Category Archives: Love/Sex Advice

What I know about marriage (after 16 years)

January 10, 1998

January 10, 1998

What I know is that I don’t know much. After sixteen years I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of this mysterious, magical, wild thing called marriage. Still, I have learned some lessons (most of them the hard way–ARE WE SURPRISED?! Nope!) and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first thing I learned is that our culture gives really bad relationship advice. Here are a few examples of things I heard that turned out to be totally and completely false:

1. “You’re too young to get married–you need time to Find Yourself!” One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is the honor of bearing intimate witness to my spouse’s life journey–and he to mine. It is precisely because we married young (he was 24, I was 20) that we were granted this privilege of watching each other grow up and into the people we were meant to become. He is not only my husband, he is my best friend and I have “found myself” in the context of committed relationship. My deepest happiness has sprung from Finding Myself by serving and loving my husband and children.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

2. “Don’t have too many children!” My experience has taught me there is such no such thing as “too many children.” The happy clamor, fullness of daily experience and countless opportunities for growth, sacrifice and intimate relationship are among the most priceless blessings of my life. As Mother Teresa once said, “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” Initially, I only “wanted” one or two children. I’m incredibly grateful God didn’t give me what I “wanted”–He gave me something far better!

Summer 2003

Summer 2003

3. “You should wait to have children.” Again, this hasn’t proved true to my experience. By all societal measures, we ‘shouldn’t’ have had children when we did. We were young, financially limited and living inside an oppressive religious environment. We weren’t “ready” to have children. But we had them anyway. And having all five babies by the time I was 30 was, quite possibly, the best decision we ever made. Having our babies while we were very young (and with limited financial resources) meant our options were limited–in a good way. It meant we spent more time at home doing simple things. We ate meals at home together, played board games, took walks to the park, spread blankets in the shared yard of our duplex and read books together. I couldn’t afford to send my first children to fancy preschools or buy them lots of new clothes from fancy children’s stores, but I could give them the gift of my time. I don’t regret one minute of “giving away my 20′s” to my children. It was the best investment I ever made.

And despite the bad advice our culture gave me, I did receive some good advice–mostly from people of faith. Here’s the good advice I received that has proven true to my sixteen years of marriage:

1. “Easy does it:” I learned the hard way that there’s just no good reason to stay up until 2am arguing. It’s much better to wash your face, brush your teeth, kiss your spouse and go to sleep. You can solve the problem in the morning when you’re rested. Give yourself some space. Give your spouse some space. Be gentle and easeful with each other. There’s no need to nag, prod, argue or debate (don’t ask me how I know–har-har). Let the other person be who they are and let them have their own process on this journey together. I’ve found greater results in simply maintaining my OWN side of the marriage without worrying about what my husband is or isn’t doing.

Winter 2009

Winter 2009

2. “Love, honor, cherish and forgive. Rinse. Repeat.” When I was single I used to say things like: “If my husband EVER did _______(fill in the blank), I’d leave!” How precious of me. What I’ve learned is that we have BOTH given each other ample reason to leave the marriage. But instead of leaving, we have BOTH done the work. We’ve stayed. We keep recommitting to staying and working. And then, seasons change. There were hard years of bearing and raising very small children. There were sick years where it seemed we caught every single flu and virus known to man. There were poor years where we had to scrimp and make do. I’ve learned not to make big, life-altering decisions during difficult years. In other words, I didn’t need to decide whether we should get divorced when our preemie-twins were only three months old and we were sleep deprived, exhausted and stressed out of our minds, ya know? I could wash my face, take a nap, kiss my spouse and forgive.

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

3. “Speak well of your spouse:” I’m a talker. This we know. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes with my words. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s very important to speak graciously about my spouse and to my spouse. I’ve also learned to avoid correcting, nagging or complaining. Do I really need to be right? About everything?? No. Sarcasm, teasing, crude jokes and words that cause hurt or fear really have no place in a loving relationship. I’ve learned (and am learning) to use my words to bind up the wounds, heal, restore and inspire. As Buddha once said, “When words are both true and kind they can change the world.” Or my marriage. :)

4. “Forgive and begin again:” My husband has literally forgotten all my mistakes. It’s weird. Sometimes I’ll remind him of something unkind I’ve done and he’ll be like: “What? I don’t remember that.” My husband teaches me how to see the best and believe the best. This is love. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. My husband sees me through the eyes of love and it is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. This is what it means to live without resentment. It means we don’t give safe harbor to wrongs done against us. We let them go. We forgive. And as we do, like the springtime, love is renewed again and again and again.

Love never fails.

