Tag Archive | sexuality

FYI (if you’re a mom of teenage boys)

Dear moms,

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as I sometimes do, I sat on my couch and looked at social media on my phone.

I’ve been on vacation, so naturally there are quite a few blog posts and news articles to wade through. Wow – the Internet sure has been busy with the slut-shaming this summer!  Some of my friends brought this to my attention, because as Christians and/or feminists, we notice shit like that.

I noticed other things, too. For one, it appears that I’ve been on the wrong path when it comes to raising my own son.

I get it – you’ve seen all those shameless hussies putting their pictures up on Facebook how our culture exploits women’s bodies, right? I can’t help thinking that maybe I’ve failed by trying to raise a son who respects women regardless of how they’re dressed.  Clearly, I should have been protecting his eyes.  I should remedy that.

So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize.  If you are the parent of a teenage son, you should definitely make sure he never, ever sees a half-dressed girl.  Half-dressed boys are okay, though, because naturally, none of your sons are gay or bisexual.  Posting half-naked pictures of your own sons flexing on the beach is also totally fine, since no one ever equates strength and virility.  We all know that unless we see a penis, it’s not sexual anyway.  Besides, it’s not at all exploitative to parade their bodies on the Internet for your own gain; everyone knows that’s much better than making one’s own choices about what to post.

Please understand this also: you are not responsible for making sure your sons know that regardless of what a girl is wearing, she deserves respect.  All you need to do is assure they don’t see those pictures.  After all, if they don’t see them, then you can relax in the knowledge that your sons do not know what girls’ bodies look like or that they won’t satisfy their curiosity by looking at the Internet at a friend’s house.

Not to mention that those “sexy” selfies your sons’ friends are posting don’t reflect who they are clearly demonstrate that they are temptresses who want to cause your sons to fall into sin.  You need to be sure to remind them often so that you can keep your sons from acting like animals protect your sons.

And now – thank God – you have a good excuse to select who your sons are friends with. You can also have awkward family dinners during which you remind them that masturbation is a sin teenage girls are sluts they should probably not see a female-bodied person in her nightgown until they are married.

I know you’re concerned that these girls’ parents would be disappointed if they knew their daughters were causing your poor, defenseless sons to get hard think impure things when looking at them on the Internet. Obviously, you know that once a boy sees a girl in a state of undress, he turns from a respectable, nice kid into a raging, hormonal beast.  You don’t want your sons to only think of girls in this “sexual” way, do you?

Of course not.

You’re also probably aware that girls don’t fantasize about boys’ bodies, so you’re free to put as many objectifying pictures of them up on your blog as you like.  No worries–you won’t be causing any teenage girls to lust.  That’s because girls don’t really have any sexual feelings unless they are a)married or b)they weren’t properly guarding their hearts.  Naturally, they never masturbate or look at naked men on the Internet.  And they’re not ever lesbians, either.

Good thing you’ve resolved not to give any of these teen temptresses a second chance to corrupt your innocent little men. I’m sure you’ve also installed nanny software and have a firewall so good no one could ever hack it.  You’ve probably made sure that your sons’ friends have these things too.  Don’t forget that awkward conversation you had with all their dads to find out if any of them had a stray magazine or several that you needed to confiscate before you allowed your sons into their homes.

I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way needs to be if you want to raise your sons right.  Blocking, banning, and shaming is so much more effective than merely having open conversations about how your sons treat women.  Remind yourself that you are raising men, while their female counterparts are mere girls.  That way, you can convince yourself that your sons are mature enough to make adult decisions while these girls are not–and apparently don’t have any parents to help them learn and grow the way you’re helping your sons.  Their parents will probably be grateful that you implied their daughters are tramps anyway.

Meanwhile, you should have in mind the kind of women you want your sons to marry.  Your gag reflex probably prevents you from realizing that they may be gay, which is why you need to imagine them with women.  It’s not creepy and weird at all that you are making these plans for them when they’re only halfway through high school.  It’s never too early to control your children’s future adulthood.  Besides, there’s no chance whatsoever that your sons will go behind your backs and date or have sex or whatever.  And did I mention that these “men of integrity” are totally not ever, ever masturbating?  Oh, I did?  Well, I said it again.

