Saturday, July 7, 2012

Christians and Sex

I'm not entirely comfortable blogging about this, but I've wanted to since before I got married and my hope is that it will help anyone trying to work through similar issues. I'm sorry if my somewhat candid opinion offends you. I don't really have answers, but I feel some of this needs to be said.

Christians in general are a little paranoid about sex. As soon as you become a teenager, you start getting it ground into your head that having sex before marriage is one of the worst things you could do in life. I got married in May, and my husband and I were both virgins. I am 100% for waiting. But the way Christians go about grinding this into people can be harmful. It's said over and over, "Sex before marriage is bad, sex before marriage is bad, sex before marriage is bad." When that's all or most of what you hear about it, it gets into your subconscious and "Sex before marriage is bad," becomes "Sex is bad."And it's not just sex. It's any form of touching that might conceivably lead to sex (ah, you front-hugged, you heathen!), as if having sex isn't a completely conscious choice you have to make before you do it (maybe I'm just naive and more self-controlled than most, but seriously, give people a little credit. We all have the ability to stick to our true convictions!).

As a result, some people have problems with touch when they do get into relationships or marry. We may know in our heads that physical touch (to varying extents of appropriateness at varying points in a relationship) is a form of communication and important, but the damage is done. I've heard of numerous cases, but I'll draw from my own experience.

In my teenage years, I thought any form of desire for the opposite sex was wrong and so I suppressed it. I trained myself to think physical intimacy was undesirable. Because that would magically go away if I ever got married, right? But it doesn't. I've had to work very hard at it. I was surprised by how hard.

Two examples: when Alex and I started dating, I was, on a conscious level, perfectly fine with holding hands. But the first time we did, I felt so afraid I could only stand it for a matter of seconds. Our relationship was long-distance so we only saw each other for a few days every month, which didn't leave that much time to work on it, but it was months before I was comfortable even holding hands in front of my family. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true. I'd decided before he came along that, despite the hype some Christians build up about saving your first kiss for your wedding day, I wanted to kiss after I got engaged because I seriously doubted I would be able to in front of a crowd of people if it was the first time (also, you don't have to go further on your wedding night, but first kiss to that in the same day would be a big leap). So we kissed for the first time shortly after we got engaged. And I freaked out and started hyper-ventilating. Yup. (Don't worry, I like it plenty now. ;-))

We're told that sex before marriage leaves you with emotional baggage, but the other side of the coin is completely ignored: being (however unintentionally) taught to associate sex with shame, fear, or negativity in general does the same thing. The baggage is just a different kind. They tell you sex before marriage will hurt your future spouse, but they leave out how much not wanting to touch them will. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I think sex out of wedlock is a good idea. But some Christians seem to be so afraid that if they say anything good about sex, we'll all go out and do it with the first person we have a chance with, so they overcompensate and we still end up hurt. There needs to be a much more balanced approach. Someone pointed out that for every book Christians write on the goodness of touch or sex, there are another ten warning us about it. We need to teach about healthy touch in healthy circumstances alongside the reverse.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The One, and Signs

I was talking with a friend about romantic relationships the other day and thought, why not post some of this on my blog? So you might be getting a few posts about various aspects of dating/courting/whatever you want to call it. Unfortunatelyish I tend to go down bunny trails and I'm not sure if the way my mind connects things makes sense in writing, so neither am I sure if I'm talking about the same thing at the end of the post as I am at the beginning, but hopefully you can follow okay.

-I have been in a relationship for a whopping total of one year, so I am clearly an expert and qualified to tell you how to do everything. In a few months, I'm getting married to the only man I've ever dated. Multiple views I held have been stretched and turned upside down and sideways during our relationship.They probably will be again. So please don't take this and whatever follows as anything more than my current, personal thoughts and opinions born out of my limited experience and observations. My only hope is you may find it helpful in some way or another.-

I'm starting off with the concept of "the one." You know, the idea that there's one specific person out there written into your destiny for you to marry and you just have to figure out who it is. It's popular among Christians, but it seems kind of messed up to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for seeking and following God's will to the best of our abilities. That's very important to me. But the whole "one" thing puts so much pressure and doubt on singles. "Is he the one? How do I know? What if I marry him and it turns out someone else was the one?"

I've seen couples frozen in place for lack of "confirmation," I've seen people get into relationships that ended badly because they thought they'd been given signs each other was The One, and I know of one couple who dated for three weeks, married, and divorced three months later. The One concept actually seems to encourage irresponsibility and unwise decisions due to over-reliance on "the feeling" or "signs from heaven" which are so easy to read into or misinterpret. No matter who you're with, love is a choice you have to make day after day, and I think some people mistakenly expect that if they follow a magic formula to "the one" it will be easy. God gave us heads as well as hearts for a reason - to like, you know, use them. To quote the movie Ever After,

Henry: "Then let's say God puts two people on Earth and they are lucky enough to find one another. But one of them gets hit by lightning. Well then what? Is that it? Or, perchance, you meet someone new and marry all over again. Is that the lady you're supposed to be with or was it the first? And if so, when the two of them were walking side by side were they both the one for you and you just happened to meet the first one first or, was the second one supposed to be first? And is everything just chance or are some things meant to be?" 

da Vinci: "You cannot leave everything to Fate, boy. She's got a lot to do. Sometimes you must give her a hand."

I'm not comparing God to fate, but He does gives us freedom to choose, and I've never seen Him write something like, "Jane, you should marry Leroy!" on a billboard so you'll finally know (not to say He can't, hasn't, or won't, just that it doesn't always - doesn't usually? - work that way).

I can't tell you how to decide who to date or if you should marry someone. In my case, we built a solid friendship before we started dating, talked about a ridiculous number of subjects early on to find out where we're on the same page, considered our personalities and the way our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, talked to people with more experience and wisdom, listened out for our family's opinions (how much this plays into decision-making depends on your family - be respectful and consider their words while making your own decisions based on your convictions [assuming you're an adult and not like 16]), considered reasons for marrying and not marrying, blah blah blah. And prayed of course. Usually I thought God said yes, sometimes I didn't know if He was saying anything, and a couple of times I thought He might have said no (I asked Him a lot, okay). In the end I just have to trust Him. Sometimes trusting Him means taking a leap of faith when common sense and all that mess lines up but a lightning bolt hasn't written your significant other's name in the sky, because when you've been surrounded by The One business, yes, that can be a leap (with maybe a teensy bit of exaggeration). There were plenty of "coincidences" along the paths that brought my fiancé and I together, plenty of things that may have been signs, that were at the very least fun to consider and made us think, but that's not what he founded his decision to say, "Will you marry me?" and mine to say yes on.

I believe God has plans, destinies, for every life, and I'm not sure how our responsibility to take initiative and make decisions factors into it all. So perhaps the idea behind The One is true, but the application is flawed.

"Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to." - J. R. R. Tolkien