Sex

When Two Million People Read About Your Sex Life

A year and a half ago I wrote an article for RELEVANT magazine that was published online and later in print. I was utterly unprepared for the amount of attention it got. It ended up being RELEVANT’s number one article of the year for 2014 receiving over two million hits. This article was re-promoted by RELEVANT today on their Facebook page, so I wanted to post the link to my original reaction piece here for those who may be checking out this blog for the first time.

I have written much more thoroughly and extensively about this topic in a series of guest posts on my friend Brett’s blog and also hosted a series of guest posts from other writers on this topic here on my blog.  If you have questions for me, feel free to reach out here or through my contact page. I love hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

 

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abstinence

Sex Talk: New Relevant Article and Some Better Ways to Talk about Sex

A few months ago, Relevant asked me if I would do a sort of follow-up article to the article I published back in June, one that specifically dealt with overcoming shame in your sex life. I admit, I felt oddly stumped by this. I didn’t want to offer generic advice that boiled down to a bunch of clichés like, “Let go and let God.” At the same time, I didn’t want to take my experience and make it a how-to list. I didn’t want to claim that anyone can find freedom from shame by following these 5 easy steps. In the end, all I could really say is, “This is what happened to me. I hope it’s helpful or encouraging in some way.” That article was published over at Relevant today.

When I write pieces that point to the places I think purity culture got it wrong, I inevitably get comments saying, “Ok, but how should we talk about sex?” That’s a fair question and one that I hope a lot of people who are smarter and more influential than I am will put a lot of thought and time into answering. I don’t have a complete answer, but I do have a few thoughts about it.

I’ve shared some of these thoughts in different articles and guest posts over the past few months, but I decided to streamline them here. If you’re tired of reading about sex and purity culture, I will understand if you give this one a pass. I’m kind of tired of it myself. 😉

I don’t think churches are going to stop teaching abstinence. I’m not trying to make an argument that churches should stop teaching abstinence. But if churches are going to teach purity and abstinence then one thing that needs to change is the language we use to talk about sex, especially with teenagers.

What We Should Stop Saying:

Purity culture is famous for its metaphors. Growing up I heard things like, “Don’t start the engine if you aren’t ready to drive the car” used to warn teenagers that any physical contact (including holding hands and kissing) was a slippery slope straight into the jaws of fornication. I also saw and heard many illustrations that compared a person (usually a girl) who lost their virginity to a stick of gum that had already been chewed, to a rose that has had all of its petals pulled off, to a toothbrush that a lot of people have used, or to a cup of water that a bunch of people have spit into.

These kinds of metaphors equate humans and human sexuality with objects. They carry connotations that have resonance far beyond their intended effect. If you are used to thinking of human sexuality as a machine – an engine that starts if you hit the right buttons – you are ignoring the complexity of human sexuality and are isolating it from its place in the framework of our humanity.  Before marriage it looks like this; “Don’t press this button or flip that switch or you’ll cause sex to happen.” After marriage it can look like this: “I pressed all the buttons and flipped all the right switches – I am expecting sex to happen.” And if it doesn’t happen, “What did I do wrong?” or worse, “What’s wrong with my partner that they aren’t responding the way they are supposed to?”

Human sexuality is complex and it can’t be (and shouldn’t be) separated from our emotional, mental, spiritual, or otherwise physical state. This kind of language enforces the idea that our sex drive is the thing that controls us, rather than teaching a biblical, holistic view of the person where all the aspects of our humanity are equally valued.

The second set of illustrations (the chewed gum, the stripped rose) carry the message that our primary value is in our sexuality, or more specifically in our virginity. They say that our worth is tied to one part of us – our sexual status. This a terrible way to talk about a human being. It creates the image that sexual sin is the unforgiveable one because you can’t get clean once you’re dirty. It also provides a strong connotation of sex being dirty. Sure these illustrations are meant to be about pre-marital sex, but it’s pretty hard to make that distinction when the thought of sex conjures up the image of a dirty toothbrush or a communal spit cup.

What We Could Say Instead:

I think churches should focus more on teaching wholeness. Youth pastors should teach about whole and healthy relationships instead of isolating sex as though it exists in a vacuum.

I have seen and heard many Christian leaders try to produce “purity” in teenagers by building fear. The message is often something along the lines of “If you take one step down this road, you will lose control and not be able to stop yourself.”

I have to wonder if this isn’t a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy with teenagers. If you are constantly being told (directly or indirectly) that you are incapable of making good decisions, eventually you will start to believe it.

This kind of language fails to look at the person (specifically the teenager) as a holistic being. This attitude ASSUMES that teenagers must be controlled by their sex drive above all else. It teaches them to set strong boundaries out of fear that they will lose control instead of teaching them that their sexuality can exist in healthy balance with the other parts of their humanity.

