Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Christians and Sex: the Untold Struggles

Recently, a dear friend of mine from college texted me to ask how I was doing. We chatted back and forth for a while, and finally she asked me, “This is random, but if it’s OK I wanted to ask you something about your relationship. Do you guys ever struggle with purity? It’s something I’ve been thinking about with me and my BF, and it’s not easy!”

I hesitated for a moment. I wanted to text her back and say “We're doing really well! We’ve just been holding hands and kissing on the cheek and we’re not going to go any further until our wedding night.”

After all, that was what both of us originally intended for our relationship. My vast collection of Christian “courtship manuals” testified to that. Lady in Waiting, Captivating, Real Love, How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul….I’d read, reread, and underlined them all. They were old friends and I knew them all by heart. True love waits. Modest is hottest. Sex is for marriage. I knew that once I met my future husband, we would strive for perfection in our passions. I even considered saving my first kiss for the altar.

Well, my first kiss with my future husband ended up happening in a Nebraska hotel room on a June night as hot and glorious as the desires that welled up in me when my lips met his. My whole body illuminated with something I had never felt before, and it was scary and beautiful all at the same time. WOW. None of those courtship books told me to expect THIS.

Each kiss after that only increased my hunger for him. I felt extremely guilty about it. After all, sex and sexual desires and feelings were only OK in the context of marriage. Indulging in them now, when we were just testing the waters in our relationship, was bad, sinful, and downright dangerous. I prayed fervently for God to deliver me from these beastly appetites. I fasted, made sacrifices, and went to daily Mass. Nothing helped. Luke and I kept sliding deeper and deeper into the quicksands of immorality. I desperately turned to my books for help, but they offered nothing except True love waits. Modest is Hottest. Sex is for marriage.

Try whispering that in the heat of the moment.

I began to panic. Nobody told me it would be this hard. Nobody told me how to deal with my desires. Nobody told me what to do when my hunger for my future husband was so strong that I could think of nothing else, not even prayer.

Recently, a Christian girl named Maddi was expelled from her Christian school for becoming pregnant during her senior year. Students of this school are required to sign a pledge stating that they won’t drink alcohol, do drugs, or have premarital sex. As punishment for breaking the rules, the principal of the school denied Maddi her diploma and exposed her to shame in front of the entire school. “I did think about abortion for awhile because I was so afraid of what I was going to face,” Maddi stated. “I was just afraid of what everyone was going to think of me and the family that I come from.”

This is true also for young Christian couples who struggle with purity before—and even after—marriage. Christians aren’t supposed to have these dirty sexual desires. We aren’t supposed to make out and have premarital sex. We aren’t supposed to be like everyone else.  So when we do struggle to stay off the couch and out of the backseat, we damn well don’t tell anyone about it. What will people think? What will our families say? We are good Christians, we don’t do all those icky, immoral things.

But Christian are people, people are human, and humans have sexual desires. Hiding, fear, and shame aren’t going to solve anything, nor are they what Christ wants for us. Christians have a hard time looking beyond all the rules. We have a hard time looking at our bodies and our desires as beautiful, good things that God Himself created. We never talk about sex at church unless it’s warning people not to do it. We hem and haw over those parts of the Bible that beautifully describe the fruitful sexual union of husband and wife. We give our daughters purity rings and tell our sons to keep it zipped up.

And this works, for a while. But then we have our first kiss. Then we notice how beautiful, shapely, and delicious the opposite sex is. Then we start becoming aware of all these desires within ourselves that feel so good but are apparently so bad bad bad. Well, sex and our sexuality are NOT bad. I cannot say this enough, because it’s all we hear in church these days: sex outside of marriage is BAD BAD BAD, but sex within marriage is suddenly…well, not good, but no longer a sin at least. And we leave it at that.

If we do not develop a healthy attitude about sex before marriage, there is no way we will just walk down the aisle, exchange rings, and suddenly sex will be just fine and dandy and acceptable after marriage. If we are afraid of our bodies and ashamed of our desires before marriage, getting married and finally having sex-that-isn’t-a-sin won’t change that.

One of my biggest concerns about marriage is visiting my family after our honeymoon and having them know that I am no longer a virgin. I will be defiled. I will no longer be pure and innocent. I might even be pregnant. I’m afraid they will look at Luke differently too. You’ve had sex with our daughter. You’ve seen her naked. You’ve taken away her virginity. It seems to be a bigger deal when women commit sexual sins in the church. Nobody has said anything about the father of Maddi’s child or what kind of treatment he got at the hands of the school. Nobody took away his diploma.

Christians are people, people are human, and humans have sexual desires.

We need to stop crucifying our young people for being human and making mistakes. Jesus had the most compassion towards sexual sinners. He didn’t take the Samaritan woman at the well who had five husbands and throw her out on her ass. He didn’t say “Take a hike, ho” to Mary Magdalene when she bathed his feet with her tears of repentance. He didn’t pick up a cinderblock to stone the adulterous woman along with the rest of the Pharisees.

In fact, was Jesus ever harsh and callous toward sinners?

No, He wasn’t. So why are we? Who are we to shriek at our brothers and sisters in Christ who are just as fallen, weak, and sinful as the rest of us?

This is not an excuse to justify sin. Sin is sin, and we need to call it out for what is is and do our best to avoid it. Maddi should not have had premarital sex. Luke and I should not fool around. But sometimes shit happens. We mess up. We do stuff that we know we shouldn’t. And the solution isn’t to flagellate ourselves or flagellate others who fail to live up to Christianity’s moral code. No, the solution is to show mercy to ourselves and to others, and leave the judgement to God alone.

When Luke and I have kids, I’m not going to be ashamed to tell them that their father and I messed up many times, that we struggled, that we fought a daily battle. I don’t want them to think their parents were perfect angels who never sinned. I don’t want them to think they can’t come to us for help when they are struggling to stay pure in their own relationships. I don’t want them to be ashamed of the sexual desires that God Himself gave to them.

The other thing that Christians must do is stop demonizing sex. Sex is one of the most beautiful things on this earth. There is nothing more beautiful, more sacred, or more profound than a man and a woman becoming one flesh and producing new life as the fruit of their union. Even though Maddi’s baby was conceived outside of a sacramental marriage, that does not make Maddi any less of a beautiful child of God, nor does it make her unborn baby any less human. We need to stop lying to ourselves by telling ourselves and our children that sex is bad and anyone who fails to be perfectly pure and good needs to be publicly ousted and shamed for their concupiscence.

Sex is a gift from God. Our bodies and all their parts are a gift from God. Our desires are a gift from God. Can we abuse and misuse these gifts? Absolutely. Does it make us any less of a child of God? Absolutely not.

To those Christian couples out there who are struggling to stay pure, take heart. You are not alone, and God does not necessarily reward us for the outcome of a good work, but for the effort undertaken. Do your best to stay pure, but realize that you will mess up many, many times, before and after marriage. Don’t beat yourself up. Go back to God via sacramental confession and keep trying. Committing sins does not make us bad Christians. It just means that we are human, and God understands that. In fact, He even became human to redeem us.

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