16 Years!

16 Years!

Elizabeth Smart & the life-threatening danger of shame-based purity culture

*trigger warning: rape, victim blaming*

I read an interesting line in the New Yorker yesterday, describing an important characteristic about one of the kidnapped girls who was recently rescued in Cleveland:

…she had to never forget who she was, and that who she was mattered..

She had to never forget that who she was mattered.

This line haunts me, especially when juxtaposed against the despair Elizabeth Smart felt after she was kidnapped: 

 …Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

What is the difference between a kidnapped girl who actively looks for escape and the one who does not? One possible answer: she knows and owns her inherent worth.

I realize there are many contributing factors but we can’t underestimate the importance that a girl believes she is important. She believes she matters. She never forgets who she is and that who she is matters. She has an unshakeable belief that no matter what happens to her in captivity, SHE is always valuable.

When I started writing about the harmful effects of purity culture, I overlooked one of the most terrible, unintended consequences: when you teach young women that her identity and worth is tied to her virginity, you make her more vulnerable to despair if she is raped and thus, reduce her chance of survival.

A despairing rape victim is less likely report her rape. A despairing kidnap victim is less likely to actively seek escape. Because what would be the point? Why would it even be worth screaming about? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.

A girl who is raised in purity culture and then is raped may eventually realize that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be… a victim of non-consensual sex. And why would a purity-culture-girl report her rape when, as Jori’s story shows, she’d just be blamed for it anyway: “This sort of thing doesn’t happen to godly girls,” [her parents] told her. “You put yourself in a situation for this sort of thing to happen.”

Even for girls who are not raped or sexually molested but who grew up hearing the shame-based messages of purity culture, the resulting despair can have long-term negative effects on their married sex lives. I’ve received emails from young women who, because they had so internalized the message that My Worth Can Be Measured By My Virginity, felt horrifically guilty after “losing their virginity” on their wedding night. Some of these women still do not enjoy sex. Others have yet to experience an orgasm.

As one of my own friends said to me: “If you’ve been told your whole life no-no-no about sex, how do you just flip that switch after you’re married to yes-yes-yes?”

Ultimately, purity culture  isn’t about sex, it’s about control. It’s about burrowing inside a woman’s heart and soul and mind to control how she views her body, her worth and whether she is lovable. Of course, this is done with the best intentions: protecting young women from unnecessary heartbreak.

But by using shame-based messages about sex, purity culture proponents actually expose their daughters to other kinds of danger: learned helplessness and a debilitating despair that prevents them from believing they are inherently valuable, no matter what they do and no matter what happens to them.

Believing she is valuable–no matter what–may literally save her life.

Dear Christians, Victoria’s Secret is NOT the problem

This message being brought to you by hysterical Christian parents:
Victoria’s Secret! Is targeting teenagers!
We Are Outraged!
Boycott All The Thongs!

This message being brought to you by Been There-Done That:

I’ll start boycotting Victoria’s secret just as soon as Christians
start boycotting purity culture. 

Sure, there was a time when I was all outraged about Victoria’s Secret. I was calling it soft porn and so help me God I was not gonna allow MY children to be ASSAULTED–yes! assaulted!–by Public Pornography!

I’m still not happy with the way VS advertises but I’m also concerned about the ways
we Christians have promoted harmful ideas about female sexuality.

I ranted against Victoria’s Secret because it was EASY. 

What’s harder? Taking a cheap shot at an easy target or examining the ways
I’m complicit?

Before Christians cast the first boycott, let’s examine the ways WE
have promoted harmful ideas about sexuality.

We idolize virginity. And oh, yeah. We have our very own Fake Christian Female. She is a mythical creature living in the fantasies of preachers who promote purity rings and purity pledges and write open letters to underwear companies pleeeeeading that they cancel their product line! Because. OUR DAUGHTERS’ WORTH WILL NOT BE DETERMINED BY A SLOGAN ON A THONG!

OK, but are we equally outraged by how Christians promote the Mythical Christian Female in our churches?

Are we outraged by this Mythical Christian Female who is a modestly dressed virgin all demure and submissive on the outside but whom, behind closed doors on her wedding night, magically transforms into a wanton porn star performing strip-teases for her husband?! (Probably in Victoria’s Secret lingerie)?

You know, I’ll get outraged about Victoria’s Secret just as soon as Christians start getting outraged about the way we’ve taught an entire generation of evangelical Christians that waiting until they are married to have sex will result in Amazing! Fantastic! Firework! Sex! Forever!

I’ll get outraged when Christians boycott a company for actual Christian values like exploiting cheap/slave labor.

