Tag Archive | sex

The opposite of Christian

Félix Vallotton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I should be doing some other writing, including getting around to that “words mean things” post I’ve been wanting to write.  But a couple of things I read earlier made me think of something, and when an idea pops into my head, it won’t let go until I get it out.  Today’s big idea: The opposite of Christian is not “selfish jerk.”

This morning, I read a post that reminded me of the way we try to put people in boxes labeled, “Christian, moral” and “Non-Christian, immoral.”  It made me feel strange, like something I’d read before only with different words.  Shaming, harmful words.  While I get it that sex wasn’t the whole point, it still made me rage.  It made me want to ask “but what about…” questions.

This, in particular, pushed my buttons:

The Christian view says sex is a sacred, initmate act between two people, the ultimate place of vulnerability, and is better enjoyed within the context of the marriage covenant, of complete trust, honesty and commitment.

The secular view says we should be free to have sex with whoever we want, whenever we want, however we want, as long as it’s ethical, legal, consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone. It comes from the view that we make our own choices and we should be able to have sex with whoever we want, whenever we want, within the obvious boundaries of ethics, morality and law.

But going deeper, it actually comes from a view of the world which says it’s all about us.

Our enjoyment, our good, comes before anything else. And all the good things should be enjoyed now. Anything which restricts our decisions, or tells us to live in a way we’re not comfortable with, is limiting. We make our own decisions, and if it feels good and it’s legal and morally good, then we should be free to do it.

No. That is not the “secular” view.  The opposite of the “Christian” view (which I would argue is better called the “conservative Christian view”) is most definitely not “it’s all about me.”

Are there people who operate from the perspective that it’s all about them?  Sure.  Those people take what they want, when they want it, and others don’t matter to them.  But that’s not split between Christians and non-Christians.  It’s not even split between those who want to wait and those who don’t .  It’s split between nice people and assholes.

The idea that waiting is unselfish and not waiting is self-centered denies some pretty basic, important truths.  First, it implies that marriage means trust and commitment.  People get married for all sorts of reasons, including some who get married because they are forbidden to have sex otherwise.  Lots and lots of married people don’t have trust or commitment.  Yet when they have sex, it’s sacred because the state issued them a piece of paper and a minister signed it?  What an odd way to look at things.  If trust and commitment are required, there are plenty of married couples that should probably not be morally allowed to have sex.

Second, it implies that being unmarried means there isn’t trust or commitment.  Right there, that rules out anyone living in a state where they can’t legally get married.  (Of course, if one believes same-sex relationships are a sin, then I guess that person would say it doesn’t matter whether they can legally wed or not.)  It also suggests unmarried people are only having sex because they don’t have the self-control to wait til marriage to have orgasms.  I think it’s a pretty bold leap to decide we know what motivations a person has for sexual intimacy and whether or not their relationship includes trust and commitment.

Third, it ignores the reality that selfish sex can occur within a marriage, too.  Some people firmly believe they have the right to someone else’s body once they are married.  Some pastors (ahem) even teach that.  I would rather that two unmarried people have sex that honors one another’s autonomy than that two married people treat each other’s bodies with disrespect.

Fourth, it makes sex into something it isn’t (and shouldn’t be).  Sex, in conservative Christian circles, has taken on meaning and importance that it shouldn’t have.  It has become something considered “sacred,” and therefore it can be used to control others, either by restricting it or by using it against them.  I don’t see sex as “the ultimate place of vulnerability” between two people.  I’ve felt far more naked and exposed when revealing my innermost thoughts than when I’m literally naked and exposing my vagina.  The way we talk about sex should not turn it into something emotionally and physically terrifying.

I wish that it were as simple as married sex = good, unmarried sex = bad, but it isn’t.  Intimacy is so much more complex than that, with all the intricacies of the lives we’ve lived and the experiences we’ve had built into it.  The way to create a healthy sexual ethic, Christian or otherwise, isn’t to draw lines based on perceived motives or what we think is or isn’t part of a relationship.  I’m not suggesting that Christians should necessarily drop the idea that intimacy is best within marriage–it may very well be the case, at least for some people.  But we could certainly learn a thing or two from an ethic that isn’t fixated on the magic moment of marriage.  Doing what’s best for our bodies, giving and receiving consent, feeling good, doing no harm, and making our own choices should always be part of healthy sex, regardless of when it occurs.*

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*One might argue that those things are all part of trust, honesty, and commitment, I suppose, but one cannot argue that those things are an automatic part of marriage.  Too many married people–yes, lots of them Christians–are not experiencing any of those things.

Suffering Servants

This post is a collaboration with the wonderful David Hayward (aka Naked Pastor) in response to an article in Relevant Magazine, Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex. This quote in particular sparked some discussion:

As with other trials, bad sex is an opportunity to rejoice in suffering (1 Peter 4:13) and to be further conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

You can also read this story over at my fiction blog, and you can see the same version of David’s cartoon that appears here at his site.

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bad_sex_naked_pastor

Suffering Servants

Terrie was exhausted. It had been a long day at work, and all she wanted was to put on her pajamas and curl up in bed with the covers over her head. She climbed the stairs slowly, already removing her confining business attire as she went.

Inside the bedroom, she finished undressing and donned a pair of soft, gray pants and an old t-shirt. With a groan, she flopped face-down on top of the covers. She was even too tired to turn back the sheets and comforter.

Meanwhile, Bill was busy finishing a report he needed to email before midnight. He hit send, then leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. He tilted his head to one side and then the other, working out the kinks. At last he stood up.

He’d heard Terrie heading to bed five or ten minutes before, after a quick kiss and a glass of water. He, too, was exhausted. He was glad it was almost the weekend. They could both use some rest. Not for the first time he considered updating his resume.

Bill followed Terrie up to their bedroom. He smiled at her prone form on the bed, her hair partially covering her face. He pulled off his clothes and grabbed a pair of sweats out of his dresser.

When Bill settled down beside Terrie, she turned her head toward him. She smiled, though she kept her eyes closed. “Thought you’d be up a while.”

“Nah. I had all evening to work on the report. I missed having time together, though.”

“Mmm.” She cracked one eyelid. “We could make up for it now.”

“You sure? I’m kinda tired, and you look whipped.”

“It’s okay. We’ve barely seen each other today.”