Moms, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made a mistake in raising your sons (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your boys’ social media pages and block every single one of their girl friends.  There are pictures of them that make it easy for your sons to imagine them naked, including that lovely senior portrait.  After all, girls don’t even need to be in a state of partial undress to tempt boys to lust after them–all it takes is their mere existence.

Will you trust me? Your boys are crying out for you to teach them that girls are the cause of all their adolescent hormone surges as well as any other behaviors they may exhibit.  Deep down, they are uncontrollable cavemen who cannot possibly learn how to respect and love women unless you protect them from the grasps of those alluring young things.  (And also, they are NOT gay, so you probably don’t need to worry about protecting them from other boys.)

You are raising MEN.

Teach them guilt, sexism, and blame.

I’m glad could have this talk.  Maybe we’ll talk again sometime about how we can raise our girls into women who feel ashamed of their bodies.

Mrs. Mitchell

Who knew?

Granville’s Vibrator By Joseph Mortimer Granville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to Internet lore, today is National Orgasm Day.  Huh.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade with my sour attitude (okay, maybe just some people’s parades), but that got me thinking.  (Yes, thinking, you pervs.)  I think that conservative Christianity has a love/hate–or maybe fascination/repulsion–relationship with orgasms.

I spend a lot of time writing about sex.  Hopefully not as much time as actually having sex, but still, quite a lot.  I suppose that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in conservative churches, so I’m fully aware of the strange kind of importance sex and sexuality play in Christianity.  I had to do a ton of deconstructing on the subject after I started questioning conservative theology in general.

American culture (I can’t speak to any other) seems to have a fixation on the male act of ejaculation while maintaining a slight fear of actual orgasms.  It’s hard to say whether this stems from a particular stripe of American Christianity or whether American Christianity has absorbed the attitude from the culture or whether there is some biological root (orgasm is not technically necessary for procreation).  It doesn’t really matter.  The result is the same–a religious culture that is both terrified of and reverent towards the magic power of the Big O.

It’s so pervasive it affects every aspect of the church’s instruction on healthy sexuality.  Some of the most conservative teachings instruct people not to experience any orgasms whatsoever until properly married.  Others churches have varying degrees to which they rank sexual experiences and their acceptability both within and outside of marriage.

It may all be down to one’s starting point.  If a person believes that marriage is the earthly representation of God’s relationship with the Church, then all aspects of marriage and sexuality are somehow part of that metaphor.  There are hundreds of articles all about why nearly every aspect of sex other than man + woman = missionary position is wrong.  (That, or it should all feed into heterosexual male sexuality–see Mark Driscoll’s opinions about blow jobs and anal sex.  I don’t recall him suggesting that men should go down on their wives, and God forbid giving het men anal pleasure.)  The vast majority of Christian writing about sex has to do with the underlying emotional connection between the partners.  I recently read this article over at Relevant Magazine, Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex.  (I believe I’ve linked to it here before.)  While the article doesn’t specifically mention the theology of Sex as Metaphor for Spirituality, that is at least in part the tone underlying the message.  Christians must put up with lousy/unsatisfying sex because marriage is more than that and wanting sex to feel good is self-centered.

Some Christians have suggested that a desire to have pleasurable sex (more specifically, to reach orgasm) is sinful because that’s about “using” one’s partner selfishly rather than “giving” oneself to a partner.  Strangely, I’ve heard that even from more liberal people who are less fixated on the context (marriage) for appropriate sex.  At the same time, there is also a common teaching that the experience of orgasm is in itself some kind of crowning achievement that indicates you and your partner have reached the highest level of spiritual connectedness.  If you have done everything right according to the church’s teachings, then you are magically guaranteed this most mystical of experiences as a reward for good behavior.  In this narrow view, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

I agree that there are many aspects to healthy sexuality, including emotional and spiritual connection.  But just like high school sex ed doesn’t get very far by threatening teenagers with babies and diseases, religious sex ed doesn’t get very far by threatening psychospiritual breakdown.  I’m convinced that in both cases, some fear of the intensity of sexual pleasure is to blame.

Fear absolutely plays a role in secular sexuality education.  It’s obvious in campaigns against providing condoms in schools with sentiments such as, “But if we give them condoms, they’ll have sex!”  Well, no, they’re going to have sex anyway; the condom is not the conduit to discovering that sex feels good.  I see the same issues in religious circles, only it seems to carry over into married sex, too.  “If we tell people orgasms are important, they’ll stop having spiritually enriching and/or baby-making sex and only have sex because it feels good!”

I don’t even know what to do with that.  Biologically, sex is typically how we get more humans.  Of course it’s supposed to feel good!  If it felt bad, no one would do it anymore and the human race would die out.  And since we’re biologically wired to find sex pleasurable (with some individual exceptions; I’m speaking generally here), that can’t be switched off just because we don’t happen to be trying to make babies every time.  Conservative Christians who don’t necessarily view sex as merely procreative want to find a justification for continued lovemaking that isn’t pregnancy-centric.  So instead of accepting sex for its own sake, they feel some need to attach spiritual significance to every sex act, policing what we’re allowed to find enjoyable and when and where and how.  It’s no wonder so many people have to navigate their way out of destructive views of sexuality.

Here’s my advice for today, and you can have it for free: If you are medically, physically, and psychologically able to have an orgasm, then go have one.  Do it in whatever way you want to.  It can be a spiritual experience or not, with a partner or not, penis-in-vagina-missionary-position or not.  Whatever.  Enjoy it.  Don’t feel guilty about it.  Don’t analyze it, just do it and think about the meaning you want to ascribe to it (or not) later.

The sacred and the dirty

Note: I should not have to do this, but I will because I need to stem the inevitable tide of people coming over here to argue with me (the person) rather than what I’ve said.  So here goes:  I am not picking on Pete Rollins here.  I’m actually not even picking on what he says in the video clip I’ve linked, because I believe this is (possibly) taken out of context and edited so that it sounds the way the editor wants it to sound.  I am troubled, however, by the idea that it represents, so I’m going to address that.

A friend messaged me to ask my thoughts on this video.  I’ve already replied directly, but I thought about it some more and I wanted to post it here.  (I didn’t ask permission to quote those private messages, but the video is on YouTube and I’m sharing only my own thoughts here.)

At first, I couldn’t quite place what bothered me.  I think it’s perfectly fair for Pete Rollins to have made peace with this particular teaching of the church–his journey is his own, after all, and I don’t think these words were meant for other people to take to heart and apply it to their lives somehow.  That’s an expectation many churches have about things, but this isn’t a pastor preaching to a congregation.  The problem is that the idea expressed herein is not all that far from the way pastors like Mark Driscoll talk about sex: It’s “dirty,” but within marriage, one can enjoy that dirtiness.  (That’s why I have some issues with the way this was edited; I don’t think it’s a fair representation of what Pete’s trying to say, actually, and that kind of pisses me off.)

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that because the church considers sex–or some forms/situations of sex–”dirty,” it is therefore “fun.”  There are several important things that occurred to me about that as I watched the clip:

1. It’s not true for many women in the church.

In many ways, church has taught women to entwine their sexual purity and their value so tightly that it’s not possible to unravel one without the other.  It isn’t sex that’s dirty, it’s we who are dirty for having had it.  That doesn’t go away just because we get married, either.  It’s not really about the specialness of sex; it’s about the specialness of having a Star Trek-worthy vagina (where no man has gone before).  I don’t recall being told that sex was “dirty” before marriage or that some forms were dirty afterward; I recall being told that my future husband wouldn’t want me or respect me unless I was pure.  That’s not the same thing.

2. It’s not true for many men in the church.

Although men may not be taught that they are worthless if they’ve had sex, there’s plenty of shaming for them, too.  I remember applying for a job back in college and talking to one of my potential employers about the application because I thought some of the questions were invasive.  She told me that a former employee in the same organization had been sexually active and therefore the people doing the hiring wanted to know that information because we were working with children.  (I believe that was my very first “WTF?” moment in the church.)  It occurred to me even then that there was something wrong with the idea that any sexually active man was a potential predator.  I’m not convinced that men who have been damaged and shamed by these teachings can so easily decide that dirty = fun.