I’ll get outraged when Christians quit taking the EASY ROAD of outrage and start CHANGING the actual culture.

Because yes, if the broader culture is to be blamed its harmful values then WE CHRISTIANS are also complicit. Because WE have our own harmful culture and let me tell you: purity culture directly harmed me far more than some stupid slogan on a thong.

The problem is NOT outside us. And neither is the solution.

Victoria’s Secret is NOT the problem.

Sexy lingerie is NOT the problem.

The problem is shaming sexuality.

The problem is thinking I’m protecting my child’s sexuality by….asking Victoria’s Secret to pull its product line.

The problem is refusing to examine the ways we Christians have contributed to a church culture that fetishizes sexually pure (and sexually eager!) virgins who wouldn’t dare dress immodestly (except in the bedroom! tee-hee! to the pure all things are pure!).

We think we’re promoting a healthier self-image for our daughters by….threatening to boycott Victoria’s Secret?

We think we’re encouraging healthy sexuality by…writing open letters about how slogans on underwear “make us sick”?

We are missing the point by about 500,000 Facebook shares.

And as Christians, we make ourselves utterly laughable when we write open letters demanding companies get in line with our “values.” Because, frankly? The only thing Christians seem to value right now is signing petitions, ranting all over Facebook and blaming a CLOTHING COMPANY for “coming after” our little girls.

 The problem is NOT outside us. And neither is the solution.

The solution is for us Christians to truly examine our own misogynistic, Christian culture–a culture that idolizes the Mythical, Fake Christian Woman.

The solution is for us to eradicate the myth of the submissive, devout, modestly dressed woman who also moonlights as a strip-teasing porn star for her husband.

The solution is for Christians to LIVE a shame-free sexual ethic.

Until that happens, Imma lay out by the pool in my Victoria’s Secret bikini and catch some rays. Oh, and so is my daughter.

Update: Thanks to everyone for commenting and contributing to this conversation! I told my kids we’d do something fun during spring break today and oddly enough, their idea of fun isn’t Mom sitting on the computer moderating blog comments. :) So, I’m closing comments. You can send email or disagree with me on FB. Pool, here we come!

The day I learned I was a hipster/progressive/”current feminist” advocating ‘commitment-free’ sex for all!

And here I thought I was just Catholic (but if I snap out of my “current” feminism anytime soon, I’ll be sure to let you know). ;-)

In the meantime, allow me to give you a brief summary of the pushback to my virginity posts: 

1. Juicy Ecumenism–a website affiliated with The Institute of Religion and Democracy (The IRD)– –posted a piece mocking post-evangelical bloggers. The official Twitter feed for The IRD mentioned me and so, I figured the mocking post was roasting me.

2. However, the pseudonymous author later left a comment saying he wasn’t writing about me. He was writing about…Ann Voskamp. Which was even more confusing because I’m pretty sure Ann is not post-evangelical. She is evangelical. Also? She doesn’t wear hipster glasses. BUT I DIGRESS.

3. And then, yesterday, The Gospel Coalition critiqued me (and the other brave, Christian women who wrote similar posts) for our flawed ‘underlying complaint.’ According to The Gospel Coalition, our underlying complaint “seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret.

So, I have some feelings about all this. (Oops. I said the “f” word. Feeeeeelings. Excuse me for a moment while I lay aside my irrational, lady-emotions and put on my lady-brain. Don’t worry, this change of clothing will be ENTIRELY MODEST, ba ha ha)

Here goes:

  1. Regarding the satirical post mocking post-evangelical bloggers: writing a mocking post under a pseudonym is cowardly. Even though the author later clarified the post wasn’t about me (so why was my name tagged in the tweet?), that didn’t make it OK. Ann Voskamp is a friend of mine. If you’re going to roast real people then have the guts to do it under your real name. 
  2. Regarding The Gospel Coalition: the underlying complaint of my virginity posts was NOT a demand that Christians accept “different decisions without critique or regret.Dear Gospel Coalition, if you’re gonna critique my position, at least be honest about my position (pun! pun!). In fact, NONE of the virginity posts I’ve read in the last week (Preston offers a nice round-up list here) have called for “accepting different decisions w/o critique or regret.” The very title of The Gospel Coalition post is misleading! NONE of us are advocating ‘commitment-free’ sex. Good grief.
  3. What we ARE rejecting is a culture of mass shaming, making a public example of God’s precious children and scaring them with fearful rhetoric. 
  4. What we ARE calling to light are the harmful practices and behaviors of evangelical purity culture. We are doing this by sharing our personal stories about how we’ve been affected by the guilting, shaming and public spectacle-making of purity culture. As we share our stories, we experience freedom. As we share our stories, we release shame. Freedom in Christ IS freedom from shame and THAT was the message of our virginity posts.
  5. Furthermore, the women who began this conversation are all Christian women. I, for one, am a married mother of five. I am a Catholic Christian. I believe All The Things. But somehow I apparently approve of ‘commitment-free’ sex? Um, NO. If my kids tried to use that logic on me I’d be all: go get your little lying butt to Confession right this minute!
  6. What this means is that The Gospel Coalition is intentionally attempting to change the conversation AWAY from harmful methods and practices and is inventing an entirely different conversation. Straw man, anyone? Er, straw-lady?
  7. It is such a bizarre conclusion that I can only wonder at the motivation. Was The Gospel Coalition post really about defending traditional Biblical beliefs or was it about publicly shaming, silencing and dismissing the women who were brave enough to speak up about their abusive, personal experiences? SUMFIN SMELLS ROTTEN IS ALL I’M SAYIN’.
  8. No, seriously:
  9. By accusing us of trying to change traditional Christian beliefs, The Gospel Coalition proves it’s not interested in hearing about harmful behaviors within the Christian community but instead, has invented a conversation of its own wherein they–the Gospel Coalition–bring all the women into line by accusing them of aberrant theology. 
  10. Now, where have I seen such dismissive/silencing tactics before? Hm. Oh my frail little lady-brain must be failing me again. Maybe I should just go home and ask my husband….
  11. Quoth the husband: “Elizabeth, I’m proud of you.”
  12. WHAT UP.
  13. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must needs go put on my Red Rahab lipstick and have lots of
  14. committed
  15. Catholic
  16. sex.
  17. (Hipster glasses not included).
  18. And all the people said……..

Love is a…choice?

A few months after we were married, church leadership “strongly encouraged” us to attend a marriage workshop. Frankly, attendance wasn’t optional. To maintain our good standing in church, we were more or less required to attend these workshops. And participate (which was code for: take lots of notes, be enthusiastic! and never, ever ask a question that challenged the speaker’s ideas).

I hated these workshops. They gave me panic attacks because the message we heard was always the same: Love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. Love isn’t about passion or attraction. It’s about sacrifice. Your feelings will lead you astray. Follow God’s will and feelings will follow! Control your feelings. If it feels good, it’s probably sinful! Whatever you do, don’t trust your feelings!

Time and again I’d sit through these lectures while the workshop leader hammered his point into us. Love isn’t a feeling! Love is a choice!

Looking back, I can see how harmful it was to divorce love from feeling. I understand the intention was good–many Christians have felt the need to offer a corrective against a feelings-only approach to love and marriage. But I believe that corrective has gone too far and resulted in unintended, tragic consequences.

The first negative consequence was a breakdown of communication. Since I wasn’t allowed to feel what I felt or even admit that I felt something outside the “Approved Range of Emotions,” I found myself totally silenced. I literally could not even find the words to describe what I was experiencing because I was scared. I knew that if I said I felt confused, worried, fearful or angry (feelings that were DEFINITELY outside the approval zone) it was the same as confessing my lack of self-control/sinful attitude/rebellious spirit. And even if I did work up the courage to express what I was feeling, I was told “you shouldn’t be feeling that way.”

In other words, there was no way to say what I felt–or even feel what I felt–without being punished for it.

The second negative consequence was that I truly began to believe my husband didn’t really love me and/or that I was inherently unlovable. I mean, I knew he loved me. But I didn’t feel it. There was a huge disconnect. As long as love stayed up in an ivory tower making highly-intellectual pronouncements about love being a DECISION of the MIND!, a fulfillment of DUTY! and a KEEPING OF THE VOWS!–I could not connect. I tried. Oh, how I tried. But something was missing.

And in related news, do you have any idea how difficult it is for a woman to achieve orgasm during sex if there is very little emotional connection? I mean, sure. I could achieve orgasm in a manually-operated, strictly-business, DOING MY DUTY kind of way. I could have sex “by the book.” But by squashing my emotions (love isn’t attraction, it’s sacrifice!), sex just seemed like a lot of mechanical work. We started having better, more intimate, emotionally-connected sex once I was all: MATT! I’M ATTRACTED TO YOU! I HAVE FEEEEEELINGS FOR YOU! And he was all: I’M ATTRACTED TO YOU! And then we were both like: OH! IT’S OK TO ENJOY THIS!

Even after we left the cult, it took me years of therapy to finally acknowledge the importance of my feelings, especially in the bedroom.

