5 Insane Things I Was Taught In Abstinence-Only Sex Ed
More than half of the 50 United States require abstinence to be taught in sex education as the "best" method of birth control ... even though the states that focus on abstinence the most also have the highest teen pregnancy rates. Now, we're not saying that there's anything wrong with abstaining from sex until you're good and ready; kids feeling pressured to get laid right now is it's own problem. It's just that, for some reason, we have real trouble teaching that "true love waits" without getting weird about it.
What do we mean by that? Well, we spoke with a woman who was raised deep in the heart of hardcore Christian "purity" culture, who told us ...
All Premarital Sex Is Treated Like Adultery
A lot of the sexual attitudes of the Christian subculture I grew up in -- and evangelical dating in general -- is based around this fucking book:
The first documented instance of a man wearing a fedora and claiming to be tired of dating.
I Kissed Dating Goodbye was like Harry Potter at my church, only somehow less sexy. Everybody read it. Joshua Harris (the author) believes that even chaste dating puts God on the edge of hulking out. Good Christians should only spend romantic energy on someone if they are evaluating them as a potential spouse -- which of course eliminates the concept of using dating as a way to find said future spouse. Good Christians definitely shouldn't have sex before marriage, and if the first kiss they ever have is on their wedding day, so much the better.
"No practicing! Practice makes defect!"
In the sequel, Boy Meets Girl, Say Hello To Courtship, Harris tells the story of how he met and married his wife. He was a virgin, because of course he was. His wife, however, had not saved herself. Chapter 10 is titled "When Your Past Comes Knocking: How You Can Face Past Sexual Sin and Experience God's Forgiveness." Because of her infidelity to a man she hadn't yet met, Pastor Douche's fiance needed to apologize and receive forgiveness from her "sexually pure" husband:
Shannon's tear-soaked napkin lay crumpled on the table in front of her. She opened her mouth to try again, but faltered and dropped her head. She just couldn't get it out. The task was too hard. The words were unbearably heavy, and she felt so weak. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Yup, Christian Christian Grey is somehow an even bigger emotionally manipulative douche.
Again, the thing she's apologizing for there is that she had sex while she was single in high school, before she became a Christian, and years before she had even met the guy she was talking to. "I want you to know," she says to him, "that if you decide you need to end our relationship ... I won't hold it against you." Nowhere is this treated as anything other than an example of how a woman should feel in that situation.
If you find that unsettling, you have to understand something about the culture. "No sex before marriage" isn't exactly a rare, fringe idea among the world's religions, but when we talk about abstinence-only sex education and Christian "purity culture," there's a weird and fairly creepy side to it. Some of you saw John Oliver mock abstinence-only sex ed videos on his show earlier this year. These are programs that compare women who've had premarital sex with old chewing gum that's lost its flavor, tape that's lost its stickiness due to overuse, or an old, worn-out shoe -- in other words, things fit only for the trash:
Where does that thinking come from? Well, it's not that the Bible has lots of verses about waiting for marriage to have sex; it's that having sex is marriage ("the two will become one flesh"). Under stricter interpretations, in God's eyes, you are effectively married to every person you have had sex with -- sex bonds you on a soul level. If you have had sex with a whole bunch of people, then you're cheating on all of them. It then follows that you are lessening yourself (and all future relationships) by "giving yourself" to someone who isn't your husband. Have sex with a bunch of people, and you'll be splitting yourself between everyone else who ever christened your partner's love chute.
There Is Abstinence Merchandise
The above-referenced book and videos are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abstinence industry. When you're a Christian teenager, you tend to get hammered with stuff intended to offset all of the depravity we see in pop culture. When I was 14, I attended a "promise ring" ceremony with a bunch of my fellow teens and our parents. The pastor gave a little speech, and everyone came up to the front. Each person had a small ring, like a wedding ring, and the parents gave it to the kids, who vowed to be abstinent until marriage.
You can buy one, too! It'll be so romantic! Though if you're willing to spend a little more, you can get them with diamonds.
In high school, my church was really into the True Love Waits program. We even went to rallies. Those were like pep rallies, but in stadiums instead of the high school basketball court, and focused on sex instead of school spirit. True Love Waits still exists -- you can watch this video to see a series of middle-aged men explain why God owns your virginity:
"Whenever sex tempts you, picture my face."
You can then shop for all of the teaching materials you need to spread the word.
The message "True love does this or that" worked like gangbusters on me because I'd always looked forward to being married. I was a weird kid. When I was 12, my favorite thing was reading marriage counseling books. I fantasized about finding The One and us building a romantic life together. Any message that told me how to have a more romantic marriage was a message I would listen to. And sure enough ...
I Married Before I Could Legally Drink
I grew up in the South. There are churches on every block, and my family took me to church at least twice a week. All my high school friends were Christians. We felt all the same new urges other teens felt, so our minds were on sex 24/7. However, because of our beliefs about purity, we couldn't talk about sex without talking about marriage.
Horny teens talking about marriage every time they think about sex ... no way this will go wrong.
All my friends equated sexual activity with marriage, so I didn't experience much challenge to my beliefs in high school. When I finally went to college (still in the South), I started to wonder if maybe I was making too big a deal about it. So I went to the library and started reading the sexuality books. That's the first time I read books promoting other sexual lifestyles, like polyamory. But I'm a stubborn person; I'd set my mind on waiting, and I wanted to see that through.
