Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

Warning: sexual discussion ahead. Those under sixteen need a parent's permission and guidance when reading.

This material is very sensitive and personal to many of us -- and yes, I said us. I realize this is going beyond the hot-button stuff I sometimes touch on, but I've been wanting to post something about sex and Christianity for a long time. I won't stay silent any longer. These are stories that I have experienced personally or seen in others' lives, sometimes generalized or embellished to keep the identities of those involved private. Many of these stories are teen- and youth-specific, because that is my and my social group's experience, but the thoughts here still apply, and I believe the first discussions of sex in the church -- which, if they are held at all, mostly begin in the high school youth group -- can be the most healing or the most damaging of all, and are either way the most formative when it comes to faith-filled approaches to sex.

I am aware of the controversial beliefs regarding sex in all its forms and venues in the church. I am not here to condemn nor condone any specific choice; my only aim today is to open eyes and reach out to hearts in the attempt to begin a kind but honest discussion. Because, if I may be blunt, the church is failing its members terribly. Leaders question why so many youth leave the faith. As someone who was almost part of those statistics these years, I'm here to offer at least one reason. I hope to spark a discussion that will lead others to solving this problem and lead me to discovering further resources for my own journey to healing.

While this post doesn't touch on everything in my heart right now, it's a start. Please be considerate while reading, commenting, and sharing -- but don't be afraid to engage in the discussion. It's long past time someone did.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

The speaker at church camp preludes a discussion of purity with a comment on how "if you're a girl and like boys, that's good. if you're a boy and like girls, that's good too. we like that." Your friends sitting next to you chuckle and nod. The speaker jokes about weak skinny boys in ridiculous skinny jeans who like boys and how you should be glad you're not them, that's a good thing. The audience all titters.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

The youth pastor passes a cup of water around, asking everyone to spit in it. When it reaches him again, he asks, "Would you drink this?" Strong response of no resounds. "This is what it's like when you have sex before marriage. Nobody wants damaged purity." The audience shifts in their seat, those near the front with deacons or pastors for parents nodding wisely.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

The halls of the private Christian school are notoriously empty of the few pregnant bellies seen along crowded public school hallways. The girl you knew in middle school is pregnant, but of course, she left school and graduated on her own early so she could marry the baby's father before the birth. Fix the mistake, try to do what they can right after the fact. Not that it matters. Anyone who knows their story crinkles their nose at the professional family photos.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

No matter how many times or ways you explain it, your brother and his entire group of Christian friends -- in your church and others, public and private and homeschooled -- firmly believes the definition of "gay" is "anything screwed up, messed up, makes my uncomfortable, I find inappropriately funny, or otherwise is disgusting or I don't like." He cracks yet another joke about how gay one of the guys he doesn't get along with is as you both climb into the car to head to lunch.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

The pastor repeats the joke about "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Apparently, that line's enough to end his discussion of sexuality for today.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

You never knew why you felt bad about the strange thing you did at night after bedtime. You knew it felt good when you did it on accident at eight years old. You didn't know until you were sixteen it was called masturbation. You knew the church never, ever wrote about it, much less spoke of it. You didn't know why or what you should think.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

Your friend's waistline curves so nicely, you notice as she walks, and her legs glow long and tan under her shorts. You shake your head and repeat the mantra: "it's a good thing I was raised Christian, otherwise I'd be a hell-bound homosexual in middle school."

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

Your mom shakes her head and refuses to buy the dress. "It doesn't reach your knees, honey. It's immodest." Your dad raises his eyebrows the next day when you enter the living room in the one you ended up buying, with its v-neck collar coming just one fingers-width lower than usual from the collarbone. Your youth pastor rails against immodesty and sex and immorality and the modern culture of youth. Only your best friend really understands your desperate desire to just like the way you look. You don't even really need a boy to notice the supposedly "immodest" outfit; you'd go for just liking everything you see in the mirror one morning a week. Is a beautiful outfit that makes you feel pretty really too much to ask for?

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

A small number of teens from youth group are giving testimonies tonight. A senior guy you know a little talks about struggling with true leadership versus control. A junior girl everyone likes talks about pride and her painful lesson in humility. A brave freshman talks about struggling with anger. Each testimony is applauded, encouraged and praised by the pastor, nodded to by graying heads in the pews. You wonder what would happen if you shared your story, the story you long to share and be encouraged in, before a pulpit of your own. Even thinking the words you'd say makes your face burn with shame, imagine getting cut off by a scandalized congregation. You bow your head and scrunch up your eyebrows, trying desperately to think of something and begging God to ensure nobody can read your face or your thoughts.

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

The changes in your body started when you were nine -- growing in places that had never changed before. Suddenly you're very aware and self-conscious about areas of your body you never even realized existed. Your friends giggle about movie characters "doing it," and everyone but you seems to know exactly what they mean by "it." Not until after you've asked your friends and done some "research" with library romance books you're afraid you'll never scrub from your disgusted memory does your mom even explain what your own genitals are called.

