The Morning After: Things You Learn When Half a Million People Read About Your Sex Life

Three days ago I had an article published by Relevant magazine online. I had submitted the article a few weeks before and knew it was coming out sometime this week, but didn’t know when. I was excited to have something published at Relevant, but nervous because of the highly personal content. I hoped my words would be meaningful for others who had had similar experiences and felt alone in them. I was also excited for an opportunity to potentially gain a few more blog readers and make some new friends. I expected a few thousand people to read it. I figured some people would identify with it and others wouldn’t. I was not prepared for 60,000 shares and half a million people to read and comment and debate and argue and praise and judge my very personal story.

Here’s how Wednesday went down for me:

Wednesday, June 11th

6am – Wake up before my alarm, check the time on my phone. Phone is exploding with messages. Immediately wonder if North Korea has attacked us (unlikely, but valid concern). Realize these are responses to my article which had been published while I was sleeping. Abandon sleep and get up to read messages.

6:15am – Drinking coffee, reading messages. Amazed by number of responses. 8,000 shares? Really? Hurray! Start to read comments.

6:30am – Read some negative comments. That’s to expected, but I’m frustrated by comments aggressively criticizing things I never said. Fight urge to write defensive response to each comment.

7:00am – Receive email from Relevant editor thanking me for the piece and letting me know they’d already had 200,000 page views and it seemed to be sparking good discussion. Mind boggled thinking about that many people reading this.

7:30am – People I don’t know are sharing my article on Facebook. My friends are commenting like crazy, “Hey, I know the girl who wrote that!” Decide this makes me official internet celebrity.

8:00am – A friend tells me the article has been re-posted to Reddit. I am shocked. I walk to work trying to figure out how that happened. I check Reddit. Interestingly, article has been posted to both “Christianity” and “Atheism” feeds.

8:30am – I get to work and check out Relevant’s Facebook page where another 300 comments have been made. I am Queen of the Internets! Hurrah!

9:00am – Read one too many cruel comments. Decide to stop reading comments altogether

10am – 3pm: In between teaching classes, try to respond to as many people as I can who have sent me encouraging messages and emails or who have asked important questions.

4:30pm- 30,000 + shares. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of responses, comments, and messages I have received. Know that I invited this on myself, but feel slightly like Professor Xavier with thousands of voices in my head all at once. Too much to handle. Want to hide or breathe into a paper bag. Instead go home and eat ice cream straight from the carton.

****

The thing about the internet is that while there’s the opportunity for an extreme amount of exposure in a short time, internet fame is also fleeting. No matter how much attention a particular article or video or game or whatever is getting, it only takes a few days for it to become old news. My 15 minutes of (relative) fame are nearing an end, but I certainly feel like I’ve learned a few things from this experience.
1. I am incredibly small and inadequate I NEED God. There is a terrifying weight that comes when you suddenly realize people are LISTENING TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY! That it might actual have an impact on someone else’s life. And all you can do is say, “God, this is so far out of my control. It’s in your hands. Do what you want with it.”

2. I don’t have to respond to every piece of criticism. Some of the criticism I’ve received was certainly fair- (example the title saying “the” Church when that hasn’t been every single person in the Church’s experience. That’s fair. If I could change one thing about my article it would be the title. In fact, here’s a great and gracious argument for why.) Many people do not share my experience or have experienced negative consequences from the other side of things and are upset by the negative aspects of my story. And some of the criticism was incredibly personal, illogical, and ad hominem. Regardless, I can’t get bent out of shape about every person who disagrees with me or is upset by something I wrote. I’m not right about everything. My article wasn’t right about everything. But God can still use it and I’ve just got to trust that.

3. No matter how careful you are about your words, people will still read into it what they want to read into it. I spent days editing this piece. My husband helped me with the final edits and told me he supported everything I had written. Despite that, I had many people contact me in outrage for telling people it was OK to have sex before marriage. Wait, what? Did they miss that final paragraph where I explicitly said,

“I don’t regret waiting until I was married to have sex, and I’m not advocating that churches stop teaching that sex is designed for marriage.” ?

Many people were also incensed about what they perceived was me saying that people shouldn’t be concerned about their physical relationships pre-marriage. Again this outrage, in spite of the fact that I explicitly said,

“If you are committed to waiting until you’re married to have sex, there are many valid reasons to set boundaries on your physical relationship, but the fear of accidentally having sex shouldn’t be one of them.”

