As a young adult, my entire worldview was shaped by Fundamentalism. But everywhere I looked within the church, I saw that what was being preached, didn’t measure up. Pastor after pastor took a “fall,” usually of a sexual nature. My own “fall” was the best thing that ever happened to me. Unfortunately for the pastors, they lost their jobs, and sometimes their families.
See Me Naked – Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity by Amy Frykholm, was not the book that I thought it was going to be, but it was valuable all the same. No one interviewed for the book was actually tossed out of the church or excommunicated for their sexual sin. Yet I hear those stories all the time, particularly at creepy Mars Hill church down the street; the very last church I attended. Pastor Mark is such a misogynist power tripper that his downfall is bound to happen any day now.
Amy makes brief mention of the infamous Ted Haggard (mega pastor who was ousted for his secret homosexual life), then dives in to everyday people who have come to terms with bridging the gap between their sexuality and their faith. Throughout the book, however, the interviews are tinged with a bias. Frykholm is Episcopalian, by far my favorite Christian denomination for its all-inclusive, caring for the community spirit. But one can’t help but feel proselytized to from the standpoint of her beliefs. Impossible not to, I know. Just as when I share my own belief system (Atheism), Christians tend to feel attacked or even threatened, with knowing remarks about how someday I’ll “see the light.”
While reading See Me Naked, I recognized my own path in many of the stories, though my journey had a much different outcome.
“The message she heard from every corner was: you do not belong to yourself. You are not your own. You belong to us and you will do what we say (Frykholm, 80).”
I remember when all of my words were bottled up inside me, held back, weighing me down. I constantly had questions. All through my first twenty years, I wanted to challenge what I was being told. But if I challenged it, I would be seen as a failure. And a person who questions the word of God is weak.
I didn’t feel strong, I felt diminutive, as though my unspoken words would swallow me up into nonbeing. I walked through life like a ghost – not speaking, not touched, not known.
“He had “given a piece of his heart to all of them” and therefore did not have a whole heart to give to his bride. In this conception, purity is a finite, all too easily expendable quantity (Frykholm, 108).”
The word “purity” has no meaning for me. When I hear that word, it does not go beyond the age of twelve. I see a child. As an adult, purity has no value. It means purely free of personality and life. It signifies a person not fully formed. Someone with little understanding of the complexity of human relationships, and how much we can learn and grow from a love that is not finite but expands and grows. The highest value is in maturity, wisdom, and intelligence. People who can offer these three things have value that does not flit away, unlike the fleeting “purity.” Of course, it’s also wrapped up in the idea of innocent youth, and in an over-thirty something, “purity” is a train wreck of desperation.
For Christians on the marriage track, the fantasized about future will surely disappoint them once they are wed. In the courtship phase, moments that should be filled with intense pleasure and enjoyment, are instead replaced with the constant danger of falling over a cliff into a deep ravine of insatiable pleasure. Danger. Mistakes. Regret. No going back. Every touch is quantified and measured. And if the couple slips and falls, then one has “used” the other, selfishness has entered the game, bodies are “objectified.”
I use quotes here for all the words that fail to play a role in my vocabulary. Coming to a different worldview, has also meant coming to a new language. When I talk to my family, I listen to the ways in which we speak two different languages, and I feel the pain of a disconnect.
Purity is a pleasure to sully. Humans have enjoyed this sport since the beginning of time. In cultures around the world, the male pursuit of purity has imprisoned women in unhappy marriages, subservience, and shame. By ridding culture of virgin worship, we come to a place of equality for both men and women.
“Many of the people I interviewed for this book grew up with the idea that, if they made one mistake, they would fall into doom and misery. Sexual mistakes had the most dire consequences. Thus, sexuality became ensconced in fear – fear of being found out, fear of being truly known, fear of failing. Yet nearly everyone I interviewed had found a way through fear and found their deepest intimacy with God in their capacity for wonder (Frykholm, 173).”
When I was twenty-one and had sex for the first time, it took a year’s worth of therapy to get over the discovery of who I really was beneath the Christian veneer. The therapists didn’t do much beyond just allowing me to voice my own honesty for the first time.
With that honesty, I began to feel brave, and shared my poetry with classmates. Through writing, I broached the pain of feeling that all of my life, I had been lied to. It was obvious to me, that the body and sex and all of our five senses are not selfish and depraved, but immensely beautiful and giving. I never really knew how to love until that year. My awakening to empathy is intrinsically linked with pen and paper, and the need to write.
“If we pay very close attention, I think we will find that the pleasures of excess, hedonism, and self-indulgence are thin. Deeper, wider, more lasting pleasures are available as we grow more attentive to and more comfortable in our own skins, and as we give up the notion that pleasure is inherently selfish (Frykholm, 176).”
Frykholm offers no remedy for the conflict between church and sexuality. A difficult quandary when people are living ancient tribal beliefs in the literal sense. The church would like people to think that they have no control over themselves. The taboos loom larger than they really should be. They are afraid of what they don’t know. If you are afraid of something, maybe you should try it. It’s the key to understanding your fears.
10 thoughts on “Breaking the Myth of Purity”
So true! I believe Christianity has some good things to offer as a religion or philosophy, but I wish people would learn to separate the more timeless ideas from those suggested by the customs of the time when the Bible was written — thousands of years ago!
It must be hard to overcome that ideology when you are constantly preached at… And even those of us who were not raised Christian are still somewhat brainwashed by these ideas just through the unspoken codes of western society.