Of course, by college you know the entire sexual vocabulary, but that came from the internet, along with some really disturbing mental images. Do adults just expect us to instinctively know what to do with our bodies when we get married?

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

It doesn't matter how hard you try, how many boys you fix your attention on, you just don't happen to have a crush on any of them right now. Sure, it was easy enough to daydream about that guy in the other dorm a month ago, but since you've discovered he's incredibly passive and has a crush on your friend, he's just not that appealing. Of course, that girl in your own dorm has the best hair ever. Not to mention her height is just so perfect, and that laugh is adorable! Focus, focus, focus -- homework, boys, chapel, lab, not not not cute girl...

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

Finally! Married at last! Free to give in to the body, to collect your precious "diamond" of a reward, to be one with your spouse in body and soul. Except... it hurts. You feel disgusted, used. Shamed. Instead of falling asleep after sex, you cry quietly into your pillow. If marriage is so sacred and abstinence is blessed by God, why are you, the model virgin pre-marriage, feeling almost like a disgusting chewed-up bit of gum every time you lie with your spouse?

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

To hear about purity when you've been raped?

To learn about a virgin's worth when you had sex with the boy you thought at the time loved you?

To discover the undesirability of "used goods" when you had sex just because it felt good, whether or not you knew it was wrong?

To hear about how sick and perverted your crush on the same sex is?

To learn about how the desires that feel natural and loving are sending you straight to Hell?

To discover the activities you find pleasurable have a name, but are so taboo nobody will even teach on them?

To finally "make it" to marriage, only to spend the next several years un-learning the purity mindset?

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

To feel frustrated, shamed, guilty, broken?

To be told of your evil, perverted, sick, disgusting, unnatural, diseased nature?

To know you are less worthy, less desirable, less loved if you embrace your body?

To learn that God loves you no matter what but too bad, your life choices have narrowed your life options down?

To know that God made you as you are, but the church cannot accept you that way?

What is it like to struggle sexually in the church?

You've read the stories. You tell me.

4 comments:

  1. Oh my, one of those certainly hit home for me. But how do you research something, mainly in order to convince yourself not to do it, when no one you trust or in your church knows enough about it to help and you don't want to expose yourself to all the junk on the internet? How do you stop when your parents say, "We don't even know whether it's wrong or not?" Or when they say something that makes you think it might be okay when you know in your heart it is wrong?

    What do you do when you think, "I want to marry a man who is a virgin," but you are not sure you yourself are a virgin because of those actions you did all those years? Or when those you do ask tell you that it may cause problems in you marriage, or even possibly make you lean towards becoming gay? Or when you think, "I have done it for so long, will it even make a difference if I stop now?"?

    If only our leaders would provide better guidance. The only thing to be done (unless you can think of another) is to press on in faith, learn, and be an example as best we can. Perhaps we can be those better leaders when the time comes, and not fail those who will look to us for guidance.

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    1. Thanks for opening up and sharing, Emily. I don't have all the answers (that's partly why I wrote this!), and I can't totally relate to your situation. For one thing, I don't think someone "becomes gay" -- while I do believe the Bible teaches against same-sex relationships, I don't believe one can help or affect whether or not they are attracted to the same sex. One cannot control attraction, only how they respond to their attraction. For another thing, I am personally not against the idea of marrying a non-virgin, because we all have mistakes in our past and I think that's one sin I could forgive and forget. I know not everyone has the same view as me on this stuff. And what you said - "If only our leaders would provide better guidance" - is a main point I'm trying to make with this post. "Perhaps we can be those better leaders when the time comes, and not fail those who will look to us for guidance." Exactly!

      Like I said, I don't have all the answers, and we both know the leaders of the church have largely failed in this area. The only solution I've found is to seek others who are struggling to help each other out and share good Christian books to read, and to seek out professional Christian counseling.

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  2. I think the problem isn't wrong with the Church (I am referring to the Catholicism, by the way), but rather with the way people react with the message. The Church says sex is good--just only in marriage. I mean, sex is the natural way to make life, and life is good, so sex is good too. So many people focus on when not to have sex that they don't realize how good it is. I shouldn't cringe when I think of how my parents had sex to make me. And yet I do, but I've been influenced to never think about sex and that it's basically bad. And that's not right. So the point my trying to get at is that the Church teaching isn't wrong, it's how people deal with it and teach it to others. This is why I feel so bad for teachers and parents--they have a lot of pressure not to mess up!

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    1. I think you and I are saying a lot of the same things, but because I'm using Protestant idealogy we're saying it a bit differently. The Biblical doctrines and teachings about sex are not the problem; it's how the church, meaning the people that make up the body of Christ, handle those teachings that's the problem.

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