I met the man who would be my husband when I was 18 and fresh out of high school. I told him I wanted to wait for marriage, and he admired me for it. After a year, we decided to get married. He was 24, and I was 19. I knew I was a bit young, but I was horny. And after all, didn't Paul say, "It's better to marry than to burn with lust"? (1 Corinthians 7:9)
Paul was single. Make of that what you will.
A couple of pastors weren't sure that this was a good idea, but I shut them up with some bullshit that had nothing to do with how horny I was. I had been reading Christian marriage and dating advice books since I was a preteen, and when I ran out of those, I read psychology textbooks. I was well-armed with words other people wanted to hear. I was also well-supported by many members of my community. Google "early marriage Christian," and you'll find a bunch of people in favor of marrying young:
And also Christian singles in your area, who want to chat NOW!
Folks in my little world were quick to claim things like "premarital sex hurts more than divorce" and ignore the mountains of statistics that show that early marriages are more prone to divorce. People who waited until they were financially stable to get hitched were decried as "materialistic." Always hanging over my head was a ticking clock: Waiting until the spinster-like age of 25 to get married would surely condemn my children to genetic problems. This isn't an attitude unique to my particular local "brand" of Christianity, either. Here's the Catholic World Report on the dangers of waiting too long for marriage: "You may start cohabitating, and then no relationship will be important or sacred to you."
So yeah, my engagement only lasted a month. In that case, my suuuuper Christian upbringing was 100 percent in line with my biological urges. I wanted to fuck right now, and if marriage was the only precursor to fucking, then let's get that shit done with. Unfortunately, I soon learned ...
Abstinence Broke My Vagina
For years of my life, a huge chunk of mental processing power had been devoted to my "Not Fucking" app. And it turned out that some paperwork and a ring doesn't make your mindset do an automatic 180. My wedding night came, and I was finally naked with my husband. Everything was right with the world now, and I could at last enjoy those horny drives I'd been suppressing all this time.
Except my vagina didn't get the memo. As much as I wanted to have sex, she was not on board. She clamped down and refused with all her might to be penetrated. When I tried to have sex, it felt like shoving a wood rasp up my hoo-hah.
My wedding night was so magical!
I had no idea what the fuck happened and why my vagina wasn't working. This was more than a decade ago, so it wasn't as easy to Google, "Why does my vagina hate penises" as it is now. I instead dug into my books on sexuality, and found that while they were full of horrible stories of STDs and brutally botched abortions, the was only one paragraph on vaginismus.
All it had to say was that sometimes vaginas involuntarily flex during sex, causing pain. The problem comes from the woman's anxiety, and can be so severe that intercourse is totally prevented. There's nothing medically or physically wrong with the woman; it's in her head.
Shockingly, my thorough education didn't have much good to say about mental conditions.
For me, the message was clear: My problem was more shameful than an STD, and rarer than a botched abortion. I was weird and ugly and a failure of a woman. I internalized my shame to the point I never even told my husband. I never told anyone at all until years after my divorce (sorry if that last word there was a spoiler).
If you're wondering why this is relevant to my whole "purity" upbringing, well, if you visit Wikipedia these days, it tells you that vaginismus is super common in religious people.
Oh, look at that. It's almost as if I'm not an ugly freak with an insanely rare mental disorder.
I didn't know that. All I knew was that for five years, every time we had sex, it was painful for me. I hated sex. Before long, I actually worked out the maximum amount of time my husband could go without sex before he started getting grumpy. It was a month -- and, full disclosure, sometimes I would leave town the weekend I knew that month would be up, just to procrastinate. So much for married sex being wonderful and romantic.
It Affects Your Whole Life, But Maybe Not The Way Anyone Expected
Divorce cured my vaginismus. Apparently, my vagina doesn't like married men. She's happy now, though; she thinks my boyfriend is great.
Also, as a result of that whole marriage debacle, I'm no longer a Christian. I know that the whole religion -- maybe even most of the religion -- doesn't harbor crazy-person attitudes about sex. But I'd been raised as a "Christian," and told that being "Christian" meant abiding by a strict idea of sex and romance. It turned out awful, and that kinda poisoned the faith for me.
You can't tie my vagina down!
Seriously, the very idea is absurd, on a mechanical level.
My main problem now is the lingering feeling my that boyfriend doesn't truly love me because he had sex before we met. He didn't grow up in a hyper-Christian environment, so he had no qualms about spending his youth chasing all the ass he could find. His unfettered pussy-hunting was years ago, but deep down, when I think about it, I get this nagging feeling that he can't love me because his love is all spent already. That's the message that had been pounded into my brain throughout my formative years.
I explained my discomfort to him, because I'm the sort of girlfriend who tells her man that a part of her feels like he's all used up, like a goopy condom. He's agreed to lie to me and tell me he was a virgin when we met. If he wants to tell me a story from that era, his code phrase is, "this girl I definitely didn't sleep with ..." Remember, when you've been raised to feel abject disgust about something, you don't simply turn that off. It's like trying to train yourself to eat a spider. You can know in your mind that there's nothing harmful about it, but ultimately, it would help if somebody would dress it up as something else.
Not that I'm a prude these days -- I've been to a BDSM dungeon and hung out with furries (they made me margaritas!). Recently, I've even started writing dinosaur porn, because why the hell not?
Sixteen year-old me probably would not have predicted that this is where her life would take her.
Everyone has a weird thing for other people's sexual histories. Why not at least use the indulgence to learn a thing or two in 5 Myths About Prostitutes I Believed (Until I Was One) and 5 Ways Life As A Prostitute As Nothing Like You Expect.
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