Self vs Sex

A few weeks back I was in conversation with a handful of women about sex. All but me were straight, some married, some single, some in a relationship. The youngest one of this grouping chirped up and said she's 'saving herself for marriage.' No one really batted an eye because we all respect each other and the different lives we choose to lead, but I had to resist the urge to correct her. The language agitated me because it sent me back to a time when I said the same thing: saving myself for marriage.

Let me be clear in saying that I take no issue with a person choosing when they desire to become sexually active. If a 16 year old decides they are ready and knows how to do so safely with a safe partner, then so be it. If a 30 year old who is not yet married wants to wait to have sex with their future spouse, then so be it. If a person decides/feels that they only want to masturbate for the rest of their life and have no sexual contact with another person, then so be it. It's the diction of 'self' that worries me.

She did not say that she is saving SEX for marriage, she said SELF. This, to me, indicates that she's part of a Christian culture that puts a person's (especially women's) value in their sexuality. I believe that our sexuality, and our sexual selves, are deeply intwined within ourselves. But the Christian Church has this dangerous tendency of separating that sexuality from the rest of Self and calling it wrong, dirty, and not our own. After Church divorces sexuality from a person, it then tells the person what to do with it. Usually that looks like putting it (sexuality) in the proverbial China cabinet and only using it ('saving' it) for special occasions, i.e. wedding night, or when the husband "has needs." Sexuality becomes this foreign thing put on a pedestal as something that needs to be protected and preserved. It is compared to: a piece of gum, something you don't want multiple people to chew because it's no longer useful; crumpled up paper, you can't take out the damage/wrinkles no matter how hard you try; a used car, ( I cringe thinking how I've used this analogy) the less "milage" and past owners the better; a pair of worn shoes, eventually the sole is too worn and useless. These analogies dehumanize the sexual experience by comparing it to inanimate objects, and reduce the complicated nature of a person's humanity into just one facet of who they are, their sexuality.

As a woman who grew up in the Church, a very similar Church as the above person went to, I was indoctrinated with the philosophies that taught it was one of my most important duties to remain 'pure' before marriage. 'Purity' meant that I was to abstain from sex, masturbation, impure (sexual) thoughts, and steer clear of excessive alcohol and no drug use. And for most of my life I worked really hard to do that because, as I was taught, it would mean a happier healthier marriage to a wonderful husband in the end. But as I got older and my peers began to get married and have children, I heard recurring accounts of problems with the newlyweds' sex life. While I understand that all relationships can be prone to sexual issues, these particular conflicts were of a specific strain.  These women went from being forbidden to touch themselves (masturbating), to allowing someone else full access to their body. From not being allowed to think sexual thoughts, to having to act on something that's been off limits for their whole lives. From constantly telling themselves and others 'no', to saying 'yes' at their husband's desire. They go from 0-60 in one day! They were dealing with issues of sex hurting because they and their partner didn't know how to sexually arouse them; they were dealing with issues of shame (if your purity is based on your sexual activity, wouldn't that mean that having sex makes you impure?); they were dealing with issues of receiving and giving to their partners. These issues and more were results of constant demonization of sex and sexuality. Think about how painful and disorienting it would be to be in a photography darkroom, pupils quite dilated, to stepping outside on a sunny day. Ouch!

When I first became sexually active, I struggled with my sexual desire for people; I felt guilty for thinking of them as sexual beings because I was taught that it was demeaning to think of someone as a sexual being. I thought it was bad to think of someone's sexual side; but our sexual side, our sexuality, is a part of who we are. And who we are is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ultimately one's sexuality is up to them. How often and with who, is up to them. When shame and misinformation taint something so normal is when that sexual autonomy becomes endangered.


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