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, most importantly for Christians, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gives us the power to make right choices. Teenagers (and adults!) are still growing in their ability to handle 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.”

With this kind of attitude, the boundaries you set are not just about controlling or suppressing sexuality. They are about engaging your mind and your will, creating opportunities to listen to the Holy Spirit and to grow in your ability to consistently make good decisions. Boundaries are not about restricting you because you are out of control. Boundaries are about creating opportunity for you to make the good decisions that you ARE capable of making.

Image By: http://tlwarenik42.deviantart.com/art/True-Love-Waits-91823081

Sex and the Church: Why We Need a Theology of Sex

Today I am excited to post the last piece in my guest series on Sex and the Church. I am even more excited to have my friend, Karissa Knox Sorrell, sharing her thoughts and experiences on a topic that we are both so passionate about. Karissa is an internet-friend-turning-real-life-friend which is one of the best things about being part of the blogging world. She is a beautiful and thoughtful writer whose self-described “faith wrestling” challenges and encourages me.  

If you missed the other parts of this series you can read them here, here, here, here, and here.

****

The teenager stared at her reflection in the girls’ bathroom mirror, tears spilling down her cheeks. Suddenly, someone else entered the bathroom and rushed to her side. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m  – I’m – pregnant!” she choked out between sobs.

“Don’t you know you’re supposed to use a condom?” the friend asked.

The girl’s brow furrowed. “We did use a condom!” she exclaimed.

The video went on for about twenty more minutes, and then my youth pastor turned it off and talked to us about waiting until marriage to have sex. “You don’t want to find yourself in that girl’s situation,” he said. “Remember I Corinthians 6:19 and 20? Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I underlined that verse in my Bible when I went home that night. I agreed with every word my youth pastor had said, internalizing the idea that sex had consequences and promising myself that I would wait.

I grew up in the True Love Waits era. I wore the T-shirt, signed the card, and once even wrote a newspaper article for my high school newspaper about waiting until marriage. Like a good Christian girl, I waited until my wedding night to have sex. But there was one problem: I still had an enormous amount of guilt and shame. I was afraid of my own body and its impulses. I had no idea how to embrace sex without feeling dirty. The scare tactics that had been used to get me to avoid sex had a side effect: They taught me that sex was bad, not beautiful.

I have come to believe that one of the problems with sex and the church is that we base our beliefs about romantic relationships and marriage on Bible verses that are about sex, not about romantic relationships and marriage. We need to be teaching our young people how to have healthy relationships, not simply to avoid sex.

I decided to do a little experiment and using Bible Gateway.com. I did a search of the NIV version of the Bible for the word sex. There were 77 verses about sex. The Old Testament had 42 verses and the New Testament had 35 verses.

23 of the 77 verses about sex had the words “do not” or “abstain.”

24 of the 77 verses about sex had the word “immoral” or “immorality.”

There was not one verse that had a positive connotation.

Let me say it again: Every single Bible verse about sex is negative. 

Is it any wonder that early in my marriage I was plagued with shame even though I was finally “allowed” to have sex? No. Because no one had ever told me how to have a marriage. They’d only told me how not to ruin a marriage. But unfortunately in process of trying not to ruin my future marriage, I damaged my understanding of sex, the body, and loving relationships.

Why wasn’t anyone teaching us about respect and listening and compromise? What wasn’t anyone teaching us how to express anger or disappointment or confusion in a healthy way? Why wasn’t anyone teaching us how to have a great sexual relationship? Why were we taught to hate our bodies, to cover up, to be afraid of our impulses, and to shame ourselves for any sexual feeling? I mean, six one-hour sessions of premarital counseling can not make up for years of being told that marriage is about one and only one thing: being sexually pure.

Now obviously my little internet search doesn’t make me a theologian who’s spent time on exegesis and hermeneutics. Song of Solomon is obviously a very sensuous book, and there are plenty of verses in the Bible that speak about love and speak to husbands and wives. And most of the verses about sex were encouraging believers to avoid sexual promiscuity, not sex itself.

But the fact remains that generally, sex is spoken of negatively in the Bible. When I couple that with the teachings I grew up on that always framed discussions about marriage and relationships around sex, I feel like I can confidently say that we have based our theology of romantic relationships and marriage on a handful of verses that are addressing sexual acts and that have a negative connotation.

So where does the church go from here? We can start by treating young people and singles as whole persons instead of walking hormonal messes. We can embrace a more holistic view of relationships and marriage, acknowledging the many facets of making a life with someone rather than simply focusing on sex. We can stop avoiding conversations about sex once the wedding rings go on. The church talks a lot about sex before people are married, but once they are, the topic becomes taboo. But that should be time to talk even more about sex and how to enjoy it!