This constant disconnection led to the third and worst consequence of all: I became deeply, horribly depressed. I wanted to die. In fact, dying looked like a blessed relief. Dying meant an end to the constant pain of living without feelings of love. I really thought something was terribly wrong with me–spiritually, morally and physically. I mean, what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t just BELIEVE and make a DECISION OF THE WILL and CHOOSE to love? It seemed to work for everybody else! WHY couldn’t I just get with the program? Was there some sort of unconfessed sin in my life? Had God maybe predestined me for Hell?

It has taken me nearly ten years and countless hours of therapy to undo the damage of ignoring, suppressing, shaming and denying my human emotions. Quite honestly, our marriage was saved because we both started being honest and accepting of our emotions.

What I have learned is that when it comes to love, separating feelings of love from actions of love is a false dichotomy. We are human beings, we are not disembodied spirits. Our feelings and emotions are just as much a part of us as is our mind, will and intellect. And it is dangerous to compartmentalize, separate and shut-down ANY part of our humanness.

I’ve also learned that loving actions don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are sourced from loving feelings. Yes, it’s important to behave lovingly even if we don’t feel loving. However, to say that love isn’t a feeling AT ALL but ONLY an action is to unintentionally degrade the importance of loving feelings. It is the kind of teaching that falsely elevates the importance of the mind over the importance of our God-given human emotions.

Love is feeling AND action.

Love is passion AND sacrifice.

Love is attraction AND commitment.

Love is an adjective AND a verb.

Love is word AND deed.

Love isn’t JUST a choice.
Love is also a feeling. 

Purity Culture Fallout: “I wanted to die because I had ruined ‘God’s plan for my life’”

This weekend I read through your stories about the harmful effects of purity culture. I found myself nodding, laughing and weeping. For many years I felt very alone in my struggle with sexuality and the purity culture. That has all changed and I can’t thank you enough for so bravely honoring me with your stories. I learned so much and I hope you, too, felt a sense of relief and community.

I want to highlight a few of these stories because I think they are almost archetypal of purity culture—representing a common experience of purity culture fallout.

These are our real stories. I can only hope the church starts listening……

: :

I had bought fully into the myth that sex would be Wonder And Delight as long as you keep everything in the package until the wedding day, and that was about seventeen million miles from the truth.

: :

While I was supposed to stand proud because I had mastered my desires and maintained my white knuckle grip on my virginity, I was ashamed, confused, and insecure about the sudden shift in our relationship. One moment it was forbidden and defiling and impure, but a few hours in a white dress and I was supposed to suddenly feel free and open and wildly passionate?

: :

No one talked to my husband or I about it beforehand ever. He thought it was like the movies, where foreplay is optional or only lasts a couple of seconds. No one told him or me that going for it before the female is ready can cause actual pain and physical trauma. The poor guy was baffled and wanted to take me to the emergency room. I cried for an hour and thought God was punishing me, a virgin, for not being “pure enough”.

: :

I can highly identify with many of the stories here; I have my own sad marital sexual problems. The issue with using Catholic teaching as the “answer” is that the teaching doesn’t recognize or even care to look at the real problems of intimacy that are affected by sexual abuse, guilt, rape, sexual confusion, previous sexual relationships, sexual misinformation, and God knows what else. People deserve to have these often scary and debilitating issues dealt with PRIOR to having children. In a way, it’s the process of being open to your own life and the new life you have with your spouse before you can be open to another life.

: :

I grew up in the church, read every book about waiting/purity that I could find. I still ended up having sex before I got married, with a married man at that. Here’s the deal-I think we need to discuss the issue of purity but within the context of full discipleship, not as a separate entity.

: :

I was so sick of feeling that my worth as a young woman had to do only with the condition of my body and nothing to do with my mind or spirit. If my future husband thought the greatest, most precious gift I could give to him was an intact hymen, then I wanted nothing to do with him. I think abstinence is good. I wish I had been a virgin when I met my husband. I’m not sorry for rejecting that dehumanizing attitude, though.

: :

I had a purity ring and I was raped the day after I recieved it. I almost married the guy because I was told nobody would want me and after growing up in the church it was easy to believe this. Once I got married it took forever to not feel guilty about married sex. Then he had an affair. I was told I needed to have more sex (I did the whole time during the affair to try to win him back). I healed and learned and grew and got grace. Then I got remarried and really learned that things can be good. I wonder how my life would have been different had I believed I could talk about what happened to me.

