CONTENT NOTE: This post contains discussion of a sexual nature and is rated PG-13, if not R; reader discretion is advised.
This is part two in my series on my personal purity culture story; see part one here.
I think for this part I will back up a few years from where I left off, back to when I heard the stereotypes that men love sex but women are all into touching, cuddling, etc. I heard a woman on TBN talking about sex; one thing she mentioned was women having higher libidos than their husbands, and she reassured such women that nothing is wrong. At church, while we preached purity culture, for marriage it was CIA: Creative, Interesting, Available; “whoever needs it, gets it.” (from 1 Cor. 7:5). Around the time I was reading Every Man’s Battle and Not Even A Hint (now called Sex Isn’t The Problem, Lust Is), my mom and I had a talk about sex: I asked her why women weren’t into sex. She replied that women love sex as much as men, but the resistance comes because their needs are ignored by their husbands. Thus the wives will have affairs and the husbands will be clueless. (There is a tendency to blame wives for their husbands’ infidelity in some Fundamentalist circles[“if you don’t do your homework, someone else will”], rhetoric fairly frequent in our circle; however, the same leaders, in my opinion, are unlikely to apply the same standard and blame the husbands for their wives’ cheating!) My mom also pointed out that if a husband pays attention to his wife’s needs and desires, she’ll keep wanting more. This conversation is one of the ones I most appreciate of all the ones I’ve had with my mom. For me it’s basic common sense.
Also at this time a young woman who had been absent for a few months returned pregnant out of wedlock. Our pastor threw a baby shower for her and welcomed her back like in the story of the Prodigal Son. He also made it clear that people weren’t supposed to give her a hard time — slut-shaming forbidden!(While I see a lot of the control as toxic, I think this is one of the best moments, particularly since, from hearing stories on Twitter and blogs, this is quite rare in Fundamentalism.) Later after her baby girl was born, there was a dedication ceremony.
As for me, something else affecting my decisions is my desire to live overseas and not be confined to the four walls of my church. There was a lot of talk that people should commit to God and the man of God(our pastor), be Anna in the Temple(Luke 2:36-38) and “Dead in Christ”(TM, Gal. 2:20) before marriage. I began to see those as incompatible with what I want in life; in fact, I began to question whether or not I even wanted to get married, and that I’d been abstinent twenty years, can it be so hard to go seventy or eighty years?(Though I don’t want to now and didn’t really want to then, and I concluded I just want to marry outside the bubble and would start dating once I left said bubble.)
I also started looking into other religions (like Buddhism) and saw relevance in the doctrine of the Noble Truths concerning sexual desire (as thirst/craving is seen as the cause of all suffering). I saw my sexual desire as causing me to suffer(as in Buddhism “suffering” [dukkha] is seen as including even discomfort and dissatisfaction), and I saw no fulfillment nearby(though I still hoped). The Buddha said, “Association with what is disliked is painful; disassociation with what is liked is painful; not getting what one wishes is painful.” It also mentions “thirst for sensual pleasures, thirst for existence, thirst for non-existence.” This is something I can relate to! I also read about ACT(Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) in a Time Magazine article, in which one is urged to accept what sucks about life and commit to one’s values. I realized that being horny really sucks; but I decided to commit to my values and think about life beyond sexuality.
I also decided to be careful picking a wife, as I may find someone I find attractive and willing to fulfill my sexual wishes but make me give up my other desires, as we’d be required to commit more to the church.
I also decided abstinence is something I want for myself. A lot of time in purity culture it’s the women urged not to give into the advances of their horny boyfriends. I asked myself, “Could the roles be reversed? Are we guys really that sex-obsessed?” I decided after I got a girlfriend I would tell her on an early date that I chose abstinence until marriage, and resist any sexual advances she may make towards me. As I decided that I don’t want to remain in the church bubble forever, I knew that my odds of marrying a virgin are slim(that’s one thing that happened at 18: I officially came to expect that my wife would not be a virgin). Thus I hoped she’d know what she likes and be able to instruct me in the art of love, like Kamala and Siddhartha in Hermann Hesse’s Novel.
