Girls, Sex, and the ChurchPosted: March 29, 2011
-by Becca of Something Lovely
(reposted from her 2008 blog)
I honestly can’t think of a time when I haven’t known about sex. My parents weren’t the type for stork stories, so when my mom kept having babies and I wanted to know why, she wasn’t in the least hesitant to tell me exactly why. Because of this, it’s become an easy topic for me to talk about; I’ve never been afraid to ask questions of those older than me or answer the questions of friends whose parents may not have had the same outlook on sex education mine did.
As I got older, I began going to girls only studies and seminars on the topic, and while the information on what the Bible has to say about sex was useful, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the attitude towards sex that was being spread. I’m not talking about abstinence—I’m still a virgin and I do believe there is a right time and a right place for sex, but the idea of purity is what bothers me most. The other two things that bugged me were the pressure put on girls to keep guys’ hormones in check and the fact that lust is a problem for girls was never brought up.
By using the term purity in reference to sexual activity, we are creating the idea that girls who don’t wait until marriage are somehow dirty and useless, not as good as those who do manage to abstain. I always got images of those disposable sponges you use to clean the bathtub. No girl deserves to be viewed as a dirty sponge. People have sex. It happens. Just because sex has the potential for more negative life-long consequences then, say, stealing your sister’s Barbies, doesn’t mean we should put such a heavy load on those who have it.
And it’s not just the church that’s spreading this idea of pure vs. dirty. In her book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, Jessica Valenti discusses abstinence only education in public schools and includes this charming tale:
But really and truly, the following gem is my fave. It comes from an “educator” speaking at an abstinence conference last year: “Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”
Seriously? Not only is that a gross analogy (and I always thought the lollipop metaphor was in reference to guys) but presenting girls who have had sex as discarded trash is so many different kinds of disturbing.
YOU ARE NOT TRASH. EVER. DON’T EVER LET ANYONE MAKE YOU THINK YOU ARE.
And then there’s the whole idea of “True Love Waits,” because as we all know, it’s impossible to ever have True Love if you’re not a virgin when you get married. Can’t we just have facts presented to us without all these catchy terms and phrases? Yeah, they make for cutesy t-shirts, but what’s so wrong with sex just being sex?
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does things they regret. It’s just part of life and our job is to make the best of our decisions and learn what we can from them. Girls who wait for sex should not be glorified over those who don’t.
-Headaches and Hard-ons-
I believe that at the root of this issue is the belief that girls don’t enjoy sex as much as guys do. Where it’s natural for guys to want sex, girls must have some other motive. It’s all over pop culture—wives on sit-coms making headache excuses, girls giving up their virginity because they just want someone to love them—and the main method used when teaching girls about abstinence. You don’t need a man to be a happy person, they say. If a man really loves you, he won’t make you have sex with him! While that’s all good and true, what about the girls who just like orgasms? They exist! They’re everywhere! I’ve heard plenty of my friends talk about how they’d just like to have sex for sex’s sake, not for love, not for a meaningful relationship, but just for the fun of it.
I read one Christian book that addressed this topic (I honestly don’t remember what it was–Dating Mr. Darcy by Sarah Arthur maybe?) and it treated it like an abnormality. The author stated that girls who felt like this had separated themselves from their emotions, had made themselves feel casually about sex in order to fit in with the guys. And that’s just wrong.
I opened a discussion about girls and sex on my private blog and got a lot of awesome responses from my on-line friends. Kim, who also grew up in the church, was just as frustrated about this as I am.
I went to a youth conference in Orlando the summer before last. […] You chose the topics you wanted to hear more about and planned your schedule according to the times those talks were given. […] The sex-based lessons for guys were primarily centered around living a godly life and avoiding temptations like porn when it’s most difficult. EVERY SINGLE ONE of the sex-based talks for girls, though, was about purity, and not letting boys take advantage of you. […] As if every time a girl has pre-marital sex, it’s because she let a guy convince her into doing it. Not because she wanted it, not because she was tempted, but because she let peer pressure get to her. […] Why do men have a monopoly on hormones and sex drives just because they have penises?
This needs to be addressed. Lust isn’t just a male problem; girls experience it, too. Female desire isn’t just about finding a one true love and making lots of babies. Girls have to deal with the physical side of sex, too, and it’s being completely ignored.
-Double the Pressure-
In addition to making girls feel they’re only worth something if they’re virgins, it seems like we’re making girls responsible for not only their own sex drives, but those of guys. If a guys stares at our chest, it’s our fault for not dressing modestly. If a guy gets too forward, it’s our fault for being too flirty. If a guy and girl have sex before marriage, it’s her fault for not trying hard enough to stop him.
