After much ado, the book trailer for my memoir, No End Of The Bed, is now live! The concept is based around parallels between the church and the sex-positive movement. Enjoy!
Breaking the Myth of Purity
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.
What Kind of Girl Are You?
Growing up, I never really talked to any boys until I slept with one. And by that time, they were no longer really boys – especially since I was twenty-one and I gravitated to older men.
In my senior year of college, there was a speaker at chapel who seemed more suited to Junior High students. He neatly categorized the different stages of a relationship through a ladder analogy. The bottom rung was eye contact. The second rung was conversation. The third rung was holding hands. The further up the rungs you climbed, the more dangerous it became. He told us it was best not to go past the third rung before marriage.
I turned to the girl next to me and said, “I started at the top rung and worked my way down.” She gave a nervous laugh. But I knew plenty of people who followed the ladder rule – my sister for example. She and my brother in-law never kissed until a month before their wedding. She was disappointed that they didn’t quite make their goal of waiting. Their friends however, did.
At my college the divorce rate among the alumnus was huge. Years after, I heard women complain that they didn’t enjoy sex with their husbands. From birth onwards – girls and boys were taught that sex is dangerous, taboo, disgusting, perverted, depraved, sinful, dirty. And then one day you find ‘the one.’ You get married and then all of a sudden – sex is beautiful. But actually, often it isn’t. Because how do you shake all of those old perceptions that are ingrained not only in your mindset, but in your body.
Growing up in Christian schools, education on sex was extremely limited, and friends offered silly stories that had no bearing in actual life:
“If you don’t have the gene for curling your tongue, then you can’t French kiss properly.”
“A woman is a rose. To each man she sleeps with, or gives a part of herself, she gives away one of her petals. If she sleeps with too many men, soon she’ll have no petals left.”
This conveniently excludes the fact that a rose is a perennial and comes back every year. There is no direct experience in these ideas. Admitting direct experience is taboo. Denial even sometimes remains after a girl appears to have swallowed a watermelon. And of course, denial is also the reason for the failure to buy condoms or birth control in the first place.
The dangers of repression became glaringly obvious one day when a group of girls decided to streak through campus. Every year it was the tradition for guys to do this, and it was always at a very public event. The first year it was while we were all on the lawn watching ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ in 3-D. All of a sudden naked guys were streaking past the screen – odd because at first it seemed like part of the movie. The next year they rode their bikes through a festival. And the third year, some girls from the Basketball team wanted to join the tradition.
They went streaking through the canyon by the dorms – and strangely enough, guys started chasing them down, driven by mad lust. Something comical and bonding and freeing turned into something horrific. Most of the girls darted down a gravel path, trying to get away. They dove into the bushes to hide, getting scraped by stones and branches. Only one saintly fellow came and offered clothes to get them back to safety.
This all reaffirmed for me my distrust and lack of interest in the guys at my school. I had a long list of issues. For every six girls there were only four guys. Overall, they were unattractive, lacking in life experience, introverted with women, hypocritical. Basically, they were a direct reflection of myself, and I did not want to be who I was. Up to that point, I had always been at the hands of environment and religion – ingrained to think the way I thought.
Among many girls at my college there was a celebration of the infantile. My friends sported the same haircuts they’d had since the third grade. They liked to wear t-shirts and sweatshirts with cartoon characters emblazoned on them – most popular being Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse. My roommate insisted on putting up hideous posters by Ann Geddes of babies in flowerpots and dressed as pea pods. They favored the pastel colors of a baby nursery – pink, lavender, lime green, baby blue. Bedspreads ranged from candy-colored stripes to polka dots. Their binders had pictures of puppies and kittens in the front. And yet – they were adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two.
These women preferred to remain in an infantile state because it was easy. One year I asked all the girls on my floor if they would rather marry for passion and adventure or for comfort and security. Every girl chose comfort and security except for my roommate and I. They went to college to get their M.R.S. degree and I listened to them complain if they didn’t get that ‘ring by spring.’ Marriage was protection from the dangers of being out in the world. A husband would take care of them, protect them, control their lives and make the decisions. They would spend their time scrapbooking sentimental memories, making banana bread, volunteering at church. They would mistrust any environment not labeled ‘Christian.’ They would attempt to repeat the entire system by ingraining their children with the same unrealistic worldview. They would secretly acknowledge that their husband was not a prince. They would feel trapped, but the world without a husband is the great unknown. They’d never been in it, and never wanted to be.
I just finished reading Carlene Bauer’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Maybe I was too excited to read a book that seemed comparable to my own developing memoir. But she failed to draw me in. I spent the entirety rolling my eyes, just wanting her to get over herself. Was it because I relate in all the parts of myself that I don’t like, or because I saw so many of the girls that I grew up with? Probably, a little of both.
Bauer grew up in the Protestant church, attended a small Catholic college, and then moved to New York to become an editor, still clinging to her virginity. She eventually leaves religion behind, but not prudery. She excuses it by saying that she is a perfectionist.
“Used improperly, said church, sex could addle you beyond repair. If someone who didn’t love you saw you naked, you would become Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass, eyes gone wild and trembling, wanting to drown yourself in the bathtub because your awakened appetite could not be satisfied (Bauer, 176).”
God wasn’t really the reason Carlene Bauer didn’t get out there and throw herself into the depths of life like she really wanted too. It was only herself holding her back – her fears, her introversion, her lack of confidence.
“Maybe my body was what was weighing me down, not God, and if I could just learn to forget about my body, my mind could finally, finally be free (Bauer, 62).”
The title of her book is ironic. Not That Kind of Girl. For the entire memoir, it is strikingly obvious that she has always longed to be that kind of girl – the kind of girl that lives a wild life, with passions and loves, throws caution to the wind, a real bohemian. She relates to Sylvia Plath and looks up to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and chides herself for not being nearly as interesting. Though I am happy that she is a success as a writer and has found her way outside of the beliefs that held her back, I wanted her to become what she always dreamed of being. I saw more potential for her, and I hope she finds it for herself.