We have a lot of desires, feelings, beliefs, fears, and stories wrapped up in this one word. And I’ve been feeling called to write about this, even though it makes me uncomfortable. And even though, ironically, I used to write a dating blog called “No Sex in San Diego” when I was proudly abstinent.
I didn’t have sex until I was 30 years old. I’m currently 32. I signed a Pledge of Purity at my church at the ripe, innocent age of 13. Little did I know then that this vow of abstinence would be my saving grace through the rebellious and reckless years of my late teens and early 20’s. It was a literal Godsend. However, I also didn’t know then about how Purity Culture can mimic signs of sexual abuse in women while compounding shame and “wrongness” around having any semblance of sexual desire.
At 29, I had made the choice that I didn’t want my Virginity Identity anymore and that when I next found myself in a committed relationship, I would gladly let it go. I had no idea the physical, emotional and psychological side effects that my years of abstinence would have on my ability to enjoy sex and to trust men intimately. (It didn’t help any that the first person I had sex with ended up being emotionally abusive and manipulative).
But alas, I had finally admitted and begrudgingly come to terms with the fact that I was a highly sexual woman with desires, but I had not yet released the shame, the guilt, or the idea that I would be unloved by God and my future husband if I chose to have sex now. There was this idea of being “unpure”, of being dirty. And it was hard to shake.
“When someone has been taught that the very body that can and does bring them pleasure can ‘turn against them’ either by being vulnerable to being taken over… or by desiring sexual intimacy while being told that every bit of that feeling of desire, thought of desire, or action of sexual desire is wrong, a sin against the God they dearly love, a violation against their future husband or wife, and an impingement upon their future happiness (this is what the purity movement preaches), the most earnest and tender hearted Christian’s are left in a position to hate themselves and turn against their own body and against themselves.”
(“How the Purity Movement Causes Symptoms of Sexual Abuse”, tinaschermersellers.com)
So here I am, exploring sex for the first time at 30, sorting through my relationship to God, and now everything is compounded by my asshole ex-boyfriend who essentially told me my body was broken because it wouldn’t just relax and orgasm. The shame, guilt and trauma-like feelings came flooding in with full force, and there was no Noah’s Arc in sight to save me from feeling it all.
I battled with my body’s repetitive shut-down. I battled with my demon dialogue. And I battled with the fact that I was with a man who told me I wasn’t good enough. And then I battled with how I – an empowered, independent woman – even wound up with a man like this.
I don’t think my experience with sex and shame is a unique one just because of my religious past. I don’t identify as Christian anymore. I have taken some of my church-day philosophies with me and gladly left some behind. Nevertheless, our culture has been hard on women. We’ve heard it all before, but sexual women are labeled “sluts” while sexual men are awarded the title of “stud.” This may seem innocent, but it plays out into the intimate lives of women as adults.
This culture tells women that their bodies aren’t really theirs; bodies are only bargaining chips, which can be devalued like a new car driven off the lot. Women aren’t inherently valuable, the thinking goes, except so long as we have untouched vaginas to give our husbands (because our partners are always husbands). Virginity trumps intelligence, humor and compassion. The notion that both partners might benefit from having dated around, experimented, and figured out what they enjoy and want from a healthy relationship? It doesn’t even register.
(“‘Purity’ culture: bad for women, worse for survivors of sexual assault” by Jill Filipovic, theguardian.com)
Hence why we have to be a “lady in the street but a freak in the sheets.” This is why women don’t ask for what they want in bed. This is why women don’t speak up after sexual assault.
“Abstinence-only education is just one example of our bizarre relationship with sex, which can be seen most clearly in the way we treat women. Women and girls being sexy for someone else is more or less OK, as long as no actual sex occurs, and as long as the version of “sexy” has appropriate markers of being middle- or upper-class. Women who exhibit a degree of sexual agency by acting – rather than only appearing attractive – or women perceived as inappropriately powerful or aggressive inevitably face being branded sluts and whores.”
(“‘Purity’ culture: bad for women, worse for survivors of sexual assault” by Jill Filipovic. theguardian.com)
I am happy to say that I’ve done a lot of work over the past few years to overcome a lot of the negative associations I had with sex, with my desirous body, and with my spirituality. I have danced, sung, prayed, meditated, cried, kissed and fucked most of the shame and pain away. God and I came to an agreement that I (read: we) were made to enjoy sex.
I am grateful to each and everyone of my sexual partners. I am grateful I didn’t wait for marriage. I am grateful to now be able to really, really enjoy sex. And I am fucking grateful I have finally permissioned myself to say all of that out loud.
I’m curious: what are your beautiful or not-so-beautiful experiences with sex?
For those of you who might benefit from this, some of the things that really helped me step fully into my sexuality are: masturbating, pole dancing, creating a sexy playlist, sexual healing (via Rewilding for Women), forgiving my ex, oh… and HAVING SEX (with partners I trust). And to my most recent ex: thank you, for you were one of my most profound healers.