I said exactly what I meant – there are reasons you SHOULD set boundaries in your physical relationship, but you SHOULDN’T do it out of fear.

My intention with the entire piece was to call into question the REASONS we are teaching abstinence in churches and whether those reasons are right. Do those reasons reflect the  truth about our sexuality and our relationship with God? Allow me to quote me,

“If our reason for saving sex until marriage is because we believe it will make sex better or easier for us, we’re not only setting ourselves up for disappointment, but we’re missing the point entirely. Those of us who choose to wait do so because we hold certain beliefs about the sacredness of marriage and about God’s intentions and wishes for humanity, and we honor these regardless of whether they feel easier or harder.”

We need to re-examine our REASONS. I am far from perfect (as anyone who has read my “introducing the real me” post knows). I know that I probably didn’t communicate everything I wanted to say perfectly. I think God’s grace is big enough to work through my words in spite of that.

4When I comment on things in the future, I want to ALWAYS remember that there is a real person behind this piece. I feel that many people lose sight of that fact. The writer is a real person who, even if I disagree with them, has chosen to be honest and vulnerable with total strangers and deserves to be respected and given the benefit of the doubt.

These are examples of actual comments I received before I stopped reading them:

“Have to say I’m disappointed with relevant magazine here. I think in an effort to be cool and ‘relevant’ you sacrificed integrity. who exactly is Lilly Dunn, and why are we listening to her single narrow ( bitter) opinion? Can anyone write for relevant and get published?”

Nope, not bitter. Quite joyful, actually. I laugh all the time. Laughing’s my favorite. And I’m oh-so-happily married. Just, you know, being very vulnerable here, hoping to restore life to some broken places. And also, yes, anyone can submit to Relevant. Even you, my friend. Perhaps a piece about how Relevant shouldn’t publish the narrow, bitter opinions of others.

Or this stunner: “This is absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever read. This girl so annoying and just sounds like an entitled little complaining bitch. I’m sorry but I’m embarassed to have read this. The whole article i just wanted to punch the writer in the face.”

I mean. Not much to say here, you make a solid argument. But if you’re so embarrassed to have read it, why did you comment on it, letting thousands of people know that you read it?

This experience has also made me want to give others the benefit of the doubt about things that aren’t crystal clear. I think it bears pointing out that Relevant (and I’m sure many other similar sites) has a strict word limit. In fact, my original piece was 600 words longer than this and might have been more nuanced in some of the areas people were concerned about. I know I didn’t make a list of solutions or go into detail about all the wonderful things about my marriage. There was only so much room and this piece had to be extremely focused. Of course there is more to be said on this topic and I would love for this to open the doors for people to respond. Actually, here’s one person who did just that.

Please, if you’re reading this, take this vow with me: “When I comment on other people’s writing I will remember that they are real people with feelings. If I disagree I will make sure I have fully read their words first, then I will make an argument based on the specific things I disagree with, not general attacks on who they are. Wherever possible I will give the writer the benefit of the doubt, taking into account word limits and editorial decisions beyond their control.” Wait a sec, this sounds familiar…wasn’t there somebody somewhere who said something about “Doing unto others”?

****

Thank you to the many people who took the time to send me kind and encouraging messages. They went a long way to treat the sting left by others. Seriously, if you ever think about sending a writer an encouraging message and then think, “They probably have heard this from enough people, they don’t need to hear from me” you’re wrong. They always need to hear from you.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s my husband’s and my anniversary and I’m going home to do some “celebrating” if you know what I mean. ; )

*****

UPDATE: If you are interested in hearing some more in-depth thoughts about this topic, check out my guest series, “Let’s Talk About Sex” over at my friend Brett “Fish” Anderson’s blog.

I also wrote another article for RELEVANT in March of 2015 about overcoming shame.

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36 comments

  1. I just want to thank you for your article. It. Was. Awesome. I didn’t comment on Relevant, and now I wish I had, if only to be one positive and encouraging voice among the negative ones. My husband showed me the article because he and I have discussed the things you talked about many, many times. You expertly expressed EXACTLY what I have gone through. It was programmed in my head that sex was bad, and saying I do didn’t magically turn it into something good. It has taken me a long time to work through all my issues with sexuality, and I do blame the church. We have to re-evaluate the messages we are giving our young people. Your article was well-written right on, true, and fair. Ignore the haters. This piece desperately needed to be out there, and I am so glad that you wrote it and so many people are reading it (I personally saw several of my friends share it on FB). Thank you so much for your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karissa, thanks so much for taking a minute to encourage me. I first found you through my friend, Briana Meade, and I’m a big fan of yours, so it really means a lot to me coming from you. 🙂 I think the whole experience has been very valuable practice in growing a thicker skin – I realized that I can’t pray for God to give me opportunities and to use my voice if I’m not also able to handle the repercussions.