It’s time for the church to do better. It’s time to rework and reframe our theology of relationships, sex, and marriage.

****

Karissa's BioKarissa Knox Sorrell is a writer and poet from Nashville, Tennessee. She also works with ESOL students and teachers. Karissa writes about faith wrestling, cultural intersections, reading, writing, and family life. Read more of her work at her blog or follow her on Twitter

 

 

Featured Image Credit: Jesus1st-Anime2nd at Deviant Art 

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Extremely Quiet and Incredibly Remote: An Uneventful Climb Towards Mid-Twenties Virginity

Today’s Sex and the Church post comes from my newly-wedded friend Meredith. Mere and I went to Wheaton together. We were both on staff for the newspaper and took some of the same writing classes. It wasn’t until after Wheaton that I realized just how wildly talented she is. Meredith’s writing is witty, insightful, genuine, and often pee-your-pants funny. I’m so excited to add her voice to this series. I love this piece SO MUCH partly because I can relate to it so well, but also because it’s another story no one ever tells. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  For more from Meredith, be sure to check out her blog, Very Revealing  and follow her on Twitter @MeredithBazzoli.

You can check out previous posts in this series here, here, here, and here.

***

Alex D Stewart on FlickrThe CTA brown line became my converse confessional booth. Sometimes a truth wells up to the tip of my tongue and I know that in the next hour or so, I will unleash it on the innocent person sitting next to me. In this case, it was my friend Ann.

Taken out of the warm lap of evangelicalism, my pearl of great price got turned on its head. In the past, friends disclosed illicit missteps to youth pastors and close circles of friends; as an adult, I found that within my new communities I had the dirty secret.

My sin? Unlike my friends who “fell off the path” and let boys’ hands wander too far up their shirts, I carried the sin of inexperience, omission, naïveté.

My confession:

  1. To those who thought me an experienced woman of the world, I want you to know that I lost my virginity just over a month ago. And not even on my wedding night; we watched “Too Cute: Pint Sized Edition” on Animal Planet.
  1. To those of you think I completed a task of great personal will power and moral strength, I must confess that, most of my life, remaining celibate was out of my hands. It would have been much harder to abstain from gluten, dairy, or television than saving sex for marriage.

I want to talk about virginity not as prize accomplished or a misguided evangelical pursuit, but as a mundane reality, not only for those who signed pledges and sealed themselves with purity rings, but also those who just ended up that way.

I grew up in an evangelical household during the “True Love Waits” movement. No one ever presented word-for-word biblical evidence to keep my legs closed, but sex sounded scary and magical—saving myself sounded romantic.

purity ringMy parents gave me a ring on my 13th birthday. They ordered it from a Christian book distributor, and it quickly bent to the shape of my ring finger. I penned a diary to my future husband and listened to love songs from musicals before bedtime. When no teenage boys knocked down my door to have their way with me, “waiting” and “saving myself” occupied my thoughts and satisfied the unease of loneliness.

My middle school and high school years passed with little to no romantic activity, let alone sexual activity. At times I wondered if a Rumplestiltskin-esque character made a bargain with my parents to keep suitors away from my “gift” until the correct prince came to unshackle me from my obscurity and to claim his prize, a girl who mentors mused might just be “too intimidating for boys.”

Mostly, I suspected that I was an ugly, kurmugeony thing, too furry and sweaty to land myself a boyfriend, or even a date to a school event.

The summer before college, I began my first long-term relationship with a boy from my church youth group. We were longtime friends taking baby steps out of the friend zone.

Each physical mile-marker scared me, not as gateway drugs into sexual immorality but as feats of physics—two inexperienced bodies fumbling towards one another, learning to interlace fingers and willing lips to meet.

We were young and I remained pure from sheer inertia. We had few opportunities to push the envelope of our purity since I lived in a dorm room at a Christian college, and he lived with his parents. I figured that we would get married, and as we discussed timelines and dates, waiting seemed manageable.

During this time, I made my decision to remain a virgin, in part, due to my anxiety and fear. With little boy experience since an “I’ll show you mine-you show me yours” encounter with the backdoor neighbor, nakedness terrified me.

I loathed my swirling patches of body hair and the way my thighs brushed together; I worried my nipples weren’t the right size. I wore an ultra-modest, Lands-End bathing suit made for moms wanting to hide their baby bodies, complete with a mid-thigh length skirt and a control top.

I held on to my virginity long enough for my heart to get broken. The man I thought I wanted to marry walked away.

I imagined him having illicit romps with other girls, betraying what felt like our shared vow to stay virgins. He zoomed away with little explanation, and I suffocated in the dust, sure I’d missed my one chance at marriage and sex.

Shortly the break up, I got my first gynecological exam. I dutifully answered the nurse’s questions about my sexual activity:

No, I’m not sexually active.

Yes, I’m sure.