They didn’t bother with preamble; they just pulled off their own clothes and worked their way to the middle of the bed—where they promptly butted heads.

“Ow!” Terrie yelped.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Bill planted a kiss on her forehead and then slid his lips downward. It was a little sloppy.

They kissed for a bit, gradually wriggling closer until their bodies were lined up. Bill trailed his fingers down Terrie’s side, at which she giggled and squirmed away slightly. He moved his hand with a muffled apology.

This continued for a while as things began to heat up between them. Bill tried to roll onto his back, pulling Terrie with him. Her foot tangled in the sheet and she landed on top of him with a whoomp. He groaned loudly, and it wasn’t with pleasure. Terrie righted herself so they could pick up where they’d left off.

Terrie slid down Bill’s body so that her lips trailed along his stomach and further down. He drew his leg up, catching her in the shoulder. Terrie let out her breath forcefully.

“Dammit! That hurt!” she exclaimed.

“Crap. Sorry!”

Terrie gave up and crawled back up to kiss Bill. They ran their hands over each other’s bodies and moved together. Eventually, Bill rolled Terrie over again, and they found a rhythm.

Twenty minutes later, Terrie had had enough. Her exhausted body just wasn’t going to respond, and she could tell that Bill was more or less in the same boat. She kissed him lightly and pulled back, letting him know. He flopped down on the bed next to her.

As she was tidying herself up and putting her pajamas back on, Bill said quietly, “Um…do you mind if I, uh, just finish?”

She bit back a giggle. “Nope. Go right ahead.”

When he was done and had cleaned up, Terrie turned onto her back and pushed herself up on her pillows a bit. “Wow,” she said. “That was…not great.”

“Awful,” Bill agreed.

“Terrible.” Terrie snickered.

“Thank the Lord,” Bill replied.

“What?” Terrie flopped onto her side so she could look at Bill.

“I said, thank God.”

“Yeah, I heard you the first time. Why?”

“You know, just praising God for our suffering.”

“Um. What the hell?”

“Well, I read this article—”

Terrie cut him off. “You can stop right there. I’m fairly sure that bad sex isn’t what the Bible meant about rejoicing in our suffering.”

Bill shrugged. “It’s better than ‘you suck.’”

Terrie looked at him, her eyes wide, and then she was laughing. After a moment, Bill joined in.

When their amusement had died down, they both settled under the covers. Terrie slid closer to Bill, who wrapped his arms around her. “You know,” she whispered, “it’s okay to have an off night. We’ll make up for it next time.”

Bill smiled into her hair. “Absolutely.”

With that, they closed their eyes and drifted off to sleep.

©July 5, 2013 ABMitchell

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This is the relatively innocent version of this story; if you want to read the more–um, steamy?–version, here’s the link. The password is suffering.

Lust and the Problem of Thought-Policing

By Soffie Hicks from Wales (Lust) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Lust: The Seven Deadly Sins, by Soffie Hicks

Rachel Held Evans’ recent post on Elizabeth Smart and purity culture gave many of us a lot to think about.  I don’t always read the comments on her blog, as there are often so many and it can be tough to wade through them.  But after I posted a comment myself, I received this comment in reply.  Essentially, the person responding to what some of us had posted was trying to make a case against masturbation based on the idea that sexual fantasy is wrong and equivalent to “lust.”

This is something I believe bears examination because Christians (particularly of the conservative evangelical flavor) have an unhealthy relationship with the word lust.  I’ve seen just about every interpretation of the word, and it makes me cringe nearly every time.  I have to stop myself from leaving comments on Christian blogs that say things like, “You need to go back to high school health class” or “I recommend a good physiology lesson” or “Please just check dictionary.com before you try to parse the word” or “You’re making this up as you go along, aren’t you?”  If I had a dime for every time I saw one of the following “definitions” of lust, I’d be living on my own tropical island:

  • Lust is a desire to possess someone
  • Lust is sexual fantasy
  • Lust is being sexually attracted to someone you’re not married to
  • Lust is always an unhealthy reaction
  • Lust is an overblown desire
  • Lust is making someone an object
  • Lust is obsession

Deep sigh.  No, no, no, no, no, no, and also no.  All of those have been used as tools to control people’s sexuality, including by progressive Christians.  On the more liberal end, many feminist Christians use the word lust to mean that if one is sexually aroused by seeing an attractive person, one should not then take that home and fantasize while masturbating.  (And I would go one further–they usually mean men should not do this because it’s “creepy.”)  Meanwhile, on the conservative end, it’s been used for pretty much everything under the sun, from policing women’s clothes to policing boys’ erections.  Any sexual practices the church dislikes often get lumped into the lust category.  Oh, you’re attracted to people of the same sex?  Lust!  Oh, you had a sexy thought about your boyfriend? Lust!  Oh, you got hard in the middle of math class? Must have been lust!

None of those are the dictionary definition, nor are they found in the Bible.

According to the dictionary, lust is intense desire, and it isn’t limited to sex.  One can lust for power or food or money as well.  Additionally, it isn’t always negative, though in Christian circles it certainly has been used that way.  For example, one might describe an exuberant person who lives to the full as having a “lust for life.”  In that context, it’s intended as a good thing.

As for what the Bible says, that’s another matter entirely.  Jesus’ comparison of lust and adultery has been used to club people over the head every bit as much as the anti-gay “clobber” passages.  In fact, it’s been used both to rob women of their agency (by blaming lust on “immodesty”) and to shame men for so much as glancing at a woman in a bikini.  Among more progressive Christians, it’s been used in roughly the same way, unfortunately, with the added bonus that some feminist Christians seem to have a particular inclination to believe that if men just control their “lust” then violence against women will stop.  (Sadly, since “lust” is not the root cause of violence against women, I fear that’s a losing battle.)  Lust is equated with a power differential and a desire to reduce people to objects for our own pleasure.

Not being a Biblical scholar, I had to look it up.  As it turns out, the word “lust” is probably not an accurate translation for what Jesus meant when he said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)

As it happens, the Greek word is the same word as the one for “covet.”  Now, I’m sure that at least some of my fellow feminists know that, and that’s why they’ve defined “lust” as obsessive, objectifying, or possessive.  But I’m going to argue here that the reason it bothers some women that (again, men) might fantasize about women they’ve seen has nothing to do with whether or not those men actually want to have sex with them.  It has more to do with the objectification.  That’s at a valid argument, to an extent, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus said.  The specific thing being warned against is not objectification but possession–the desire to have or own something that does not belong to you–and a general approach to women which includes the intent to possess.