      Like

  2. I’m not a Christian, but I personally really enjoyed your article and thought you articulated yourself very well. From and outsider point of view, and as someone whose husband is a member of the Mormon church (not the same as evangelical, I know), I agreed with pretty much everything you had to say. Don’t let the unfounded criticism get to you. You know what you meant, and obviously by all of the shares, thousands of other people understood and agreed! Congrats on the publication 🙂

    -C

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! I have been especially touched by a number of non-Christian readers who have been so gracious and open-minded about what I’ve shared. I really appreciate your encouragement. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to let me know that it mattered to you. 🙂

      Like

  3. It makes me very sad that people were critical and negative of your article. My mom passed on your article to me yesterday because she knew it sounded like something I would talk about, and she was right. I have experienced the same hurt and confusion in my first years of marriage because of what I learned about sex from the church. Thank you for your article. It was very affirming, and it is so good to know I’m not alone in the way I feel! As a youth director, I am very passionate about making sure the next generation of the church doesn’t grow up with the same confusion on the subject I did. It is so encouraging to know that there are woman like you who are on the same page. Thank you so much for your voice.

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    1. Katie, thanks so much for your encouragement! I’m so glad my story resonated with you. I also find a lot of comfort in knowing I’m not alone, I’m not crazy, and my struggles in this area aren’t a result of something being wrong with me. I’m so encouraged by people like you who are bringing a new perspective to the next generation. Many of us have experienced this disconnect between what we heard and what reality is like, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can help to make that change. I’m so thankful for your kindness and the work you are doing.

      Like

  4. I said it in the comments on Relevant, and I’ll say it here again: I could stand up and applaud for that article. You did excellent, especially within the word limit. I’ve written for Relevant before on much less controversial topics (videos games and the Aurora tragedy), but I’ve wanted to write something like your article ever since my honeymoon four years ago. When I saw the negative backlash, I honestly ended up stalking the post all day (and I normally avoid comments) because what you said was so akin to the very things I would have said, and people’s tendency to get offended and hard-hearted is sad to witness. I was very happy to see that, as the day went on, more and more people (especially young women) came out of the woodwork to share how what you had experienced was exactly what they had experienced. I know I definitely have had issues with all four of the areas you mentioned. I think many people were encouraged to know they weren’t alone in their struggles. You did an awesome job.

    Like

    1. Jett, thank you SO MUCH for your kind words. And for stalking the comments on my behalf, haha. I also have been encouraged as more and more people have taken the time to tell me thanks and that they can relate. I so hope that this is just the beginning of what can be a positive change in the way we talk about (or avoid) this topic in the church. Thanks again. 🙂

      Like

  5. hey there just left a huge comment on Relevant and now am sad cos you’re not going to read it… just kidding but did want you to know the article was GREAT and it looks like you’ve learned some good lessons – honestly, if everyone loved it then you need to start questioning yourself – i am also very much a respond-to-each-comment-to-make-them-know-how-amazing-i-really-am kind of guy and so thankfully have not had that kind of virality with any of my pieces yet [especially as i am taking on ‘rape culture’ and ‘white privilege’ this week and so sometimes small audiences are safer] but ja, there is nothing to apologise about or explain – it was so accurate and helpful and on the button. Well done and sorry you got burned a bunch in the whole thing.

    As i mentioned on Relevant i have a page on my blog called ‘Taboo Topics’ where i share stories by friends of mine on areas we rarely speak about and two of those are ‘Sex before marriage’ and ‘Sex during marriage’ [which it can be kinda hard to get people to volunteer for] -http://brettfish.wordpress.com/taboo-topics-contents-page – and i don’t know how busy a person you are cos i would love for you to be able to guest post a story similiar to your Relevant piece for that if you were up for it but otherwise might just link in your article as you have already said it so well.

    but let me know if you’d be up for another [smaller] platform
    hope the ‘celebrations’ were celebrational

    and good job!!!
    love brett fish

    Like

    1. Hey Brett,

      Thanks so much for the encouragement and for posting your comment twice to make sure I could see it. 🙂 It’s a shame that I’ve missed some really lovely comments by trying to avoid the unnecessarily mean ones. Maybe I’ll have my husband comb through and look for ones he thinks I’d like to see. 🙂
      I’d love to write something for your Taboo Topics page. I think your email address is somewhere on your site so I’ll send you a follow-up email and we can iron out the details. (I’d give you my email here, but I don’t want to deal with the death-threats. Haha.) Thanks for asking me! And thanks again for your encouragement.

