relevant magazine

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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Let’s Talk About Sex: A Guest Series

Today I’m excited to be over at Brett “Fish” Anderson’s blog, “Irresistibly Fish” for the first installment of a 5 part guest series I am writing about sex. These posts are a spin-off from my Relevant article last month and will build on some of the ideas I shared there as well as in my follow-up post here. If you aren’t sick of hearing me talk about sex yet, be sure to head over there for a few more of my thoughts on the subject.

And while you’re there, check out some of the other stories Brett has on his Taboo Topics page for some powerful stories and interesting perspectives on things we don’t hear too much about in our churches.

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What I’m Into: June 2014 Edition

It’s time for the monthly round-up again. If you are into this kind of post, check out Leigh Kramer’s monthly link-up to find other bloggers’ posts or submit your own.

What I’m Reading:

My plan was to tackle some non-fiction books this month, but I ended up going in a different direction. This month turned out to be more stressful than I thought it would be, leading me to devote most of my reading time to fun, easy reads that served as a mental break from some of the stressors of real life. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want the play-by-play.

 

BridgetBridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding. The return of Bridget Jones as a 50-year-old widow with just as much personality and all the same quirks we either loved or hated about her in the first place. Basically, if you loved Bridget before, you’ll find her not much changed (in a good way). If you found her annoying, this probably isn’t the beach read for you. I read this during our weekend at the beach at Namhae and it was fluffy and charming.

 

MindyIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling. Ok, I’m pretty sure Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. Again, I guess it depends on whether you generally find her funny or not, but I do and I thought this book was hilarious. And I also wanted to be her best friend. I can’t wait for her second book to come out.

 

 

 

Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. I found most of the characters to be interesting and complex and I’ve always enjoyed the types of narratives that start with different characters in different places and slowly intertwine. It was interesting and held my attention from beginning to end. And for the first time I considered the phenomenon that Easter happens IN THE FALL in Australia (and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere).  Mind bomb.

 

 

DaringDaring Greatly: How to Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown. I won’t say too much about this now since I am planning a blog-post review of it in the next few weeks, but I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s different than I expected it to be – for some reason I was thinking it was more creative non-fiction whereas it is true non-fiction written by a real researcher. I believe everyone struggles with shame and vulnerability and I also believe the ideas and strategies in this book about embracing vulnerability and developing shame resilience has the power to change people’s lives. You should read it and be open to finding yourself in it.

Currently reading: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (pen name for J.K. Rowling), Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman with an eye on Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt for the near future.

 

What I’m Watching:

I know I’m behind the times, but I just started watching The Good Wife and I’m totally hooked. I also spent some time this month getting all caught up on my Pretty Little Liars, which of course, has become more and more absurd and convoluted with each passing season, but which I can’t stop watching because I need to know what the heck is going on. Also those girls have great hair and I feel like I could learn a lot from them.

See what I mean. Total hair envy.

See what I mean. Total hair envy.

Jonathan and I have been watching the new season of 24 and catching up on Scandal now that Netflix just released new episodes. We also have been excited about the return of Graceland – we really enjoyed the first season and hope the second one is just as good.

I also saw Maleficent a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was an interesting take on the story and Angelina Jolie was fantastic. I really, really want to see The Fault in Our Stars even though I know I will cry buckets, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to make it to Korea so I might have to wait awhile.

 

What I’m Eating:

Curry curry curry. I’ve liked curry for a long time, but I suddenly find myself wanting to eat it always. Indian curry. Japanese yellow curry. Thai green curry. I love them all. I still haven’t gathered all the necessary ingredients for completely homemade curry, but I’ve been rocking the packaged stuff I can bulk up with veggies and the restaurants in town that serve it.

I’ve also been really into this super easy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious almond sheet-cake recipe. I made it once as an experiment, then again for a baby shower, and again this weekend as Jonathan’s birthday cake. This thing is scrumptious and soooo easy. (Though I do but about half the amount of powdered sugar called for when I make the frosting and it’s still so sweet you’ll get a headache if you aren’t careful).

Photo from sweetandsavorybysarah.blogspot.com

Photo from sweetandsavorybysarah.blogspot.com

 

Oh, and I also made the discovery of this super easy and delicious way of doing pork loin! All you need is steak seasoning, balsamic vinegar and oil. Soooo delicious!

Photo from allrecipes.com

Photo from allrecipes.com

 

You can follow me on Pinterest if you want to see what else I’m cooking.

On the Blog:

This month has been a doozy. I started out with a post about the title of my blog, Such Small Hands. Then I had this article about sex published over at Relevant and received a ton of messages alternately praising and berating me. I wrote this response post about my experience. Jonathan and I celebrated our anniversary and I wrote a short post reflecting on that. And I wrote a post challenging myself and others to live a life of extravagant generosity.

I have some exciting upcoming writing opportunities in the pipeline as well – first of all, Brett Fish Anderson  has given me the opportunity to do a series of guest posts on his site expanding on some of the thoughts in my Relevant article regarding purity culture and pre-marital/post-marital sex. I’ll be linking to those posts here as they go up over the next few weeks.

Secondly, Explore God, a website that focuses on creating thoughtful content that engages with spiritual doubts and questions, has invited me to join their team of writers. Check out their website and keep an eye out for something from me sometime in the fall.

 

On the Internets:

This tongue-in-cheek piece “When Suits Become a Stumbling Block” is the funniest thing I have read in a long, long time. If you grew up in the Evangelical Purity Culture like I did, this will make you laugh. Please remember that this is a SATIRE and don’t get your panties in a wad.

“Cough. Breathe. Cancer. Dance.” by Shawn Smucker at A Deeper Story. This beautiful piece about mortality and suffering and beauty hit very close to home as this month I received news from home that one of my loved ones is losing one of her loved ones.

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary’s post “A Million Ways to Say it Wrong” about her recent trip to Thailand and the near impossibility of finding the right words to talk about things like human trafficking, prostitution, and human rights violations, but also the absolute necessity of trying.

Also, this video which just makes me all kinds of weepy.

 

What I’ve Been Up To:

Jonathan and I took a long weekend trip to Namhae, which is an island just off the coast of southern Korea (connected by a bridge) where we explored some terraced rice patties, lounged at the beach, and went kayaking. He wrote a blog post about it here on our Korea blog.

On June 13th we celebrated our anniversary and Jonathan surprised me with a trip to the Busan Aquarium. Fun fact about me – I am, for no discernible reason, obsessed with aquariums. Second fun fact – the lighting in the main tank of the Busan Aquarium turns out to be the prime place to take the most hideous/evil-looking pictures of all-time. I gave myself nightmares when I saw this one.

Hideous me

Yesterday was Jonathan’s birthday so we celebrated with cake a presents and dinner at a restaurant. It was low-key, but I think still a good way of honoring the wonderful man he is and who he is becoming. In case you didn’t know it, I really love that guy.

Other than that, we are winding down the semester at school. My students have finals this week (even though there are still 3 more weeks of classes after this) and I’m in crunch time for planning our English Festival and the two camps I’ll be working before our official vacation time. But today is July 1st which means we are 43 days from being home for vacation. I’m considering making a paper chain to count down. As we say in Korea, “Fighting!”

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”?

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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.