: :

I was raised a Mormon, and purity, virginity, chastity, and virtue were all equal qualities. I was molested, and according to my leaders after I told, I should have told the first moment he touched me. I was 7 when he first touched me, and 13 when I told. He abused me for two years, then we moved. He was not a member, and my parents didn’t press charges. He was a good ole boy, and I was expected to simply move on. At 21, I was raped. I never reported it because I assumed it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter as a kid, why should it matter as an adult? When I did tell (a year and a half later), tge first response was, why did it take so long to tell? Second, what were you wearing? Third, well, you shouldn’t have opened the door.

: :

Pastors say: “Oh, the sex you’ll have! It’ll be amazing! Look around at all the married couples here – they’re all having incredible sex!”. They do it to make the waiting seem worth it. So sexually, yeah, you’re supposed to go from nought to sixty in a day. I had a friend who was a virgin and was marrying a virgin (I think). She was certain that on their wedding night, they’d just leap on each other with pure animal lust (these people who’d only ever kissed). Turned out that he felt guilty for ‘robbing her of her innocence’, and she needed stitches.

: :

I’m 21, and God brought me the love of my life. My best friend. And we blew it. What I’m struggling with now, is yes, our mutual loss of virginity, but the feeling of impending doom that I’ve always had preached at me, that our relationship will fizzle out because of one mistake. We are dealing with this mistake, the toll it will inevitably take on our future, the possibility of pregnancy, and we are happy to be walking through it together.

: :

I wanted to die so many times because I had ruined “God’s plan for my life” by my responsiveness to a man’s attention. It drove me into deep depression. And yet I kept going back because I just wanted to be loved. And he kept taking me back because he just wanted to be loved, too.

Virginity: New & Improved!

Yes, I was a virgin on my wedding day. Then again, I was only 20. Yes, remaining a virgin until my wedding day saved me from some romantic heartbreak. Then again, I’ve had other heartbreaks. Yes, chastity is special. Then again, so are lots of virtues. Except, as a 20 year old bride, I thought virginity was extra-extra special and would win me lots of special prizes like: a happily ever after marriage.

It took me a long time to realize I idolized virginity. I kept saying I was just promoting virtue and chastity and purity! Nothing wrong with pushing purity, right? Nothing wrong with Being Good!

Like other Christians, I talked about the “sacrifice” of abstinence. There were princess-themed books about saving our first kiss. Some of us wore purity rings and made pledges to our Daddies not to have sex until we’re married.

Ultimately, we implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.

I understand why we do this. Christians are alarmed by what we see as a sexually permissive society. America no longer seems to share our values. This scares us. The less sacred sex seems to the broader culture, the more sacred we insist on making it among fellow Christians.

The intention might be good but over-emphasizing the specialness of virginity has unintended, harmful consequences.

We start by making ridiculous promises to our daughters. We tell them that “sexual purity” is a guarantor of a more intimate married sex life. We tell them that if they “lose” their purity, they will never really get it back. Oh, yes. They can be forgiven. But. You know. They’re damaged goods.

Christians say that the world objectifies women through immodest dress and a permissive sexual ethic. However, by idolizing sexual purity and preoccupying ourselves with female modesty and an emphasis on hyper-purity, Christians actually engage in reverse objectivization. 

Yes, we Christians say, we believe in the inherent dignity of all human life. But we especially believe in it if that human life is virginal, wears a purity ring and bleeds on her wedding night.

This is harmful and, dare I say, idolatrous.

Virtue is self-evident. It is virtuous simply because it is virtue.

Virtue doesn’t require a bunch of after-market purity rings and virginity pledges to make it more awesome. Virtue can’t be improved upon.

There is no such thing as New & Improved Virginity.

Whenever we seek to improve upon virtue, we are actually creating an idol. Furthermore, by elevating virginity to the ethereal realms of unicorns and angels, we place an unfair burden upon the shoulders of real, human beings.

And that’s what concerns me the most. The New & Improved Virginity places a heavy weight of shame upon women—even those who are virgins.

I was a virgin and I didn’t feel “pure enough”  because I’d kissed a couple boys before my husband. I was a virgin and I felt horribly defiled because I’d discovered this crazy, secret thing called masturbating. I was a virgin and I was disappointed to realize that my ‘sacrifice’ didn’t automatically result in a happily ever after marriage.

I was a virgin and I felt superior to “damaged” women. The purity culture showed no compassion for me so I had no compassion for myself or women who had “chosen” to “give away” their virtue.

So, here’s the thing. I absolutely reject the idolizing and fetishizing of virginity.

I refuse to sit down with my daughter and have a Purity Talk because I have this thing called a relationship with her. We talk everyday. Boys and sex and romantic relationships come up as casual topics, in the midst of daily, real-life together.