That’s an important distinction to make.  There is a big difference between being aroused by a sexy person on the beach (and even fantasizing about it later) and going to the beach with the intent to troll for people to fantasize about.  In the former, it’s a response to an unanticipated stimulus; in the latter, it’s an intentional search for the stimulus.  Intent matters–it means something.

We need to stop thinking about God as some kind of Cosmic Thought Cop, and we need to stop policing each other.  The way it looks to me is that both ends of the Christian spectrum seem to have an unhealthy obsession themselves with controlling other people.  Stomping your feet and demanding that people stop having sexual fantasies about actual humans is cut from the same cloth as expecting people to never have any sexual thoughts until they are properly married, and then only ever about their spouses.  In both cases, it’s not about anyone’s behavior or intent, it’s merely about the pictures in their heads.  We can–and should–have a conversation about whether what’s in one’s thoughts might translate to behavior.  But it won’t be productive until we stop trying to control every last brain wave that we find personally bothersome.

For more on this topic, I suggest reading “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1.  It’s pretty straight cis male-centric, though, so keep that in mind as you read–not everything in there is universally applicable.

A touchy subject

I’m talking frankly about sensitive issues.  This is a continuation of my previous posts.   If you are uncomfortable talking about sex or self-pleasure, you’ll wan to read something else.  If you’re okay with my subject matter (or are very curious, even if you don’t want to admit it), read on.

I’m taking a lighter tone on this one, because I’m putting an emphasis on the positive aspects of self-gratification.  These are by no means exhaustive lists, and I encourage you to check out the links.  Also, if you can handle some frank talks, please be sure to check out Laci Green‘s videos.  She’s like Dr. Ruth for the new generation, and she’s just so much fun.  One quick note:  These points are pretty heteronormative.  I’m not trying to be exclusionary here, but this is a situation in which I don’t think I can speak from a different perspective.  If anyone is interested in discussing this from other points of view, I’m absolutely open to that.  This is just to start the conversation.

Here’s some info for the gents, but if you’re a woman reading this, I promise not to tell. If you don’t want to read it, skip to the next section.

1. Guys, you have an evolutionary advantage.  Women are born with all the eggs we ever need, and when they’re gone, that’s it.  Men start making sperm at puberty and don’t stop.  That’s why you have 70-year-old celebrities still fathering children.  Clearly, this is awesome news for you.  But here’s the thing: you have to keep the plumbing working. Regular ejaculation keeps your swimmers in good shape and helps prevent prostate problems.  Why, yes, it does prevent prostate cancer, thanks for asking.  At least a few times a week should do it.  Hey, I just tell it like it is.

2. Do-it-yourself sex means no unwanted fatherhood, no scary rashes, and no angst over ex-girlfriends.  I mean, if we want to promote “safer sex,” you can’t get any safer than getting off in the shower.  This works well for religious sorts, too.  Take care of it at home, then keep your hands to yourself on a date.  Win-win.

3. For younger guys, if you masturbate, you will have less sticky laundry to do.  Yep, it’s true—guys who don’t tend to have more wet dreams, which persist longer without regular ejaculation.  In my opinion, you might as well at least be awake to enjoy it.  Just find somewhere you won’t make a mess.  And you’re welcome for reducing chores.

4. Unless it’s interfering with the rest of your social life (“Dude, I can’t go see Maximum Alien Destruction Force 3 tonight, I gotta stay home and jerk off!”), then you’re in good shape.  Yeah, I know, there’s that whole guys-think-about-it-24/7 thing.  Really?  No spare thoughts for, say, homework, or your job?  Huh.  Still, I think most guys can manage to drag themselves away from their bedrooms long enough to function in society.  But if you really can’t, then you have bigger problems and probably should get some professional help.

5. Most guys are doing it anyway.  Let’s dispense with the guilt.  I know, I know.  Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it right.  In this case, though, I believe it applies.  The vast majority of boys and men masturbate—like, upwards of 95% of them, and that’s the ones that admit to it.  Maybe I’m naive, or maybe I just don’t know what it’s like to be a guy, but my guess is that all 95% of the male population doesn’t have some kind of porn addiction or lust problem.  I was under the impression that normal, healthy dudes can get off without looking at pictures and videos of giant mutant boobs.

6. That passage in Leviticus I mentioned in a previous post (15:16):  Where do you suppose the “emission of semen” comes from, since there are separate laws related to sex?  Hmm, let’s think a minute…

7. Even Dr. James Dobson agrees that it’s normal and healthy, so if you like what Dr. Dobson has to say, then there you go.  Never thought I’d find something Dr. Dobson and I agree on; I hope that’s not a sign of the apocalypse.

8. Finally, for you married guys, this isn’t just a singles issue.  Don’t worry, you’re off the hook too.  As long as it’s not interfering with your relationship with your wife, it’s perfectly fine.  Not only that, wink, wink, you can make it part of your intimate relationship.  In fact, there are books and web sites devoted to the subject, including advice on techniques.  Just have open, honest communication.  Hiding things leads to shame, guilt, and lack of trust.

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Okay, gals, it’s your turn.  You can play along, dudes.  Admit it, you’re curious.

1. Sad but true: 40% of women aren’t having orgasms.  That’s depressing!  Surely we can do better?  Part of the problem is that we’ve been coached to attach our sexuality to men.  We’re taught that sex is great, sex is awesome.  But nobody teaches us what our bodies can do or how to make them do it.  FYI: The vagina isn’t analogous to the penis; the clitoris is.  Make of that what you will.

2. Let’s face facts, some guys just want to get right to the main event.  For that reason alone many women may have no idea that sex of the “tab A into slot B” variety isn’t necessarily the best way to enjoy our partners and our bodies.  Did you know that it takes 20 minutes of gentle stimulation for a woman to climax?  Me, neither, til I read it in a book written by a female specialist during my research.  (Yeah, sad that I had to research this subject.  See what I mean about knowing our bodies?)  Self-pleasure is the best way to find out what you like.  Try it out yourself, then show your partner what you need.

