Sexuality, Then and Now
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Mr. Enjoy.
Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog. It was originally published as a guest post in a series on March 4, 2016. Laurie Works, the writer of this post, blogs at laurieworks.com.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships and sexuality.
Who am I kidding. I’m always thinking about sex.
I have been fascinated with sex and sexuality since I was 10 years old. I taught myself what sex was, with my parents confirming shortly after. I was the brave and curious kid who looked up “Reproduction” in our 1986 Encyclopedia Britannica collection.
After reading up on the subject, I was incurably curious. And yet…
I wasn’t allowed.
You see, like most of America, I grew up in a Christian household. My household was somewhat more strict than the average. Add to that – I was homeschooled all the way through. Add to that – my parents’ home church was 2 hours away from where I lived.
By the time I was 11-12, I was already acquainted with the idea that sex was a sin. I know, I know… sex inside marriage isn’t a sin (according to the church)…. but to me, that seemed a long ways off. And in my mind, even THINKING about sex was a sin, because after all the Bible says that if a man even looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he has committed adultery.
And sin, well that meant I was cut off from God, who at that point was my biggest (and maybe only) source of real support.
Needless to say, when my pre-teen mind started in on the normal adolescent fantasies, I was terrified. I was a horrible sinner. I couldn’t stop thinking about how it would feel to have sex with my latest crush (after marriage, of COURSE, but still). The thoughts came tumbling through my mind, unbidden.
I was 12 the first time I asked God to take them away. I was away at Winter Camp, one of the few activities I was allowed to participate in with my youth group. I remember the speaker talking about sin, in some way, and repentance. We went to an Assemblies of God church, and Assemblies preachers tend to be particularly intense about sin. I stumbled to the altar and begged God, weeping, to please, please take away these horrible recurrent sexual fantasies I couldn’t seem to help but have.
They abated for awhile. I’m not sure if it was because I was repressing them, or because my prayer worked. At no point did I ever think I was normal. I thought no other PURE human being in the world had these thoughts. I was a deviant, a pariah, a SINNER.
The thoughts recurred off and on through the years. When I was 16, my curiosity overwhelmed me again and I looked up a bunch of further information about sex, this time on the internet. I was a lucky homeschooler in that the internet existed during my teenage years. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have survived without the internet, it provided me my closest friends.
But when it came to internet friends, I was too ashamed to even ask them about sex. I was still Christian. Still homeschooled. We didn’t TALK ABOUT SEX. When my high school internet crush mentioned things like grinding and women’s underwear, I was secretly horrified and thought he was a very bad person.
So… as I said… I got curious on the internet search engines. My parents had given us a barebones description of sex, and I had no idea what oral sex even was. But all these people, even at big Christian events, were talking about how ORAL SEX WAS STILL SEX. But huh? What was it? I went searching and found out a lot of shocking and somewhat disgusting information. I further learned that there was also something called “masturbating,” which I knew nothing about and had honestly no idea how to accomplish. At 16, I didn’t even know what an orgasm was.
I had no clue.
I didn’t find out what an orgasm was until I had one, at 19 or so. I wish I was kidding.
Up until that point, I didn’t even really consider orgasms. I’d had a couple of friends say things like “I did this and this but I never orgasmed” but I kind of just tuned it out. I’d luckily also been able to read almost whatever books I wanted, and Perks of a Being a Wallflower had mentioned something about orgasms that one time. But I didn’t really think to learn what this mystical thing really was. And I never would have asked my friends what an orgasm was. I was more of the “pretend you know what someone’s talking about” type.
Needless to say, at 16 I really didn’t understand much about masturbating, or what the point of it was. I tried it a couple of times (completely unsure of what I was supposed to accomplish, AKA orgasm) and felt so guilty I didn’t do it again for years. I kept trying to repress the thoughts and urges that made me want to have sex.
I got married at 20, still a virgin. My boyfriend and I had messed around, but we hadn’t “gone all the way,” of which I was very proud. Due to the church and my sheltered upbringing, I was full of expectations about my sex life, now that I was married. We were supposed to have A LOT OF SEX. Pretty much the entire honeymoon would consist of SEX then swimming then SEX then laying on the beach then SEX ON THE BEACH then suntanning then dinner then going back to our room to HAVE SEX.
I assure you, THAT did not occur.
But what occurred then, and throughout my marriage, may have been more damaging. My ex had a pornography problem, and it wreaked havoc on our sex life. From day 1 of our honeymoon, literally, I felt completely undesired and rejected. My ex made it clear that he had no desire to have sex with me. Sex only happened if I pushed for it.
I was heartbroken, and at this time STILL not a sexually liberated woman. I was still very much in the church. Masturbation was still a sin. If I wasn’t getting sex from my husband, I couldn’t take care of myself, and yet still have a clean conscience.
After I got divorced, I finally began working towards a clear sexual ethic for myself. I had a period of a couple of years where I didn’t date. The first year or so, I was not feeding my own sexuality, either. I slowly began doing this only about 2 years later. Which is now 2 years ago.
Until the past 2 years, my sex life has included no fantasy, little self stimulation, and little acceptance of my own sexual desires. They’ve been constantly repressed or labeled as “bad”. I’m only now starting to understand what I like, what I want to fantasize about, and furthermore, how to ask for it.
It’s not always easy. I constantly have wonderings and feel guilty for what I fantasize about. That it’s not “spiritual” or “pure” enough. I feel shame. Shame about asking my boyfriend (whom I live with – me of 2 years ago would be horrified) for certain things in bed. Shame about speaking up at all and making my desires known. Shame about even HAVING desires to begin with.
And then there’s the disgust I’ve programmed into myself. There’s times where sex just plain disgusts me. It’s gross. There’s fluid. Weird man parts go into weird lady parts (in a straight relationship, anyway) and WTF WHO EVEN GOT THE IDEA TO DO THIS?
Then there’s the exploration of my own standards, too.
I’m still staunchly anti-porn, for several reasons. I’m no longer Christian, so none of those reasons factor in, but I do think it’s massively objectifying of women, promotes fantasy that is way out of touch from reality, and the industry itself is deeply harmful to women.
I’m straight. I think. Let’s just say I’m mostly straight. But curious. But maybe only in fantasy and not reality.
If I were single, I doubt I’d “hook up.” I like to trust the people I’m having sex with. Although I really can’t be sure of this, because I’m not single, and my OWN sexual ethic didn’t really start developing until just before I started dating my boyfriend. And I slept with him after a week… that being said, we were dating exclusively at that point and I know I wouldn’t have slept with him otherwise.
The whole thing, in my mind, is still a jumbled mess.
But I have to credit myself for this – I am exploring. i am courageously exploring. And no one really has it figured out, anyway (look at all the books about it!). The thing is, I am attempting to find my own lived, embodied sexuality. And that, my dears… that is the point, anyway.