I have no misconceptions regarding the origin of my problem. It is due to the absurd prioritization of sex within the Christian religion. I was taught to be abstinent until marriage in order to save something potentially holy for the person I would spend the rest of my life with. This was a choice I was to make so that when I did finally lose my virginity after marriage, my wife and I would somehow be able to enjoy a holier form of intercourse, one that was often touted by youth group leaders as a communion between us and God. In case you’re reading this and thinking of it as some sort of weird, holy threesome, you’re not wrong. It seems stupid now, but I guess I bought into it.
Examples given as to why I was supposed to wait included the dark, heavy knot of feeling that tangled my chest whenever I masturbated, as well as the strangeness I received whenever searching porn on the Internet. Both of these feelings, the heavy chest and the implacable oddity of exploring sexuality for the first time could easily have been worked toward a more positive outlook on sex. This time of delicate plasticity instead yielded a more severe shape: I was a guilt-addled teen, obsessed with remaining clean, strong, and capable of abstaining, the way a man of God should look.
The worst part of all of this was that I was an inordinately sexual child. When I was little, I engaged in what my pediatrician referred to as “rubbing,” an early form of masturbation performed by children who develop their hormones faster than others. I continually experienced a shivery, dry climax in early childhood, induced simply by humping the corners of tables as well as other firm objects. By the time I became a young adult, sex was all I thought about, well before my father gave me the “talk.” I mean, I had access to Google in middle school and was able to scan exciting images whenever I desired, as the family computer was in my bedroom in our apartment. For some reason, my room had one of the only wall phone jacks required for dial-up. It seemed Satan was testing me, and I failed often.
So I experimented in middle school as well as in high school, but attempted to stay as far as possible from full intercourse. I even once attempted to have anal sex because I had convinced myself that it wasn’t the same and therefore my virginity would remain untainted. By the time I did lose my virginity, at age 17, I lost it to someone who was spontaneous and eager, someone who I never felt particularly close to. Upon confessing at church, my best friend told me to call him when I grew up (whatever that means). The girl I had been crushing on for four years bit her lip and kicked at dirt as she told me she didn’t want to hang out anymore. My own sister chastised me for having sex with some random “slut” that I didn’t really care about. Apparently news spreads like wildfire within a house of God. The only person who embraced me with very little concern was my father, who never sought to remonstrate me and just asked if I had been safe. I had not, and only upon hearing that did he begin to worry.
It’s upsetting then, having been raised by such a mild and level-headed man, that the church did so much damage that my father was unaware of. I didn’t have sex again for about two years, when I was 19, which yielded similarly-hysteric levels of guilt, and even caused me to flee the bedroom of the girl I had slept with on her own birthday. We’ve managed to move past my absurd, faith-induced departure and are now friends again. But not before I was called sociopathic and compared to Ted Bundy. And it got me thinking that the church really is manufacturing tiny little sociopaths who only consider their own, personal absolution and reputation in the eyes of God. It makes people abandon other people as soon as something negative is identified; it breeds cowardice.
The goal I now have is to deprioritize sex, which involves not assigning so much meaning to it, as well as not banking on mind-blowing experiences every time it happens. I can’t always find something religious, and that’s okay. It’s also okay to sleep with your friends, and I don’t always feel as though there needs to be a constant distinction among different kinds of affection. I guess I want it all to just be a part of feeling close to someone, and I want it to be okay when both parties are willing to explore. I want to be able to sleep with someone random as well as someone closer to me, all without feeling badly about it. If I could simply allow affection to overtake our absurd labels and remove certain types from their problematic holding areas, then I could allow myself to continue in such a way that would open up my heart to giving and receiving love.
I came to Sarah Lawrence College for another chance at the college experience. Before attending, my girlfriend and I broke up. She had been patient with me as I had with her, because we both went into the relationship with various psychological hang-ups regarding sex. I felt lost when I came here, and through that feeling found several people who helped me continue to undo the damage of my upbringing. It’s nice to find myself in a place that’s willing to have conversations about sex, to not be condescended toward when questions arise, to be made to feel that sex can evolve out of friendship, relationship, and random occurrence alike without being problematic. I have felt my way through a few hook-ups and sexual experiences, and have navigated each asking better questions than when God looked over my shoulder. Are we being safe? Are we talking about it? Are we both comfortable? The Sarah Lawrence environment promotes a healthy view of sex; it can be both purgative and refreshing.
Presently, sex still frightens me. It’s often used for harm and spoken of as needlessly “complicated,” or “dangerous.” It can be these things, absolutely, but it’s also natural, rewarding, satisfying, and relaxing. I know that others feel similarly. If we could massively reconsider how we educate young people about sex, and subsequently provide a more apt understanding of its possible repercussions, negative or positive, we could perhaps move toward ending sex as harm. I know that I would have benefitted greatly from a proper sex education. Maybe then I’d be able to face women after I sleep with them. As is, it’s getting awfully cramped sleeping with my knees to the wall.
Photo by Tiffany Robyn Soetikno