There is an article, Naked and Ashamed, which I think every young Christian woman should read. It addresses the issues many of us have with our bodies, our sexual desires (gasp, I feel immodest even writing that), and our inevitable failure to achieve that purity standard. In it, Amanda Barbee writes:
“There is something about shame that separates us from other people through the fear of rejection. The shame perpetuated by the purity movement fits well into this definition because it is very clearly based in fear. The literature is full of threats of what might happen to a woman and her relationships if she chooses to have sex before marriage. Kendall and Jones warn, for example, “Allowing sex to enter into a relationship before marriage will almost always result in the loss of an intimate friendship with the one you desire to know you for you.”29 They warn of parental shame, haunting flashbacks, a ruined Christian testimony, spiritual pain, and separation from God.30 In short, the purity movement attempts to scare teenage women into sexual purity. The movement instills them with the fear that if they have sex before marriage, they will be rejected by their future husband, their family, their community, and even their God.”
I’ve written an earlier post on this, and I think I need to address that. When I wrote the post The Church Stole My Sexuality, I was bitter and frustrated and confused. Not confused on my feelings, but unsure where they were coming from and why. Amanda’s article helped clarify it and through away a lot of the bitterness, though the frustration remains and grief has joined it.
I don’t think that the church leaders, or even my parents for that matter, meant for any of this sexual frustration to happen. Really, they probably meant to save me from the pain and suffering they themselves experienced. Instead, though, they set up a dichotomy in my mind. I had this ideal set before me. I have journal entry after journal entry written trying to get my mind to wrap around the idea of “Jesus is my boyfriend.” Laugh if you’d like, but it was the only alternative to not having a boyfriend. I can remember falling to sleep at night, pretending that my pillow was “my husband,” for fear my brain might get some ideas, and trying to imagine what it’d feel like to have someone’s arms around me. Eventually, I stopped doing that because it was shameful. I broke up with the majority of my boyfriends, once I actually started dating, because they’d want to hold hands, or kiss, or one even grabbed my butt! I, as the female, was obviously more level-headed. I was the one, I was taught, who had to take control of the situation and get out. The problem was, I ended up leaving myself behind.
I wasn’t just seeking an emotional connection, but my normal, innately human and God-ordained desire for a physical connection was deemed “bad” by the studies and books I’d read. I internalize things a lot more than others, I’m beginning to realize, so perhaps there aren’t many others like me out there. Still, I know there are bunches of you ladies like me who were told to write a list in your small group of the characteristics you wanted in a man and not to settle until you found that. One of my biggest that I realized early on was nearly pointless was a man who was sexually pure in his thoughts and his body. Giving that up was hard. Facing the fact that I was not so pure, either, was impossible.
I was taught that if I think about sex or intimacy at all, I’m marked. If I fail to keep myself modestly dressed, if I cannot keep a boy’s “sexual self” in line, I have failed. There was no fall back, no comfort for the times I had to “give up” relationships or had relationships shoved into my face because of my “purity.” And there was no forgiveness offered or allowed for any kind of sexual act. Especially self-forgiveness. It was ingrained that purity was the ideal, my body was the stumbling block, and I was the one who needed to keep it all in check.
And I failed. Just like anything, the moment you start to slip, it feels like you might as well just give up entirely, because there’s no point in going back. You can never be perfect again, you believe. You can never fix what was broken, and obviously these desires, these wants, this need for connection, is bad. If it’s bad and you can’t control it, can’t keep it down, you might as well give in. You’re already messed up and useless as it is.
And so we enter marriage, carrying along our little Failure Mentality, going into our wedding nights with a “here’s all I’ve got” thought and an image of broken, rusty, disgusting pieces. And it stays with us. Forever. Intimacy is stripped away. Love struggles to appear. Why? Because in our minds we. are. not. worthy. We aren’t worthy of it! How ridiculous is that? Yet I still believe it. I still believe that I am not worthy of connecting with this man because I defied my God and somehow failed to stop the other men from wanting me. I failed to “dress modestly.” I failed to squash my own sexual desire. I failed to shoulder all the responsibility, as we’re taught, and “just say no.” I failed to remove my own humanity. I wanted to be held too much.
What was my saving grace? My husband. While he is not perfect, was not “pure,” and wasn’t necessarily a strong Christian, he was exactly what I needed. Why? He hadn’t grown up in the church. He didn’t have all of these ideas about purity or love or intimacy. He did what he knew, and that was to love unconditionally, faithfully, and to adore me, both mentally and physically. His attitude of “so what?” to my flawed past has let me begin to crawl out of my shell and experience both life and marriage as God intended: without judgement or reproach, but full of acceptance and joy and enjoyment. Pleasure, even. Am I all the way there? Most definitely not. It’s taken me nearly six years on constant, unwavering love to get even to this point. What makes me the saddest is that there so many women who have experienced this removal of self, and not many men willing to put up with the after-effects.
It is so wrong, this burden of shame and responsibility that young women must bear. It is all over the place. It is corroding the young women of our Christian generation. At the least, it corroded me. Thank God that He knew better than some well-intending authors.