      Like

  6. Good article and well needed. Sex, the world perverts it, the church ignores it, and God celebrates it. Thanks for writing this. 🙂

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  7. I thought your article was one of the better pieces I’ve read on Relevant. I won’t say I agreed with every bit, but yours was one of the few Relevant articles that didn’t come across as trite.
    I like this follow up even more. You are an honest voice, and I respect that.
    (And boy are you right about internet fame being fleeting!)

    Like

    1. Honestly, saying that my piece wasn’t trite is one of the highest compliments you could have given me. I am more moved by authentic questions than I am by confident answers that feel disingenuous. Actually, I wrote a post a while back about how giving trite responses instead of dealing with real questions and real pain is a kind of profanity in my opinion. Anyway, I really appreciate your words. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  8. You were incredibly brave to post that for the large audience that Relevant has to see! I came across it this morning from a real-life friend sharing it on facebook…I saw some of the not-so-nice comments, too.Those are really tough to face. I’ve been writing online for a couple years and that definitely gives me a tender heart toward any writer–cruel, stupid comments happen…and that sucks.
    I wrote about my own experience with what I think doesn’t work so well about the way Christians teach purity here: http://quitemagazine.com/what-if-true-love-didnt-wait-for-you/ –a much smaller magazine but I was still nervous, too!

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    1. Rachel, thanks so much for your encouragement. It’s certainly made me think about the kind of reader I want to be. I just took a look at your article and I think it brings up such an important facet of this whole topic – how the emphasis on purity as a sign of love for your future spouse inevitably leads to the conclusion that if one partner didn’t wait, this indicates a lack of love for their spouse. I too have known people who were incredibly rigid about their purity, only to discover that the spouse God brought to them had a history. And it brings me back to one of my points – we shouldn’t be committing to purity because of what we think we’ll get out of it – that it will guarantee us a certain kind of spouse or relationship. Thanks again for your comment and for your bravery in sharing your story.

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  9. bahahaha i LOVE that last line. Great sense of humor considering some of the mean comments people left. My husband was actually the one that shared your post with me. I tweet Relevant’s stuff all the time but I missed yours and he bought it to my attention. I couldn’t relate to much of the article because I didn’t grow up in church but he could. It’s become a cute little inside joke between us that I was lucky to have missed all the sex sermons Lol

    Anyway, just wanted to send you some love from one blogger to another. Happy anniversary! 😉

    Like

    1. Thanks so much! We had a fantastic anniversary date to the Costo food court. 😉 Ok, I’m saying that because it’s funny. but here in Korea that really is a great date. Real pizza AND real hot dogs. It’s like heaven.

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  10. Thank you for sharing this, Lily! I truly admire you for being such a strong & courageous woman. Writing and sharing your personal life can’t be easy. I’ve dealt with nasty comments from people before, (on a much lower scale) and I know how sick to your stomach they can make you feel. Once, I felt so mad that I wanted to throw the F bomb right back at that guy’s face! But it was like God shushed me and told me to take a deep breath. I did, and instead of going with my initial emotion of anger, I took a second to pray for this guy whom I thought was pathetic. Gotta tell you, It was much harder than I thought it would be haha, but I’m glad I did it because it opened up my mind to how Jesus really lived His life. People were would constantly persecuting Him and saying “horrible comments’ about Him; yet He was always loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful and self-controlled. He is the ultimate example of living. I only pray that God will help me use the fruit of the spirit in my everyday life. (Especially now in day where everything is evolving around social medias!) I don’t mean to e dragging on, I just wanted to share this with you. 🙂

    Thanks again for your amazing posts that I’ve enjoyed reading!

    -Daphne

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    1. Thanks, Daphne! That was so encouraging. And you’re right, Jesus is a great example of someone who had every right to be angry and indignant at the way people treated him and the things they said about him and instead he showed compassion. Pretty amazing. Thanks for sharing that!

