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

Two stories today from some non-church friends. Tomorrow is my story, and on the weekend I'll post some final thoughts/questions for all of us as we wrap up:

The topic of sex didn’t come up much in conversation in my family. We don’t really discuss feelings or show physical affection very often. I think I remember actually discussing sex with my mother (never my father) maybe three times. The main message I got was “Sex is fun, and it’s worth saving for someone you love.” My family isn't religious, but I guess our household was still pretty conservative. The other message was “if you’re ready to have sex, you also need to be ready to raise a baby.”
With that practical advice, the suggestion that it was a good idea to wait until I found the person I would marry, and a very shy personality, I was well into my twenties before I even had my first kiss. That was when I finally decided to just deal with the anxiety and stress of figuring out a relationship (something I’d avoided since grade seven when a boy sent me into a panic and many-year avoidance of all interactions with males my age by asking me to dance and then asking me out). It wasn’t purity culture or lectures on modesty that caused that panicked reaction and made me avoid boys – I think it was just shyness and uncertainty and naivety, probably because our family didn’t really talk about these things, I didn't have older siblings, and we didn’t have a television growing up...I just had no idea about anything related to dating or sex.

Of course, I was also waiting for Mr. Perfect, whom I was going to marry. When I finally realized that Mr. Perfect was an unrealistic ideal and decided it would be worse to never have any experience in the world of dating, I was well into my twenties and it was stressful and sometimes embarrassing to be so na├»ve. However, I am SO HAPPY that I took the leap and went through the stress and embarrassment and figured out the basics of relationships and intimacy before finding my longterm partner. Besides discovering what was really important to me in a relationship (like common values, shared interests, humour, etc.), the intimate experiences I had when I was dating gave me confidence and made it possible for me to be comfortable discussing sex with my partner. Frank communication has been key in keeping our sex life happy, healthy, and fun. Work stress gets in the way of sex at times, but that just proves that our relationship isn’t only about sex – it’s about support and friendship and love. Sex is just added fun for times when life isn’t as stressful (and hopefully will someday also be for making those kids we keep talking about!).

I’m glad that I saved some experiences for the man I fell in love with and am planning to marry. However, I’m also very happy that I had some intimate experiences while I was dating others. This was especially important in the beginning of our relationship because I could spend more time thinking about the friendship and shared interests and common goals part of our relationship – and not be so incredibly nervous about the hand holding and kissing and the rest of the sexual side of things. I’m happy that my partner had other experiences too, because he has always been comfortable talking about sex as a natural part of life. Sex is still something very special, but it’s easy to talk about in a matter-of-fact way. In fact, having been with other people makes us much more appreciative of the relationship we have now. Without the expectation that we would wait until marriage, we also didn’t have to deal with the stress or worry or guilt about whether we managed to suppress our desires. Instead, we could focus our energy on building a healthy relationship that focused on more than sex.

Growing up, there was never the message from my parents that sex should be saved for after marriage. In fact, living together before marriage was almost encouraged as a way to get to know each other. From a practical perspective, living together has allowed me and my partner to save a lot of time and money. We’ve become much closer since we started living together and we’ve already taken care of the logistics of getting a joint bank account and have been able to start creating our financial future together. The idea of EVERYTHING happening at once (wedding, sex, moving houses, adjusting to living together, organizing finances, etc.) seems overwhelming to me. I’m glad it’s been spread out over a few years for us.
I grew up outside church culture, but I’ve been influenced by it nonetheless. I’ve even experienced a bit of the shame and guilt associated with the Purity Culture. I attended a wedding while “living in sin” and sat through a lengthy sermon that congratulated the couple for “resisting the temptations” of the outside world and strongly implied that those who don’t resist are terrible, terrible people (at least that was my interpretation). I think it’s sad that such strong and destructive feelings of shame and guilt are tied to the act of sex and that so much importance is placed on a piece of paper saying you are legally wed. Because really, it is just sex. Does it matter that much? I have never really take into consideration the religious aspects and teachings of Jesus regarding sex (mostly because I don't know them...I only know "don't have sex before marriage!").

It’s likely a certain amount of self-importance that has me thinking I’m being judged - my extended family members likely don’t have the time or desire to scrutinize my personal life, and no one has ever said anything judgmental to me. However, it really seems a waste of time and energy that I still worry about the question from my partner, “Do you think your extended family is judging us because we’re ‘living in sin’?” Shame on purity culture, I say. Is it really anyone else’s business?
I acknowledge that sex can be risky – babies and sexually transmitted infections can be the consequences of unsafe or un-smart sex. I also know that the religious aspects of marriage are very important to some people. But if someone chooses to have sex within a committed relationship, or even casually just because it’s fun, does it matter to other people? Culture and society will always have norms, but I think it would be really nice if we could get rid of some of the judgment. Let sex be a personal choice – respect the people who wait, but also respect the people who choose to have fun. If the person is happy, emotionally healthy, and contributing to society in a positive manner, why does her or his sex life matter so much? Is safe and smart consensual sex outside of wedlock or with someone of the same sex really going to affect other people? Let’s focus on behaviours that DO affect our interactions with other people – like lying and cheating, and unsafe driving, and rudeness, and not teaching children financial literacy. If you want to include sex in the important messages, then maybe just mention things that affect other people (like adultery), and talk about safe and smart sex so we avoid unwanted pregnancies and infections and emotional hurt. 

And from another friend: 

I don't think, growing up, we're ever clued into the extent of just how much sex is out there in the world. There are prostitutes, and porn stars, and sex clubs, and strip clubs, and bath houses, and pick-up artists, and swingers parties, and marital affairs, and one-night hookups, and it's all happening with or without us.

I've always been comfortably curious about sex. When I was 13, there was a boy in school who started asking everyone at recess whether any of them had masturbated. I had already read somewhere that it was a normal thing to do, so I unabashedly said, "Yes", not knowing that I would turn out to be the only one to admit it. (Good grief!)

Even with that attitude towards sex, I had to wait until I was 20 for my first sexual relationship. My soon-to-be-girlfriend and I never planned on starting a relationship. We were just tired of waiting for "the one", and instead decided to be each other's "first." Seven months later, we were invested. She had moved in with me, and we were engaged... seven more months later, we broke up, and in horrid fashion. I've no doubt that our agreement to have sex - our acceptance of each other, and willingness to explore this new experience together; compounded by our hubris, and our emotional immaturity - was what accelerated the situation. But I wouldn't suggest that getting sexually involved in the first place was the mistake.

I've never wanted my own insecurities to be a limiting factor for anyone else's ability to love another person. It's hard enough to find someone to love, as it is! Several years back, I was introduced to a family of three adults with six kids. Seeing that as an achievable existence just clicked with me, and soon enough, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to become a proponent of polyamory.
In my mind, sex should be seen as just another activity. Like talking or playing sports, we'd like to be good at it, or at least look good at it... we're just naked, and overwhelmed by emotion, so we're a lot more vulnerable doing it. :P

Thank you, friends, for weighing in and sharing your experiences with us!

My questions:
  • What does the first story reveal about how church culture communicates with those outside our communities?
  • Do we, as Christians, expect those who are not to adhere to the same morals or ethics that we practice? Should we? 
  • Would others outside the church agree with this second perspective, that sex is just another activity, albeit one done naked?


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