3. It’s not true for many people in the church who aren’t gender-conforming or who aren’t straight.

I don’t have experience being a person who was taught that my gender identity or sexual orientation are inherently sinful.  I do, however, know what those teachings sound like.  They don’t sound anything like sex being holy or sacred or blessed within marriage.  They sound like condemnation.  Pastors who promote the idea of dirty sex being redeemed by marriage are the same people who believe that the only healthy option is to either remain celibate and alone or to conform to the “correct” kind of relationship and/or identity (being the one assigned at birth, of course).  The layers of shame in those teachings won’t be remedied by viewing sex as fun rather than sacred.

4. It’s not true for many people who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

Conservative Christianity likes to blame victims.  It also likes to tell people they’re going to be healed by having a right relationship with God and a good marriage.  A view of sex as dirty but fun isn’t any more helpful than a view that says it’s sacred and beautiful.  For some, it’s not really about what the church has or hasn’t forbidden but about drawing a clear line between “sex practices the church doesn’t like” and “things no one should ever do to another person against that person’s will.”  Neither of those extremes about sex–the sacred and the dirty–speak to issues of consent.

5. The meaning ascribed to sex is not an ethic.

Whether sex is holy or filthy is not the real issue anyway.  The church–liberal and conservative arms alike–is having a hard time developing a healthy ethic around sexuality.  Purity rules, metaphors about Jesus and the Church, and the realness of actual sex are not ethics.  It doesn’t matter whether sex is one thing or another when there are so many other facets to explore.  We’re badly in need of some conversations about consent, gender norms, communication, respect, health and safety, and so on.  Whether we view sex as sacred and mystical or down and dirty isn’t the biggest question on the table, and answering it won’t speak to the deeper problems.

6. Holy vs. Dirty is a false dichotomy anyway.

Who cares if some people want to view sex as some sacred, beautiful experience?  No, really.  If that’s part of some people’s relationships, what’s wrong with that?  There might be a problem with that being the only view of sex, but as one of many, it’s not a problem.  Also, why can’t sex be both holy (isn’t love itself holy?) and messy, complicated, and enjoyable?  Those aren’t truly opposites.  For example, one can view the actual moments and acts as naughty, yet still see the underlying connection created as special.  In fact, separating those from each other is exactly the problem with Mark Driscoll’s view of “biblical” sex.  It’s fixated on the acts themselves and deciding which ones are okay and which are not.  That’s obsessive and controlling, not empowering and freeing.

I’m going to emphasize again the desperate need for the church to have this conversation.  We need to stop creating lists of rules.  As I said before, the problem here is not Pete’s words in the video I linked, nor is it whether I personally find them meaningful.  The problem is that we don’t have a better way to talk about these things because we’re busy grinding our gears on what rules to apply.    We’ve so convinced ourselves that we can somehow use out-of-context Bible verses to solve our every problem that we’ve effectively shut down communication on the topic.

Obviously, I don’t believe the words in the video are an end point.  They can’t be.  I do hope, though, that they are another place to start talking.  If what Pete Rollins says isn’t strictly true or useful, then what else can we come up with that could be?  Where can we take this conversation that we haven’t tried before?

Notable News: Week of June 23-29, 2012

Good stuff this week!  Follow-up to the bullying incident from last week; a great blog post from a friend; and more good stuff from Rachel Held Evans.  Enjoy!

1. People respond to the bullying in a loving way that shows care and concern for everyone.

Yeah, I really love my friends.  This is just one example of why I feel so blessed by the people in my life.  If something happens to my kids, or if they do something stupid, this is a family I know has my back.  They’re on at about 1:20.

2. Response to my musings on the “sex is bad” thing.

A friend left this wonderful blog post in the comments section and I want to be sure others have the chance to see it.  I love the generous, open, caring way she highlights the problem.  Be sure to read both this one and the one she links to in the text.

3. Coming Out Christian

Check out this terrific guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.  I’ve been saying for a long time that we need to hear each other’s stories in a safe place.  We do need to listen and we do need to keep our hearts open.

Vacation here I come!

A Work of Art

This week, my daughter and I have been studying art history and styles.  On Thursday, the theme was sculpture.  We read a book about famous sculptures around the world.  For the most part, the book was very good.  In fact, I only had one problem with the book.

The photo of Michelangelo’s David.

Apparently, this book was written by people who think that children are going to be ruined for life if they see naked people.  Although the book showed every other sculpture in its entirety (and the ornate Shrine of the Three Kings in great detail), David was shown only in parts, like so:

Why?

