Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 1, August 27, 1998



  From a historical perspective, Ranke-Heinemann (1991) says that in early days of Christianity women were actively involved preaching and had official offices.  One woman who represented the best historically, and is now gaining renewed notoriety is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Several authors, Craine (1997), Fox (1987), Lachman (1993) and Newman (1987), among others, have written about her astonishing life. Her talents were many and varied and she was famous for her scholarship, musical talent, art, theology and holistic medical knowledge.  McNamara (1996) cites Hildegard on twenty-two occasions, as she gives an in-depth historical account of Catholic nuns through 200 years.  She documents the gradual lessening of power experienced by women in religious life.  As centuries passed, they lost many of their rights and their position became more and more oppressive.  Ranke-Heinemann (1991 p.127-128) writes, "At the root of the defamation of women in the Church lies the notion that women are unclean and, as such, stand in opposition to the holy."  In the assessment of clerics, women were second-class human beings.  Clement of Alexandria writes about women, "The very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feeling of shame." Though Clement does not explain to women the reason for this intrinsic shamefulness, he does make it clear how they should dress, "women should be completely veiled, except when they are in the house.  Veiling their faces assures that they will lure no one into sin."  McNamara (1996, p. 4) says ascetic women became an embarrassment to the male clerics, "peer pressure, slander, seduction, and rape have been mobilized to neutralize women who choose a life without sex."  A glance at the art from this period will demonstrate the veracity of that statement, since much of it depicts nuns and monks cavorting.  It is this imagery that Ruether (1974) refers to when she says that religion has historically been highly political and highly sexual.  Further historical accounts of Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular among many others are by Green (1992) and Bokenkotter (1990).

 Woman is generally seen as the temptress.  In multiple references throughout the literature women are described in this way.  Ranke-Heinemann (1991, p.124) says, "to this day the Church's celibates believe that danger has a female face, and this belief has been taken into account in the formation of priests." In her autobiography, Wong (1983, p. 20) says that she went to Mass every day and saw a young seminarian, her own age, that she knew well,

     Michael has already been taught the dangers of too much contact
     with the female of the species and has heard story after story of
     seminarians and priests who have been led astray by the wiles of a
     woman.  Never forget boys that women are like bees: they'll make honey
     of you, but they'll sting you if you get too close.  Michael never gets
     too close.

McNamara's (1966, p.1) first chapter entitled, "Chastity and Female Identity" states,

     Chastity combined with celibacy, the renunciation of biological sex
     and of social coupling, was virtually unknown to the family centered
     societies of antiquity. Few women with desirable assets in property or
     beauty ever succeeded in reserving their bodies from the domination,
     protection and even the love of men.

  It took centuries to change this thinking.  "Women became the metaphor for the meek and humble destined to inherit the earth" (McNamara, 1996, p. 23).  To gain control of the masses, the Church attempted to control their sexuality and procreative abilities.  The shift in paradigm from women as equal, to women as subordinate was the price paid along with the degradation of sexuality.  Sipe (1990, p. 51) says, "Women became increasingly associated with sin intrinsically and with witchcraft lustfully.  It is hard to overestimate the importance of anti feminism in the formation of celibate consciousness and priestly development for over two centuries when the discipline of celibacy was being solidified."  Others writing on the topic of feminism, anti feminism and women's place in the Church and society in general are: Daly (1985), Elizonado & Greinacher (1980), Eller (1993), Friedan (1963), Goldenberg (1979), Greer (1970), Griffin (1978), Harrington (1995), Henry (1994), Lund (1979), Murphy & Arlington (1983), Murphy (1987), Murry (1994), Ohanneson (1980), Pomeroy (1975), Quinn (1998), Sanday (1981) and Welldon (1998).

  According to Sipe (1990, p. 34), others look at the origins of celibacy in the Catholic Church and agree, "The notion that sacrifice offerers must remain untainted by sexual encounters goes back to ancient civilizations."  He gives examples of sects and religious groups from antiquity which practiced celibacy.  More specifically, McNamara traces the history of women and their particular place in Christianity from the beginning.  She feels that in those early days living in chaste celibacy allowed women to join men as equals because they were seen to prove themselves by the same discipline and training as male ascetics used to judge themselves.  "Virginity wiped out gender differences and turned women into men by giving them independence and the authority to pursue a lofty spiritual calling" ( McNamara, 1996, p. 3).

