I’ve been intending to write about my sex-positive beliefs for some time, and this post has been precipitated and sponsored by STDcheck.com, an organization dedicated to safe and healthy sexuality by providing private, affordable tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Their work is important! Furthermore, anything I write here is a personal position and recollection of my experiences–not a reflection of my employer(s).
It’s wonderful, gross, beautiful, entirely underwhelming, and pretty fucking great.
Up until a certain point in my adolescent development, I prided myself on my relative “purity” to that of my classmates. This, of course, was complicated by my confusing thoughts and feelings directed at male peers, late-night internet searches, and varied experiences throughout my pubescent years–still, I’d never slept with a girl nor provided myself any opportunity to.
My virginity was in tact, whatever that meant.
When my awareness of my queerness expanded in college through the painful introduction of that nebulous concept we call love, I realized things were pretty dang complicated for me. And after I began dating the boy who would become my husband, the hard truth made itself known:
I SPENT MY WHOLE LIFE GUARDING MYSELF FROM EXPERIENCES I WOULD NEVER HAVE NOR WANT.
My first kiss happened in my 2005 Nissan Sentra, somewhere on the edge of the Zone 5 parking lot up the mountain from East Campus. We casually watched LUPD officers drive to and fro, noting parked vehicles in pursuit of errant youths in their fits of institutionally repressed passion.
Truth be told, he missed my mouth entirely, but his heart was in the right place, and after a few awkward tries to get it right, I formed an amateur understanding of kissing: It was simultaneously disgusting and unquestionably the most exciting thing to have happened to me in quite some time.
Within a few days, I understood what it meant to make out with someone.
Within a few weeks, well, I understood more.
We would make excuses to leave campus, driving to what would eventually be his post-campus apartment to “watch movies” and avoid student oversight. In the throes of love, I found myself checking what I’d thought at the door and embracing what I felt in its stead. It was only on other side of these experiences that I was reintroduced to my obsessive thoughts, abrasive reminders that I had work to do in eradicating shame.
WHAT FELT RIGHT AND GOOD IN THE MOMENT LOOPED INTO A CYCLE OF DOUBT–THE FEAR OF HAVING IRREVERSIBLY CROSSED A LINE.
Things were moving fast, faster than I could rationalize my way out of shame-filled thought-patterns. By this point, I was far beyond the deepest wells of faith deconstruction. I was relatively progressive in almost every capacity, but this relationship and the experiences I had were beginning to confront me with questions I hadn’t answered yet, namely the simple questions whose premises were problematic: “What is virginity?” and “Is a Christian sexual ethic necessarily dependent on a monogamous relationship (same-gender relationships included)?”
For 21 years of life, the answer to the first question seemed easy: not having sexual intercourse; the second was an obvious “of course!” However, when we began seriously asking each other whether we were ready to go “all the way”, I had arrived at a confusing place, reckoning with a history of misgivings about sex.
Sex had always been a bit undesirable for me. Given that the frame of reference with which I lived was defined by heteronormativity, I didn’t find the act itself compelling, and I chalked that up to my mature spirituality. Rather, it was just that my idea of sex as requiring a penis and vagina was simple, immature, and biased towards the former.
I had a lot to learn.
In my head, I imagined and longed for experiences with the guys around me, having convinced myself that this was a normal part of every boy’s experience of puberty, and not indicative of anything for which I should be concerned. It took some time for me to realize my experiences and thoughts consistently centered men. And trust me: I had a variety of mental procedures I could follow to rationalize those late-night searches.
THOUGH MY ETHIC REGARDED THESE THINGS AS SIN, I’D CONVINCED MYSELF THEY WEREN’T REALLY THAT BAD BECAUSE THEY HAD TO DO WITH MEN–NOT WOMEN.
My queer sex education primarily arrived through Tumblr and your standard issue of pornographic distributors. I don’t remember when I began to understand what sex looks like for two persons with penises, but I remember always understanding that this was, indeed, what I wanted, and having finally arrived in a comfortably affirming belief system, I thought it a good and noble thing to want.
It would be some time before I would realize that what we had, in fact, been doing is still considered “sex”, and that the nebulous category of sexual activity includes a wide array of possibilities.
My naïveté notwithstanding, I knew I needed to find some solid ground for saying yes to the inevitable.
Any position I take needs epistemic justification, and what better subject is there to epistemologically define than sex? (As someone Twitter on pointed out, I’m an Enneagram 5 through and through.)
I sought counsel from the internet, as one does when asking thorny questions, and through some research, I discovered “A Lily Among the Thorns” by Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre. (Read it.) This outstanding, scholarly work posits an ethic of human sexuality derived from Liberation Theology, and through that lens, Dr. De La Torre frames a truly liberating ethic that demands mutuality, consent, vulnerability, and justice. Over the course of a week, I read diligently what he had to say, and I found myself intuiting his polemic with a degree of gratitude.
His work was informing and reforming my ethic from the ground up, centering the oft-overlooked virtue that precipitated my own radical reframing of faith: Justice.
SEX IS AN ISSUE OF JUSTICE.
We don’t just need to be sexually liberated, but sex itself must also be liberated. Whether from patriarchy, racism, or heterosexist beliefs, there are any number of ways wherein sex is imprisoned to dangerous ways of thinking and being in this world. The ways many of us in conservative environments are raised to perceive sex and sexuality are particularly dangerous for women, perpetuating psychological and spiritual trauma at the expense of a healthy, liberated view of self.
Intractable to what many call a “biblical sexual ethic” is a particularly vicious manifestation of patriarchy, believing that the bodies and sexual autonomy of women are subject to the will of men. If you remember nothing else, let it be this: Virginity is a social construct historically leveraged against women by men, objectifying women whilst precluding non-straight persons from believing in their own sexual autonomy.
At its core, a normative “traditional sexual ethic” is a coded embrace of systemic injustice.
Sex is and always was an issue of justice.
Through this dive into the fundamental questions of liberation and sexuality, I began to understand the language and paradigm around which I had developed a sexual ethic was intrinsically sexist, heterosexist, often racist, and derived from a physiological lie.
Fairly quickly, my sexual ethic–should you even call it that–was deconstructed. In its place was a liberated sexual ethic, a freedom to live as I was made to live (and enjoy it, too!).
I became a sex positive Christian, one wherein the liberating Good News of Jesus Christ empowered an embrace of my full humanity as a sexual being, one with boundaries and consent, a just and generous expression of an integrated self.
SO, WHAT DID WE DO? WE HAD SEX.
And we had fun.
No divine judgment, no personal judgment–it was a learning experience and certainly different than I expected. Having since gotten married, I can confidently say this: I have no regrets. Those things many of us grew up believing, that sex before a heterosexual marriage would hurt us in some way, hurt our partners, or reduce the meaning of marriage–it was all a lie.
When you honor the body of another and they honor yours, when you participate in the weird, wonderful thing that is sex in all its many forms, you’re doing what is good and right. Insofar as you honor your boundaries and those of another, you’re participating in our collective liberation.
I’m here to tell you something fairly liberating: If you’re on the fence about sex or living in a cycle of shame, take stock of what you’re feeling . Are you violating your own boundaries? Is someone else violating yours? How are you respecting your feelings? Is your sexuality something you deem good? Is your autonomy worth celebrating Work through these things. Talk about them! Don’t bottle up your shame–that’s an unjust way of treating yourself. Make space for your questions, your insecurities, and live in the flow of your own goodness.
I believe in a liberated sexuality, one that elevates humanity and imperfection in the name of shared experiences. Sometimes sex is good, sometimes it’s not, and you’ll probably make some mistakes, but I’m not here to outline a thorough ethic of human sexuality: I’m here to tell you that your sexuality is good.
A Christian sexual ethic can be fully liberated and inclusive even while individuals maintain varying levels of boundaries. Whether you personally would prefer to wait until a monogamous partnership or you consensually engage with multiple partners, your boundaries are your own! Love them, respect them, and do the same for others.
An ethic of shame hurts you–it hurt me, and it took some work to find my way toward sexual wholeness.
Jesus promised life abundant–life that is full, rich, and satisfying. Your sexuality is a part of that! Have sex. Masturbate. Do all the things safely, healthily, and consensually. Your faith compels you to honor your body as a temple! Keep up with your own sexual health with services like STD Check, research proper sex education, and find avenues whereby your concerns can be addressed. Respect your partner(s) enough to urge they do likewise.
Sex is altogether simple and endlessly complex–don’t let the injustice of shame steal your fucking joy.