Earlier in the semester Harding held a week of chapels all about sex. One of the days they had a split chapel where girls could ask guys questions and guys could ask girls questions. Now, I could be wrong about this because I skipped this day, but I was told that at one point during the girls’ chapel, one of the guys leading the panel said something along the lines of, “If you want us to look at your eyes when we talk to you, don’t wear low-cut shirts,” and that girls actually applauded at it.
I’m sorry. This bugs me so so so so much. The fact that the guy said this just proves to me that we aren’t holding men responsible for their actions. Guys should have the decency to look at your face when talking to you regardless of what you’re wearing. That discussion I held on my private blog mentioned earlier? This was discussed, too! Said Sarah, “I am WELL AWARE that guys will look at my boobs if I wear a low cut shirt. BUT…NOT IF THEY’RE TALKING TO ME…[W]ho does that?” I find it very telling that a college student who hasn’t grown up in a Christian environment is shocked by something that a group of Christians took as normal behavior when we think of ourselves as having higher morals.
Guys who look at your chest (or any other part of your body) for uncomfortable amounts of time are just jerks. Plain and simple. Another friend of mine, Nina, shared this story:
My thing on low-cut shirts is that if guys are really so distracted that they cannot possibly look at my face, then that’s THEIR problem […] I had a meeting with my physics professor, so I dressed conservatively and frumpily, in just a t-shirt and jeans, as I ALWAYS did with professors (MIT demands frumpiness to begin with, too). He still stared at my boobs for the entire time. Not once did he meet my eyeline. […] That is [screwed] up. Clearly that is so not my problem.
And it doesn’t help that modesty is in the eye of the beholder and that it varies based on body-types. Girls with small boobs can get away with more than girls with large boobs can. During the 1800s it was scandalous for women to expose their ankles, but undergarments were worn to boost breasts high above plunging necklines—quite the opposite of how we view modesty today.
While we’re on the topic of modesty, may I just ask why guys aren’t held to the same standards? It’s perfectly okay for guys to walk around shirtless, but girls can’t show even the slightest bit of cleavage? My friend Tiffany recently posted a note about this to her Facebook.
Why is it that in life guys can walk around topless and not be seen as “slutty,” but a girl who shows a little cleavage is a harlot? I’m sick of seeing muscle shirts in the caf with the sides completely cut away. […] But really guys, its men who are sexual beings and monsters and we need to cover ourselves so we aren’t hit with the brunt of their sexuality. […] In a study done in the UK, women and men were both given the same sexual material to look at and their eye reactions, subconscious and reliable ways to measure attraction, were exactly the same. If I can control myself, so can every [jerk] on this campus.
The double standard has gone on for far too long. If we’re going to hold girls to modesty standards, we need to start holding guys to them as well; and if we’re going to expect girls to control their thought, we need to start expecting that from guys, too.
It’s a difficult topic to address because standards rely on so many different variants, but a basic rule of thumb is this—focus on your motive. Are you dressing for sexual attention, or do you simply just like that outfit? In the end, I believe modesty is up to the individual. You still need to use common sense (if it were up to me, I would just be naked all the time), but don’t feel pressured into dressing a certain way.
I’ve saved the hardest topic for last—masturbation. I hate hate hate how it’s never addressed for girls. EVER. Okay I take that back. I’ve read one book that did, and it presented it in a wholly negative light by telling the story of a woman who claimed the reason her husband wasn’t able to give her an orgasm was because of her masturbatory habits before marriage. Is it not possible that her husband was just bad at sex?
I just did a Google search for “Christian female masturbation” and on the first page of results were three porn websites, an article associating it with lesbianism, a YouTube video of some comedian talking about it, and a bunch of articles about sex and history—nothing actually helpful. I searched the Focus on the Family website for “masturbation”, and all the information on masturbation was geared toward guys. It’s a tricky topic, and different for everyone, and I’m not saying that the church should hand out free vibrators, but it would be nice to have it acknowledged. In truth, I’d say about 75% of the girls I know do it and because it isn’t addressed as a female issue, a lot of them feel perverted for it.
I have a lot more I could say on this topic, but I’ll end here because I know it is a touchy topic (no pun intended) and I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. As James Dobson has said, it’s for the individual to decide. I know girls who don’t like doing it because it makes them think about sex in general more often, but I also know girls who do it as a way get sex out of their systems and help them not think about it as much. Either way, ignoring it is not helping. Those who wish to stop feel like they have no one to talk to about it, and those who enjoy it may still feel badly about it due to feeling alone.
-Happily Ever After-
In conclusion, while I appreciate the Church’s enthusiasm for addressing sex, I think there are a few problems with how they’re going about doing it. This post wasn’t meant to bash their techniques, but provide a critique that will hopefully give insight into how the topic can be more helpfully addressed. If you have any questions or would like to further discuss it with me outside of comments, feel free to get in touch with me via Facebook (see link in sidebar) or email (becca516[at]gmail[dot]com). And, of course, comment and let me know what you thought!