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  11. hey girl, I’m really glad you posted this, because my article is getting published onto Relevant within the next few weeks and it’s also about sex. I think your a great writer and I admire you for writing about what God called you to write about! God bless 🙂

    Jess

    foreverconvinced.blogspot.com

    Like

    1. Thanks, Jess! I’ll look forward to reading your article. And if I can give some free advice – unless you have exceptionally thick skin, just don’t even read the comments. Not worth it. 🙂

      Like

  12. Lilyellen: I just want to say thank you for your article because it was spot on and really gave me an important, I might even say, a critically important perspective as a mom trying to guide teenage boys who are asking me lots of questions about relationships and sex. On one hand there is the biblical standard of purity and on the other the reality of living in human bodies made of flesh. I’m constantly asking myself: how do I offer them good and wise guidance without being so idealistic that they eventually toss it all out the window? I’m thinking about sharing your article with them, even though it’s from a female perspective. Would your husband consider writing his perspective??? 🙂

    (I also experienced some of the disappointment of false expectations of sex in marriage and one of my brothers actually lost his marriage over the same. (Long story!)

    Like

    1. Hey Carolynn, I am so glad to hear that this is impacting your thoughts in how you talk about sex with your sons. I’m working on a series of guest posts right now for another blog that explore some of these issues a little more. I’ll be posting the links to those here as soon as they are published. I particularly think we need to be careful in how we talk to teenagers about sex – sometimes I think teenagers are being told constantly (either explicitly or implicitly) that they are incapable of making good choices, especially where sex is concerned. Many well-meaning parents, youth pastors, speakers, and leaders try to encourage abstinence using language and analogies that feed this idea that teenagers are out of control and can’t be trusted. I wonder if this isn’t sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      I wonder if instead of teaching teenagers that they need to set these boundaries because they CAN’T make good decisions, we honored them as whole human beings who possess a sex drive, but also will and intellect and emotions and, for Christians, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Teenagers (and adults!) are still growing in their ability to balance all of these things. Even as adults we need healthy boundaries around any activities that we may go overboard with and that would cause one aspect of our humanity to be out of balance with the others. Setting boundaries is a way that we help ourselves to grow in wholeness.

      So instead of looking at it through the lens of “These are the things I’m not going to do because I am afraid I’ll lose control” I think it would be far more powerful to choose what you ARE going to do and why you are going to do it. “I’m going to set boundaries that help me make wise choices so that I can grow as a WHOLE and complete person.”

      My husband is also a writer and very, very wise and I also think it would be great to share his perspective, but he tends to be a much more private person and at this time he isn’t comfortable sharing as much as I am. He, of course, has read and agreed 100% with everything I’ve written and gave his blessing on my sharing it before it was published. But I’ll let him know that you’d find his perspective helpful and see if he has any thoughts to send your way.

      It’s really encouraging to see that you are having these kinds of conversations with your sons and I think your honest consideration of all of this is so awesome and refreshing. They are blessed to have a mama like you!

      Like

  13. Hey Lilyellyn –

    As a child of the 70’s, husband of the same and father of 5 now adult children, I just wanted to give you a big kudos for writing something that I could only attempt to verbalize. Incredible how my life experience growing up in and around church people is mirrored by your own. This is just meant to say a big “thank you” for your transparency, regardless of the negative responses you’ve received. I am going to take the time to read and follow you more in the future. You have a gift. Keep using it!

    -Tom

    Like

  14. Reblogged this on Such Small Hands and commented:

    In light of my 4 Lies About Sex article being re-printed in Relevant’s print magazine this week, I am re-blogging this response for those visiting my blog for the first time after reading the article in print. Thanks for visiting!

    Like

  15. I loved your article and found your blog through reading it. The whole time I was just nodding my head and agreeing with you. I am passionate about waiting until marriage for sex, and I could not have been more happy with my decision to wait. I love the conversations your article stirred up… But I agree, people tend to forget that there’s a real person behind the article, and the hateful things they say while hiding behind their keyboard can be rough. 😦

    Like

    1. Angela, thanks so much for your comment! Your kind words mean a lot. I’m also glad that choosing to be vulnerable about this topic seems to have stirred up some good conversations, though I can’t help feeling bad for those who misunderstood me! But I’m so thankful for the many people who have encouraged me about sharing my story and given me hope that together we can work to find better and healthier ways of thinking and talking about sex in the church for future generations. I loved Ann Voskamp’s recent blog post about this. She puts it so very beautifully. http://www.aholyexperience.com/2014/09/dear-kids-why-wait-till-marriage-what-no-one-tells-you-what-i-wish-someone-had-told-me/ Thanks for reading and for taking a minute to comment!

      Like

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