It’s not that there wasn’t room, or even that it was more important to show the details of the sculpture.  The other works were shown in full, with individual parts highlighted.  Why didn’t this, possibly the most famous sculpture in Western art, receive the same treatment?

Are we that afraid that our kids are going to see a penis?  What do we think might happen if they do?

This is art.  Michelangelo didn’t create this piece for the purpose of creating sexual arousal.  The human body is extraordinarily beautiful, something captured fully in this wonderful sculpture.  I am not worried that my children will be damaged by admiring it.  I’m not even worried that their curiosity about the human form might be piqued, or that they might giggle a little and point out that David’s private parts aren’t covered up.  It provides an opportunity to talk to them.  Seeing a naked statue doesn’t offend me.

Refusing to acknowledge it does.

We live in a world where the human form has become so sexualized that women are told to cover up when they breastfeed in public and David is shown in pieces to avoid revealing his naughty bits. Modesty has been reduced to a list of inappropriate clothing items.  We have to do a better job!  We need to make a better distinction between what is done for the purpose of inducing sexual arousal and that which is done for the purpose of nurturing a child, creating a work of great art, or expressing one’s unique self.  The former is known as pornography; the latter is not.

Next time I check out a book on sculpture for my kids, I’m going to make sure that David is shown in all his magnificent beauty.

Aren’t We Forgetting Something?

Whenever we have “Biblical” or “Christian” discussions about sexuality, there are inevitably some people who are left out:

1. People in relationships with someone of the same sex.

I understand that this can be tricky in non-affirming churches.  Even so, the message is essentially limited to, “Don’t do that.”  I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to hear a three-week sermon series on Biblical sex which doesn’t resemble my own experiences, and on the rare occasion that it’s supposed to, it still doesn’t.  Ethical sexuality doesn’t have to be so specific to twenty-first century American male-female relationships.  At the very least, we ought to be expanding our discussions around the topic.

2. People who don’t have typical gender roles in their relationships or are non-gender-conforming.

We make this assumption when we say, “Men are like…and women are like…”  I’ve heard it excused by saying, “But most people relate to this analogy!”  Yep, and most people is not the same as all people.  It’s offensive when it is done regarding race or ethnicity, why isn’t it the same when it comes to gender roles?  I had a friend tell me that she is the “man” in her marriage because she enjoys sex more often than her husband.  No, honey, you’re not.  You’re a confident, sexy woman who appreciates her body and enjoys sex.  Nothin’ wrong with that at all.  Standing up in front of the congregation and giving men a list of things they should do to make their wives happy isn’t a good idea.  The reverse is also true.  Why doesn’t anyone ever just say, “Find out what your spouse likes and make the effort to grow together?”  It seems like that would eliminate nearly all of the issues.

3. People who are transgender.

Yep, I’m going there.  I don’t know what that would be like, but I’ve seen how transgender folks are treated by clergy (I posted about it before).  I don’t have anything productive to say about it, just that having at least some awareness around the issue might be helpful.  A basic understanding of biology and genetics would be good, too.

4. People with different cultural backgrounds.

That might be surprising, but it’s true.  When I was in training as a health educator, we talked about how much of health education assumes a white, male, American-born perspective.  The problem is that there are underlying cultural norms within other communities which affect the lens through which people see.  What works in one situation (a predominantly white middle-class suburb) would not work in another (fill in the blank).  A blanket statement about “what the Bible says” isn’t necessarily helpful because it doesn’t eliminate those cultural overlays.

When I mentioned all of this to my husband, he said that one place to start might be a simple change in phrasing.  Instead of saying, “Men are…women are…” we could say, “In my relationship…”  Making it specific to ourselves allows people to put themselves in our places.  For example, if a pastor says, “Men, bring your wives flowers for no reason,” he could change it to, “My wife loves when I bring her flowers for no reason.”  My husband knows there is little I dislike more than 1. surprises and 2. flowers.  But hearing how our pastor and his wife show each other love creates space for us to say, “What would it take for me to show love to you?”  It creates conversation rather than missives.