  Historically then, monasticism for women was seen as a way to circumvent the traditional role mapped for them.  My study will show that although time marched on, this truth still held true for many and that the "foremothers" in religious orders were the role models they wished to emulate, rather than their biological parent.

  Sipe (1990, p. 35) attributes the foundation for present day Catholic Church views on celibacy to be based on two quotations from the New Testament. In Matthew 19:12, Jesus says  "...and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" and "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."  Sipe denies that either of these quotes is a demand for celibacy but he does feel that they give permission to practice it. Ranke-Heinemann (1991) thinks the whole debate about celibacy was begun because of a misinterpretation from translations of the words of Jesus.  She thinks the discourse of Jesus when taken in full context was actually nothing to do with celibacy but was rather a condemnation of divorce and adultery.  In recognizing that some men would not be willing to accept the change in the law, Jesus says "Not all men can receive this saying."  Sipe adds

     ...need we say that the whole institution of celibacy was based - and still is today, practically
     speaking - on a foolish objection by the disciples?  Their protest boils down to the idea
     that it would be better not to marry at all because that way one loses one's sexual freedom,
     and the possibility of getting rid of one's wife (1990, p. 33-34).

In repudiating adultery and divorce, Ranke-Heinemann (1991) feels Jesus was in conflict with his disciples who were "polygamously minded."

     Jesus, as we have seen, did not say anything at all about
     celibacy. He simply corrected, to his disciples' horror, the biases of
     a polygamous society contemptuous of women, and sketched an ideal image
     of marital unity.  But celibate theologians in a call to renounce
     marriage later reinterpreted his teaching.  While his words on becoming
     one flesh were transformed into praise of celibates as the eunuchs for
     the Kingdom of Heaven (p.38).

  According to Sipe (1990), there is no current operational definition of celibacy.  In the past celibacy has been viewed from the vantage point of what has to be given up (as in the dictionary definition).  Sipe quotes from the avowed celibate, Goergen's book, The Sexual Celibate (1974), in which the topic of celibacy was dealt with from a sexual premise rather than an abstinence starting point.  Goergen describes true celibacy as "an ideal like perfect beauty to which many aspire but few if any attain" ( p. 53).

  The history of how and why the hierarchy of the Church followed the path of enforcing celibacy on many resistant members is thoroughly researched and documented in several works: Balucelli (1975), Brown (1981), Brown (1988), Bullough (1976), Clark (1982), Goergen (1974), Groeschel (1985), Keane (1975), Kraft (1979), MacAllister (1986).

  A synopsis taken from Sipe (1990 p. 49) asks the question

     Where does the nonessential practice as difficult as and unique as
     celibacy derive its power and persistence?  In the Roman priesthood,
     there are three sources: spiritual, political, and economic...if
     political power and economic questions had been absent, I doubt that
     celibate practice would have been legislated beyond monastic walls.
     What makes celibacy a tempting broker of political and economic power
     is its simplicity.  Marital, family, and sexual ties are complicated,
     engendering obligations, bonds, and alliances of marvelous intricacy.
     They form the kind of net that can entwine nations together and ensnare
     the mightiest.

  In his second book, Sipe (1996) examines the contemporary quandary of institutionally enforced celibacy.  He is a former Catholic priest who married and had a son.  His perspective is to honor and value celibacy but to see it as something that must be a personal individual life choice as valuable on an intrinsic level as marriage, but different, not better or worse.  "If we can see that both Christian marriage and Christian celibacy are expression of love for the Risen Lord, then both states become immensely meaningful" (p.3).   Thomas (1986), in his book, Desire and Denial: Celibacy and the Church, asks three poignant questions, "is celibacy compatible with human intimacy and sexual fulfillment?  Is celibacy rooted in an anti-sexual asceticism that can be emotionally repressive?"  Finally, "above all, is the dichotomy between sexuality and spirituality not only wrong but destructive?"

  Wong, (1983) in her memoir spoke of a young priest's disillusionment with celibacy.  She had gone to him for counseling on her own concerns with celibacy, only to be told that he had had a female lover for some time,

     I'm afraid I've become rather cynical about the Church.  Like most
     priests, I'd like to marry and still be able to continue my ministry,
     but I'm afraid it won't come to that in my lifetime.  The Church
     changes, but it changes slowly.  The problem is that I have only one
     lifetime.  I can just picture myself sitting in a wheelchair at 95 in
     some dismal retirement home, hearing the news that the pope
     had just made celibacy optional for priests.  No, thanks...The thing
     is, I know how convenient it is for the Church to repress sexuality:
     there's no more powerful way to control people.  Sexuality is life
     force, energy: control that and you've got them by the balls (p. 330)
    ( My Italics).

