This is the final day of consecutive stories about Christian sex culture – suffice to stay our stories and lives are diverse and complex- but we are not done with this theme or series by a long shot. (I’ll be writing in the future about singleness, authority and theology.) For now I will leave you with a punchy, bodily story about sexual journey, self discovery and a confident sexual ethic…
“Lent always makes me think of one thing and one thing only – masturbation. From the age of about 13 – 18 I approached this season of self-denial and penitence with the passionate spiritual desire to deny the sins of the flesh and give up this filthy habit forever. I’d first encountered the unnatural joy contained within the strange button between my legs when reading every girl’s seminal coming of age text ‘Are you There God? It’s me, Margaret.’ at the age of 12 and had been slightly addicted ever since. No one ever told me exactly what God might think of wanking (it’s not like I ever asked) but somehow I managed to discern that it wasn’t approved of. Especially not for girls. It carried the most overbearing shame not just because it was connected to the sinful sexual desires that should only be enjoyed inside a marriage, but also because it was solitary. It seemed to me that it would be easier confessing to having been fingered by some jaunty little hood outside the youth club than this, because touching yourself showed how sad and alone you were…some sort of sexual deviant.
By the time I actually did progress to getting fingered outside clubs, I was incredibly glad I’d spent so much time enjoying my own body before I let anyone else near it. I knew what (and who) not to waste time on, how to be assertive and how to engage in sexual exploration with guys with an expectation of an equal exchange of pleasure. Now there’s no denying God-thoughts still coloured the backdrop to my sexual encounters as a young woman – my first sexual partner was an amazingly kind and generous man who shared my faith and understood completely when I said, “you really need to get used to the fact that I’m not going to have sex with you until there’s a wedding ring on my finger”. Interestingly though, within approximately one hour of that conversation taking place we were naked on my parents’ living room floor.
I think this first relationship sums up a lot about my attitude to sex and how it has been framed within my evolving understanding of faith, morality and living well. I’d freed myself from the idea that there was any shame in being a sexually alive woman (five broken lents in a row will do that for you), I’d taken on board all the sermons about the potential physical and emotional scars that sex could lead to, but ultimately I weighed this against my insatiable spirit of adventure and I was willing to take the risk. In the end I’m glad I did. I’m glad of every person I’ve slept with, I’m grateful I wasn’t abused or vulnerable in any of those situations and I understand how lucky that makes me, and I’ve gradually come to accept that if God cares as much as people think about what we all do with our hands and genitals and mouths and bodies, then he’s seriously got his priorities out of whack. In fact I get a little angry when I think about what the church teaches young people about sex and I want to keep my own children as far away from that as possible. In particular I think that teaching purity is an irresponsible and potentially damaging approach to the natural curiosity, excitement and confusion that goes with our sexual awakening. To burden young people with the idea that our value before God and each other depends on our ability to fight and deny this wonderful part of us that is crying out to be explored, is cruel and has for many of my peers led to the most devastating disconnection from their own bodies. We need to teach young people how to take care of each other and themselves, emotionally and physically, how to understand consent and mutuality and respect.
Because unless I have very badly missed the point, I think it’s how we love each other that God is particularly concerned with.”
Next week on the blog I will be participating in the FeminismsFest synchroblog where themes around gender, bodies and sexuality will not be absent from my articles – not at all. For those of you interested in wider reading on this issue, where folks around the world have been creating conversations and contributing thoughts on this theme you might want to read some of Vicky Walker’s articles who is UK based, for example one about Christians, erotica and the 50 shades trilogy and the lovely From Two to One blog has been talking, critiquing and questioning what is sexy vs what is modesty. There’s also been some thoughtful pieces on how Christians and Christian culture can do better defining healthy sexuality and healthy intimacy and better sexual ethics and here also.