Zero sexual partners.

Is there an option for less than one time?

Yes, I’m sure.

No, there is no possibility that I could be pregnant barring being raped in my sleep or receiving the second messiah.

No, I’m not a Mormon.

In my twenties, the prospects remained equally bleak. This time around I was in the places where people meet people, bars and theatres and the parties of mutual friends.

No takers.

No one ever tried to bed me.

The closest I got was someone else thinking I was going to hook up with someone. One night at a bar, a male colleague started to interrogate me about my faith, picking obscure Old Testament passages to trap me into making broad admissions about my beliefs. As we talked about the Philistines, our friends continued to drink, and soon decided that we, being engrossed in conversation, were in the process of hooking up. Across the way I heard my friend utter, “I think he’s going to bang her.”

Um no, absolutely not.

One, Two, skip a few more eventless years…

And then, Drew.

T and C Photographie

We re-met in July of last year, we started dating last August, and we got married this September. Sexual purity was low on the list of reasons to marry sooner rather than later. However the ability to cohabitate did definitely weigh in. Mostly, we clicked, in the sort of nauseating cosmic way. We knew we wanted to spend all of life together, and we wanted to start soon.

At the end of the day, we had both committed to remain celibate until marriage. For good, bad, and negligible reasons, we came to our relationship as 25-year-old virgins, equally rejected by all possible dating scenes and goofy in love with each other.

Although the fire of our early relationship made me question whether I’d keep my teenage pledge, things got dark fast. And then darker still. My mental illness, my mother’s cancer, and the injury and trauma caused by a dog attack left us weak, and not much in the mood for hanky panky. On top of that, I spent the majority of our relationship on anti-depressants that entirely muted my sex drive.

We didn’t go without talking about these things, shutting away the physical and embodied parts of our relationship to rattle on the fringes of our consciousness. Our attraction for each other felt profound. I knew Drew desired me and I him, but we saw our sexual relationship as a journey, one we wanted to continue into our seventies; the choices we made day to day didn’t hold pressure or urgency. Many days, I just needed Drew to hold me. This intimacy cut through layers and layers of me, leaving me much more naked then I knew I could be, far past my furry belly button and possibly unattractive nipples.

I don’t want to totally underplay my commitment to stay a virgin. There are few things I’ve stuck with since the 7th grade. Since that time, I’ve fallen off the wagon on tens of diets and wellness plans, discarded a beginning of the school year ritual*, and changed my opinion on many vegetables. (*It involved candles.)

I made choices about my sexuality and took agency at pivotal moments in my life, sometimes for reason of virtue but often out of fear or inaction. Virginity happened for me, it worked out in my case. And I’m grateful. I could find no greater partner to navigate the hilarious, scary, wonderful adventure of bodies becoming one.

If there is any challenge in this piece, I’d ask people to revisit and expand their idea of virgins. I know some virgins my age, some younger, and even a few forty-year-old virgins.

Some make hard choices all the time, while others remain unwilling virgins forced by circumstance over any religious commitment. All our stories are different and very few involve pioneer dresses, homeschooler braids, or being Mormon. Well, I did wear a pioneer costume as a docent in a museum, but that’s another essay.

The brown line neared my stop, creating a timeline for the secret burning behind my lips. Ann may have been mid-sentence, or maybe she was silent, I was only listening to the anxiety cyclone twirling its way through my nervous system and back again.

“I’m a virgin!” I blurted out.

“Yeah, I know.”

***

Dith Bazolli small for web-33-2Meredith Bazzoli is a comedian and writer  living just outside Chicago. She spends her days as an instructional assistant on the west side of Chicago and her nights practicing and performing improv. She loves hosting and DIY projects and her tall, dark, and handsome husband Drew. Meredith loves hearing and recording other’s stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday.

Image Credits: L -Train by Alex D Stewart on Flickr, Drew and Meredith by T and C Photographie

Beautiful and Dangerous: Towards a Better Way to Talk about Sex

JonathanHere it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! It’s the Hubby-Tells-All edition of my Sex and the Church series. Ok, not really. It’s more of the Hubby-Contributes-Some-Wise-and-Poignant-Thoughts-to-the-Conversation edition. But that’s way too long for a headline.

I am so honored to share this post from my wonderful husband. Jonathan is one of the wisest and most thoughtful people I’ve ever known. He has a way of cutting straight to the core of things.   He is also a wildly talented fiction writer and  the rocker of one sexy beard.

If you’ve missed any of the last three parts of this series, you can find them here, here,  here, here and here.

*****

“The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these: first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.”