  Other studies relating to asceticism and religious life include Fahey (1982) and Jarvis (1984) . The subject is also researched by Bullough (1976), Fox (1995), Ranke-Heinemann (1990), McNamara (1996), Millett (1982) and Murphy & Arlington (1983).

  The literature specifically related to female celibacy is scarce.  However frequent references were found in the autobiographies of former nuns.  Bernstein (1976) collected the stories of 500 nuns and former nuns from California to Zambia.  This is a valuable reference, one that I shall utilize here with several quotes to illustrate 20th Century thinking of many women in religious orders.  She refers to an American novice mistress who viewed the vow of chastity as if

      It attempts to flee from the realities of sex and rigidly exclude
      the physical from thought and conduct.  Sisters must be taught that
      they are dedicated to God's service as women, rather than as individual
      angels uneasily enclosed in a body.  But that, of course, is exactly
      what they have been taught ( p. 102).

Bernstein also says that much is written and said about the vow of chastity that must worry a great many people.  "It is not celibacy that is the cause of nervous troubles," snaps an Italian master of novices, "but a lack of sense of total dedication."  Many of the women spoke to her candidly admitting they feel real losses.  One only need to read the descriptions of physical and mental torment experienced by Armstrong (1983) to understand the intensity with which this rule was followed in those days.  It is a modern phenomenon in society in general to recognize a woman's sexuality; but convents never allowed nuns to acknowledge their sexual drive.  Religious orders dealt with the problem by refusing to admit it existed and any reference to the physical was repressed.

  References to controlling the body and making it submissive abound in all of the autobiographies.  "Such nuns regard their sex as something attached to themselves that they don't use, like a spare tank of petrol on a car" (Bernstein, 1976, p. 103).  Bernstein further comments that, as late as 1975, evidence that celibacy and chastity cause difficulties was ignored by Pope Paul VI when he called the celibacy and virginity of Catholic priests and nuns  "happy and easy sacrifices" (p. 58).  Another quote from Bernstein addresses the issues of silence around sexuality within convent life,  (p. 106),

     I still don't think anyone I've met in religious life admits
     there is a problem in suppressed sexuality [said one young nun]. It's
     obscene the way we haven't talked about sex in an open fashion. Says
     another; We weren't given any education with regard to the facts of
     life.  Some sisters entered when in their teens without knowing them,
     and they never came to grips with them in a realistic way.  How could a
     girl with that background truly choose to be celibate?  The young girl
     who went from school into the even more restricted and protective
     convent environment, who met men rarely and formally, if at all, and
     who had no chance to experience any attitudes or life-styles other than
     her own -- this girl cannot have known what she was sacrificing.  She
     did not choose sexual renunciation; it was a piously motivated

  Wong (1983, p. 208) relates in more poetic language the poignancy of  the day she received the habit,

     Despite the nuptial imagery, this is not a wedding like any other,
     full of orange blossoms and honeymoon dreams.  I am going to join my
     crucified bridegroom; like Him, I too must die.  On His altar I will
     lay the life I might have lived, the children I might have had.
     Merciful numbness moves in to deaden the pain.  I will do it.

  The opinion of the Catholic Church has historically been sex negative.  This is an ironic twist for a religion that acknowledges that God became man.  In his chapter entitled "Carnal Love," Fox (1995, p. 251) writes,

     Of all the world religions, Christianity has the biggest bias
     against the body.  This is a disastrous theology.  If I were Satan, and
     if I wanted to destroy Christianity, I would work overtime to tempt
     Christians to hate the flesh.  Because we are the only religion that
     ever believed that God became flesh...It is an extraordinary leap to
     believe that God entered this world.  And yet, as I have traveled the
     earth and seen different religions, I found we have the most negative
     attitude toward our body.  Our bodies carry the most shame and guilt
     just for being a body.

