Butterfly Cauldron

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jesus killed my sex life

Growing up in the grip of fundamentalist religion can only result in a few outcomes. One, you'll be a good fundy like you're taught you should, not because you really believe it, but because you're too terrified to do anything else. Two, you'll be a bad fundy, terrified constantly because you know it's crazy to expect a human being to live up to that crap. Three, you'll leave the church completely, never to darken its doors again and spend obscene amounts on therapy putting your life back together. Four, you give up and kill yourself, probably before you reach adulthood.

Myself, I took option three with a pretty close call at number four. I do my best to avoid thinking about the things I was taught, trying to live my life by my own principals. However, sometimes I see stuff like this and I have to say something.

Sadly, I don't find that letter the slightest bit surprising. Having sex when you've been told, over and over and over again, that you shouldn't. That it's painful. That you'll get pregnant. That you're life will be over -- well, it's not easy. It should be, shouldn't it? It's the simplest thing in the world, exploring with someone you love. And yet, I see so much of my younger self in that letter I want to cry.

I left home, and the church, when I was 17. I didn't have sex until I was 19, but during that time I was dating, seriously, one man for over a year. I knew I wanted to have sex with him in the first two weeks. But I didn't, for almost a year. Why? Partially, because I'm not the sort to just jump into bed with whoever. But mostly, it was because I couldn't. Not physically. But mentally, emotionally, spiritually even, I could not do it. I wanted to. I wanted his so badly it made my physically hurt. But I couldn't do it.

We came close over and over again. It must have been agonizing for him. I know it was agonising for me. I lost count of the times we'd end up in bed together, naked and ready, only to have me completely freak out at the last minute. I loved this man. I desired this man. I was so turned-on I was shaking. And I could not do it. We had protection, we had privacy, we had a committed relationship. And I couldn't do it. I would sit in bed and sob, because I wanted to and I couldn't and I didn't know why I couldn't.

During that time I sat and thought hard over what was going on and I realized -- even if we'd been married, I couldn't have had sex with him. The very thought of having sex panicked me. My heart would race, I couldn't breath, I felt trapped, I was terrified. I would have full-blown panic attacks and my poor boyfriend didn't know what to do for me. He wasn't asking me to do anything kinky. He wasn't asking me to do anything unusual. He wasn't asking me to do a damned thing I didn't want to do, but I couldn't do it.

Sex had been painted as this important, life-altering, traumatic event. I wasn't abused as a child. I wasn't raped or molested or had anyone so much as look at me inappropriately. Physically, I had never been abused. But emotionally? Emotionally I was tormented constantly. Repress your desires. Repress your longings. Don't think about men. Don't think about sex. Don't think about anything physical. If you do, you're bad. Damaged. Broken. No one will want you. No one will love you. You'll be all alone and you'll deserve it.

I don't know if I can explain how horrible it was for me, being completely incapable of having sex with the person I loved more than anyone else. I don't know if I can explain how broken that made me feel. I don't know if I can explain how it made me feel like a failure. He never said anything cruel to me about it. He was nothing but supportive and understanding. He never once attempted to make me do anything. When I said stop, he stopped, no hesitation, no question. And that, eventually, is what helped me get over it. If he'd once attempted to coerce or talk me into it when I'd said no, I'd have walked out and been justified in it. But he never did. Instead, he let me take control. We only did what I was able to do. Instead of sex, we'd take showers together or we'd bathe together or we'd just lay naked together, touching and kissing but not having sex. Because I was terrifed of penetration (all those stories of bleeding and pain and sobbing wedding nights had done a number on me), we started slow, just fingertips or tongue, until I was ready to try more. Because I was crazy afraid of becoming pregnant, he was willing to use any contraception I wanted him to. (The boy was willing to wear two condoms at a time, if it made me feel safer. Compare that to so many men who don't even wanna use one ever...Such men don't deserve to have sex. Ever.)

I was able, after a full year of slowly building up to it, to overcome the revulsion my family's faith had created in me for sex. And it wasn't amazing or anything, but it wasn't the terror I was expecting it to be. Because I'd had time, I was with someone who was patient and loving and who geniunely wanted me as I was, not just a body to use for pleasure. I cannot imagine being a "good" girl who doesn't do more than kiss or hold hands before the wedding and then going right into sex immediately. I could never have done it, and I wasn't really that invested in retaining my good girl status. A lot of the things I did with my boyfriend would have gotten me kicked outta lots of churchs. Hell, I wasn't even supposed to masturbate. (And the guilt I had from that is a whole different post in itself.) Good Fundy Girls do not shower with men before marriage. They do not let him run his hands over and into their naked body. They do not sleep naked together without a wedding ring -- and they really shouldn't do it then either. And if I hadn't done all those things before the actual Act itself? I'd have never been able to do it at all.

And now? Now I've found myself on a spiritual path that celebrates the physical body. Still not one for casual hook-ups, but no more hang-ups about sexuality anymore. And I grieve for the girl I was and for all those girls growing in with those same beliefs today who are going to go through what I went through. For those who aren't going to ever be able to reconcile what they were taught with what they want. For those that will, but only by leaving completely the life and family they've created. For alll those people that think it's okay to live a life where you can't enjoy your body, can't enjoy the sensations it's capable of, because....why? I still don't know why.

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posted by Zan at 12:20 PM


Zan, I came from a normal, white bread, center line protestant family. But, I spent two years in a Catholic boarding school right after my father died. We bathed in a bath shirt to "cover our shame" (I was six!).

Sex was a huge, terrifying deal for me. It wasn't as bad as for you, but it was awful. If I hadn't had a young man with patience and love to help me through it I might still be a virgin instead of a grandmother.

