Sex™ (and the lies I was told about it)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap It was originally published on April 2, 2013.

(”Sex™” for this post refers to traditional (procreative/penetrative) intercourse.)

Sex™ is hard – and I don’t mean it in the cute double-entandra way. I mean it’s difficult.

It’s hard being newly married with an unhealthy body image, unhealthy (and untrue) understanding of what Sex™ is and means. Becoming quickly disillusioned by false promises perpetuated by parents and theologians and feeling horribly ashamed – and mostly? mostly angry. Because the lies of my childhood permeated every fiber of my being and made intimacy scary.

Imagine being told that you’re damaged goods and no one in their right mind would love you if you had sex before you were married. Imagine being compared to murky water in a glass, a scratch on a sports car, a chip on fine china if you were to be impure (which is so loaded that it could even mean something as simple as having a crush on someone. I know I felt guilty and apologized for having a crush once – thinking that made me undesirable). Imagine being scrutinized for kissing, or so much as holding hands while dating. Because that leads to Sex™ you know? And there’s no such thing as self control.

But then also being told, as a young girl, that when you’re married – you have to have A LOT of Sex™. Whenever your husband wants it, and you have to have unprotected, unsafe Sex™, too, because otherwise you’re ruining god’s design. Being told that essentially your job, once married is to be a baby and sex machine – because otherwise your husband would probably leave you (don’t get me started).

To make this worth it? To make not having sex before you’re married worth it, they tell you that you will have The Best Sex Ever™ just because you’re the purest of them all.

The Best Sex Ever™ is supposed to happen with absolutely no knowledge of your body, learning only abstinence, and being told your entire life that Sex™ is evil, bad, and ungodly outside marriage, but that as soon as the pastor announces you, it’s the most best thing ever and you suddenly know all about your anatomy and how your bodies work together?

It’s about time someone called bullshit.

Purity teachings, abstinence only education, and guilt/fear/shame tactics about my sexuality have been hard to get rid of. They permeate, they collect, they stay, they tell me I can’t talk about the fact that I did not, indeed, have The Best Sex Ever™ because I waited and proceeded to be ignorant about my body. My ignorance has cost me much, personally. Largely in embarrassment, but also in identifying physical problems, and forming a healthy relationship with myself and my own sexuality.

Those feelings of failure persisted for a while, failure because purity teachings required us to be ignorant. Our parents subscribed to “if you tell them nothing, they won’t do it or know how”. The ignorance that was required, the lies I was told – the fact that value as humans were dependent on first: whether or not sex was had before marriage, and second: on how many kids you’ll have after – anger me to no end.

The philosophy of, women must be 1) horribly self-conscious and paranoid about other women their husband see and 2) must be gods in bed because that’s what’s keeping their husband there, strikes me as demented and generally makes me want to strangle whoever is spreading that lie around.

I often feel strange when I’m around people who live this way. Because I don’t feel self conscious or paranoid, I don’t care, and I trust my partner. Our relationship is based on so much more than that.

“Purity” teaches you that appearances and sex are everything, but also that you should in no way think about or know about your body, sex, or have any healthy relationship regarding your sexuality or your future partner’s.

“Purity” taught me that ignorance is safe, wanted, necessary and it lead to me feeling like a failure, guilty, ashamed, confused, and disillusioned.

I was homeschooled,  I bought the lie, I believed ignorance was best, and I was told I’d be rewarded. I know countless others have suffered at the hands of purity teachings, and abstinence only education, of not being allowed to know about our own anatomy. I was ashamed because I didn’t know basic things (like, about my hymen).

I wish that I had been taught a healthy outlook of my body, of my sexuality, of my existence; instead of one that degraded not just women, but all of humanity into raging sex beasts.  Even so, if there is one thing I learned the hard way (ha), the one thing that I learned that made dealing with the shame and guilt easier (if not almost completely go away)? Is that sex is what you and your partner make of it. Sex is about enjoyment, it’s about each other, it’s about what makes both people involved feel good and is not about procreation.

