Trigger Warning for Rape, Sexual Assault, and “Slut Shaming”
Earlier this week I talked about a quote from Elizabeth Smart that has received a lot of attention lately. In this quote, Smart talks about how some techniques for teaching abstinence that are rooted in shame can make it harder for rape victims to escape or share their stories. One technique she specifically mentioned was a teacher comparing sex to gum that someone has chewed up and spit out.
I talked earlier about how these types of messages bestow on people are abusive. They tell people who are not virgins (even those who lost their virginity via rape, because what say does a piece of chewing gum have? It doesn’t seem to matter that gum cannot consent to being chewed–it is still talked about as gross) that they are worthless, which gives abusive people a foothold for further abuse.
Today, I want to talk about a different angle that a Twitter friend, @beady_sea brought up. Yesterday, during a conversation about Elizabeth Smart, he tweeted, sarcastically…
“But as soon as you’re married you’ll LOVE chewing one piece of gum every day for your whole life.”
I found this really interesting, because I see this movement in churches/groups that use shaming language to describe premarital sex toward language that makes marital sex sound like, well, the best fucking thing since the invention of the cupcake. Yet, sex still means that you are “used,” and being “used,” according to this narrative, means that you have no value as a human being.
According to this narrative, when you have sex you become boring, less interesting (and less interested in sex), less beautiful and attractive.
So, if you are a piece of gum, and sex is like “letting” someone chew on you, what happens six months after your honeymoon? Do you lose your flavor? Does your spouse want to spit you out?
How can proponents of this narrative continue pretending that what they are doing is setting up young people for healthy marriages?
This narrative set up a view of sex as something that becomes less enjoyable over time, and a view of self in which one’s value diminishes with life experience. Mix this with another teaching popular in evangelical Christian culture, and you get a recipe for shame.
I’m thinking of teachings like those of popular Christian pastor Mark Driscoll, who believes that wives who “let themselves go” or “are not sexually available” to their husbands may lead to their husbands having affairs.
Not only does sex’s enjoyability diminish quickly, like the flavor in a piece of Fruit Stripes gum. Not only do women become progressively less valuable each time they have sex. But wives are expected to have sex with their husbands as often as possible, and still somehow remain valuable and beautiful, even though the messages they likely received growing up tell them (and their spouses) that this is impossible.
Women are told that sex makes them like a piece of flavorless gum, and then told that they may be partially at fault when their spouses decide to spit them out.
No one wins in purity culture, except the people who wish to use it to abuse, control, and cheat. Why do churches keep conflating it with gospel?