purityrannosaurus

Most people know that I grew up very religious.

(here, I take a deep breath and type very slowly)

In person I’m happy to bring this up and talk about it, because it’s so much easier to gauge the other person’s feelings on the topic. I usually know when to back off or shut up, when someone wants to hear more, and how I should phrase my experiences so that I’m not transmitting any judgment or disrespect. Hopefully, anyways.

Writing about this is far more difficult. Being honest while still showing love and respect is hard enough in most areas of life, and this is people’s raison d’etre. All that’s to say: I dearly hope I can manage to explore this topic with the utmost respect and sincerity, whatever beliefs you (you!) might have.

My religious past is something that strongly informs my worldview. I know what it’s like on both sides of the fence. Usually, that means reading any mainstream (secular) writing about religion is purely obnoxious. The people who feel most compelled to spout are usually those that have no real familiarity with what being part of a church community is actually like. So, it was with a little bit of surprise that I encountered this very decent article on Joshua Harris and the purity movement of the late 90’s early 2000’s.

This was quite the read for me.

As a teenager, I went to multiple purity seminars where I signed my name on a heart to give to God. I went to a bible camp every summer where there were 2-3 sermons every day, half of which were about sex and lust. Joshua Harris was frequently mentioned by folks in these circles and at church – the article does not exaggerate his prevalence in this movement.

One of the core tenets of this ideology of purity is that by having any kind of lustful thought or desire, you are sinning against God. For me, this meant I was in a constant, unending state of sin.

Have you ever wronged someone you love – intentionally or not – so badly that there is no amount of apologizing that would make a difference? The kind of harm that you can only hope that the other person will forgive you for…eventually? You know the way that guilt hangs so heavily from your heart, makes you want to sink to the bottom of the ocean? That is what my guilt over my sin felt like.

It was relentless, inescapable, and all-consuming. For years, I prayed regularly and earnestly for God to take away my lustful thoughts and dreams. I wrote about it in my journals, on my blog, and took up hours and hours of my mentors’ time to anguish about it. And this is as someone who didn’t start having sex until 19 (right around the time I left the church). I barely dated in high school.

Hopefully now you can imagine the strength of my feelings on this topic, having gone and done all of the things I swore not to do, to find that very little of what I was told turned out to be true:

You really can fall in love more than once. There is more than one possible companion out there.

It is possible, and often necessary, to talk openly, without shame or judgment, about past relationships with someone you’re dating.

Sex can be safe. Birth control works. STD tests are accurate. It’s possible to fully trust someone on these issues without being married.

People have wildly different desires and expectations from relationships. Not everyone needs the same thing. For most people, your virginity is not important.

There is no platonic ideal of sex. Sex can be a lot more different than you might imagine and still be perfect.

If you’re with a good person, you will not be loved less for your past mistakes.

Sex is not inherently ethereal, transcendent, or magical in any way. It is made fabulous by passion and creativity.

You might indeed lose parts of yourself through some of your relationships. But this will not dilute you. You will also walk away with a piece of them, too. What they leave with you will make you a far better person than you were before.

These are a few of the things I wish i’d heard as a teenager. What the purity movement gave me was the exact opposite.

I hope that Christianity can embrace sex-positivity, some day. But I’m not holding my breath.

oasis

A while back, I came across a rather simple ytmnd that was just a clip from an old cartoon I was rather fond of.

Listen kid, love is the only chance for happiness you’ll ever get in this life, and if you’re gonna let a little thing like rejection stand in your way, maybe you just might as well stay right there on the ground ’cause people are gonna be walking all over you for the rest of your life.

Whenever I am faced with a conundrum for which I do not possess the wisdom to solve, I seek the insight of pretty much anyone that will listen. It’s been a while since this I’ve felt the need to do this, but the diversity of perspectives that I encountered offered a significant amount of clarity into this issue.

!: “hit it and quit it”

I am young and possess every quality necessary to gratify all of my carnal desires. This will not be the case forever, and it is likely that I will regret it if I do not capitalize on this soon. I am at the stage in my life where experimentation and exploration is easy and approved of. Manipulation is to be expected, and should be embraced if I wish to avoid unnecessary attachment while maximizing my enjoyment. Love begins with the mutual abandonment of said manipulation, and is maintained with much sweat and tears. Outside of this, romance is at heart a cold-blooded affair, in which every word and action can be broken down into simplistic motives, none of which are noble or laudable in any way.