22 comments

  • I’m also a newly married former home schooler and know exactly what you’re talking about. As a male, my issues are different. I was always taught to judge and avoid the ‘slutty’ girls who wore make up, cleavage and who expressed their sexuality in any way. Now that I’m married, I find myself having mini panic attacks when my wife starts to get frisky. On top of that, sex doesn’t quite feel the way I imagined it to and now I’m struggling to readjust my expectations. Nasty stuff, that purity culture.

    • Figuring out in college that women can have a strong sex drive unnerved me and I had no idea what to do. I remember having to consciously depersonalize so I could stop uncontrollably shaking when I was making out with a girl. Now I’m super happy I was lied to all those years and I don’t have to do that. FUCK YOU, PURITY CULTURE!

    • As a woman who married a guy from a similarly restrictive, conservative background, I can vouch for the fact that you’re not the only one who responds this way. Purity culture messes men up too.

  • Despite being homeschooled, I was blessed with parents who were honest with me about sex. They gave me the physical, educational, and spiritual tools to make decisions for myself, and respected my decisions, even if they didn’t agree with them. Part of this, I think, was because my father is a doctor and is a bit more in touch with the reality of human sexuality, and another part is because my mom was forced to learn the hard way (recovery from date rape). I ended up having my first sexual experience at 18, and I’ve been with the same partner for four years. We are not married yet. We are very happy, have a healthy intimate life, and have no regrets.

    In contrast to my story, to date I don’t have a single friend from childhood who didn’t end up with hardship because of purity culture. There are 14 women in my life that I met before the age of 12 (through church, community choir, city sports, etc) that are close enough to my age I would call my “classmates.” 12 of them had an unplanned pregnancy before their 20th birthdays. The other two got married within months of meeting their partners because they wanted to have sex (but couldn’t because they weren’t married), and ended up divorced and traumatized by their 21st birthdays.

    These statistics aren’t normal in the mainstream, but in my conservative community, I’ve heard it repeated. Purity culture results in more teen pregnancies due to curiosity, rebellion, and lack of education. And for those precious few who actually manage to wait, they end up unhappy with marriages that are off to a bad start from day one.

    I have one friend, who I made in college, who waited until her wedding day. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but she herself said that staying naive was the biggest mistake she could have made. Her wedding night was not the fantasy it was supposed to be. Instead, she locked herself in the bathroom and called me in tears because she didn’t know: that her hymen might need to be broken, that her husband would have to get an erection before they could proceed, or that friction would be involved and therefore lubricant might be needed. She didn’t even know her own body, or the physiology of her husband (that ejaculation was eminent). This isn’t setting our young people up for success in intimacy or marriage. No woman should have to call a friend or a doctor to learn information that every individual should know by puberty (if not sooner): how babies are made. These are concepts I understood by the age of 5. Cats have kittens, dogs have puppies, people have babies, it’s a beautiful thing and only taboo if parents choose to make it so. Don’t propagate ignorance!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      The other two got married within months of meeting their partners because they wanted to have sex (but couldn’t because they weren’t married), and ended up divorced and traumatized by their 21st birthdays.

      The formal term for this is “A Marriage of Continence”, i.e. a marriage entered into only to legalize the sex. It has never sounded like a good idea. Like porn, it reduces sex (Marriage in Christianese) to meat-in-meat and nothing else, and that can’t be a good thing.

      Her wedding night was not the fantasy it was supposed to be. Instead, she locked herself in the bathroom and called me in tears because she didn’t know: that her hymen might need to be broken, that her husband would have to get an erection before they could proceed, or that friction would be involved and therefore lubricant might be needed. She didn’t even know her own body, or the physiology of her husband (that ejaculation was eminent).

      Two nervous virgins stumbling around is an opportunity for comedy, but this sounds like she got the Grimdark Side of it. Also think of a boy raised in Purity Culture whose only sex ed is what he picks up through osmosis in our erotically-saturated culture — locker-room talk and porn. (I’m not even talking about Mark Driscoll, Seven Day Sex Challenges in Church, and/or Woman Submit/Quiverfull.) Put the two together and things can go seriously bad as the expectations collide — as bad as when those slugs of U-235 collided in Little Boy over Hiroshima.