I believe the same applies in sexual ethics.  By putting ourselves in the story, we can help others put themselves in their own stories.  I think it might help when it comes to questions of purity, too.  Instead of listing the twenty reasons to abstain, why not tell us your own story?  Let us use our creative minds to understand how you felt, what you went through, and what the outcome was.  Tell us how it affected you.  Use Scripture, certainly, but show us how your faith and your understanding of Scripture affected you.  Then let us place ourselves in the narrative.  It’s a stretch.  But as Carl Rogers said, “What is most personal is most general.”  That which we feel and think deeply, our own experiences, resonate much more than attempting to speak to the middle, generalizing to the greatest number of people.

Under Lock and Key

So I know I’ve already had one post about this topic this week, but thanks to an email I received the other day, I’m back to it again.  After reading the email, I resisted the urge to rip my hair out at the roots.  Instead, here is part of the text, with my comments interspersed:

I have a friend named Paul who told me about the wedding of his daughter.  He said that part of the wedding ceremony was the passing on of a single gold key on a necklace.  When his daughter was a young girl, just entering puberty, Paul gave her a gold key on a chain.  He also bought one for himself.  He told her that he wanted her to wear the gold key around her neck to represent her commitment to sexual purity.  That she would remain a virgin until marriage, guarding herself from any form of sexual expression or experience that would dishonor God and be harmful to herself.  And then He would wear one around his neck as well to reflect his commitment to guard and protect her as her father.

Does anyone else find this kind of…creepy?  I am all for parents protecting their children.  But I do not—NOT—want my daughter to pledge her virginity to her father.  If she chooses to pledge her purity to anyone, it ought to be God.  And while I applaud parents who care about their children, I don’t think this is the way to do show it.  Parents should have open communication with their kids, not superficial pledges based in patriarchal customs.  Not to mention how weird it makes me feel that a father would have this conversation with his prepubescent daughter.

And protect her he did!  They had a rule that before a boy could take her out on a date, he had to meet Paul and ask his permission, which weeded out more than its fair share of suitors.  Those young men willing to meet him were engaged in a conversation that would involve Paul talking to the boy about the key.  He would tell them how precious his daughter was to him, how prized she was in his eyes and in God’s.  And then he would ask the boy point blank:  can I trust you with my daughter?

Again, yay for the parent meeting potential dates.  It’s a good idea to know who your kid spends time with.  Not so yay for the creepy stalker behavior and talking to people you (or your kid) may not know very well about her virginity.

At her wedding, here’s what happened.  She gave him her key back, representing that she had fulfilled her pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.  Because she had.  And then, as part of the ceremony, she publicly thanked him for how he had raised her, because now she was giving the most precious gift she could give to her husband.  Then Paul took the key off of his own neck, and gave it to her husband, saying that now the mantle of protection and integrity was his responsibility.

Aaargh!  Aaargh!  Aaargh!  “Her most precious gift”?????  I really, really hope that young woman had something to bring to her marriage besides her lack of sexual experience.  Because if that’s the best she can give her husband, that marriage is doomed.  And if her husband would have rejected her because of her past, then he has issues, too.  Ugh.  Don’t even get me started on the passing of the key representing how her husband now “owns” her and is responsible for not only protecting her (whatever that’s supposed to mean) but for her integrity.  Last I checked, my integrity rests on my shoulders.

It also occurs to me that the creepy factor has not disappeared at the wedding.  Why, oh why, does this father have anything whatsoever to do with his adult daughter’s state of virginity?  I would hazard a guess that the bride is still fairly young (I honestly can’t see a thirty-five-year-old woman not demanding that key back ages ago).  But I’m sure (well, I’m hoping, anyway) that she’s over eighteen, probably somewhat older.  So what the heck is Dear Old Dad still doing protecting her purity?  I don’t believe that it’s his business anymore.

Of course, I should note that I think this particular story is an urban legend, Christian-style.  I know that people actually do this sort of thing, but this specific story just sounds like the sort of drivel that gets shared in spammy emails, but isn’t factual.  It’s meant to have the same effect as all urban legends: To teach us some moral lesson.  I want to believe that this purity pledge culture means well.  I really do.  Except that it all just comes across as closer to “your cow for my daughter” than helping young people navigate their relationships.  This is a side effect of some of the other things I’ve talked about this week—idolizing virginity, the male gaze, and double standards for men and women.  Is this the message we want to send to our children?

The problem with things like the purity rings or the “sex key” is that they stand as an external measure of someone’s worth.  That daughter only has value as long as she keeps her key on and her legs together.  I know parents want to look out for their kids and want them to make good decisions.  But in this case, should that daughter lose her virginity before she’s married, she loses much more than that.  She loses at least some of her worth before her father.  If you think I’m exaggerating, try again.  I’ve seen it happen.

What’s sad about that is that it isn’t an accurate representation of the way God deals with us.  We never lose worth in God’s eyes.  I may not like some things my kids do.  But I will never, ever extract a promise to “be good” regarding any behavior.  And should either of my children have sex before marriage, I will consider it a) their choice, not mine, and b) not my business, as it’s between them and their partner (and God).

I see no support in the Bible for this purity culture crap.  I have nothing at all against waiting for sex until marriage.  I support it.  I commend it.  But pledging to one’s parent to remain a virgin isn’t in Scripture.  I see no evidence that this is how we should treat our daughters.  (Or our sons, for that matter.  I can’t envision myself exchanging purity rings with mine.)  Instead, we should be helping our children—both boys and girls—make healthy, wise, moral decisions in their lives.  We should be empowering them to trust God and make their commitments to God, not to us.  And that’s something you actually can find in the Bible.

Microwave Meals for One

Here’s another great video from Amplify Your Voice:

I don’t know about other women, but I am done with hearing about what men and women are like…from men. Gentlemen, listen up, because I think you may have a thing or two to learn about women.

You know that whole microwave-crock pot crap? Throw it out the window. I just know that was a metaphor conceived by a man. (I could be really mean here, but I will restrain myself.) Chalk this up to the Mars and Venus phenomenon. Remember when that was all the rage? Although it went a long way toward helping men and women understand each other, I think we’ve made too much of it.

Aside from the fact that I don’t like to be compared to a kitchen appliance, I dislike the analogy on several fronts. First, it displays a clear misunderstanding of female sexual arousal. There’s an underlying assumption that women won’t be interested unless they’ve had flowers, chocolate, and wine first. I’m guessing that a lot of men have no idea how many of their wives get hot from peeking at them in the shower…Second, it assumes men wouldn’t want anything to do with romance or foreplay and would prefer five minutes of fun and a nap. That’s super, but they can achieve that on their own. There’s a reason they choose to be with someone else that I’m willing to bet goes beyond mere getting off. Third, it’s not very helpful in cultivating a healthy physical relationship between married couples. Besides reminding us that we’re different and that we have to “understand” each other, exactly what does it do to promote that understanding? I’ve only ever heard that analogy used by men to justify why they need their wives to “put out,” like the microwave is going to get cranky if you use the stove. Yeah, that’s a metaphor that can be taken too far.

I’m going to propose a few things that I think might put us on the right track:

1. Put down the kitchen appliance and back away slowly. If you are a pastor and you really, truly feel compelled to give a sermon about sex, just skip this analogy, please. In fact, I would like it if you just stayed out of our bedrooms entirely. I secretly throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear a sermon on “Biblical sex” anyway.

2. Specifically, keep Pastor Mark Driscoll out of our bedrooms. Couples: Do yourselves a favor and skip the books that talk about having healthy intimacy. If you need a book, get a nice how-to.

3. Better yet, skip all of that and just talk to each other about it.

4. Nobody likes microwave dinners unless you’re alone. (And yes, you can read into that whatever you like.)

Double Standards and Wedding Cake

I wrote yesterday about the way sexual purity has been idolized, particularly for women.  I want to follow that up, because there is still something bothering me.

Many years ago, long before I was married, my friends and I discovered something interesting.  One of the young women I knew back then had ended up broken-hearted after a relationship ended.  He didn’t just cause her pain by leaving her.  He ripped out her heart, stomped on it, and left it a bloody pulp.  He utterly crushed her by making her feel dirty and damaged.  He had found out that she wasn’t a virgin and told her he couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t pure.  But even worse, he confessed later that he himself was sexually experienced.

Talk about a double standard.

I decided that this would make interesting “research.”  I wondered if this was a common perspective among males.  Did they all want the same thing?  I questioned both my male and female friends on the subject and found some not-so-surprising results.  Nearly every guy I asked said they would either not want to marry a woman if she weren’t a virgin or would have serious reservations.  This included involuntary sexual activity.  There were only two exceptions.  One said he couldn’t justify being judgmental because he had already had sex.  The other was gay.