I congratulate you on this well-written essay and agree with every word you say. The removal of man-made religions is well under way. Recurring census data points to it and empty churches are visible in every town. The Information Age has allowed people to look at more tangible ways to measure their morality, sexuality etc. and the institutions themselves are eating themselves from within – when they’re not shooting themselves in the foot, Unfortunately history moves at the pace of a thousand snails and you and I will not be around to see the conclusion, but I for one will die happy in the certain knowledge that it is imminent.
I’m a 30 year old christian man and I had sex for the first time with a girl this year I had no intention to marry. I think we were in love but it didn’t last very long and now it’s over. I guess I had to pull back the curtain and see that it’s really not that big a deal. I’m glad I did.
Sex is amazing, of course, don’t get me wrong … but it’s amazing how I think non-christians are more obsessed with sex than christians ever are.
Questions I hear non-christians asking:
“How will you know if you’re sexually compatible?”
“What if you aren’t good in bed together?”
“What if she won’t do things that you want her to do and you’re stuck with one woman the rest of your life?”
I think the christian view is more holistic and less sex-obsessed. Ultimately sex is just an expression of a relationship and so the relationship is what is important.
There’s nothing hotter than sacrifice and laying down your life and serving someone else in marriage …. that is what truly makes sex hot I think. Not methods and kama sutra.
@pantalonesparker – I agree with you, to some extent. I am happily married, and at this point, I realize just how important having that initial sexual spark really is. The excitement fades after about five years, and we have to be creative and committed to keeping things interesting. Sometimes the sex is bad, but most times it’s really good. One person can never fulfill all of your desires, or be all things. But giving your best to a partner is what it all comes back to, and the communication and space we have created together is a beautiful thing.
As to laying down your life in sacrifice for someone else, that is something I disagree with. Compromise is certainly an aspect of marriage, but sacrificing your dreams for someone else never makes anyone happy. That leads to resentment, anger, and imbalance.
The questions that non-Christians ask come from a place of disbelief in faith-based thinking. They feel incredulous over the gamble that a person will take on a life partner. And it’s true, that sexually, sometimes people can be horribly mismatched (I’ve experienced that, myself, and it’s not fun). The interesting thing is, as long as I am compatible in all other aspects with a person, I am compatible with them sexually as well.
So it’s a question of adopting the language and values our culture has given us, “compatibility”, etc. the guarding of what “I deserve” in a relationship, vs. the values of God.
It also seems to be about whether marriage is a vehicle for self-fulfillment (our culture would say so) or whether it’s a vehicle to love God and other people more.
I would be totally cool with adopting the values of my culture instead of the bible but it’s just that 200 years ago our culture said black people were subhuman.
Marriage as a vehicle to love other people more? I find that married people have much less time for friendships, or outward interaction in general.
As for compatibility, are you saying that you want to spend your life with someone you don’t enjoy being around?
It seems obvious that you haven’t read the Bible lately. God is described as commanding the Jews to commit genocide, and offer up daughters to be raped instead of the house guests. And Jesus certainly wasn’t interested in family values. He asked his followers to leave their families to join his hippy movement. Not to mention, that every aspect written to prove his divinity, was borrowed from previous “saviors.”
“God is described as commanding the Jews to commit genocide, and offer up daughters to be raped instead of the house guests”
You clearly have an ax to grind (citing random verses from OT and not even representing them correctly) so there’s not much I can do here.
Although 2 questions to that: (1) Is it possible for a being who knows every action and every thought of every heart to *not* rightly mete out a correct judgement? (2) Is someone who gave life as a gift not allowed to take it away at any time?
“Not to mention, that every aspect written to prove his divinity, was borrowed from previous “saviors.””
Yeah I’ve seen zeitgeist too. I would recommend watching ‘Zeitgeist Refuted’ to clear that up.
It sounds like marriage is a vehicle for your fulfillment and not for loving God, loving people, and you know, becoming a better person. Let me know how a marriage that’s all about you works out.
It’s fun following what my culture tells me to do but then I think about things like slavery and genocide and our culture thinking black people were subhuman 200 years ago and then I quit wanting to obey my culture.
I haven’t watched Zeitgeist yet, I’ve just read many books on the subject that cite sources and historical information.
The verses are there for you to read in the Bible, and I was giving two examples of how the culture does not differ from what you can find there. The worst aspects of our culture are derived from the Bible and religion in general.
In answer to your two questions, if you believe what you do, then yes, you are correct. Personally, I am an atheist, therefore, I view the voices in your head as dangerous.
I’m not sure where you’re coming from on a “marriage that’s all about you.” This is the problem with religious thinking. You believe that because I am not a Christian, I am evil and selfish. Therefore your God should mete his judgment out on me. Do you realize that this is hateful thinking? Not to mention, bigoted?
We speak two different languages. I’ve concluded this many times before. Though you are my debater in the ether, I respect you, though I can’t respect your faith.
lauren..I am iving proof that God does exist..I’m not crazy or a religious kook. I was visited by “messengers” from God. Contact me and I’ll tell you all about it.
Much of what you say is spot on. But you should NEVER equate belief in God with “religion’ or church. There is not a single church that teaches the true gospel. Only Paul’s teaching is the true gospel.
The god you don’t believe in..the god of this earth is not GOD. Jesus said that the god of this world is not His God..the god of this earth is Satan, the same being that tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness..robert