      • I just want to add to this conversation: it *is* possible to do the whole waiting-for-the-wedding-night thing and have it turn out well. I did. But then, I didn’t grow up in “that” Purity Culture. I was just in an average Christian household where I was simply taught that waiting till marriage is the right thing. I got “the Talk” on how sex works from a mother who was obviously not totally comfortable talking about it but clearly wanted me to know. At my Christian college we used to sit around in the girls’ dorm and listen to our most informed friend telling what she’d heard about sex from her married friends. I dated one guy whom I never kissed although we had a strong physical attraction, and I don’t regret that–our relationship was unhealthy and getting physical would have led to worse enmeshment. Then I ended up dating my now-husband. We dated for three years, because we wanted to be sure, although we felt meant for each other from the start. With him I broke the rules in this way: although I’d basically been taught that kissing is OK-though-not-a-great-idea but that you should keep your hands *off* each other when dating, I let that rule fall by the wayside and took up a much more basic one: we both keep our pants on. And we did keep them on, until our wedding night.

        Our wedding night was unspectacular, but friendly. We were both OK with that. After all, there was so much to get used to. Perhaps it made a difference that my husband was over 30 and had long since learned self-control. It took awhile for us to learn just what my body needed for fulfillment; that was OK too since we hadn’t been promised The Greatest Sex Ever right away. We worked actively on learning how to do it better. It felt very safe, learning along with him, both of us beginners, no pressure. It was hard for awhile at first because we were working the same demanding physical job and would come home too tired to try for more satisfaction than we could get from just the basics, but when we quit it got much better. We picked up things from books, tried things, talked about it. Within a few months of getting married we were enjoying the heck out of each other, and we still are.

        One of the things I bring out of that experience is that I’m a big fan of the make-out-plenty-but-keep-your-pants-on model. I think I may recommend it to my kids. Not for just any relationship, but for one where you both genuinely want to be together forever and are old enough to know your own minds… you need a warm-up period for Pete’s sake. So I’m glad I did that. But I’m glad I kept my pants on too… it felt right, and safe, and fitting, to have our first sexual experience right after making promises of fidelity to each other. That’s what that was meant to be about. I wish they hadn’t turned it into a fetish and a stick to beat people with. But I still think it’s a good thing in itself.

  • A fantastically written, thoroughly chronicled, accurately described, and unfortunately valid article. I commend you.

  • Pingback: Celebrating One Month of Speaking Up | H • A

  • So, does anyone have good resources for the poor homeschooled late teeangers/young adults that still are not sure about what sex is and how it works? I mean, yeah we could search google all we want but… that can turn up some “risque” results, don’t you think?

    It’s kinda weird thinking about, not gonna lie, but I have an almost 18-year old brother and I am 100% sure my parents haven’t given him “the talk” (because they certainly never gave it to me), and I don’t want him to be caught like, off-guard, if you will. Being an 18 year old kid. he’s probably heard plenty, but still… I’d just like to know that he has been given a straight talk about it. May as well be me to give it to him, for my own peace of mind hah

    • Wikipedia! I found it to be a very scientific, but informative look at sex. I used to send links to a lot of my sheltered homeschool friends. You can follow links there and explore different topics without having to worry about misinformation or pornography. Hope this helps. 🙂

    • I used wikipedia, wiki-how, and also http://www.scarleteen.com

      Honestly, I think for me Scarleteen was the most comprehensive and easy to understand because they write it for kids who know nothing. 🙂

      • Scarleteen is awesome! I ummm “educated” myself when I was thirteen or thereabouts in the public library by reading the explicit romance novels between the pages of the science books I was *supposed* to be reading and got a lot of really, awful, completely false ideas of how sex works. Stumbled across scarleteen when I was skeptically trying to find out which of all the horrifically-contradicting books was correct, and it was so very helpful.