G.K. Chesterton

Though Chesterton’s work often feels shockingly relevant to the present (considering he wrote almost a hundred years ago), this particular quote is one that, to me, doesn’t seem especially descriptive of us anymore, neither inside nor outside the church. A lot people might be down with the idea of sex as beautiful but don’t want to call it dangerous (not wishing to provoke judgment, guilt, or shame), while many on the flip side insist on the danger while rarely, if ever, articulating the beauty. And a wide swath in the middle seem to feel sex is as commonplace and ordinary as eating, drinking, and digesting – acts which at their core are not especially beautiful or dangerous. Yet I quite like the Chesterton quote and think it has something useful to say to us, if nothing else as an aspiration (which was maybe the point all along), so when Lily asked me to contribute to this series, my mind went here.

A lot of public debates we have in the church, by my feeble observation, force people into false binaries, requiring them to choose between a hardline A or B to the exclusion of any nuance. Maybe we’re taking a cue from most debates in the media and wider culture, or maybe debates just by their very nature split people into camps and make them fight (A: They do. B: They don’t. Debate amongst yourselves.). This isn’t to say that debate can’t occasionally be healthy, or that sometimes there aren’t situations where one side is simply wrong, or a million other things. I just mean that a lot of the time when we talk about sex in the church we seem to be asking something like, “Is sex beautiful or is it dangerous?” and I think maybe: Why not both?

Which again isn’t meant to discourage distinction, nor is it an especially easy way to dialogue. But I wonder if it shouldn’t be our goal. After all, isn’t it a sign of mature thinking to be able hold two ideas in your head without getting them confused or smushing them together? Shouldn’t this be our aim?

In this case I’d suggest that, within the Christian framework, sex is at the very least both beautiful and dangerous. Of the two it’s much easier to accept the idea of sex as beautiful, but I wonder if even in the church we sometimes lose sight of what that really means. It might seem beautiful merely because of the powerful feelings it engenders, but for Christians I think the beauty comes not from physical pleasure alone (though it’s nice, of course), but from the emotional and spiritual connection it brings with someone else, a kind of connection you can share in marriage that remains wholly unique, exclusively with you and your spouse, separate from everyone for all time. That is, I would argue, beautiful.

But for much of the same reason, it’s also dangerous. Dangerous not because sex outside of marriage is an unforgivable sin (which of course isn’t true) or even from something more immediate like the risk of unwanted pregnancy (which is unpersuasive, though does happen to be real), but dangerous because of the same emotional and spiritual forces that make it beautiful. Sex is dangerous because it’s powerful. It can ruin relationships with the ones you love, entangle you with those you don’t, and quite literally bring new people into your life. It has a fiercely potent draw on our attentions and motivations. It affects us at our core (as so much of the rest of this larger blog conversation has already testified). It can expose the things we hide. It can pull us closer to God or push us further from him.

The extreme positions in many popular Christian conversations about sex seem very interested in pushing us to one side or the other. Sex is either beautiful and should be celebrated in all forms, or it’s dangerous and should be treated with extreme caution. I think the solution is that it’s both, provided we’re willing to talk about what we mean by “beautiful” and “dangerous.”

I’m not pretending to break new ground here, and of course I say this not as any kind of expert (“sexpert”), but merely as someone else trying to reflect on sex and the church and where the dialogue might go from here. I hope we can continue to be open and thoughtful and gracious with each other, growing in our understanding without devolving into oversimplified camps, drawing closer to God day by day.

That, at the very least, should be our goal.

                                                                                                                                     

Jonathan lives in Daegu, South Korea, where he teaches and writes and enjoys being married to the most wonderful woman of all. You can follow him on twitter @jonvdunn

Sex and the Church – So Scandalous: Guest Post on Same-Sex Attraction

I am so honored to share this story with you today. I admit that I wasn’t thinking about homosexuality when I first started thinking and writing about sex, Christianity, purity culture, and the evangelical church. Not because I didn’t think it mattered, but because my subconscious didn’t associate it with these other questions about sexuality and how churches talked about it with youth and adults. When I heard this story, I realized that I was part of this system. That I was someone who failed to even consider same-sex attraction and homosexuality as part of the conversation.

Looking back on my church experience growing up I can honestly say that in all of the many, many purity talks and True Love Waits banquets I attended I never once heard anyone address the fact that some people might not be fighting heterosexual lust. I never once heard anyone admit that it was possible that sexual struggles could transcend the question of whether or not to have premarital heterosexual sex.

The writer of this piece has asked to remain anonymous simply because she hasn’t had an opportunity to share these things with all of her friends and family members and wants to be able to have those conversations in person. I am amazed by her courage in sharing this story –particularly because she speaks from a place that almost everyone stands against.  Both the conservatives who want to pretend this isn’t an issue and the more liberal (Christians and non-Christians alike) who believe people should fully embrace their sexuality, no matter what it looks like.