3. For unpartnered women, the same principle applies as with the men.  Imagine ten years’ worth of sexual frustration.  Yuck.  Do me a favor, don’t starve yourself.  That idea never works anyway.  Think about how you feel when you “save yourself” for Thanksgiving dinner.  You get so hungry you feel like crap and even the napkins look good.  Then you binge and feel like crap because you overate.  If sex were really better after a decade-long starvation, married couples ought to intentionally deny each other sex for ten years so it would feel that much better.  Um, no thanks.

3. You can reduce menstrual cramps and prepare for childbirth.  It’s true–regular orgasms strengthen pelvic floor and uterine muscles.  Bonus!  Start now, and by the time you’re ready for babies (if you want them), you’ll have the strongest uterus in three counties.

4. Exploring your own body can help you prepare for intercourse.  You know how everyone says sex hurts the first time?  Well, it doesn’t have to.  See, there’s this nice, stretchy membrane just inside your vagina called the hymen.  It doesn’t go “pop” when you put something in there, it stretches.  But the stretching can be uncomfy the first few times.  Before you have insertive sex with a partner, stretch it out yourself.  You can do this with your fingers or with a (clean!) object.  Go slow, use lube.

5. You won’t get pregnant, catch a disease, or have to deal with an over-eager boyfriend (read: quick).  Again, the same “safer sex” strategy applies to women.  Seriously, I don’t get how people can learn how to put a condom on a banana, but not that getting yourself off is safe, clean, and convenient.  And extra points for not having to remember the dang pill every day.

6. Lots of girls experiment with their bodies, but not all figure things out, and they give up. Don’t do that. Give yourself time, privacy, and a guilt-free atmosphere.  We need to stop being ashamed of our bodies and what they can do. Our bodies function exactly as they were meant to. This is a beautiful, wonderful thing, not something to be embarrassed by or to feel guilty about.

7. There are whole web sites devoted to this kind of thing.  The vast majority of Google results for “Christians” and “masturbation” turn up sites that are supposed to help men stop doing it, or conflate self-gratification with porn addiction.  Guess what?  The sites for women are a lot cooler, but they’re harder to find.  I guess no one worries about our eternal sexual souls.  Here’s an article to get you started if you’ve never ventured into the waters.  Browse the rest of the site for some great tips on how to make your married life more exciting, too.  If you’re not married or with a partner yet, read up now.  Imagine how awesome it will be when you are in a relationship and can show your partner a thing or two.

8. I have no idea whether men would benefit from talking about their solo efforts with each other (in a positive context, not a “man, you need some help with your lust” context).  I do know that women would.  People are relational creatures and we need each other.  Why not open the dialogue with one another? In the right environment, we can give each other advice, listen to each others’ stories, and offer support.

So there you have it, folks.  I hope that I’ve been able to give you some things to think about over the last few days as well as a place to start when it comes to creating a sex-positive atmosphere.  Too many of us have been conditioned to have a shame-based view of human sexuality.  I hope that eventually we can reach a point where we eliminate the fear and stress that can be associated with intimacy and pleasure and instead develop a climate of healthy respect and trust.

Breaking the rules

This is a continuation of my previous post.  I’m dealing with some sensitive issues, including lust, pornography, and addiction. If you are uncomfortable talking about these things, you may not want to read what I have to say. If you’re okay with my subject matter (or are very curious, even if you don’t want to admit it), read on.

Before we can talk about the ways in which self-pleasure can be a positive, healthy thing, we need to have a conversation about lust, pornography, and addiction.  We need to break the rules that those are all interchangeable terms and are all inherently bad.

When it comes to lust, I think we simply have no real way to discuss what it is and what it means without devolving into some variation on thought-policing.  I have some rage about that, actually.  I am truly sick and tired of the way lust gets thrown around as a way to tell people what they should or should not find sexy or what fantasies are acceptable when one is wanking.  I simply cannot buy into the idea of a God who wastes time fretting about what gives His people orgasms rather than, say, caring what happens to starving children.

I think we need to understand the context of Jesus’ remarks about lust, because otherwise, all sexual fantasy is reduced to lust.  I have read numerous articles on the subject, and the problem with all of the Christian versions is exactly the same.  Most people seem to think that before Jesus, the line was drawn at “Don’t screw your neighbor’s wife.”  After Jesus, there was a new line, but no one seems to be able to define it.  It could be anything from “Don’t think sexy thoughts at all” to “Don’t fantasize about the person you just saw in the park.”  All we do is keep moving the line, which does nothing to lead to actual freedom.  It’s just more about monitoring and controlling other people.  I don’t view Jesus’ words about lust that way at all.  When Jesus was speaking about lust and adultery, he was making commentary on legalism–saying, “You want legalism?  Here you go.  Have some more.”  (I suggest you read everything in Matthew 5 after the Beatitudes while picturing Condescending Wonka.)  Every time we move the line and try to define lust in terms of what people view, read, or think about when they get off, we end up with more red tape.

There are two problems with that.  First, if thinking about another person while pleasuring oneself is wrong, then it also applies to partnered couples.  Well, shoot.  That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  I mean, I consider it damn hot to imagine my husband bringing himself off in the shower while thinking about me!  I really want him to “lust” after me.  I don’t consider it some attempt to possess me or reduce my humanity in any way if he were to think about my hands on his body.  (You are all blushing right now, aren’t you?  That’s so cute.)

Second, it makes people terrified of their own thoughts.  I can remember watching movies with my husband–my husband!–and if there was any sex, I would immediately tense up.  I would think, I can’t find this sexy.  I’m not supposed to find this sexy.  I would worry that he was embarrassed.  I would fear being turned on by it because oh my god that’s porn! even if there wasn’t much being shown.  And for real, folks, that was incredibly damaging.  By shutting off any natural reaction because I was afraid that it was veering into Lust Land, I also shut off any ability to respond to actual sex.  Thought-policing on the lust front is a recipe for repression and depression.  Instead, we need to reframe the conversation so that it’s about how we show respect to others’ humanity rather than about punishing ourselves for naughty thoughts.