        And I was coming from a background where my mom didn’t even tell me what puberty would do to my body, and offered to teach me how to use pads over two years after I’d started getting my period. Sooo, I was totally ignorant. 😛

        Wikipedia links are veeeery scientific, but interested, too. I liked scarleteen’s friendly, no-nonsense descriptions. 🙂

    • The Guide to Getting It On, by Goofy Foot Press. Also Dan Savage’s podcast, but that’s more for the non-faint of heart. Read the book first.

  • Reblogged this on Barefoot Christian Faith and commented:
    This post on Homeschooler’s Anonymous sums up what is wrong with the church and human sexuality far better than we ever could. – Admins

  • Great article. And thank you Nia for your comment. It resonated with me just as much as the article, itself!

    An issue that is rarely addressed is “intimacy.” Not physical intimacy (not exclusively, anyhow), but the kind of intimacy you experience with someone you are alone with. The kind of intimacy that you experience that allows you to know you can trust your partner above all other humans to share your life with, make big decisions with and especially, share your body with. Stollar touches on the “appearance” of purity, but not everyone knows what that means in the Purity culture. That means never being alone. That means never going on trips, just the two of you. Never travelling alone together. And of course, NEVER living together before the “sacred” wedding day. Some of the “cooler couples” who had “liberal” parents that allowed them to go on “dates,” just the two of them could hang out for a few hours away from everyone, but a few hours does not create the intimacy that physically giving yourself to another person requires. We are told that sex is “so special” that it only “belongs” in a marriage because that is the only place where true intimacy lives. Yet, there is really no TRUE “intimacy” established in the relationship on the day of the wedding. How could it? And yet, that is the day that “the most intimate act” is expected to happen. Where does the relationship between sex and intimacy truly exist in the purity culture?

  • A great book for girls to learn about there bodies is called “Body Drama” by Nancy Amanda Redding. it is educational and down to earth. Got it for my daughter when she reached puberty. can purchase on amazon.

  • Hey there, I just want to say thanks for posting this. I was indoctrinated in this stuff from an early age, but, I was lucky enough to realize relatively early on that it it was a load of garbage and subsequently disconnected myself as much as possible. Not that it made the guilt , shame, and ignorance much better, but I can’t imagine having this stuff forced on me (lets not kid ourselves, when you’re indoctrinating children like this, it’s force) until I was twenty or so instead of just 13.

    I’ve often wondered what it was that made my parents think that it was okay to abide by this cultish code and set of behavioral rule, but I imagine it has to do with how much fear parents have of the outside world, not just for their children but themselves. A lot of parents in this milieu are raised with the same ignorant beliefs that are then constantly reinforced by their bubble of church and media outlets until there’s little good left in the teachings they consume, if there ever was. The culture I witnessed was permeated with fear, cowardice, hypocrisy, duplicity and most of all, sadness.

    Just get yourselves out of these cults, people. They’re destructive.

  • Anon-Homeschooler

    I randomly came across this website today and then found this article. I too was raised in a very similar manner from what I read in the article and comments.

    My experiences with “purity” were, as always, through religion growing up. I’ll spare the typical story of how most everyone was raised through sheltering on the subjects of getting to know one’s body and fast forward. My parents never provided any sex ed of any kind. It wasn’t until I was 26 and about to permanently relocate from the US to Germany that I was given a book by my parents that was written for ages 6-11 on getting to know your body from a religious perspective and told to read it. All this time, my parents figured I didn’t know anything. Ten years earlier, after starting college at age 16, I realized I wasn’t under the strictness in my household anymore while on campus and I could freely browse on the Internet to figure things out for myself.

    While starting much later in life than most people in society when learning this subject, it took me quite a few years to really get my head wrapped around this subject as it wasn’t portrayed in a good light religiously. Because of this, and because of the strictness in my household, I refrained from dating anyone until I was 26 when I moved out of the house, but even before I made the decision to start doing that, it took the previous 3-4 years to be accepting to the fact that I’d be dating someone my parents didn’t approve of before I would begin dating and that there might be the possibility that I would be involved with things such as holding hands, kissing, hugging, and even having sex.

