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Let's Talk About Sex & Shame. Part IX.

For those just tuning in, this series started a week ago, with this post.

As this series progresses, it is getting more difficult to group the stories together by theme or content. In some ways, today's stories are total opposites. But there is a commonality in them that I'm struggling to label, and it is this unnamed quality that has them paired together:
I have struggled with the perception of female sexuality in the church since I was old enough to know what sex was. The words of one of your readers [shared in Part II] resonated deeply with me: "If a leader doesn't have a healthy perspective on sexuality, they are not going to transmit that to the youth they lead." As a young woman, the "True Love Waits" campaign wasn't about purity, it was entirely about female shame. There were cutouts of human figures on the wall of our youth room, colour coded to indicate where it was safe and not safe to touch another. The male body had one red spot (I'm sure you can guess where that was), while the woman's was almost all red and yellow, because she was considered to be unable to make good decisions to protect herself.

The young ladies were lectured at length before swimming outings about the modesty of their suits, while the young men flaunted developing muscles and low slung shorts, not a word about their behaviour or their choice of dress. Boys will be boys, right? This disparity was one of the things that drove me away from the church as a teen. The women must hide, and can't be trusted to make good decisions, while the boys are given free reign. I didn't, and still don't, believe in this dichotomy. As an adult I returned to a deeper, more considered faith, and returned to church, but I am still deeply conflicted about my own presence there.

I am a believer in Jesus. I am also an unmarried woman who lives with her partner without the benefit of marriage. Why? Because we can't get married. Not now, maybe not ever. My partner's ex left him and their kids, and he has been pursuing a divorce for a long time, but there is no end in sight. I want to be his wife, he wants to be my husband. Legally, impossible.

When I fell in love with him, I fell deeply in love with the kids as well, and they with me. We have been to several churches, but it has been difficult to connect with people. As soon as they realize that the kids are not actually mine, they do not want to talk to us anymore. The eyes glaze over, glance away. There is never a moment to discuss the fact that sometimes one sin prevents another; life is not black and white.
The church would have us wait forever. The church would have him struggle to raise his kids on his own. The church would have the kids home alone for hours after school each day, all for a rule about sex, and worse, to 'avoid the appearance of evil.'

I love Jesus, and I love my man, and I love the kids. It is my priority to love them. The church would say "Trust God, don't live together until marriage." But it has been YEARS, and the kids need help now. He needs a partner, now. Jesus has room for us, and grace. It is the church that does not.

And another story:
The church I went to growing up was great. There was a lot of emphasis on God's love, our pastor had everyone chant "Sex is Good" on occasion (to my teenage horror) and the youth group was thriving. I knew that sex before marriage was bad/absolutely not okay. But I also knew that sex after marriage was great, one of God's gifts to us.

I think my church did great, but I didn't come out of it great. I was incredibly legalistic as a child/teen, to the point of not allowing myself to watch certain movies, have certain job aspirations, etc. To the point that my youth group leader and my mom were, I think concerned, and my dad (an atheist at the time) was exasperated. I read the Bible extremely literally and interpreted it and carried it out through my own teenage filter and ended up generally confused and guilt-ridden. Again, I want to emphasize that this was not modeled at my church or in my family. And it wasn't that I thought I had to earn God's love or anything like that, I just wanted him to be pleased with me and proud of me and I didn't want to get in trouble, because if I'm anything, I'm a rule follower.

I am (or at least used to be) a very good rule follower. I was probably one of the easiest teenagers any parent has ever had to deal with. I loved and respected my parents, was valedictorian of my high school, was active in sports and music and church, never went to a party with alcohol, didn't date, never listened to "bad" music... I didn't have a curfew and there were no official rules in the house because I knew my parents' expectations and I wanted to make them happy and make them proud of me.

As a rule follower, I saw the "no sex before marriage" rule and I said, "Okay, got it, no sex before marriage, no sexual thoughts, check." And it wasn't hard, it was a rule, and I followed. And it's still not hard. In fact, it's more hard TO have "sexual thoughts," which at 28 is more of a problem.

I like guys. I like hanging out with guys. I have had a few relationships, but they have all either ended or had significant problems because I am not physically attracted to the guys. Because things like laying close or kissing, etc. either make me feel like running far away very fast or totally divorce me from where I am, like all of a sudden my body is a robot that the little me in the control room of my mind is telling what to do, without actually participating in the action.

I'm not blaming the church for this, as I have a suspicion that these feelings of shame/fear may stem more from an encounter I had with a much older neighbour boy when I was three or four.

He exposed himself to me and asked me to do the same and I knew, even at that age, that it was wrong. And I felt terrible and when I told my mom, she obviously reacted very strongly and the whole thing just left me feeling very scared and guilty. But, while I don't blame the purity culture of church, I do think that it stopped me from ever working through those issues. The fact that not deviating from the "no-sex/no groping/no etc." standard was easy for me was great as far as the church was concerned; there's no reason to mess with what's "working".

I have no answers. And my experience is not very complete. I have not married. I have not had sex. I am single and not dating at the moment. I would love to date someone, but at the same time am terrified of the physical side of a relationship. I think it's good and right to "save" sex for marriage, but I don't think the conversation about sexuality should stop right there with a rule, especially in the formative teenage years. Because life and faith and people are more complicated than rules.
Maybe that last line is the common thread - "life and faith and people are more complicated than rules."

Thank you, friends, for sharing honest and vulnerable details of your lives with us.

Thoughts? Feelings? Questions?

Some of mine include:
  • This second story reminds me that we often think the good kids are safe/fine/well, but that isn't always the case. What do we do about this?
  • What do you think of the statement "sometimes one sin prevents another?"

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