If you have some encouragement to share, the writer will see the comments here. I know that you all have various opinions and beliefs about homosexuality – whether it’s right or wrong or anyone’s business in the first place. If you want to have those debates, there are lots of other places you can do that, but I do ask that you don’t do that here. Feel free to comment if this story impacted you in some way –I have wonderful readers and I trust that your comments will be kind even if you hold a different opinion from the writer’s.

If you missed the other parts of this series you can read them here, here, here, here, and here.

*****

True Love Waits

I am a twenty-something single woman.  I grew up attending a southern Baptist church with my parents and my siblings. When I was 7 years old, I came to know Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I have a long history of sexual confusion that dates back to the fourth or fifth grade when I kissed my best friend at the time. Passionately. After kissing her, I felt extremely guilty like I had committed some terrible sin. I cried for days and told her “We can’t do that anymore, I think God doesn’t like it”.  I tried talking to my mom about it.  But when I told her, Mom just said “as long as you guys aren’t doing it anymore, it’s okay”.

Really? Was it? How did she know? Was I normal? I wish she had sat down with me and asked me WHY I had done that. Maybe explained to me WHY it wasn’t okay. I never knew why. I just knew it was “wrong” and it made me feel guilty.

Unfortunately, this became a cycle in my childhood. The following year I had a different best friend and we did the exact same thing. I didn’t know why I kept doing it if it was wrong. But I also didn’t understand why it was wrong in the first place. I felt like something was wrong with me.

***

That wasn’t the first time I’d tried talking to my mom about sexuality.

Me: “Mom what is sex? What does sexy mean? I heard it on Happy Days”. My best friend and I both thought that if the word was “sex-y” then root word had to be “sex”.

Mom: “I have a book about it in my closet somewhere. We will talk about it later”.

But later never came. That was third grade. We never talked about it again.

Instead, on the ride home from a long road trip, my cousin took out a notebook and drew pictures for me of the male and female body and explained to me what her mom had explained to her.

I finally understood. Sort of.

I went back to school eager to share my new-found knowledge with my best friend. “Hey Amanda, I know! I know what it means!” I yelled up to her from the ground as she climbed the monkey bars. She looked down at me and curtly said to stop talking about it, because she knew what it meant too.

We were never friends again. The shame I felt was endless.

These experiences early-on taught me that sex was something to be ashamed of. After all, the mere knowledge of it had cost me a friendship.

***

In the 6th grade I read a purity book with a friend. The author explained that if you had “experimented” with friends in the past, it was just an experiment. It didn’t mean anything. Despite what the book said, I felt different about my experience. I hadn’t even known about sex when I had first started this pattern of kissing my friends, but I still wasn’t sure that this wasn’t something more.

We never talked about it at home and the only thing my church really taught me about sex was “True Love Waits.” Apparently that was the thing to do. When I was in the 7th grade everyone my age was so excited to pick out his or her purity ring, have the ceremony, sign the card, keep it forever, and one day give it to their future spouse.

For weeks leading up to the commitment ceremony we heard lectures about how to maintain purity, how to keep your distance from the opposite sex, and what you can and can’t do with your boyfriend/girlfriend. I remember a boy raising his hand and asking in the middle of our group gathering, “Is masturbation okay?” The entire group silenced to a stunned hush. A few giggles scattered throughout the youth group. We were embarrassed for him.

Even here at church in a class about sex, there were questions we were supposed to know better than to ask. There were words and thoughts that were off-limits entirely. He had said a bad word and that was wrong.

In a private girls-only session, I also asked the wrong question. One girl raised her hand “I know we shouldn’t sleep with our boyfriends, but can we at least lay down with them?” I remember thinking Why would that even be a problem? Why would you want to have sex if you don’t want to have babies? That question came flying out of my mouth and the older kids looked at me like I was hilarious.

No one even answered me and I just didn’t get it. I felt so different.

***

Around the same time as the True Love Waits Commitment at church, we had the “sex talk” at my private Christian school. We learned abstinence again. “Just don’t do it.” But when the main teacher left the room to take a call, the assistant teacher looked around and pulled out a banana. “I know you girls are doing it anyways,” she said, “I’m not stupid, so I will show you how to use a condom.” And there, in the room, she pulled out a condom and placed it on the banana.

Girls giggled around the room, but I just felt embarrassed. Humiliated. It was becoming more and more obvious how different I was from the rest of them. Sex was something for marriage. Between a man and a woman. I believed that with my whole heart. Was I the only one who intended to keep that commitment?

***
When we were 16  my best friend got her first boyfriend. She stopped calling and hanging out with me. I sat in the car and cried to my mom, “Why can’t we still be friends even though she’s dating him?” My mom replied “She can do things with him that she can’t do with you. She can kiss him” She chuckled.

