“You feel used, don’t you?”
“I do, Mic.” Tears filled her eyes. “Sometimes he can only come by for a few hours, but we always end up in bed. I even fell asleep one time and woke to find him gone. I felt like an old coat.”
“Do you even enjoy it, D.J.?”
“The sex? Yes, I do, but the guilt is awful. When I’m with Chet I can’t see anyone but him, but as soon as he leaves, I think about the way Mom warned us. All the days and nights I spend alone make me think about the way she waited for marriage. I thought waiting for love was good enough, but now I’m not so sure.”
This is from what used to be one of my favorite books – Pretense, by Lori Wick. This book wasn’t alone in how it portrayed pre-marital sex and promoting abstinence. The whole Christian inspirational/romance fiction genre is predicated on it. This type of thinking is everything I was taught about sex. That it comes laden with guilt, fear, and so much sadness. They said that somehow my life would be mysteriously ruined if we didn’t wait. Emotional pain and damages, but without anyone to sue for them.
They lied, they lied, they lied.
Sure, my 20s might have been a bit easier if I hadn’t ended up pregnant at 19, but also I might not have ended up pregnant if I had been taught about cycles and ovulation and condoms.
The baby actually was the easy part, the mostly fun part. What made that year the worst year of my life was not the sex or the baby, but all of the adults in it. It’s like they needed the drama to make themselves feel better. How dare we run off and be adults without their permission. They needed to assert their spiritual and physical authority over us, and because we both had been raised to not be an independent individual, we let them, caught up in the toxicity of it all. They acted as if Jesus might just climb down off that cross to shake his finger in our faces before he climbed back up there.
You can’t just be embarrassed or regretful at how your life has detoured. No, you must be shamed and guilt-ridden. You must realize that having sex without a marriage license has marked you for life. For life, I tell you! You have proven that you can disobey God, so who knows what shenanigans you’ll be capable of now!
My boyfriend was at a Christian college when I got knocked up, so he was forced to go to counseling. And because he was also our pastor’s son (ooops), the church seriously considered having us stand up in front and apologize, but someone thankfully decided that that might be too traumatic and decided against it. Probably because most of them knew that they too had had premarital sex and didn’t want to shame us toooo much, or they’d feel guilty.
It’s almost comical at how hypocritical the whole deal is. My life has never been traumatized by having sex – it’s the opposite, actually. Sex makes the traumatizing parts more bearable. It’s just so funny to think that if you are in love and get along with a person and have a real relationship, that having sex would ruin all of that. Or that if you are in a relationship that maybe isn’t that great, that by waiting and finally having sex after you’re married will make it all better. As if for thousands of years, human relationships have been made or broken solely by the power of sex, and not because of personalities and life experiences.
It’s just so strange to me now, looking back at how obsessed Christians were (are) with everyone’s sex life and how they thought all the evil in the world emerged from having it without a license. And at the same time, ignoring how their blame and lack of grace and willingness to kick people out of church and home, and screaming, and ranting, and interrogating, and shaming is actually what damages people.
The teachings of the church and the appalling treatment we received from our parents did more to create ’emotional baggage’ in our lives than having sex ever did. The amount of dysfunction we’ve had to work through in 15 years of marriage has had nothing to do with much sex we were having at 18 and everything to do with a toxic combination of mental illness and evangelicalism.
The churches I went to would have been better off spending less time preaching on sex and more time on loving your enemies and welcoming the stranger. I mean long-term, what’s the bigger threat to church and country. Sex or hate? I know, tough call. One of the things that has been freeing over the past couple of years is realizing that there was nothing shameful in what I did. Irresponsible, maybe, but not shameful. Or even sinful. I mean, come on. You’re going to hold up David as the model ‘Christian’ and then tell me I’m sinning so much I should be kicked out of the house? Please.
My story is common and there is a whole generation of us who were brought up with these ideas. But the bigger danger here isn’t our individual trauma, but that the church continues to use sexual mores as a means of defining and damning our culture and everyone in it. Beliefs in purity have horrifying political and social consequences, and it has to stop. The same people who think I should be grateful that I escaped the flames of hell by the skin of my teeth because of sex are also passing laws that will allow them to be hateful to anyone who is different from them. I’m pretty sure Jesus talked about one of these things more than the other.
People are not defined by how much sex they are having or not having, or what kind or with whom or with how many they’re having it. The acceptance of people into our society with all the rights that free society claims to have should not be dependent on their sexual lives. That is not what freedom is, and that is definitely not what love looks like.