    At this point in my life, at age 27 and no longer a virgin, I can confidently say that I am very happy with my decision and the choices I have made. It was very difficult to battle the inner conflicts of philosophy I had rattling around in my head during my early 20s, but the time spent battling and slowly being alright with what might possibly happen in the future should I start dating made everything worth while. Even waiting to actually date some until halfway through age 26.

    To those out there that are reading this, keep in mind if you are just beginning your journey to undo a lot of what was taught in your life, it won’t happen overnight. It certainly didn’t for me, but it isn’t the end of the road. Press onward!

  • Wow…I’m a bit gobsmacked here, but not, all at the same time. I know a few of the families you are discussing, and I couldn’t agree more–it’s a cult, RUN.

    The saddest thing is that most comments are insinuating this happens in all homeschools. That is sad. I guess I can’t blame you, when you are in this cult, that’s all you can see. I get it. I do hope you can all figure out someday that it’s not the truth. Could you all call it patriarchal homeschooling to clarify? Pretty please?

    I just stumbled upon this (you know how it goes), but the funny thing is my husband and I were JUST talking about this very subject in detail yesterday. Thanks for all the candid comments because they’ve helped up so confirm that we don’t want to screw up our kids. Trying to teach your kids about life isn’t easy–did you know that? HA! We really, really, really want our kids to have healthy sex ideas and healthy sex in their marriages, without it being creepy (exactly what you are writing–which gives me the shivers by the way).

    So, I have to thank you for putting your feelings and the mistakes of your families–it’s helped a lot.

    But, I don’t know why, but I’d like to clarify a few things…

    1) Why is it on your wedding night, you are supposed to sing…”Ah sweet mystery of life at last I found thee..” from Young Frankenstein. Who is to say what your wedding night is supposed to be? Doesn’t that depend on the couple?

    2) You can be homeschooled and have hot-loving with your spouse that’s not creepy or Patriarchal! I don’t know, I think it might be nice to see Doug Phillips in front of a firing squad. But that’s the mean-me talking. (Although, I was the one at the homeschool convention a few years ago who spoke loudly in the hall outside of where Phillips was speaking, saying, “Doug, I just took my birth control pill this morning!”) Well, it’s because I’m pretty pissed that most of you are JACKED IN THE HEAD about sex because your parents were led away by false teaching, and I can guarantee you that the Lord is too!

    3) The more I study God’s word, the more I see that there are no real concrete rules for dating/courting. What I mean is this idea that the purity people came up with is damaging mainly because you can’t find those ideas in God’s word–about whether you should date or court or that type of thing. Well, I could write a discourse, so I won’t, but you get the idea. BE GOOD BEREANS people!! (Acts 17:11)–I’m sure the Patriarchal people won’t tell you to check God’s word for yourselves, but that is indeed what we are called to do.

    4) There are also no rules for the marriage bed–have lots of orgasms; give your WIVES lots of orgasms (men, figure that out–it’s YOUR job)! Don’t let the creepy patriarchal homeschoolers or the creepy nasty world dictate what your marriage bed looks like! We need some hot oral sex people! Then, you know what? Afterwards (or before) pray and thank the Lord for how good that was! Biblically, human beings are whole beings, body and soul together.

    5) Birth control is NOT a sin.:D

    6) Don’t leave the Lord because your parents were freaks–I pray you find out the truth of who the Lord really is.

  • You ever hear of the theology of the body?
    What you were taught about sex is NOT the Christian view of sex. It sounds manichean.

  • I think these people mean well, but they’re misguided. Studies have shown that “abstinence only” Sex Ed just doesn’t work. Knowledge is never a bad thing. It’s not scary, and people should be informed. Not only that, a lot of these women go into their first sexual relationship not even knowing what feels good to them (because masturbation is such a sin according to the Church). I feel sorry for men in that situation! It’s terrible to assume that men are just going to get this epiphany all of a sudden, or this tutorial from God after marriage, so they instantly know what to do. Jeez, I bet it’s miserable at first.

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