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Let's Talk About Sex & Shame: Part VI.

Today, three people share their stories of waiting til marriage for sex, and being glad they did.
(Here is where the series started.)

From a fellow blogger:
I've wanted to write something on the topic of sexuality and shame for a while except that I hadn't quite named it as shame. I just knew that there was something amiss about the way sexuality was presented to me growing up in a conservative Christian culture (add Chinese to the mix and it was uber-conservative!)

I was petrified of my own sexuality, especially as it related to men. In high school, I wore the baggiest clothing I could find and felt uneasy if a guy even complimented me in a most innocent way. And yet, in the privacy of my bathroom, I would look at my developing body in the mirror and experiment with draping scarves along my form, simply feeling the soft texture on my skin. I knew deep down that there was a sexual part of me. I just didn't know what to do with it (until I was married).

I grew up without access to cable TV so I did not have as much media influence. Church was where my main understanding of sexuality came from. And that understanding was that I had to basically ignore that part of me until I got married. My parents never spoke of it either. They figured I was learning enough from our youth group girl talks. I read all the books in the "Every Man's/Woman's Battle" series and that basically confirmed my fears that all men were beasts that might pounce at the slightest trigger.

When I finally started dating at the age of 25, it took me three months before I allowed my boyfriend to hold my hand. I was that scared. Fortunately, he was equally, if not more gracious. We did not kiss until just over a month before our wedding - and that was a huge decision for me. I had originally thought I'd wanted to wait until the altar for our first kiss. But as I sat with God about the question, I heard this question in return, "Do you really want that moment to be so public?" And I realized it was ok to kiss before the wedding. That kissing wouldn't "ruin" me - whatever that meant - or automatically land us in bed.

In a way, I feel fortunate that both my husband and I were virgins when we got married. At least we both knew we had a lot of learning ahead of us. Sex isn't as "natural" or easy as the media (and the church!) portray it as. We have had to work on it. Having been married for over 5 years now, I can say that God has transformed me and brought a lot of healing through our marriage relationship. It's taken me this long but I am no longer afraid to be sexy for my husband and sex has become a source of joy (and comfort at times, even). Perhaps most mysteriously to me, the experience of giving birth brought me to a new place of freedom and acceptance about both my body and my sexuality.

I would say that waiting for marriage definitely contributed to a healthier sex life for me. Not easier. But definitely healthier. Not having a history with anyone else has been one way I've been given freedom from shame. Sure, I look back on my unmarried years and lament the false shame I had lived under all those years. But I know now that I truly have nothing to be ashamed of.

In his book, "God in My Everything," Pastor Ken Shigematsu addresses the area of sexuality and explains it as the drive within us to connect and to create. I wish I had read his definition when I was single. I deeply appreciate that he opens the scope of sexuality beyond what happens between a husband and wife but offers a way of seeing ourselves as whole people regardless of whether we are virgins.

From a west-coast friend:
I go to the same church as Laura [referencing a comment on Part II] and agree 100% that Westside teaches sex WELL. So I really have NOT experienced the "church shame" that keeps coming up...I grew up in Generation Purity, and I feel like I have a super healthy view of sex and a super healthy sex life within my marriage.

Maybe my Purity Culture experience was different, but I had an "I Promise" ring (my own version of True Love Waits), and my parents definitely made it seem like extramarital sex was literally the worst most ultimate sin you could commit. BUT, they were also really open with their marital affection and I frequently overheard them discussing their sex lives with their other married Christian friends. So yeah, they made sex OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE seem shameful, but sex inside marriage seem beautiful and super fun. Which it is.

In sum, I wholeheartedly agree with Laura, and I have the added/different perspective of having gotten married and having a truly wonderful, fun, safe, holy, intimate, pleasurable, exciting sex life with my God-given husband.
Me: Do you have thoughts on interacting with people who have had some of the experiences described? I'd love to hear how you, as someone with a healthy church experience, speaks truth and hope to those who've experienced hurt. (if you have thoughts on this)

I actually don't, unfortunately. All my Christian friends who are married and whom I have talked to about sex have similar experiences to mine, and I really don't talk to my non-Christian friends about sex. Maybe there's more to delve into in that very fact!