In the back of my mind, I cried, She can kiss me too!  I instantly felt shame. I caught myself in mid-thought, willing myself to NOT say it. Although it had been a long time since those elementary school kisses, those feelings had never entirely gone away. I believed I was wrong, but I still didn’t know why. And I couldn’t ask anyone. I just didn’t feel safe.

***

At the ripe age of 18 I finally got my first boyfriend. My past of kissing best friends and girls was completely behind me and I thought I had finally moved on to how I was supposed to function. I finally felt normal.

But in my relationship with this guy, I felt so uncomfortable. I was constantly being reminded by all my friends and mentors from church to “keep my distance,” not to get too physical. They explained that as a girl, it was my job to set the boundaries in the relationship, because boys can’t control themselves. I felt afraid and anxious and uncomfortable being with him.

There was so much pressure and stress and fear and shame. When I went to college we broke up.

***

Then college happened. You know what I mean, don’t you? The world of academia, the world of independent thought and constant combative skepticism that takes hold of you. I took a Bible class that left me spinning with confusion about God’s Word and His truth. The first day I entered the classroom, the professor stood in front of class, “This” he said holding up the precious scriptures I had clung to my entire life, “has many errors in it.” He let the Bible drop to the ground. I watched it fall as the slap it made against the floor echoed through the room. It rocked my world.

Needless to say by the end of that semester, I no longer believed the Bible. Intellectually, I couldn’t trust it. I didn’t know if I could trust God. I became lost and confused.

Meanwhile, I discovered alcohol, which allowed me to let loose. I drank and partied and yes, I kissed people.

Girls. Only girls. I was still uncomfortable with men. The messages I had been taught growing up were seared into my brain, and they had left me confused. It felt wrong to be with men. They couldn’t control themselves and it wasn’t safe. I knew it was wrong to be with girls too, but every time I had asked why, no one could explain it to me. “It’s just wrong,” they said. “God says so.”  I was afraid to bring it up anymore.

It wasn’t long before I identified as lesbian and started dating. I struggled heavily and wrestled with this identity for nearly two years. During that time I dated a girl for 10 months. We were sexually involved. I remember feeling sick the first time. On my way to church the next morning I pulled over and vomited. I hated myself. I felt ashamed. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know why and I felt like I was the only Christian in the world who was experiencing this. I felt too ashamed to talk.

Still, I attended church. I just kept it all inside. This came naturally to me. I grew up attending a Christian school and showing up for church every Sunday and Wednesday. I was told that you don’t leave your dirty laundry out. You don’t wave it around. You don’t tell people about your broken bits. You don’t talk about personal things.

My sister got drunk on Saturday night? We don’t talk about it. Even though we believe drinking is wrong.

My brother punched a hole in the door? No one mentions it. Even though it makes me afraid.

My Uncle got caught doing drugs? Don’t tell anyone. It’s no one’s business.

The message I’d received my whole life was this; “Ignore it and keep going to church. As long as you go to church, you’re doing okay.” So I kept going to church.

I was so confused. Sexually. Emotionally. Mentally. Spiritually. I felt like I was being beat up every Sunday when I showed up to church. My girlfriend looked at me one Sunday morning and said, “Don’t go, babe. It ruins you.”

But she was wrong. It saved me.

My church friends eventually found out. Living a double life caught up with me, I guess. They approached me. Slowly, over a period of 6 months, they met with me… and Christ worked in me, despite my rejection of Him.

The last meeting we had was a surprise “come to Jesus” meeting. “This is the last meeting we’re having with you, but we love you.” They said, “We will be here to walk you through this when you come back to Him.”

That night when I got in my car I surrendered to Jesus. I broke up with my girlfriend later that week. After we broke up, I lay on the floor sobbing “WHY?” and listening  to the relentless rhythm of my cries echoing down the dorm hallway. I felt so broken and so angry.

And I came back to church….

Three years have passed since that time. It has been the most painful, honest, broken, excruciating three years of my life; yet for the first time, I have had open, honest, and loving communication with my church family about Sex and Marriage. About Shame and Sin and Trust. I feel open and honest. And my shame diminishes every time I face the King.

I’ve finally been able to ask the questions I’ve wanted answers to. I’ve learned why same-sex relationships are wrong. I have been mentored closely and I’ve had to let God change my thinking. How God made me to follow Him and why He desires purity from me are still hard things to accept sometimes.

My church family, my sisters in Christ, have formed a shield of safety around me. They have walked with me arm in arm through my questions, through my temptations, through my anger, and through my unbelief. There hasn’t been anything that I am not allowed to ask them. They’ve told me in love when I’m wrong and in love they’ve led me to His cross. They’ve helped me learn what it means to take my thoughts captive. They’ve walked with me and helped point out the lies that I’d believed for so long about sex, about marriage, and about men.

I’ve let Christ into the core of my being. He is reshaping my sexuality for me. I’m no longer defined by whom I’m attracted to because He has given me a new heart and a new identity.