@: “don’t be a manwhore”

Relationships are an enjoyable convenience that, when one is fortunate, might blossom into something worth keeping. Most of the time this will not happen, which is to be expected, and not to be mourned. With the appropriate mindset, attachment to casual partners may be avoided, but this is not an approach to be overused, lest I find myself incapable of escaping it, thus spoiling the opportunity for something more meaningful and long-lasting. True love is a fairy-tale. The simple reality is that my chances of being with one woman for my whole life are rather slim, and it is naivety to believe I am the exception. There is no magical match, only better relationships and worse relationships.

#: “expect nothing”

Searching for love is futile – it will come, or it will not. Love is rather like quantum physics – attempting to observe it will simply change the result, making it wholly worthless to try and predict or control. I should conduct my life in such a way as to survive as if love is not a possibility or does not exist.

$: “know thyself”

Happiness is primarily a matter of learning what is best for me. Each person is different, and thriving is a matter of finding deep connections. These connections can only occur if I know what it is I do and do not want, which requires a playing of the field, as it were. The better I know myself, the better the love (and the sex) I will eventually experience is going to be. Part of maturity is in figuring out the relationships that are worthwhile. Losses will be experienced, but I will be richer for them, and they will make future relationships better as a result.

%: “good things come to those who wait”

“The one” exists, somewhere, and every effort should be exerted to ensure that when I find her, it is as glorious and incredible as possible. Every possible form of attachment and commitment should be saved for the moment when this love is realized. Sex is an expression to be shared only with “the one”, and to dilute it is to disrespect “the one” and dilute the relationship I will eventually experience. This love expects to be waited for, however long it might take – but it is a love that will reward back in spades for the effort.

It is unfortunate that all of these seem to contain elements of truth.

decay

I have, for twenty and a half years, maintained that sex contains some metaphysical quality that made it special and unique among the many acts that comprise the human lifestyle. I have long felt that innocence was key to ensuring that sex remains what it should be; a holy and separate act that should be shielded from corruption and embraced solely as an act of true love. As time marches on, these feelings seem naive, more than aught else.

My doubts do not stem from lust, but from a re-examination of the nature of love. My hope has forever been that love is akin to a treasure that one stumbles upon unexpectedly, and that every effort should be exercised to ensure the glory of that discovery. As such, preserving sex for that moment would be tantamount. To dilute that experience with conflicting memories would serve to ruin its beauty.

If love, however, is not so much about a magical bonding, but about hard work and commitment, then what does that say about sex? If sex is not the penultimate expression of love, but time, devotion, and compromise are what matter most, where does sex then fall in the spectrum of expression? I had assumed that abstaining was a part of that devotion – an effort that was a demonstration of foresight and anticipation. This assumption seems increasingly faulty when I consider the reality that the connection between sex and love is not so necessary, and that it means little whether one comes before the other.

In an ideal world, they come simultaneously. It seems, however, that I do not live in the ideal world, and that true love (as I imagine it) may, in fact, be one of many works of fiction that exists only in the world of elves and phoenixes.

glass

Throughout time, human sexuality in western culture has gone through a multitude of phases, which modern culture tends to use as evidence for the superiority of modern sexual customs. The story starts with Grecco-Roman abandon, which at times saw an abundance of pedophilia and orgies, mixed with classic anti-female mindsets. Pompeii – the Roman city frozen in time by a volcanic eruption – touted many a penis on the threshold of each home (though it should be noted these were more concerned with fertility than sexual conquest). Some men even felt that since women were simply a necessary evil, homosexuality was the far more wholesome and manly option, though it seems to me these men were simply bitter towards their mothers in some sort of reverse Oedipal complex. In any case, this leads many neoconservatives to believe that any abandonment of homophobia, particularly the allowance of gay marriage, will see Americans forced into duct-taping dildos to their front doors.

After half a dozen sexual revolutions between now and then, American culture is at something of a half-way point, it could be said. The Internet’s chief use continues to be porn, with every search engine finding that their most abundant search requests are always related to porn. yet while Brazil hosts its annual carnival involving children in costumes and women wearing nothing but glitter and thongs (NSFW, but it’s not porn, trust me), Janet Jackson’s career was briefly shattered by the brief and completely un-erotic glimpse of one of her breasts. There’s something wrong, here.

I think of all this as I return to pondering the nature of sin. Sin is defined as what separates one from God, quickly followed by a long list of no-no’s, which for America’s Christianity will revolve around sex. Every Christian camp and rally I attended as a child was intensely focused on sex. Since this all took place after the 1960’s it was qualified with a “Sex itself isn’t bad”, but the message was definitely a little mixed – very few seemed comfortable speaking positively on the matter, but were quite prepared to launch into a sermon on the havoc it can cause.