  By adolescence most young Catholics have received the message loud and clear that sex is bad.  Sipe (1996, p. 33) says that the official Church teaching has not changed.  Every sexual thought, word, desire and action outside of marriage is mortally sinful.  Procreation has to be the intent behind every sexual act within marriage otherwise it is a mortal sin.  In the area of sexuality there are no venial sins.  "Sex, not greed or cruelty (where some minor violations could be tolerated), was the fast track to hell".  The way the Church controls its masses is through placing this heavy burden of shame and guilt upon its members. Miller's psychoanalytic work titled The Shame Experience (1985), examines the effects of shame and guilt in a phenomenological study.

  We have seen from the brief highlights of the literature, the tremendous pressure asserted upon women historically in the Catholic Church to be submissive and pure.  The reasons for entering convents are many and complex.  In the very early days of Christianity, ascetic women had parity with men.  As times and politics changed, convents became prisons for some.  It was common practice among the royalty of the early European kingdoms that their daughters remain in convents in preference to contracting matrimonial alliances that might involve their relatives in political difficulties.  Numerous princesses of ruling dynasties remained unmarried in their convents (Bernstein, 1976, p. 58).  Other reasons women were sent into convents included those who were politically inconvenient.  There are several examples given by Bernstein of Russian royal families depositing unwanted female family members in convents.  Widows too, particularly royal ones ended up in convents, thus stripped of their lands and wealth.  Mistresses' illegitimate offspring of bishops and princes are documented to have ended up in convents. The Diderot novel The Nun (1972) is a translation of the well known French work originally entitled La Religieuse.  Diderot (1713-1784) wrote about a young girl who was put in a convent to assuage her mother's conscience.  She supposedly escapes from the convent and recounts her experience, among which was her seduction by the abbess (which is described in detail).  Bullough (1976) refers to this work and says it reflects Diderot's concern with the effects of celibacy on women.  He says Havelock Ellis believed the role of the Abbess was modeled on a true character of the time.  This book is described as a "landmark in female sex variance."

  Lest we should think these days are over and done with and the influence of the ancient church is passed, Chibnall, et al (1996) found that nuns were no strangers to sexual trauma and the extent to which women in formation were exploited by both spiritual directors [priests] or religious superiors [women] was significant.  Of particular interest when relating to all aspects of sexual trauma was that the women kept their experience secret for a average of 54 years.  The research by Chibnall et al, at the university of St. Louis School of Medicine resulted in a paper, "Women Religious and Sexual Trauma", published in 1998.  This paper is based on their extensive research "A National Survey of the Sexual Trauma Experiences of Catholic Nuns", which is also due to appear in the Fall of 1998.  This is a unique piece of research that sheds much new light on the subject of religious women. Ritter & O'Neill (1996) carefully examine the effects of patriarchal religions on those subjected to them.  Doehring (1993) in her published dissertation examines the way images of God change in those who have suffered abuse.  Flaherty (1992) wrote from the perspective of children who have been sexually abused and the recovery process of spirituality in one's life.  For further extensive references on this subject, I refer the interested reader to Chibnall, Wolf and Duckro (1996).  Wilson (1995) writes articles for and counsels nuns and former nuns who are survivors of incest and child sexual abuse.

  Ranke-Heinemann (1991, p.131-132) concluded that women were trained to be silent by the education they received.  The Church silenced women, covered them up as much as possible, and took them out of the public eye.  "The woman preacher disappeared from the ecclesiastical scene.  From the Church's standpoint the best woman is the one least talked about, least looked at, and least heard from.  Daughters of this world marry and are given in marriage, but the daughter of the Kingdom of Heaven refrains from all fleshly lust."

  History remains of great relevance for today's Catholic women.  Wong (1983, p. 317) writes about socializing with a group which included a Catholic priest,

     I pray for grace never to do anything to endanger his commitment
     to celibacy.  I would never forgive myself if I did anything to draw
     his focus away from his important work.  Although a man, he is also a
     priest.  Catholic tradition from the time of the Fathers of the Church
     had always seen women as the source of man's problem's--Eve enticing
     Adam to taste the forbidden apple--and as a Catholic woman I carry that
     image of myself and of all women in my very bones.  As a nun I had set
     myself off from all that, disconnecting myself from the rest of women,
     denouncing the part of me that caused men problems...I know that sex is
     bad, that for a nun it is even worse, that for a nun in the company of
     a priest--well it is almost unmentionable.

Although this story sounds archaic, it reflects the tone of one that will follow in this current study, in which the woman in question would consider herself to be modern.

