It’s difficult for me to post about this topic without getting into paragraphs of personal experience and perspective shifting, which I don’t really want to do here, but there has been a heap of writing on this topic this week and it has my brain a-whirring.
Obviously, none of these writers or commenters hold my exact views, but here are some things to get your own brain a-whirring.
Rachel Held-Evans posted this today: Do Christians Idolize Virginity? She pulls from a couple other authors examining the messages a huge amount of young women in evangelical circles are given.
She quotes one author, Sarah, from I am Damaged Goods:
“He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, ‘Who wants to drink this?!’
And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!
'This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,' he said seriously, 'you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.'”
Yep. That’s a thing. I don’t think I ever had this one, but I was definitely told that my virginity was like an apple (that shouldn’t be bitten), a rose (losing petals), and a piece of gum (to…be… chewed? I don’t know.)
No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.
Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie. You never were, you never will be, damaged goods
Both Rachel and Sarah’s posts have HUNDREDS of (surprisingly civil) comments. Lots of which speak to the dysfunction the rhetoric surrounding sex can lead to, even if you follow the rules.
These were two of my favorite comments:
Stephanie said, “I think you have to shift the focus away from sex. That’s not what it’s really all about. You want your daughters to make wise choices in all aspects of their lives, including sex. Making it all about sex still gives girls the impression that their place in the world is defined by their relationship to a man.
Raise them to value themselves, to have goals and dreams, to have non-romantic personal relationships that are meaningful. Encourage them in their interests and talents. Give them a future to look forward to.
Would you rather your daughter have sex with a man who respects her and treats her well, or not have sex with a man who belittles and demeans her? It can’t be about the sex. It has to be about her value as a whole human being. If she believes in herself and has goals and dreams for her future, she will make wise choices in every aspect of her life.”
Devi said, “We do have to change the way we think and talk about sexuality, less about sex itself and more about sexuality. There is a whole lot more to sexuality than the act of physical intimacy between two people. Someone who is not having sex is just as sexual a being as someone who is.. Our sexuality needs to be treasured, nurtured and cared for and again this is not just related to the act of intimacy with another person.”
Libby Anne, one of my faves, posts about this topic on a constant basis.
It also reminded me of a post by Jill at Feministing from a few months ago. She was speaking about culture in general, not specifically Evangelicals. Some scattered thoughts on sex
“Young women are taught that we are the holders of sex; we embody sex. We have The Sex, and men want The Sex (and yes this is all very heteronormative, but I’m talking about how many of us are culturally conditioned. LGBT kids are conditioned the same way, and then left out in the cold). But if we “give” The Sex under the wrong circumstances, then we are dirty / bad / slutty. But men respond well when we give The Sex, or exhibit some hint that we might give The Sex. So much of our relationship to our own sexuality revolves around how men are perceiving us, and how we walk this line between being alluring but not slutty to men.”
“The abstinence message isn’t, “Healthy sexual expression includes establishing boundaries, and you are entitled to your own boundaries, whatever those may be, so it’s totally ok to say no under any circumstances.” The abstinence message is, “As the female, it is your obligation to put the breaks on sex, and so you should say no because that is your job, and not saying no will make you dirty.”
Holy cow! Right?
There is so much damage here, to both men and women and their views of the other. So much fear and shame and guilt. I mean, I get it, it’s a charged thing. But man, we gotta try harder, folks.
I do want give a quick shout out to my parents. I do not include them in this dysfunction. I am so thankful for them and the positive messages they gave me about myself and the ones they tried to give me about sex, when I wasn’t crying or plugging my ears because I was so embarrassed. Sorry, guys.
Emily knocked it out of the park with this one. The Day I Turned in My V-Card. She frames sexuality really well as another factor of a human being, not this completely separate thing.
“I have not always handled my sexuality well, in the same way that I have not always handled my words, my appetites, my privilege or my finances well.
But instead of an all or nothing approach, instead of reducing the scope of human sexuality to one specific act and stamping that act with a no until marriage makes it a magical yes, I’m building a holistic sexual ethic. I’m learning to be aware of the difference between healthy interactions and harmful behavior patterns.”
"I’m in process, and I trust that you are too.
And please, whether you waited or you didn’t, stop telling me that it will be “worth the wait.”
That phrase denies that intimacy between two humans will always require effort. Relationship exists in continual practice and communion, it doesn’t simply happen without effort because of choices you’ve made long ago. Whether or not you’re a virgin at your wedding, you will still have unique sexual baggage to navigate, because you are a sexual being and you exist before marriage.”