It would be just plain awkward—not to mention, harmful and distasteful—to make a whole scene out of it complete with marching bands, purity rings, pledges, purity balls and whatever else. 

And anyway, my daughter is inherently precious simply because she exists. Her worth and dignity as a human being have NOTHING to do with what she does or doesn’t do. Yes, we talk about virtue. But mostly, we live it. And when we mess up we have compassion for our humanity.

We are human. We are worthy. We are not ashamed.

What was YOUR experience with purity culture?
Did it have an impact on your married sex life?
How do YOU talk about sex and relationships with YOUR kids?
ANONYMOUS COMMENTS OK! 

 please read my followup post: Am I being soft on sin?

Giving our men their balls back? How old-school misogyny is still thriving among Christians.

Old-school misogyny is alive and well. Except now it’s dressed in hip clothing. It probably blogs. It probably gets its ideas from books rife with harmful gender stereotypes. And it probably uses edgy language like “giving our men their balls back…one day at a time.” OK, see. Let’s stop right there. I have questions.

  1. If you’re gonna give the balls back, why do it one day at a time?
  2. Why not give BOTH balls back on the SAME day?

I also need an explanation for this statement: “The Love & Respect book had a lot of sexist stereotypes about women but hey! Let’s talk about how awesome this book is!”

Well, that’s a paraphrase. Here’s the real quote:

I’m not going to promote or bash this book… it had some good points that have been eye opening and some HUGE stereotypes that made me crazy mad.

You know what makes me crazy SAD? I get so discouraged when, instead of refuting those HUGE, harmful stereotypes, Christian women promote those ideas by asserting that We Women–and I quote–”have essentially castrated our men.”

Well, thank goodness we haven’t literally castrated our men, amen? Because, ew. Also, messy.

My real problem, here, is that harmful books like these are still popular in Christian circles. What REALLY breaks my heart is that women who are sincerely trying to improve their marriages fall prey to harmful teaching mainly because the most popular Christian books on marriage are harmful!

Heck, this book has spawned Love & Respect-themed retreat$! There are workbook$!

*sigh*

Is this book really about helping people?

Because here’s the thing: any Christian book that claims to have discovered “THE SINGLE GREATEST SECRET to a successful marriage”  is highly suspect. It makes all my fundamentalist triggers go on high alert. It’s formulaic! If you follow steps 1-2-3, you, too, can have a Successful Marriage!

I mean, dude. How did couples ever manage to stay married before this book was published? THEY DIDN’T KNOW THE SINGLE GREATEST SECRET!

Just in case you’re wondering, the Single Greatest Secret for Marriage Success is that women need unconditional love and men desperately need unconditional respect. Yes, men desperately neeeeeeeed respect. It’s in the title. Love & Respect: the love she most desires, the respect he desperately needs.

I don’t know about you, but a man who desperately needs anything from me is also highly suspect. I don’t like neediness. Neither does my therapist. She has this fancy word for it: co-dependent.

Also, what is unconditional respect? To me, that sounds like a huge loophole for tolerating abuse. Like, hey, woman. NO MATTER HOW BAD I TREAT YOU, YOU MUST RESPECT ME!

Why is respect gender exclusive, anyway? Women need respect, too, yes? I mean, are we calling Aretha Franklin a liar??

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me! 

Ahem. I digress.

Point: I have a hard time believing there’s any Biblical support for “unconditional respect.” I COULD be wrong. Feel free to correct, exhort and rebuke me in the comment section. I will listen. Or delete you. Depends on whether you desperately neeeeed me to respect you. Mwah-ha-ha.

Multiple reviewers have noted that the book is ‘incredibly sexist“. So, why are Christians still propagating this stuff?

I just don’t get it.

Oh, wait. I do.

It’s all Eve’s fault!

 

A Husband’s Guide To Getting Laid (by his wife, OF COURSE! sheesh, what kind of blog do you think this IS?!)

While I’m doing my best to be all sparkly and network-y at the blog conference, I’ve asked KC of “Some Wise Guy” to guest post for me. KC is a legit dude and makes me laugh. I likes his straight-up, manly-man humor. So, before you ladies get all inflammatory on his ass, just do as I do and chuckle a little. Men are….different, y’know? xo. EE.

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If husbands could summarize how we feel about sex in one word it would be… more. We want more sex with our wives.

And why not?
 It’s naked, legal, healthy and God made it fun. (Thank you, Jesus!)

But there’s a catch: sex is a different experience for men than it is for women. I’ve heard it said that women tend to be more emotionally and mentally stimulated while men are more visually stimulated. This is due to the fact that we men simply don’t have enough blood in our bodies to form a complex thought when our beloved is beside us wearing nothing but her birthday suit.