  In her book, Catholic Girlhood Narratives (1996), Evasdaughter defines the situation Catholic girls grow up in as a specific variety of oppression, "for the ideal presented to them has been that of 'the Catholic Woman' a term used frequently by clerical writers...and roughly definable as a kind of idealized domestic not given to female pleasures or intellectual pursuits, and not willing to participate seriously in the working world." (p. 4).

  Memoirs and autobiographies from current and former nuns tell similar stories of struggle and personal pain.  On a broad level, I related to many of the stories because they could have been my own.  Bernstein (1976) discusses several women's reasons for entering the convent in relationship to sexuality, marriage, and family.  San Giovanni, (1977) explored the role passage of nuns from religious to secular life.

  Catholic educated women have had a very long and tortuous road to travel to release themselves from their history.  Evasdaughter (1996, p.5) says,

       For Catholic women asserting their rights to sexual pleasure
       often has less to do with what other people think of as gender rules,
       such as the rule against adultery for women, and more to do with
       whether the sexuality of women is corrupt and wrong on all occasions.

  There are many works on the subjects of celibacy, sexuality, and the Catholic Church.  A representative view of these topics is given by the following authors, from both the historical to current perspectives:  Bullough (1976), Frein (1968), Ranke-Heinemann (1991), Sipe (1990 & 1996), Thomas (1986).  Sergio (1975) specifically relates to women and their spiritual relationship with Jesus.  The vows nuns make involve much more than a simple vow of chastity. Celibacy is only one of its components.  Celibacy is defined as "abstention from sexual relations, and abstention by vow from marriage" (Webster's, 1991).   This definition is too narrow to incorporate the complexities to which women submit themselves on entering religious life.  The concept of asceticism encapsulates better the life-style and sacrifices made.  The definition of an ascetic is, "a person who practices self-denial and self-mortification for religious reasons, a person who leads an austerely simple, non materialistic life, and very strict or severe in religious exercises or self-mortification"  (Webster's, 1991).  Asceticism, as the total denial of all bodily pleasure required by religious orders, has a long history. "The rigoristic preference of celibacy and abstinence to marriage was already outlined in Stoicism and came to fulfillment in the Christian ideal of virginity" (Ranke-Heinemann, 1991, p. 11).  Stoicism is considered a foundation of Christianity (Bullough, 1976, p. 150).  Ranke-Heinemann (1991, p.  35) feels that from ancient times this idealization of virginity is based on body hating pessimistic misinterpretation, rather than on the true teachings of Jesus.

  Masturbation was a particularly contentious issue for all subjects in my study.  Theories, facts, myths and beliefs about this particular practice abound in the literature, as do records of the effects of bogus beliefs: DeMartino (1979), Ellis (1901), Fox (1995), Haeberle (1983), Hite (1976), Kelly (1966), Kinsey et al. (1948 & 1953), Lightfoot-Klein (1989), Marcus & Francis (1975), Masters (1967), Masters & Johnson (1966), McNeill (1976) Nevid, Fichner-Rathus, & Rathus (1995), and Szasz (1970).  Ellison and Zilbergeld developed and nationally distributed a 16 page survey entitled "Sexuality of Women Survey" (1994).  Details specifically related to the masturbation issue have been useful in this current study. The impact of the teachings of the Church and society in general with regard to masturbation has had worldwide ramifications which ultimately showed in my study as an almost universal difficulty.

  The Second Vatican Council was an international conference of theologians and clerics assembled in Rome by the Pontiff John XXIII.  It was in session from 1962 through 1965. Few practicing Catholics and even fewer religious men and women could fail to be affected by the call for fundamental changes in the way the Church was to look at all its institutional practices and sexuality was included in that investigation.  For the first time in centuries the attitude of docility began to change for Catholic women.  Recent research by Gonsalves (1996), Kane (1993), and Liftin (1985) focus primarily around the changes that occurred in women's religious orders during the initial influence of Vatican II.  Barromeo (1967) Garibaldi-Rogers (1996), Chittister et al. (1977) and Harrison (1986), focus on the changing life and religious patterns in convents post Vatican II.  To many it was a release of pressure, giving them freedoms they had longed for.  For other traditionalists it was a tragedy and sent turmoil into their ordered existences.  Most of the women in my study left their religious orders in the above time frame.  All left amid the conflict of change.  The Second Vatican Council began the revolution but unfortunately in the intervening years the more traditional Pope John Paul II has worked assiduously to set the clock back and re-establish the old Catholic teaching on morality, "especially in regards to matters of sexuality" (Fox, 1995, p. 256).  In a study, Human Sexuality, New Directions in American Catholic Thought, commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America (1977), I feel an honest attempt was made to move forward if in no other way than to gather empirical evidence and present it for public analyses.

