by The Polyphonist
Not long ago, I knew nothing about sex. Well, I “knew” that condoms failed frequently and have microscopic holes in them. I knew that if you had sex with someone, you would never be able to develop a trusting, loving relationship with anyone ever again. I knew that I wouldn’t have sex until I was married and that sex meant intercourse, and intercourse alone. I knew that guys wanted sex, and that girls didn’t, and that sex was basically steeped in coercion or trickery.
I grew up in a (can you guess?) highly conservative, highly religious environment. My dad was an evangelical Christian, my mother a Catholic. My dad’s “sex talk” with me was: “Don’t have sex until you’re married.” My mom’s was “I left a book on your bed.” (Good thing my dad never saw the book — it suggested that gay people had the right to love and marriage.) I attended a Catholic high school, and lived in an area so isolated I was not afforded the company of friends outside of these small, homogenous social circles. I had a few gay friends, but, bombarded on all sides by anti-gay rhetoric, I was unable to dialogue with them productively.
So when my first girlfriend was actively interested in sex, I didn’t know what to do. On a core level I wanted sex too, but faced with the opportunity, I found myself confronted by the beliefs I had grown up with. While no longer religious, I still asked such questions as, “Why would Judeo-Christian culture develop its specific notions of sex and sexuality if they were not, in some sense, correct?” (My speculation on this topic is far too long to fit in this newsletter.)
I could tell I was missing something, since my thinking was taking me in circles, offering no reliable answers. I needed external help. My girlfriend suggested I consult a friend. On a Post-It note, I listed everyone I knew who might be able to provide some guidance. I picked a ’09.
Over the next few weeks, the ’09 and I talked for hours. She told me some of her experiences, and what she had learned over the years: how primarily sexual relationships can be very rewarding, how she stays safe and how her fear of contracting an STI helps her stay safe, and more. Then she made a bold move: she sent me to a website intended to teach younger teens about sex. The website was Scarleteen.com.
In case you’re just skimming this newsletter:
PLEASE VISIT SCARLETEEN.COM.
I expected unintelligent authors, poor writing, trite advice for specific problems, and a generally flippant attitude towards sex. What I found changed my life.
I learned that sex and love are two entirely different things. Yes, bonding occurs during sex, but sex before marriage will not inherently condemn one to a life lacking intimacy, trust, and love with one’s future spouse. I learned that masturbation can be healthy both physically and emotionally. I learned that sex encompasses more than just intercourse — much more. I learned that open communication, and a lack of coercion, pressure, or deadlines regarding sexual activity can lead to a very fulfilling, equitable sexual relationship.
As I’m listing these ideas now, they all seem so simple, so obvious. Yet just a short time ago, none of them (except perhaps the last) was familiar to me. After only knowing of one view of sex for my entire life, these ideas were revolutionary. After years of repression, I finally heard the triumphant cheer of “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you!”, as author Dossie Easton once put it.
I spent days reading the articles. At home, on the train, at work. I couldn’t read enough. All of my notions of sex and sexuality were being challenged, and changed. I didn’t read and think, “well, I guess I should try to take these things to heart”, because I had already done so.: everything I read felt native to me, fully self-evident, but the haze of an imposed religion prevented me from seeing these ideas clearly.
I realized that the falsehoods propagated in sex-negative cultures (which I found conservative Christianity to be, in my case) are designed to be self-securing within that culture. If you’re told that having sex before you get married will doom your future marriage, and have no external evidence to the contrary, there is no escape from that idea. How could you possibly know that this is not true? I needed support from the outside. I needed someone to show me other options so that I could decide for myself, and what I chose based on my research and reflection could be entirely different from everyone else’s choice. I’m sure others could go through the same process and decide that abstinence was right for them, or BDSM, anything else in the spectrum of sexuality.
So. if you’re struggling with your ideas about sex, torn in some way, please, go read Scarleteen. The ideas presented therein won’t attempt to convince you to be cavalier — in fact, the “Sex-Readiness Checklist” article may help you be even safer, and not just with your body but with your emotions and even your finances. If you think your relationship might abusive — even if you have just the slightest doubt — please read Scarleteen’s “Blinders Off: Getting a Good Look at Abuse and Assault”. Or, if you’re about to start a new relationship, you will assuredly benefit from “Hello, Sailor! How to Build, Board, and Navigate a Healthy Relationship”.