So let’s talk about porn, then.  Well, what about it?  My problem with porn is not holy shit naked people humping.  Human beings have sex, and we’ve been creating visual representations of it for thousands of years.  The exaggerations in porn?  Not new.  There is some ancient Japanese art in which men have schlongs the size of their heads.  My problem with porn is largely the abuses in the industry and the ways in which rather than being a reflection of humanity, it has become a standard for humanity.  I could–and probably should–write an entire post about the relationships between porn and sex trafficking, child abuse, drug addiction, and the degradation of women.  I could also include frank discussion of the ways in which use of pornography can cause problems within intimate relationships, often due to differing standards as well as the aforementioned shame attached to it.  I could spend a long time hashing out the difference between a person who simply enjoys porn and a person who has become so wrapped up in it that he or she can’t enjoy sex of any kind without it.  As I said, those are all important issues, but a discussion about self-gratification is not the place to go into detail.  Suffice it to say, watching people get it on is really not the big problem here, but neither do I feel comfortable endorsing it as just another art form.

So now that we’ve gotten lust and porn out of the way, what about sex addiction?  Well, first of all, we have to be clear on what we’re talking about.  There is good evidence that the rate of sex addiction is greatly inflated because people who enjoy daily sexual release are lumped into this category, as are people who regularly view porn. This is more a function of a sexually repressed society than any actual disorders (not that those don’t exist too, but the church has definitely defined “addiction” in pretty broad terms).

In order to qualify as a genuine addiction or as a problem, there are several things that need to be true.  First and foremost, it needs to be a problem for the person, and not just because the person feels embarrassed or ashamed or guilty.  It needs to actually have real-life consequences:  It needs to interfere with activities of daily living or be truly harmful to oneself or others.  Folks, it’s not going to kill you.  This is not the same thing as being an alcohol or drug addict.  I believe (and sex-positive experts agree) that this is just another lie spread by very conservative religious types.  You can fondle yourself multiple times a day and unless you are doing it at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places, you’re pretty much okay.  I have seen a number of people claiming that they were “addicted” because they believed themselves to be using masturbation as a way to fill an unnamed emotional hole, and I understand that perspective.  But even using sexual release as  means of self-soothing is not wrong.  Heck, it’s better than getting drunk or binge-eating or self-harm, and it’s a hell of a lot safer than escaping through sky diving or bungee jumping.  I think the “filling an emotional need” thing is a distractor  anyway.  Would you have the same concerns if I were feeling lonely and soothed myself by spending the night watching my favorite movie for the thirtieth time?  Probably not.

Please don’t think I’m dismissing the harm that can come from lust, porn, and addiction; I’m not.  It’s just very important that we remove the layers of shame and guilt before we can deal with the things underneath that really are harmful.  If something feels like a problem for you personally, then by all means do something about it.  But make sure that your reasons aren’t stemming from the negative messages from the church or culture.

Next time, we get to the good stuff: what makes masturbation a potentially really awesome thing?

Oh my gosh! You said the “M” word!

I’m going to deal with some sensitive issues in this post and the two following. If you are uncomfortable talking about sex, self-pleasure, lust, pornography or all of the above, you may not want to read what I have to say. If you’re okay with my subject matter (or are very curious, even if you don’t want to admit it), read on.

There is no true “adult” content on these pages.  I don’t describe body parts, bodily functions, or sex acts in any kind of graphic detail.  There are no photos or videos.  Even the links I provide are not anywhere near as graphic as what can be found with a simple Google search.  It’s probably more innocent than some of what our youth read in school, including assigned reading in Language Arts class and Health.  I will not be talking about sexual abuse or assault, but some people who are survivors might find some of what I write to be triggering.  Only you know if that describes you.

For everyone else, dive in.  I refuse to shy away from these issues just because a few people might not like it.  There’s stuff that has to be said, and it’s high time we talked about it instead of pretending we don’t know what’s going on.  People of faith have a duty to confront the things facing us head-on.  If we don’t, we risk lying to ourselves by pretending that we are unaware of what happens around us.  If we really want to impact our world, then we have to understand it—and ourselves—much better.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s proceed!

I’m tired of dancing around this topic like the Israelites and the Golden Calf, so here goes:  Today, we’re going to discuss masturbation. Why yes, I did just use that word. I’m now imagining that you’re blushing, giggling, or clenching your fists, if not all three.

The reason for such strong reactions is that it’s taboo.  Self-pleasure is not something we Christians are supposed to talk about, let alone engage in.  Yet here we are.
You may have decided that I’m not qualified to give advice in this area.  Let me help you understand.  I’ve been a Christian for almost 25 years; I’m a mom of two; I’m a registered nurse with experience working with families; I have a degree in health education; and I’m a human, not a robot.  So yes, I’m qualified.  Let’s move on.

I view sex as a good thing, including solo sex, but I didn’t always feel that way.  Anything to do with sex was surrounded by fear, shame, embarrassment, and a sense that any and all sexual feelings were a betrayal by my own body.  These were absolutely, unquestionably ideas encouraged by the church, as my parents never had any such negative attitudes (although my parents didn’t provide much guidance either).  I hope to raise my own kids in a sex-positive environment where they don’t fear love, intimacy, pleasure, or their own bodies.

First, let’s get one thing straight: The Bible says not one word about masturbation.  It talks about how to clean up semen (Leviticus 15:16), the sinfulness of not impregnating your dead brother’s wife (Genesis 38:6-10), and lust (Matthew 5:28).  Nothing about self-gratification.  It’s my impression that most people use Matthew 5:28 in this context.  However, that is not what the text says.

Second, some people object to masturbation on the grounds that it is giving in to “fleshly temptation” and is an utterly selfish pursuit.  Why is sex any different from hunger, thirst, or exhaustion?  Is it because it involves body parts we usually cover up?  Is it because the pleasure is more intense?  I’m going to be direct here.  Sex, like food, water, clothing, and shelter, is a basic human need.  There are people who naturally have no need for sexual pleasure, but it’s important that we understand that to be some people’s natural state of existence, not something for us to strive for.  That includes people who are not partnered.  You don’t go from zero to sixty the minute you’re in a relationship or there’s a ring on your finger.  We don’t tell single folks to eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches until marriage because nicer meals are only for families.  We don’t tell people to sleep on the floor until marriage because beds are for couples.  We don’t tell people not to bathe, read, or pursue hobbies until they can share those activities with someone else.  Eating, drinking, sleeping, and personal hobbies are all solo activities, too—they serve no purpose other than nurturing our own bodies.  Sex definitely shouldn’t be any different.  (Side note: For those of you who say that food/water/sleep are necessary and sex is not, I have a question.  How long have you personally gone without any kind of sexual gratification?  Unless your answer is “all my life,” you need to just be quiet.)