  In the decade between 1960 and 1970 approximately 50,000 women left religious life (San Giovanni, 1978, xiv).  At the same time there was a considerable change in women's political awakening and sexual freedom worldwide.  Feminist writers such as Daly (1973, 1985), Friedan (1963) and Greer (1970) led the change.  A Catholic woman herself, San Giovanni (1978) saw the impact of so many women leaving their convents in these years and wrote a sociological inquiry about members of one particular religious order who all left in the 60's.  She looks at these ex-nuns and their emergent sex roles as they prepared to leave their orders.  Some nuns remaining in their convents became outspoken proponents for social change and the phenomenon called the "activist nun" was coined.  Ferraro & Hussey (1990) continue to defend a woman's right to choose [conception].

  There has been relatively little written in the press about the large numbers of women who left their convents during those tumultuous years following Vatican II.   Profiles appear occasionally in Catholic newspapers such as pieces by Szews (1990) and Hendricks (1995). Ebaugh, Lawrence & Chaftz (1993 & 1996) collaborated on the study, The Growth and Decline of the Population of Catholic Nuns Cross-Nationally, 1960-1990.  They attribute the declining numbers of women entering religious life to be due in part to the greater availability of education and the increased opportunity in the workplace for women in industrialized nations in the West.  D. Fisher (1980, p.11) critiqued Hendricks-Rauch's research on married priests and their wives, and found "nine out of 10 resigned priests and 95 percent of resigned nuns in the study are very satisfied with their decision to resign.  One in every two married priests in this study group married a nun.  Nearly nine priests in 10 had met their future wives while they were still in active ministry."  Calaianni (1968) also wrote on the subject of married priests and married nuns.

  Schwarz (1996, p. 28) wrote a two volume psychoanalytical dissertation on the sexuality of women and the Catholic Church.  She states that before the late 1960s most women in the Catholic Church were "obedient and unquestioning".  Attitudes changed after Vatican II, according to Schwarz, particularly around the issue of contraception.  Although she does not specifically relate her findings to nuns, I found her dissertation to relate fairly accurately to the attitudes of my participants.  Curb and Manahan's Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence (1985) was a groundbreaking work in which a group of women "came out" about their sexual orientation.  It was not a scientific study.  Curb and Manahan edited the autobiographies of a group of current and former lesbian nuns who responded to a call to break the silence surrounding their very existence.  No critical analysis or conclusions are made in the book; however, the great value of this work is to allow the diversity and sexuality of this group of nuns and former nuns to be made public for the first time.  The enthusiasm for this work was in direct response to the euphoria of the women's movement at that time.

  To the best of my knowledge there are no specific works dealing solely with former nuns and how they view their sexuality. This is a gap which I intend to remedy.  There is an abundance of literature written about the sexuality of priests both current and former.  Their celibacy and sexual practices have had both serious study and media attention in increasing amounts over the past decade due in part to the extraordinary publicity surrounding some of the abuse charges leveled at members of the clergy.  The same is not true with regard to women in religious life.  There have been several autobiographies, with detailed descriptions of life behind convent walls, and stories of abandoning the life. They are cathartic memories of women putting their lives back together.  Where sexuality is mentioned at all, it is generally only briefly as for example, in Armstrong (1981,1983), Baldwin (1950), Bernstein (1976), Hulme (1956) and Wong (1983).  Bernstein interviewed 500 nuns and former nuns about the many facets of lives in the convent but failed to address sexuality except in a very rudimentary fashion.

  The public has probably learned more about nuns and religious life through Hollywood than by serious study.  Films such as The Nun Story (Zimmermann, 1959), Sound of Music (Wise, 1965), and Agnes of God (Jewison, 1985), have greatly influenced and affected the way the world and indeed young women themselves viewed the life of a nun. Sister Act (Ardolino,1992) is only one of several newer films proving the mystery of the convent can still sell at the box office.  The romanticized picture was a lure to many whose stories are to follow; 66% responded yes to the question asking did they have an idealized, romantic view of religious life prior to entering?  The narratives illustrate poignantly, their journey.

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