I kept quiet about some of my desires for a few years, as I feared inquiries about how I was doing on lust and masturbation. Thus I decided to stop masturbating before I asked. At one point I finally did ask, and I was told that I needed to get to the spiritual level that I could be trusted not to go after the ladies. A couple of years after this, I acknowledged that if I had been released at that point I would have started dating shortly after arrival. (In fact, I would probably have tried to find a girlfriend first thing, even before I started unpacking, and hopefully found a wife really soon. I felt I’d be obligated to stay in touch, and wanted to get married before I had to tell them about it, presenting it as a surprise. Also, particularly after Obama’s election, there was a lot of talk about conspiracy theories, that USA could collapse, that there’d be a Civil War, and I wanted to get out before it happened, as I was concerned I’d never get out otherwise. I even began to hope to marry a foreign woman and thus have some of the red tape removed to stay in the country.)
After acknowledging I’d date upon going abroad, I was told God could bring me a wife where I was. However, for a little over a decade the church had basically constituted the same people with only a couple of new people in that whole time (and only a couple remained). Plus, I was told someone new would need to be watched for a year before they were deemed trustworthy. As I wanted to travel abroad I deemed all this a waste of time.
Over time, as I entered my late twenties, I began to once again get frustrated over being horny and having no romance. Other issues were that parental approval was strongly urged(that of the bride’s father was stressed in particular), but my mom didn’t think I was mature enough to date. However I had read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and read that marriage is a human right, the restrictions being that the parties be “of full age” and that marriage shall only be entered into with the full and free consent of the intending spouses(article 16). I saw my mom as being arbitrary and concluded she’d never see me as mature enough, and, as I deduced is a human right, the only way to not be an old bachelor is to ditch the church rules.(I was surprised when I discovered atheists also urge maturity in marriage and discourage marrying for sex.)
Some of my friends were having issues as well. One kept making “pecker” references and later masturbation references (he also started questioning the party line). The one day I was really down about being horny and his pecker references really cheered me up, as I started putting “pecker” in all descriptions of why I’m angry.
Another friend developed a crush on a gas station employee, and at some point there was a number exchange. One guy from church was a bit irked, going on about how if he’d done that he’d never have married, as our pastor would have barred him from women for life. I tried to explain that people do this in the Real World, but complainer replied that’s a good way to get a divorce. (In our circle, in Fundamentalist fashion, divorce was frowned upon, though the divorced didn’t face any more hurdles to marriage than others did. However, divorce was used as a scare tactic.) But in the end it didn’t work out. (However later they became friends.) He had a few other interests, until meeting someone through a video game. They met in real life, and next thing I knew my friend was moving half way across the country. (If he’s reading this[he knows about the blog], best wishes, as we’ve said!)
Someone else started complimenting random women on their shoes. One day he complimented the shoes of a Barnes and Noble employee, and a friend overheard him. The friend felt, since the guy giving compliments has a shoe fetish, he was flirting (a reminder that flirting was strictly forbidden in our circle). Thus the guy quit complimenting women’s shoes.(He did say most of his responses were positive.)
Right now I am 31 and have never been married, had a girlfriend, or even been on a date, largely due to purity culture. I continue to choose abstinence for a number of reasons: 1) I want my first sexual encounter to be something special, with someone who loves me, in a relationship that I can reasonably conclude will be secure; 2) there are things I want to do with my life, like go back to school and travel, live in different countries, and I don’t want to get tied down by having a tryst; 3) I support the Consistent Life Ethic and don’t want to do anything that may thrust a pregnancy on a woman unless we agree to have kids together; 4) I have not been convinced that God doesn’t require marriage for sex; 5) I don’t see the point of engaging in sex outside of marriage; as I said, I want the relationship to be more secure before engaging in sexuality.
I do acknowledge, however, that the stories of sexual incompatibility made me nervous, and I wonder how someone like me who is committed to abstinence can avoid this pitfall. Otherwise I have made a commitment, once married, to make my wife’s pleasure a priority, to be available for her, to communicate. But in the meantime I’m telling my story, communicating with others who have gone through this, finding out what I’m doing with my life(besides blogging), and trying to learn better ways of looking at sexuality and the world. I owe a huge thank you to the members of the Love, Joy, Feminism commentariat, who have graciously and patiently answered the questions I’ve posed on the blog. At times I still fear I’ll never marry, and wonder how to find dates. Sometimes I get angry over the way I grew up, feeling I could be further along otherwise. I also hope though, knowing that out of seven billion people I could no doubt find someone who is interested in me. I take little steps at a time.
The past affects the present. I’m working through that now. And the present sows seeds for the future. God is the One Who was and is and is to come.