Now that we’ve established that, let me dispense with some other myths. Masturbation won’t make you go blind, grow hair or warts, or lead you down a path of porn addiction.  I mean, seriously, people.  Humans have been touching their private parts for pleasure since long before Internet porn and Playboy.  What we have done is trade the old standby scare tactics for new ones.  We’ve told people that any form of sexual gratification is naughty and should be avoided until marriage.  Instead of frightening people (bodily dysfunction), we’ve shamed them (sex addiction)  into silence.  (Pssst…it’s not working.  People are doing it anyway.)  All this does is create the “forbidden fruit” syndrome.  Healthy exploration of our bodies is a very different kind of thing.

We’ve also shamed married people into thinking that all their sexual needs must be fulfilled by penis-in-vagina sex (or possibly some relatively vanilla variation on that theme).  The thing is, though, that isn’t necessarily true.  And that’s without getting into couples who may or may not have the “correct” (read: conservative evangelical Christian) combination of body parts.  Self-gratification and partnered sex are not the same; they feel different and serve different purposes.

One of the big problems we have today is that the human body matures physically about 10-15 years before we marry. That’s 10-15 years of pent-up sexual frustration, especially given the fact that many conservative Christians also believe that sex before marriage is also wrong (yeah, I have thoughts on that too–I’ll save them for another day). Yikes! There has to be a better way than just telling everyone not to think about sex and stay hands-off (for at least 10 years, may I remind you).  It’s like telling someone not to think of an elephant–the more we try not to think about it, the more we fixate.  I believe that it is entirely acceptable, normal, and good for people (especially hormone-overloaded ones) to release that tension themselves through masturbation.  We don’t necessarily need to make a big production of sharing this with them, they’ll figure it out on their own for the most part (and will probably thank us not to embarrass them).  But we do need to stop shaming them, directly or indirectly.  Make a distinction—a very clear one—between lust and self-exploration.

It is also not wrong for partnered people to find sexual satisfaction alone.  There are many reasons why people might do so.  Sometimes one partner has a higher sex drive.  Sometimes couples are apart from each other due to circumstances.  Sometimes people just like touching themselves.  Unless it is directly causing problems in the relationship, it’s really not something to write home about.

In the next two posts on this topic, I will examine some of the factors that influence our tendency to layer on guilt and shame, as well as some of the positive aspects of self-exploration.

Sex is not a magical unicorn, part 2

Warning: This post contains stuff about sex. Specifically, women and sex. If you’re prone to blushing, don’t read it. Or do and just don’t tell anyone. Or go read 50 Shades of Grey and then pretend you didn’t.

So, the other night, I checked out the documentary Orgasm, Inc. on Netflix. (For the record: It’s not about porn. Also for the record: I wouldn’t have watched it if it had been.) Let me tell you, I had no idea that there was this entire medical thing going on where women are being told that they are “sexually dysfunctional.” Apparently, though, this really exists.

One of the reasons that has happened is that we’re all taught that sex is so special and awesome and fabulous, but we have no idea (outside of the basics) about how it really works and what’s normal. Or, at least, we don’t know what’s normal for women.

That isn’t surprising to me. Up until fairly recently, in all areas of health and medicine, research was based on men. One glaringly obvious example is symptoms of a heart attack. It turned out, after some research that actually involved women for a change, that women don’t have the same symptoms as men. This is true in a lot of other ways, too. For years, even doctors didn’t know much about the female body and how it responds sexually.

Some years ago, the big statistic floating around was that 43% of women had some kind of sexual dysfunction. Now, if you’re like me, when you hear that you go, “Say what?” Because 43% sounds like either an epidemic or (more likely) the result of really shoddy research.

After that, the race was on to find a treatment. No joke, pharmaceutical companies invented everything from testosterone patches to pills to surgically implanted nerve simulators (yes, really). Not surprisingly, everything was fairly risky and there were no consistently observable benefits.

Guess why that was?

Maybe it was because 43% of women are not dysfunctional. We just don’t understand our own bodies. We don’t hear it from our mothers, who either don’t know themselves or are too embarrassed to talk about it. We don’t hear it at school, where teachers are prohibited from talking about anything but the basic mechanics. We don’t hear it at church, where 9 times out of 10 it’s either men dragging out tired phrases (“men are microwaves, women are crock-pots”) or little else besides “Don’t do it unless you’re married!” Along with that, advice for men on how to help their wives in bed isn’t, well, helpful. It ignores basic biology. I’ve seen everything, including claims (always made by men) that it’s “all in our heads” if we aren’t fully enjoying sex (FYI: It’s not). Even our husbands can’t really help!

So where are we supposed to learn about our bodies?

You know, I made it through adolescence, nursing school, and well into adulthood before I had any idea what was truly normal. And trust me, none of it lined up with anything I’d heard before. I’m guessing that this is probably true for the majority of the women who are “dysfunctional.”

If you have Netflix, I recommend the film. It was certainly enlightening. Because I don’t want to turn this blog into a lesson on Female Sexuality 101, I’m going to link to some great resources. Please don’t be put off just because there may be things you morally disagree with (such as whether or not premarital sex is sinful). Don’t throw out the stuff that you can use within marriage just because someone else chooses to use it outside marriage. Also, this is not just for women. Men, I promise that learning about your wife’s body isn’t going to lead you into some kind of porn addiction. Porn is really different from an anatomy lesson. Believe me, if you learn anything about women’s bodies, your wife will be thrilled. (Probably, if you’re married, your best bet is to read these things together so that you can talk about it.)

Innies & Outies: The Vagina, Clitoris, Uterus and More
Yield for Pleasure
Sexual Response & Orgasm: A Users Guide
Female Orgasm May Be Tied to ‘Rule of Thumb’

I can’t orgasm from intercourse and it’s ruining my relationship!
A Critic Takes On the Logic of Female Orgasm
CLIT-ICAL THINKING!
How To Find the Clitoris
You Can’t POP Your Cherry! (HYMEN 101)

Join me tomorrow when I wrap up with part 3, where we put this all together and consider how we can talk to our kids without fear that we’re inciting them to behavior we don’t condone.

