Go tell it on the mountain: sex shouldn’t be a whispered word.
By Jamie Hudalla | Columnist
I had my first kiss in Family Fresh next to the bathrooms. For those of you who didn’t grow up in Nowhere, Wisconsin, it’s a grocery store. My first date was in a McDonald’s, where Momma Hudalla dropped me off and my sister firmly shook my date’s trembling hand. For those of you who don’t know my sister, she’s the overprotective-type who shines interrogation lights in my suitors’ eyes. My first boyfriend dumped me in a swarming locker bay at 7 a.m. For those of you who are morning people, that’s too early for a dumping.
After my first whirlwind romance, I felt nauseous. And it wasn’t because of the smell of the bathrooms in Family Fresh. It was because I had kissed a boy, and I was therefore ruined.
Growing up in Christian culture, I learned two dirty words: evolution and, of course, sex. We are taught a myth: a woman minus innocence equals damaged goods. So the nausea, or emptiness, I had felt stemmed from being likened to a used tube of toothpaste.
I had been fooled by the archaic attitude that women need to wear virginal white and protect their delicate flowers from men. But I don’t wear white because I’m a messy eater, and though I was raised by a master gardener, I grew up wanting to play with worms instead of plants.The notion is more symbolic than literal, yet it still harms women and men.
Because the notion gives birth to another myth: men are more sexual than women. A “discipline your sons and protect your daughters” mantra makes men out to be predators who can’t control themselves and women prey without a say. So, with sexual behavior expected of them, men receive a shrug of the shoulders. Women recieve a shake of the head.
“Culture has told women there must be something wrong with you if you have a high libido,” Danny Rotach told me after our class, Human Sexuality.
Rotach is a marriage and family therapist, Presbyterian pastor and adjunct professor at Bethel. He helps reframe young adults’ ideas of sexuality and deflates overblown characterizations of gender. These characterizations plagued my middle school years and beyond. I was taught I needed to be wary of my boyfriend’s sexual urges more than my own. In fact, I was taught I didn’t have any – which I doubted was true since I wanted to plant a kiss on a Sprouse twin from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. My theory checked out, because I still want to plant a kiss on the Sprouse twin in Riverdale. So clearly, women have desires. We need to celebrate this rather than shoo it away.
While this issue has disintegrated in a consumerist culture pedaling sexual freedom, it still exists in the subculture of Christianity. We push purity. Inherently, this is a good thing. We all want to feel as fresh as women lounging on the white sofas in Yoplait commercials. Leviticus lists unlawful sexual relations, Paul writes letters about the woes of temptation and a plethora of passages highlight a pure lifestyle. But what are these verses really about?
“Down through the years, the Scriptures have been leveraged to put young adults in place,” Rotach said.
He suggests practicing an honest hermeneutics. Purity, overall, is a wonderful thing to strive toward. But it’s warped by interpretation. To recognize this, Rotach says we must analyze our biases before we read. We must look at the specific context of the passage. We must embrace the gray areas. Otherwise, we use the verses to point fingers and promote fear.
In many cases, fear of disobeying God rather than biblical knowledge controls our decisions. Because while the Bible says a lot about sexual immorality, it doesn’t explicitly state sex before marriage is sexually immoral. It’s implied through context in places like Corinthians 7, where Paul states it’s “better to marry than burn with passion,” but Paul seems to argue that desires of the flesh distract us from God in general. I’m not advocating we all hop in the backseats of cars with whomever whenever. I’m advocating we look at why these teachings are in place, talk about the blurred line of right and wrong, read Song of Songs and sing Kumbaya.
Maybe not the singing. But the point is: Sex does not make someone impure. Wolfing down a peanut butter burger at Snuffy’s does not make someone impure. Watching The Bachelor does not make someone impure – though it might make someone frustrated enough to throw a remote. Lastly, sexual thoughts do not make someone impure. Rotach debunks this theory by differentiating sexual desire from lust, which is a more clear-cut biblical no-no.
“To find another person attractive is not lust — that’s desire. Lust is if you try to script your life in order to get that person, own that person, or control that person,” he said.
Libidos, our arousal machines, are natural — not nasty. Pressure to control our every impulse intensifies shame. When the message that sexual desire is bad has become ingrained, it’s difficult to rewire our brains. So how, in theory, on our wedding nights, are we supposed to see sex as beautiful when it’s already been tainted? How do we shed the layers of purity culture until we’re comfortable in our own skin?
By having conversations. By asking questions. By not shutting down curious minds. Otherwise, there are two common outcomes: We experiment and we feel guilty, or we live in ignorance and are surprised, uncomfortable, or upset on our wedding night. Conversations allow us to dissolve the discomfort in advance.
“We frame sexuality up in community as one of God’s best ideas,” Rotach said. “We strip the shame away from it. We put it in the same place that the writer of Hebrews puts it.”
Sexuality belongs in an honorable place. An honest place. A place like this Valentine’s Day column, where people don’t need to hear a ring by spring story. They need to hear they’re not tarnished for activities that may come before — or after — the ring.
*This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion.