They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’d say the same goes for sex — we just don’t talk about it nearly as much. It’s really a shame we leave most conversations about sex behind closed doors or in the pages of Cosmo.
It’s all good if everyone’s been raised in a sex positive way, but most of us haven’t, and some of us have been genuinely repressed.
Whenever I write about sex, it’s interesting to see where other people disagree. One common response I get is that sexual repression doesn’t even exist today. Or that people need to grow up and figure out their own sex lives instead of simply believing whatever they were taught.
As if it's that easy.
I grew up so sexually repressed that I developed vaginismus and couldn’t consummate my two-and-a-half-year marriage. But I’m far from the only woman who was unprepared for sex.
In fact, I can still recall the big joke from That Touch of Mink — when Doris Day’s character tries to psych herself up to have sex with her love interest (Carey Grant), but she breaks out in a bad rash. The hotel doctor makes a comment about it being a common response for newlywed wives, and how women are so woefully unprepared for the wedding night.
In too many American circles, that's still true.
Sexual repression is alive and well.
Sure, a movie from the sixties might seem ancient, but we’re talking about the beginning of the sexual revolution… a time period that is still admonished by many religious leaders today.
Most church groups I attended growing up mirrored my mother’s beliefs about sex — sexual sin was the absolute worst sin of all, and that included premarital sex, homosexuality, or any remotely sexual behavior outside of marriage. It could even refer to a married couple talking about sex or playing dirty.
I’ve written before about how I was grounded for more than a year for kissing a boyfriend in his car when I was a junior in high school. Apparently I was a slut the minute my mother caught that kiss.
If you have never faced sexual repression for yourself, count yourself lucky, but don’t write it off as a thing of the past.
It’s got legs.
It’s not just for the “sheeple.”
People who haven’t witnessed sexual repression first-hand often cannot understand that it’s not just a matter of snapping out of it. Furthermore, those who struggle to shake off negative sexual connotations aren’t mere “sheeple” unable to think for themselves.
Americans in general seem to underestimate the power of indoctrination and thought reform. That’s why I appreciate the work of Robert Jay Lifton, who not only studies the thought reform of religious cults, but political tyrannies too.
Throughout his research, Lifton has found healthy, normal people — and even some health professionals — more than able to work for various cults and organizations despite the consequences. A belief in dangerous doctrine is hardly limited to those who “follow the crowd.”
Women, the Jezebels…
In most cases of sexual repression, women are viewed in a few demeaning ways. First, we’re the Jezebels hellbent on leading men astray. We are supposed to be beautiful enough for a man to want to marry us, but not so much that we’d inspire him to lust.
Women, the gatekeepers of purity…
If a man has impure thoughts about us? We are the ones who must answer what we were wearing, what we were doing, and if we were drawing unnecessary attention to our bodies. We are the gatekeepers of purity only because men cannot help themselves and are so stimulated by what they see.
Women, the damaged goods…
Those of us who’ve been sexually repressed by religion know only too well how a loose woman becomes damaged goods while a man who’s slept around a lot can still remain “marriage material” after sowing his wild oats.
Purity lessons typically entail crumpled flowers, used chewing gum, and lines of suitors who’ve all taken a piece of our hearts. As we’re warned against “cheating” on our future spouses, it’s a gendered shame. Men don’t want to “buy the cow when they can get the milk for free.” In some circles, bloodied sheets still matter on the wedding night as proof of a woman’s chastity.
Here, we’re still trying to be the kind of girl he takes home to meet the parents.
You can have healthy sex or “holy” sex.
Becoming more “sex positive” was no small task for me. My sexual education was significantly lacking when most issues came down to abstinence. Why talk about birth control when God wants us to be abstinent?
The word consent holds no power in a community of sexual repression. You’re either married or you’re not. And wives need to fill their husbands’ needs.
Sexual compatibility is a joke in these evangelical circles too. Again, men are granted much more leeway to explore and even experience sex on multiple occasions. Men are not referred to as being “used up” after one go.
Of course, communication is another huge hurdle in these purity first relationships. We go into them avoiding sex and the mere appearance of evil. These communities tell young people that they are going to have amazing sex lives simply if they have a single partner.
Sure, it’s easier to promise great sex upon having only one partner. So there are no talks about what actually makes a healthy sex life. But what happens when life happens? Spouses die, people divorce and remarry, couples fight about sex.
What then? More pat answers.
Sex without shame: the great rebellion.
It took a long time for me to get over all of the fear I was taught to have about sex. People outside the sexually repressive religious bubble don’t know just how deep those fears can go.
Good sex takes the ability to relax. And relaxation is pretty hard to achieve when you’ve been taught that sexual pleasure is a one-way ticket to hell.
It’s tough to talk about sexual repression, particularly since the topic’s been taboo for so long, but it’s the first step to healing from the whole damn thing.