Sex is not a magical unicorn, part 1

Warning: Sex stuff inside. Open at your own risk. It’s a rather touchy topic and it might be a bit hard to wrap your hand…er, mind around it. This one might arouse your interest. You should read something else if you don’t want to penetrate the depths of this subject. (Okay, okay, I’ll stop.)

As teen and young adult, so much of sex always seemed like a mystery. The way many Christians speak of sex is like it’s the most incredible gift, just waiting for the right moment to be opened. It’s like knowing your birthday present is sitting, wrapped, on a shelf in your parents’ closet. You don’t know what it is, but you know it’s there. Its presence looms over you. You know you’ll find out what it is on the big day, but you’re not allowed to peek. Except, not only are you forbidden from sneaking a look at the gift, you are also not even supposed to think about opening it, because thinking is the same as unwrapping.

And then, when the moment comes, all this build-up has led you to believe that you are about to open the world’s most amazing gift. This is it, the moment you have been waiting for. You are tearing the paper off a present that should have all the eye-popping, heart-stopping, mind-blowing glory of a magical winged unicorn.

But what if it turns out not to be as awesome as you imagined?

On our wedding night, I was expecting this:

but it was more like this:

It was a lot more Charlie than Princess Celestia. It was okay, but nothing like I thought it would be. It was disappointing. Opening the gift didn’t reveal what I’d longed for. It was like anticipating a diamond bracelet and getting a silly band.

I absolutely do not blame my husband for this. There is no way he could have anticipated that. And I had no idea how to tell him. I didn’t know how to talk about sex. Sure, I’d read some magazine articles, all of which suggested that couples should tell each other what they like in bed. But I didn’t have the words to express myself, nor the courage to admit that anything was wrong. I felt like a failure.

The weird thing is, going into marriage, I thought I was completely prepared. I thought we would just kind of know how it worked and it would be awesome and special and holy and perfect. Not one person explained reality to me, other than that nearly everyone said it would hurt the first time but I would “get used to it.”

Wow, “get used to it” is kind of a crappy way to view sex.

There was a lot no one told me. No one explained that being on oral contraceptives can kill your sex drive and mess with your body, making everything more painful. No one said that it’s best to use lube or lubed condoms, especially the first time. No one clued me in that it’s possible to prepare your body before you have sex so that it doesn’t hurt. (If you want to know how, message me and I will link you up with a great video in which a sex educator explains it.) No one shared that I would have to know my own body so that I could help my husband learn.

Nothing.

Heck, I didn’t even know that I was actually supposed to like it, even though I’d heard it was supposed to be life-changing. I had heard all about how “the world” had perverted sex and how an “unbiblical” view of sex had taken all the joy from it. I never once heard an adult woman talk about it like it was something she enjoyed. Most of the sex talks I heard were from men, and there was definitely a fixation on porn addiction and “lust” (translation: if it makes you hard, you’re lusting). Basically, it sounded bad and scary, yet that was all supposed to change when I said “I do.” I was terrified that someone—including my own husband—might find out that I wanted to enjoy it.

I am fortunate that I have a patient, loving husband who was willing to walk through this with me. We’ve been married for 15 years now, and we’re still finding our way. I don’t think this happens for every couple, there are plenty who have different experiences than we did. But for too many of us, this is what has happened as a result of uptight attitudes and purity initiatives. I hear from friends (and strangers, via Twitter or this blog) that they feel as though they’ve been let down, usually by the church or by Christians. They suffer in silence, believing they’re the only ones who think of sex as their “duty” or who feel shame about their sexual history to the point of being unable to enjoy intimacy with their spouses. They keep hearing that sex is good, sex is beautiful, but their personal experiences say otherwise.

Sadly, many women can’t even talk about this with friends. When the topic of sex comes up, there is always at least one person who blushes furiously and admonishes the others to stop talking about it so casually. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s always one who brags that she and her husband have the best sex. Both of those things cause women who are struggling to shut down.

Maybe this is you. Maybe you’re married and you’ve carried fear and shame around with you. Or maybe you’re not yet married but you are having trouble making sense of the conflicting messages you hear. You are not the only one, and you don’t have to walk this road by yourself. If you feel you can’t talk in “real life” with anyone, you can message me. You can post a comment and hear what others have to say. Or you can be brave and share with your friends. Be the first to confide, to be real, and see what it leads to.

You’re not alone.

Join me tomorrow when I continue this topic. Up next: My thoughts on the documentary “Orgasm, Inc.” (Yeah, that title sounds really porny. Trust me, it’s anything but.)

Sex is not a poopy diaper, part 3

Warning: Yeah, more sex stuff.  Seriously, it’s fun to talk about.  Try it some time.

Question of the day: Why are we often so willing to admit our rebellious teenage behavior, but we can’t talk openly about sex with our closest friends?

If your friendships look like the ones on TV and you get right down to it talking and supporting each other when it comes to intimate relationships, more power to you.  But most of the people I know don’t do that, especially Christians.

When I was young, I was the worst combination of extremely uptight and very strong-willed.  So I rebelled against my parents by becoming more conservative than they were and by “getting religion.”  I bought into a rather severe view of purity which led me to believe that virtually nothing was acceptable.  I only had a handful of rather hushed, giggly conversations with several other girls who shared that mentality.

I remember vividly the first Christian I ever met who was open about sexuality.  We were talking about wanting to be in relationships, and she spoke candidly about experiencing arousal—and how she . . . *ahem*. . . addressed it.  She asked me if I knew what she meant.  My mind went, “OMG . . . OMG . . . she didn’t really just say what I think she did.  Did she?  Crap, she did.  What do I tell her???”  I’m sure that I mumbled something intelligent like, “Squeak!” and nodded, just to move the conversation on to safer topics.

See, I had the impression that being turned on was bad, bad, bad unless you were with your husband.  If you were feeling aroused, you were supposed to try thinking of something really unsexy, like school cafeteria pb&j sandwiches.  (But not the fiestada; because fiestada is damn sexy.)  The very notion of having any sexual feelings was inextricably linked to feelings of guilt, because it was a clear sign that one was “lusting.”

I have no idea if that was the intent of the people at my church.  But it was certainly the result.

