This is not a story of having much resolved as of yet … I feel I am still at the beginning. I just know what I was taught and how I was taught it really messed with me. At 27, I have never dated, I am a virgin, I have hardly ever masturbated, never looked at pornography, know very little about my body and virtually nothing about a man’s body – beyond the obvious. I am a bit embarrassed about this, which is why I am using an istock picture that looks a lot like me. Maybe I’ll get brave and change it someday.
My parents grew up in conservative Christian homes and sex outside of marriage, pornography and masturbation were sins and had no place in a person’s life. Because of this all forms of sexual material from print magazines, TV shows, to movies were not allowed in our home as I was growing up. All crass language was prohibited and all references to sex were immediately thwarted. The only exception to this was my younger brother on his thirteenth birthday was apparently taken away on a camping trip with my dad and given the ‘birds and the bees’ talk. My sister and I were never given that talk – it was as if we had no sexual desire, no sexuality at all that needed any instruction. I am not exactly sure who the boys were to someday have sex with, but apparently it was not important to educate us girls.
Silence is not silent however. This lack of information and overt avoidance of the topic communicated to me that sex and bodies were shameful and any curiosity in that direction was wrong. From very early on, I knew on a visceral level, don’t tell. I remember playing with my cousin at five or six, pretending with our dolls how mommies and daddies have sex and then showing each other our privates. I remember being afraid of getting caught. Much later, probably around fifteen or so, I friend gave me a novel that had a sex scene in it about a man touching a woman’s vagina and her liking the feeling. It gave me a tingly feeling in my body that felt exciting and good. It also made me curious about my own body. I liked what I began to feel and thus began my own exploration. A few months into this new behavior I discovered that this had a term and my church saw it as a horrible sin against God. Even tho I had come across this in an innocent way, I felt horrible guilt and shame. This began a cycle of masturbating, feeling horrible shame, praying to stop, and then doing it again. I felt terrible about myself and thought I was the only girl to do such a disgusting thing. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that this is a very common experience for most youth – both girls and boys as they grow up.
I have grown up afraid of my feelings of sexual desire - afraid I was bad for having them - afraid that if I let someone in too close that my love for them would make these feelings so strong that I would want to be sexual and then I would really hate myself. I have kept men away. I have kept intimacy away. I have kept learning about relationships and learning about myself in relationship away. This fear of sex, of sexual desire, of disappointing God, of screwing up, of not being good enough, has kept me stuck so now at 27 I still feel like I am a 14 year old girl – still needing to learn how to date, how to learn about a man, how to be intimate, how to let someone get close to me, what I like, what I don’t like.
Frankly I am angry that I did not get the education and guidance I needed. I am angry that I spent 13 years being ashamed of who I was and what I felt and wanted instead of knowing I was normal and being given the tools I needed to learn how to do relationships, romance and intimacy. It is only now that I am reading everything I can about sex education and God’s design for intimacy and sex. A couple years ago a girlfriend sent me Tina Schermer Sellers’ article Caught Between the Sheets – How an Abstinence Only Ideology Hurts Us. It named my experience and I finally could see what had happened to me and how much healing I had before me. I have a long road ahead but I am determined to reclaim this gift of sexuality - to allow myself to feel the full measure of loving myself and loving another emotionally, spiritually, and physically. God created it all - so it all must be good. I have to allow God to be big enough to help me find my way - even if I make a mistake along the way as I am learning. I have to trust God to guide me and help me learn. And I must trust the good people in my life to extend grace and help me learn how to know God’s love as I learn how to love myself and learn to love another. Eventually I know I will heal and grow.
Anonymous, Salem, Oregon
Tags: Shame, virginity, masturbation, no sex education