When I was seventeen, the guy I was dating got me a promise ring. It said “True Love Waits,” and it came with a little card that I signed, committing to stay a virgin until I was married.
Two years later, I dramatically hurled the ring into Taylor’s Creek in a grand gesture of emancipation from that relationship. It landed in the marsh, not in the water… but it was a symbolic moment anyways.
I still practice and believe in abstinence. You might be thinking, I didn’t know anyone still did that. Believe it, friends. Me and like 5% of the population (NOT a real stat, but also probably not too far off).
As I’ve matured (a bit), I’ve started getting more honest about what chastity means and how I practice it.
In many ways it’s easy for me to take the church’s eternal advice, “just don’t do it”, to shut out my sexuality. I’ve spent fifteen-ish years learning how to numb inconvenient feelings. In my mind, sexual desire was one of many feelings, including anger and sadness, that would come spilling out if I let any sort of trickle come through the dam.
And it’s not like I get propositions left and right. There are no pirates asking me to give them a “midnight tour of the graveyard,” or Swazi men offering to give my father 18 cows. Those are both real examples, but you’ll have to wait for my book to get the full stories.
If the end goal was asexuality and complete denial of the flesh, my most efficient tool was fear. I clung to the idea of God’s disappointment, that my salvation depended on my purity and anything less meant the dreaded words: “I never knew you.”
I didn’t want to talk about sex, because that would make it real. I didn’t want to admit feelings of any kind because they were so steeped in shame.
I also believed that any libido was downright dangerous. It made me want to express myself in a manner unbefitting of a good Christian girl.
Much of purity culture hinges on the idea of “waiting.” But I wasn’t waiting for anything. My life didn’t revolve around a desire for marriage.
I used to believe my sexuality was a privilege that I couldn’t handle, like I got a full Viking range when all I could handle was an Easy-Bake Oven. I couldn’t be trusted to make tea without burning the whole house down.
I am twenty-eight, and I have decided that God wants me, not a hollowed-out, numb robot. He made us beings of flesh, to feel and think and live deeply. Denying my humanity creates distance between my fellow image-bearers and me, and between the Savior who took on flesh and me.
We live in a culture obsessed with sex, and I don’t think that the church is any less fixated on it. In my experience within many conservative church spaces, it has been treated as an end-all-be-all, an ultimate distinguisher between the true followers, and those who are pretending to be so. And the message of a purity-based conversation is once you’re tainted, you can’t go back. You gave away the best thing you had to offer your future husband. The purity rhetoric is also predominantly targeted at women.
It removes the language of grace and a theology of redemption which is a major crux of our Christian faith.
Jamie the Very Worst Missionary posted a blog on sex several months ago, and I think she approaches the topic with a balance of realism and idealism. Read it here.
“Culture…tells us that sex outside of marriage isn’t a big deal.
The Church…tells us that sex outside of marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever.
One allowed me to give it away freely, convinced I would carry no burden. The other forced me to carry a spirit crushing load.”
I love this quote from Jamie. I am better at scaring myself than I am at living in the tension of acknowledging and expressing my sexuality in a healthy and faithful way. And by denying my sexuality for so long, I am ill-equipped to set boundaries when the feelings start welling up. The more I try to control them, the more they control me.
I do have some helpful outlets: hip-hop dance class, kickboxing, writing, and honest conversations with friends. More than anything, this has helped break down the barrier of shame and revealed that my sexuality isn’t nearly as scary as I thought.
I mean… sort of… it’s a work in progress. Baby steps.