy sex toys to explore this newfound sexuality. And so, Johnson earned herself the nickname the “Pussy Pastor.”

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Johnson, who, after graduating from Duke with a Master in Divinity, is getting ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, will start as an intern pastor at a church in Bend, Oregon this September. She describes the Pussy Club gatherings, which still take place at Duke and around the country, as “loud, drunken, emotional mess[es] with tons of laughs, stories shared, and tears shed for the ways the religious community abuses and suppresses women’s sexuality by labeling it as evil and sinful and temptation.” The concept behind them is that “in the Christian tradition, we are called to love God with all our heart, strength, mind, and soul—AKA with everything,” she told me over the phone. “Sex toys are presented as a medium to engage in body love, self care, and exploring your sexuality as one of the ways we love God with all of our holistic being.”

In a religion that deems sexuality sinful at worst and ignores it altogether at best, integrating sex and spirituality sounds radical. But for Johnson, it’s what Christianity is all about.

Heidi Johnson

Heidi Johnson

Ever since she was in high school in 2009, Johnson knew she wanted to be a pastor — and that she was a sex-positive feminist. Her church shunned all discussion of sexuality, leading her to believe these aspirations were at odds. But they blended together in her bedroom. Her masturbation routine felt simultaneously like a rebellion against her patriarchal religion and her own spiritual self-care act, akin to doing yoga or hiking a mountain as the sun sets.

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Then, during her first year at Seattle Pacific University, she was sexually assaulted. “It was like the string that wove together my body, mind, and spirit was cut in the aftermath of that violence,” she says. Unable to even look at her body in the mirror, she stopped masturbating.

At a campus sex education event later that year, a speaker described how masturbating during prayer helped her heal from the sexual shame the church imposed on her. Johnson wondered if returning to her body—the one thing that now seemed like her enemy—could heal her trauma as well.

The first time she tried this ritual in her tub, she had to leave her bathing suit on. “I hated my body being able to hold and remember so much pain and violence,” she says. “It was like I was bathing in shame instead of water.” But a month later, she mustered the courage to try it again… and again. “It became this type of baptismal ritual, which had the power over time to resurrect my sexuality and my sexual body in new ways and into a new life,” she remembers.

By reconnecting to her sexuality, Johnson also started reconnecting to her soul and to God. This is one reason she now views the body as part of the soul—and as a creation of God. “The body has a consciousness,” she says. “We don’t need to bring the body back into spirituality. It’s always been there. It’s literally re-membering our spirituality and our bodies.”

“We don’t need to bring the body back into spirituality. It’s always been there. It’s literally re-membering our spirituality and our bodies.”



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