The damage this sort of repression has caused is well-known. More than a few have fled from the faith of their youth, but find themselves eternally wounded by the thoughts and habits that were built in to them. One blog, Letters from Johns, features letters from men that are confessing to having visited a prostitute. A common theme in these letters is sexual repression in youth. For some, it simply creates the kind of curiosity that comes only when told we can’t have something. For others, it sparked an insatiable desire for the forbidden, for which they could find no suitable outlet.

I guess the conclusion I’m approaching is that sex is not as important as many set it up to be, including myself. If the pursuit of this distant goal drives us to other iniquities more deadly, is it truly worth it in the first place? And, since when did nudity become erotic regardless of context? While I still hold to my decision to abstain until marriage, perhaps it wouldn’t be the death of beauty were I to fail (more than I already have) in that endeavor. There are certainly those that value sex too little – but I would venture that America’s Christianity has valued it too much, perhaps as a reflection of its own obsession – though that may be a matter of the chicken or the egg.

The source of these convictions is far from new. Virginity (in women, at least) has long been associated with purity and innocence. The loss of virginity then becomes a scarring of the heart, a blackening of the soul, and the physical significance of this makes it feel that much more pressing to preserve. Unfortunately, however, innocence is not a technicality. Innocence is a quality of the heart, not of the genitalia. If virgins hold any innate purity above their peers, I must have missed it.

Purity is the ideal. We do not live in the ideal, however; we live in reality.

Terrorize

A lot of people ask me why I’m holding off on sex until I’m married.

The first, most common assumption that many make is that I believe sex, especially sex outside marriage, is an affront to God. I’m a Christian, and it would be a fairly rational leap of logic if you didn’t know better to conclude a lot of things about my beliefs. I’m not whatever you might assume, I’m Tim, and I have a pair of mostly functional eyes that I use to make observations for myself, and a supposedly working brain that I use to process those observations.

As such, I don’t buy the bullshit that God put one wo/man out there for you somewhere and that you’re going to make them very sad if you give your virginity to anybody else. I don’t buy the bullshit that your virginity has a super magical attachment to it, and that we’re forsaking God by forsaking that attachment. I don’t buy the bullshit that sex is something to ever feel uncomfortable with, ashamed about, or afraid of. I do believe that sex is special. I think everything about our sexuality is special, and that the fact that we have so many ways to express our sexuality is a beautiful and awesome thing. Thusly, I think our sexuality is something to be taken seriously, and I think that means more than just attaching a time and place to certain portions of our sexuality. I believe that means maintaining a healthy sexuality, just as we should keep a fit body, an active mind, and well-balanced emotions. As with every other aspect of our being, this requires discipline, knowledge, and willpower. We’ve been given a body, and we’re supposed to take care of it and make good use of it.

I came to the conclusion that I should examine what I want, before I could ever decide how to get there. We do the same thing with our bodies when we exercise, the same thing with our minds when we learn, and this is just the same thing. So, I started simple.

* I do want to have sex. No shit.
* I do want sex to be awesome. Another no-brainer.
* I do want sex to be special. It starts to get complicated. What could happen to make sex less special, for [i][u]me[/u][/i] (not you)?

* I don’t want sex to be a means to an end – it should be an expression of love, and shouldn’t be exploited for any other means.
* I don’t want sex to be an end – my goal should be knowing and enjoying who she is, not knowing and enjoying her vagina. The same should apply for her. I want her to want more than sex.
* I don’t want sex to be a necessity – I don’t want my life or my image to revolve around whether I’m having sex or not.

Ensuring all of this is no small task. Realistically, how can I have sex with someone that I’m not sure I’ll be with for the rest of my life, and guarantee that I’ll be living up to all of these standards? For me, I don’t think that’s possible. I can’t say the same is true for anybody else – no one is exactly like another. These are hopes and desires that not every person shares. Some people really just don’t care, and that’s their right. Let them experience sex however they want – this is how I want to experience sex.

Ultimately, I don’t want sex to come before a relationship in my priorities. I feel like the best way to know that I’m focused on being there emotionally is by not giving myself the chance to lose focus on the part of the relationship that has to last, no matter what. Does that really mean I need to wait until I’m married? Not necessarily, but the only reason I would let the boundary back any closer would be to satisfy my own lust. I’m not going to sacrifice anything for short-term pleasure, even if it’s a pleasure as awesome as sex. And believe me, I’ve had plenty of people tell me how awesome sex is. Ignorance is not bliss, in this regard.

Am I setting myself up for failure by trying to resist a force as powerful as my own raging sexuality? Who knows. I know I’m not perfect, and I sure as hell don’t plan on getting caught off-guard. But just as surely, I’ll do everything I can to follow through with my plans.