We’re constantly told that “the world” (or whatever term is popular for non-Christian culture) is responsible for emphasizing sex.  Sadly, we just don’t seem to get it that Christians share equal responsibility for elevating sex beyond where it needs to be.  It’s reactive, rather than taking the initiative: Culture (movies, books, TV) encourage sexual immorality; the church pushes back with an emphatic no.  But the harder we push back, the tighter we grip, the more likely we are to cause a cycle of rebellion, sin, guilt, and promises to stop.  It’s a losing battle.

Not only that, the very people the church makes responsible for teaching sexual morality are often the same people who lack education about basic biology, feel embarrassed discussing sex, or are dealing with their own addictive sexual behaviors.  (I’m not judging anyone; I’m just saying that if a person has not yet addressed his or her own trauma or addiction, it can be hard to move beyond it to instruct others.)

The struggle with ethical, moral sexuality doesn’t end when a person moves out of his or her parents’ home.  We need to begin helping our Christian adults to be able to talk openly about sexuality with each other.  The more we do that, the safer the church will be overall.  We will end up with many adults who have healthy attitudes toward their bodies and sex, and therefore children and teens with healthy attitudes.

This is one place where we need each other.  Too many people have too much guilt, shame, and fear piled on.  Let’s end the cycle of hurt by being open with each other.  Instead of another tired lecture about sinful sex, we could just encourage people to begin talking, to hear each other’s stories.

At least it’s a start.

And that’s a wrap on this series.  Tomorrow brings my usual weekly highlights, and then I’m going on vacation.  Weee!  I’m not sure how much I will post while I’m away, but I’ll try to stay in touch.  See you on the other side!

Sex is not a poopy diaper, part 2

Warning: There’s stuff about sex in here. You can read it and take notes, read it and blush, read it and pretend you didn’t, or just skip it entirely. Up to you.

Yesterday, I talked about how we often introduce shame about sex early on by failure to communicate clearly about anatomy. Today, I’m advancing the conversation to adolescence.

By the time I was old enough to start getting any real “sex education,” I discovered just about everyone seemed to think sex was something to be ashamed about. In school, all I learned about sex was that if I had any, I could get a disease. Heck, they didn’t even talk to us about pregnancy. I think that’s because, despite what some think, I live in a conservative area. As an adult, my understanding is that teachers weren’t supposed to talk to us about contraception, although they could tell us how not to get sick. The emphasis was definitely on Things That Can Go Wrong. With pictures. In full color.

Most churches offer some variation on the theme of waiting for sex until marriage. While I have no disagreement with encouraging waiting, the way it’s taught nearly always promotes that sense of guilt and shame, along with the idea that sex itself is something dirty and embarrassing. There’s always a list of rules, mostly things you’re not supposed to do:

  • Don’t think about sex.
  • Don’t look at anything sexy.
  • Cover up any part of your body that might even remotely be sexy.
  • Don’t think about sex.
  • Don’t do anything with your partner except polite, chaste kisses.
  • Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Keep your hands off yourself.
  • Don’t think about sex.
  • Looking is the same as sex.
  • Don’t entice people with your body.
  • Don’t be aroused, and if you are, pray it away.
  • Don’t think about sex.

There’s some really big problems with that.

First, it makes some assumptions about boys and girls in relation to one another. It sets boys up as predators and girls up as temptresses. So instead of girls being able to discern which boys really are predatory, they learns to see them all that way. It also teaches boys that if they’re aroused, girls are at fault. Gee, I wonder what the scary implications of that might be.  (For a fictional rendition of this, see Twilight.  There’s some seriously creepy stuff in there.)

Second, it ignores basic biology. Ever been a teenager? Maybe it’s been too long. Maybe you had a lot of this guilt piled on. But all those surging hormones create a lovely playground for sexual arousal. Telling kids that the changes their bodies are undergoing are bad or that they should fight them is . . . weird. I’m not suggesting the way to handle hormones is to go have as much indiscriminate sex as possible. But c’mon, let’s work with biology here, not against it. If more kids understood that their bodies were normal, that would be a great start.

Third, it takes Scripture out of context and legitimizes the encouragement of guilt and shame. Remember that whole “lust is just as bad as adultery” thing? Yup, Jesus said it. But let’s get this straight: He wasn’t talking about getting a little hot over the cute next-door neighbor. This has been used time and again to shame people for having sexy thoughts. It’s even used within the context of relationships. Because of the whole “sex is bad until the wedding” mantra, dating couples struggle with the very idea of being physically attracted to each other. Instead of acknowledging it, they stuff it down. The expectation is that it’s a light switch—turn it off until the minister calls it, then turn it on when you get to the honeymoon suite. Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

Lust is an entirely different beast. It’s a willful, possessive way of looking at another person. It’s a way of reducing a person to nothing more than a body that might be available for our own pleasure. It is not a normal, ordinary biological process. It is not a fleeting thought. It is not a mere attraction to someone nice-looking. And the best way to handle it isn’t to simply stuff it down and repeat, “I will not lust; I will not lust; I will not lust.” It’s best handled by learning to value and respect other people.

Finally, the laundry list of don’ts is exactly that: An anti-to-do list. A set of rules. A no-no checklist. That view of sexuality is entirely negative. When the message is that it’s bad until the wedding night, it can be pretty challenging to suddenly see it as a good thing. There’s a host of terrible consequences in that.

I think most people would be very surprised by the number of people (particularly women) who are hiding intense fear and shame. Often, their spouses don’t know about it. It has a huge and lasting impact on the loving relationship between spouses. Trust me, I know it’s true, both from personal experience and from the experiences of others. In fact, the guilt and shame piled on related to sex and sexuality are so deep that people feel it even if they were not Christians at the time they first experienced sexual intimacy. I’ve met many people who have told me that they are deeply ashamed of their past, even though they were acting on the moral values available to them at the time.  And even though they believe their sins are forgiven, it’s often the one thing they can’t let go.

This isn’t healthy, in any sense. I don’t have any easy answers. My hope is that we can begin to talk about ways to bring about a less damaging way to handle purity and fidelity without pre-shaming people into the Just Don’t Do It camp.

Join me tomorrow when I address another layer of sex as a four-letter word.

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My apologies that I’m not adequately addressing the unique feelings of my LGBT brothers and sisters here; I have no experience and feel that I cannot speak to this particular subject within your marriages and relationships. I am not trying to further marginalize or alienate you. I’m open to discussing those issues, though, so if anyone wants to write a guest post on the topic, message me.