On the flip side, the majority of women said they didn’t really care.  They figured that what was in the past was behind them, and as long as he wasn’t pressuring them, it wasn’t a problem.  Only those who had the most fundamentalist worldview preferred the idea of marrying a man with no prior sexual activity.  Now, this is only anecdotal, and my sample was limited to my own friends and acquaintances.  It was fascinating nonetheless, and I have a feeling it wouldn’t be much different among other Christian populations.

In yesterday’s post, I reviewed some common metaphors used in abstinence-based education.  They were all about damage: The wedding cake, demolished flower, chewed candy, spit-filled cup.  Obviously, the aim is to demonstrate how a girl or woman has been forever ruined by her sexual history.

Wait…but the guy wouldn’t be “ruined”?!  So, he could be forgiven of his indiscretion, and he could move on, but she would have to live with the shame and guilt forever.  There is definitely something wrong with that.  Female virginity is still seen as a prize, and men who don’t get to claim it should be sorely disappointed.  But male virginity isn’t important, at least in the long-term.

One thing I’ve turned up is that there is a difference in what we consider the Big Sex Evil when it comes to men and women.  Men are often shamed for their “lust.”  You can see the evidence for this with a simple Google search.  There are literally thousands of web sites devoted to discussing, preventing, and treating lust (usually described in terms of porn and solo sex).  If men give in to their desires, it’s almost considered inevitable, given the fact that “all” men have issues with lust.  (Apparently, women don’t; we don’t have much a sex drive.)

Those aforementioned sermon illustrations, however, are obviously aimed at women (picking the petals off a flower and saying its beauty has been destroyed, anyone?).  I don’t personally know any men who are ashamed that they had sex before marriage, even Christian men.  I know far too many women who still, years later, beat themselves up over not waiting until walking down the aisle.  Included in this are the women who feel the need to excuse or explain the fact that their children are older than their marriages, despite the fact that it’s really not anyone else’s business.  I haven’t seen any men try to field that particular question.

One key difference between lust-shame and virginity-shame is that men aren’t considered damaged goods if they got off to Playboy.  They’re not all used up.  Again, men get to move on.  There may be ongoing shame, but only if they continue to interact with porn.  But once a woman’s virginity is gone, it’s gone.

I don’t think the answer is to make it more shameful for men to have premarital sex or for women to look at porn.  The answer is to stop using it as a weapon.  While I’m all for having morals and values when it comes to sex, I’m not much of a fan of using purity standards (of any kind) as a battle-ax.  I believe somewhere out there is a better way for us to think about and deal with sexual morality.

The Purity Idol

I want to begin by making it very clear that I am not advocating for sin, nor am I suggesting anyone revise their opinion about what is or isn’t sin.  Here, I am going to focus on how we’ve turned purity into an idol.

I recently read a comment on another blog post where someone was describing a youth group activity about virginity.  The students were shown a wedding-style cake.  The girls were sent from the room, but the boys remained.  The boys were instructed to dive in and enjoy the cake.  When the girls returned, the experience was compared to what it’s like if a guy “takes” a girl’s virginity before she’s married.  She becomes like that cake, utterly destroyed.  She is “damaged goods.”

It’s not the only lesson illustration of its kind.  Other common teaching tools for “purity” education include partially chewed candy or gum, previously licked lollipops, roses with the petals torn off, cups of spit.  You can see some of them in this video:

(You can see more videos on abstinence-only sex education from Amplify Your Voice here.)

We have definitely made an idol of virginity, particularly for women.  We even deliver retroactive guilt—people are shamed for having had sex before marriage even when they weren’t Christians at the time.  I can recall the popularity of virginity renewal pledges and all the talk about how we could become spiritually pure again if we had committed such a grave crime against God.

What would happen if we placed the same kind of emphasis on shaming people for non-sexual sins?  What if we stopped elevating virginity to the top tier as proof of Christian faith and self-control?  Would it actually lead to less sinful behavior, or would it just increase shame and guilt in other areas of our lives?  How about instead, we stop treating people as if a single event (loss of virginity, in this case) defines the rest of their lives.