I’m His child.

He is my father.

He is faithful. He is true, as is His word….And He loves me.

I can’t get over it.

I can’t get over His grace.

So scandalous.

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You can read the previous two posts in this series HERE and HERE. If  you would like to contribute to this series, you can email me at lily.e.dunn at gmail.com.

You are Not a Gift to be Unwrapped: A Letter to my Daughter (Guest Post by Briana Meade)

Briana BioFor the second part of my Sex and the Church series I am so honored to have my dear friend, Briana Meade contributing this beautiful letter to her daughter. I am so moved by her vulnerability in this post. Briana and I went to Wheaton College together and even did a study abroad together one summer, but somehow didn’t really connect until we both began writing years later. I am a huge fan of her writing and an even bigger fan of her heart. Briana is currently working with her agent on a book about millenials and blogging at http://brianameade.com

If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here. You can also subscribe to or follow this blog (see the Subscribe via Email box on the side) to make sure you catch the rest of the awesome guest posts in this series. I am also still accepting guest posts. If you have a story you want to tell you can email me at lily.e.dunn at gmail.com.

*****

Dear Zoe,

I want to tell you a story. It starts out with a group of boys and girls. They are handed thick pledges that look like business cards.

“I promise God…” the cards begin.

There is a 5th grader in the corner. She has sparkly tennis shoes. She bites her lip in concentration, doodles sparkly pen onto the card. She whirls her signature carefully, dotting the “I” with a little star.  She giggles and turns to the girl next to her.

I remember exactly where I was. It was an air-conditioned room with pillows strewn on the floor. I had a crush on the boy next to me—another fifth grader with a cowlick haircut. I determined, in my heart, way before I knew the obstacles I would face, that I would meet my husband at the altar. That I would be proud.

That same day, I was told that I was a gift, waiting to be unwrapped. I imagined myself as a silver present with a droopy silk pink bow. What a beautiful gift I would be. My future husband would round the corner to see a shiny treasure bound with perfect execution, tiny triangles folded and taped on the edges. That was virginity. Me wrapped in a box.

This was the beginning. Over the next eight years I learned more lessons from the church – that my womanly body was dangerous and shameful and needed to be hidden.

That my body was a commodity – a wrapped gift, a perfect rose, an un-chewed stick of gum. And along with that, that I had no agency in the matter of my sexuality. It was something that would be “opened” by or “given” to someone else.

That there are two kinds of girls in the world –girls who adhered to modesty/virginity requirements and those who didn’t. That those girls would be separated like grain from chaff. That this was the ultimate value judgment. And we did not discuss what it meant in cases of sexual abuse and rape for girls to be “unwrapped” without a choice.

I lost my virginity at sixteen. I heard every single one of these messages communicated loud and clear. But I also heard very gentle messages from my parents that were affirming and compassionate.

This was a message I received from the church—your body belongs (as a gift) to your future husband, your parents, Jesus, the church.

I want you to know, darling, that this was a lie. My body belongs to me. It is me. I am my body. My self cannot be separated from it.

You are a beautiful gem. Your body is yours. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to learn to steward it but you are not a gift for any human being, nor will you ever be. You are not a bouquet of roses or dahlias or sunflowers waiting to be “given” away. You are purely, ultimately, only you.

You with your ability to jump a foot in the air. You with your twirling on the tile at your daddy’s work like a ballerina. You with your laughter and underwater bubbling in the soapy tub. You as a stomping teenager. You someday as a spectacular, beautiful adult with a body.

The real gift, my dear, is sex. Sex is the gift, waiting to be unwrapped. Sex is lying on the table wrapped in blue paper hearts, waiting for the perfect occasion.

If you open sex early, you are still loved. You are still body. You are still you.

If you open it on time, the celebration will be easier and it will be good.

This gift is for you, dear. When you open it early, it is often disappointing. It diminishes the power of perfect timing.

Could it still be disappointing if you wait to open the gift? Maybe. I can’t promise you anything. It’s entirely possible.

Wrap your heart around the receipt of the gift and the true giver. That celebratory day will have streamers and confetti and cake.

You’ll join the person you love the most, who has shown up to enjoy your gift with you.

This man who will carry the treasure side-by-side—from apartment to house—for the rest of this remarkable short life.

What a holy, surprising, and beautiful adventure.

It is good, this gift that God has given you of sex.  I’m sorry if anyone’s told you differently, but you are not the gift. Your body is not the gift.

Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.

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Briana Meade is a twenty-something mother of two toddlers who is passionate about singing “Royals,” Starbucks Salted Caramel Mochas, and learning that she is not a special millennial snowflake. Though not in that order, exactly. She writes at http://brianameade.com  and tweets @BrianaMeade.