The challenge for men is that, while we want more sex with our wives, sometimes we don’t know how to make our dreams a reality.

So, here are 5 foolproof tips I dare you to try:

  1. Do chores. Say what? KC, have you been watching Friends reruns? (Actually, I own the entire series on DVD). Women are mental multitaskers. If you don’t want her thinking about the garbage while you’re trying to put on the moves, remember to take out the trash before it starts overflowing. Bonus points if you do chores without being asked.
  2. Buy “just because” flowers (or candy). Of course, it’s expected that you’d shower your wife with tokens of affection on major holidays, her birthday and your anniversary (if you forget those, get ready to turn in your balls). But if you really want to make her swoon, pick up some of her favorite flowers or candy on a random Tuesday and write “just because” in the card. You can thank me later.
  3. Make out (without expectation). Every time you kiss her, she shouldn’t have to wonder if sex is all you want. I’m not saying we men would argue against that, but ya know what? Sometimes it’s really nice to just sit on the couch and kiss my sweetheart. $5 says your wife won’t complain and it might lead to more “opportunity.”
  4. Go on dates. Wives work, cook, clean and are beautiful to boot. Show your appreciation by taking her out on the town for a good time. Whether that’s a peaceful candlelight dinner or a karaoke at a dive bar, treat her special.
  5. Say “I love you” out loud and often. Women need to know in their minds and hearts that their man loves them–and he’s not just saying he loves her to get her into bed. Husbands should communicate their love through action and words.

Now, before the comments explode into flames berating me as a chauvinist pig let me ask the ladies a question:

If your husband..

•                Did chores around the house without being asked

•                Brought home your favorite flowers on a random Thursday

•                Kissed you long and hard without tearing off your clothes

•                Took you out on fancy and fun dates

•                Said “I love you” and acted it out daily….

would you want to jump him more often?

How to be a good listener

It’s rare to find good listeners–especially among extroverts. This is why most of my closest friends are introverts. Not only do I appreciate their natural listening abilities, but I enjoy the challenge of coaxing them out of their shells. Introverts are often misunderstood and under-appreciated because they don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves. But there is huge reward in making them feel comfortable enough to open up.

For me, getting an introvert to open up is like finding buried treasure!

You can learn so much about people by listening to them talk. Everyone likes to talk about their favorite subject–which is usually themselves. Even when they’re not directly talking about themselves, if you listen closely you can connect the dots back to them; ie. what motivates them, what scares them, what excites them, what they’re passionate about.

Here are a few tips about how to be a good listener:

    Ask their name and then REMEMBER it! The most common question whose answer is often immediately forgotten is: “What’s your name?” Have you ever noticed how five minutes later you can’t remember what they told you? This is why I make an intentional effort to hear myself ask their name and then give that person an emotional and/or categorical tag in my mind to help me remember it. I never forget a name if I’ve made sure to truly pay attention while I’m asking the question.
    Make others comfortable through small talk. The friendliest way to get to know someone is through small talk. It’s non-threatening. It’s general. Small talk helps defuse awkwardness among strangers and it puts everyone at ease. Small talk is the doorway to conversation. If you can throw in a little self-deprecating humor and make someone laugh, all the better. Through small talk, you can pick up cues from people and use these cues to lead you to an engaging conversation.

    Ask them questions about who they are. Once you’ve had a couple of small-talk exchanges, it’s appropriate to ask what they do. Express interest. If someone loves what he/she does, you’ll know immediately because they will elaborate with enthusiasm. If their job isn’t what excites them, listen for cues in their elaboration. Sometimes they’ll hint at their true passion which opens the doorway for you to ask another question.

    Ask about their passion. Even if someone is interested in something totally unfamiliar to me, I am always intrigued–especially if they are passionate about it. Once, on a flight to Chicago, I listened to the guy next to me explain his entire career as a bouncer for a big casino. I’m not a gambler and hate Las Vegas, but I LOVED listening to this guy tell his me what his job was like. The more interested I was, the more open and interesting he became. It was a virtuous cycle. By the time I walked off the plane, I knew more about gambling and Las Vegas than if I’d read an entire book on the subject.

The last trick to being a good listener is reciprocation. If the person you’re talking with feels like you’re just pumping them for information, they’ll be suspicious. What are you trying to sell? Do you really care? This is why it’s important to give AND receive in a conversation. Once they have shared–you share. Or, maybe you make it safe for them by sharing something first.

Last of all, a good listener doesn’t have an agenda. A good listener is simply there to be there. And that is the greatest gift of all.