And a nurse:
Since I believe that God created us as sexual beings and that we are to enjoy sexual pleasure, to try and 'put our sexuality/sexual desires to sleep' (even for a time in our lives), or to deny that we are sexual beings, is a very dangerous thing indeed. That said I am not promoting premarital sex here (now that I work in a sexually transmitted infection clinic, I have seen the pain people suffer-physically, emotionally, mentally) when they suffer the consequences of promiscuity. Something else I have learned working in this job, is that we as Christians seriously suck at talking about sex...We have the potential to share, encourage, role model, and educate one another; to help alleviate shame by sharing grace and understanding, but if we cannot talk freely about sex, this will not and cannot happen

As a nurse, I feel as though women have come to me (even as an 18 year old nursing student) seeking information, advise, and answers, somehow believing that, even though I (at the time) had never engaged in sex, I might possess a great deal of information on the topic. And I suspect that my role as a health care provider, made/makes me a safe person to talk to about this topic, as all quests for information can be carefully hidden under the guise of 'seeking information for medical reasons', though it was sadly obvious that shame and unanswered curiosity (and perhaps notions of being a woman in a purity culture) were the driving force...Some women disclosed that they had engaged with men in ways that they are ashamed of, while the curiosity of others seemed greater following these conversations. Meanwhile, others were obviously disgusted at the use of terms like vagina and penis. I should add that most of these experiences took place while I as a nursing student at a Christian university, where the purity culture (as described by Amanda) reigned. 

As a woman, I am happily married and enjoying my marital sex life. Though it has changed drastically already in the four short years since we were married (enter children!), it is still very precious to me. I certainly do not perceive women who have engaged in premarital sex as 'ruined', but I will say, as a woman who has only ever shared sex with one man (my husband), I find it profoundly beautiful and extremely satisfying-physically, emotionally, and psychologically. There is total safety in being 100% vulnerable with him as there are no concerns about living up to expectations set by previous partners, or fear of an undiagnosed sexually transmitted infection from a past relationship being passed on, or self consciousness about how I might compare to other partners he might have had in the past. Obviously I can only speak from this perspective as I have no other experience to draw on. I do, however, have several friends who engaged in premarital sex with individuals who are not currently their spouses and/or who have married someone who was previously married (and obviously had sex with their former spouse) and have disclosed that they also enjoy fulfilling sex lives

I also wanted to comment that I greatly appreciate the discussion in Amanda's paper regarding the misconceptions around the supposed lack of sexual desire that women experience. This was not my experience and I would go so far as to say I 'struggled' to control my sexual desire. Once in a committed, pre-marital relationship with my now husband, we struggled significantly (and did trip along the way) with abstaining from sex before our marriage. A good friend of mine-one of the few Christian women whom I have always been able to speak with candidly about sex in both our marriage and pre-marital life-counseled us and in response to our confession of our struggle for purity, simply said 'I'd be concerned if you were not struggling to stay sexually abstinent. Do you think you can simply turn off your sex drive and then turn it on and amp it up to 100% on the wedding night?! That's ridiculous!'. Now, I don't think she was advocating that we go ahead and stop trying to remain sexually abstinent, but that it is important to acknowledge and temper our sexual responses, as single individuals, as pre-marital 'daters', and even on into marriage (i.e. not allowing our sexual desire to lead us into sexual relationships/thoughts outside of our martial relationships)... 

I did grow up in a purity culture at church, at church camp, at youth group, however, while sex was not liberally discussed in my home, my parents did not promote purity culture in our home. I was never made to feel that my sexuality as a woman was something to repress, hide, or be ashamed of, and my mother-though she encouraged some degree of modesty-, considered it wrong that women were/are often blamed for leading men on/contributing to their 'fall'. I think this notion can be likened to justifying the sexual assault of women by men, by blaming the female victim and supposing all men are (beneath the surface) helpless animals who, when exposed to any degree or temptation, cannot be held responsible for their sexual actions, no matter how unwanted or forceful. This is a sad narrative that still runs freely in our culture-both Christian and secular-and I frankly don't see how it cannot contribute to the shame women experience about their bodies and their sexuality.

Thank you, ladies.

Some of my thoughts/questions:
  • For the men in stories like these: is your perspective the same/different?
  • Do other people see the connection between church purity culture and rape culture that this last story suggests?
  • All three stories reference home attitudes towards sexuality as well; is it safe to say that is as significant a factor in forming views on sexuality and shame? Is it a greater factor than church/outside culture?
What are your thoughts?

Tomorrow - stories from a gay perspective.  

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