To do that to a child is abuse. To make a young woman so afraid of her own nature is a crime.

8:10 PM  

It is absolutely child abuse, no question as far as I'm concerned. If I had a child, I would never allow him/her to be raised in that church. Ever. They'd have to kill me first.

What strikes me is how far I've managed to come. I remember being that girl, being that terrified and confused. Thank god I'm not anymore. It seems to me that the church is capable of taking everything good and beautiful and turning it into something ugly and tainted.

8:20 PM  

>Sex had been painted as this important, life-altering, traumatic event. I wasn't abused as a child...

started to respond and then saw above two posts. Yeah, and I think "spiritual abuse" is a valid and important term; and also that this, too -is- a form of sexual abuse.

9:04 PM  

Fear is learned.

Did Jesus really teach you to fear..hate..your gender and or sexuality or was it some pathological narcissistic extension of your parents egos and their belief system?

“Luke: What's in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.”

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

(Something that GWB ought to reconsider - oh wait, in reality, he's a born again wooden marionette...)

1:48 PM  

Actually, the last thing Jesus taught me was fear :) It just made for a catchy title. Jesus is the only decent thing I got from my parents' church.

1:59 PM  

Babe, You have some heavy work to do. You have to front your folks and hand them back that shit. You know, front up to their door one day,unannouced,with a gift wrapped parcel full of all the detailled shit they burdened you with and how its fucked up your life and tell them thanks, but no thanks.

2:20 PM  

Just wanted to say, amazing post. I was nodding the whole way through. You conveyed everything so well.

3:10 PM  

That is so sad. Having grown up as a Roman Catholic, it just seemed to be part of the culture that anything to do with your body was wrong.

3:22 PM  

Well, I'm doing better with it lately. I'm still trying to find the balance between how much I need them to know what this did to me and how much I just need to keep the peace and have a decent relationship. Although, I have to say, lately they've been getting my "I'm not putting up with this shit" face a lot more often. It's making them very nervous.

5:26 PM  

This is a very interesting post, and though I come down on the male side of things, there is much that is similar.

I grew up in a fundamentalist christian household myself, and while my parents could have been a *lot* worse about sex, it perplexes me now, that I'm older, at all the obsession about denying that basic, biological fact of life. I can still remember my dad look sternly at me and stating that masturabation was a sin.

What I key in on most of all is the fact that you felt "panicked" about sex. *This* I feel very much in-tune with, because I would have to say that I felt a bit sexually maladjusted thanks to the intensity of the sex-hate. It helped me to continue down a path of awkwardness and shame that stood in the way of many "coulda been" love-situations.

Thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt perspective. You are not alone.

5:43 PM  

You're not alone either. It's really...I don't know how to describe it really, to see that there are other people who understand what it was like. Unfortunately, while I'm much better about the whole sexuality issue, I still have lots of problems with relationships. I'm still working to overcome that ingrained power imbalance I was taught. (You know, how the woman is to be submissive and subordinate and the man is supposed to be in charge of the household. Blech!)

Oddly enough, my parents NEVER had the sex talk with me. Instead, they sent me to church. Which had a 'sex education' class. Wanna guess what it consisted of? To make matters worse, I was the only girl in the room who'd never been kissed! I swear, I was only like 14, which looking at it now, isn't not so strange an age to have not been kissed by. But I felt like I was completely backward and awkward and had to lie just to fit in with the other girls.

I still panic sometime at the thought of being in a relationship. I haven't been in one in years, for lots of reasons, the primary one being I don't want to be with someone until I'm sure of myself, who I am, what I want, what I'll accept, how I'll deal with conflict. I had zero ability to deal with conflict in my last relationship and it really, really put a strain on us. But now that I'm more confident in myself, I can't seem to find anyone who sparks my interest! And if I did? I don't know that I'd actually be able to approach them. *sigh*

6:48 PM  

I have done a lot of thinking about what kind of relationship I want, but like everyithing, it's all theory until it happens to you. And while some things are non-negotiable, many things may depend on the personality of your hottie.

I always scoffed at "Catholic guilt" until I realized I was raised to feel guilty, and possibly programmed Catholic because my mom felt guilty about her non-Catholic ideas/beliefs. I guess that's Catholic+guilt.

You make a good point about jumping into a sexual relationship on the wedding night. It reminds me of the days when women first mentioned sex to their daughters on their wedding night. Actually, abstinence-only is probably worse than that. You're not allowed to enjoy your body because it belongs to your husband and the children who are its entire purpose. You're supposed to crank them out to serve Jesus, and to what end?

And remember how having sex was supposed to change you forever? You were supposed to glow or something, people would be able to tell. It reminds me of French Kiss. Meg Ryan won't sleep w/ pretty Timothy Hutton. She says, "[I]t's still the same old me you'll wake up with tomorrow."

I reject religions focused on the next life. Ignoring the body and this life is a waste. When I was Catholic, blindly following my mom, I rejected anyone who disagreed (with her). I couldn't be open to people or receptive of anything outside myself if I were still working within that frame.

10:20 PM  

You sound like the person I used to be. May I ask if you have a younger sister(s)?

6:40 AM  

I don't, actually. I'm the oldest child, only girl, only granddaughter on one side and the only one for eh, 20 something years on the other :) I always wanted a sister though. Instead, I have a brother who is barely a year younger than me.

Oh, and Mac? I looooove French Kiss. My best friend and I quote that thing back and forth to each other.

7:21 AM  

I love this post. Spiritual abuse is such an important topic. I'm still recovering myself.

I too take my Jesus without church, thank you.

12:12 PM  

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