“You’ll LOVE chewing one piece of gum every day for your whole life”

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…

Click for image source

“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?

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  • Marta L.

    Beautifully put, as always, Sarah.

    On your last line, not only do churches make a mistake in conflating this with the Gospel, they don’t seem to even realize how truly at odds the Gospel is. I’m not saying that premarital sex is a mistake, but even if it is – isn’t the whole *point* of the Gospel that we can move beyond our mistakes, start fresh? That our past misdeeds need not condemn us forever?

    I think I remember a little bit about God so loving the world that whosoever believes need not perish. Something like that.

    • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

      That’s another part of the whole mixed message bag they sell (sold) us! Losing your purity is horrible and you’ll never be the same ever and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life, but Jesus can make you a born-again virgin!

      That’s the price of a culture based on fear.

      • Marta L.

        Being a born-again virgin seems like a contradiction in terms to me, and also doesn’t cover people who have sex after becoming Christians. Sometimes I’m so glad I didn’t grow up in this culture – as a mainline protestant (lifelong Methodist speaking) I was taught the importance of monogamy and “waiting,” but was never sold the “once you have sex you’re garbage”/”sex within marriage will totally blow your mind” package. Plus I actually got sex ed that was, you know, educating about the realities of sex. It really makes me pity the women who grew up in this mindset.

      • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/ Dani Kelley

        Oh, this. So much this. I was still me afterwards, and that also confused the hell out of me.

        • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

          I felt like a horrible person and in many ways I treated my gf (whom I rushed into marriage with before we were ready) badly due in no small part to the whole shaming of sex outside marriage. I remember even referring to her as “used” by her ex-hubby. Thankfully, my friends set me straight on that.

          It’s just… there’s so much to unwrap. So much to unlearn for anybody under that teaching. It’s a mind-f**ker.

  • Christopher Williams

    Very smart analysis, Sarah. I look forward to your doctoral dissertation or your book, whichever comes first.

  • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/ Dani Kelley

    Those sorts of metaphors are so awful. And the disconnect between sex before marriage and sex after marriage was so strong for me. Strong enough that I spent part of my honeymoon sobbing in the fetal position because a) I wasn’t a virgin so I felt super guilty because that meant that my worth was gone, and b) sex still FELT the same, and I didn’t understand why. It’s not that it was bad – not at all. But there was no difference that I could tell. I just had a ring on my finger. I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was still “sinning.”

  • http://twitter.com/HadassahSukkot Jennifer Stahl

    I really hate that this is how people talk about sex and the Bible. It offers such a disconnect from what is really there. In bible-times, if someone had sex before marriage, they just got married. There was no shame in that. They understood that it’s hard to wait.

    It is really a radical cultural change in the West that began expecting everyone to wait until marriage before they had sex. In the upper classes, and even in Puritan culture, women weren’t married until they could prove their fertility. MOST marriages in Puritan country happened after a woman was well into her pregnancy. So… I really don’t understand this disconnect.

    I was raised in the purity culture and über-fundamentalism and I didn’t really get it then. I tried to internalize it, but it never really made sense with the Bible I was reading (and it’s the same one they have!).

    • steph

      and they got married at like 16. When, surprise-surpise, your hormones are racing. They sure as heck didn’t try and wait till their mid 20′s. Even in the 1900′s if you were female 25 and not married you were considered an ‘old maid’.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    i used to have nightmares, for YEARS after marrying, that something went wrong with our marriage license (cuz that’s what really makes marriage real, right?) and we weren’t officially married yet, so i had to move back in with my parents only my ‘not actually husband’ and i had been, ahem, acting married. and my parents were so mad at me and i was pretty much ruined for life and my husband left because he wasn’t actually ready for marriage…. it was a really bizzare but really stressful recurring dream. They mostly stopped 2 years ago ( that is, sometime after our second child, and this month is our five year wedding anniversary) but i occasionally still get them when i’m really depressed or sick. we had a no touch courtship, so virginity was a freaking huge deal…

    • sarahoverthemoon

      I know a lot of people who stressed out about sex even after getting married and would feel guilty for it, like they were still “sinning”

  • shadsieblue

    I was just poking around Patheos and found the new blog and my attention was
    drawn to this for whatever reason. Just the title and all the talk about
    gum-chewing reminded me of a cartoon from my childhood… which I found a clip
    of on Youtube: (Skip to the 3:27 mark) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-OXx8InX8A

    - a joke about a common, innocent childhood practice that maybe some of the
    fundamentalists are not aware of. Of course, now that I’ve seen gum-chewing as
    a metaphor for sex, I can never look at this episode of Tiny Toons again…

    I’m not really sure I have too much of an opinion, being an asexual, but
    I did once rant on my personal random-kitchen-sink-of-crap blog about society’s
    mentality about sex (mostly in defense of my apathy toward having sex), but I
    did speak of how the shame placed on females for having sex really hurt a friend
    fo mine in our high school days: http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2013/02/sex.html

    Other than that, I *really* like your banner. Robots and skulls! Especially
    the skulls… I paint them…

    http://www.senordwall.com/BoneArtSite/La_Casa_Calavera.html

    … Maybe I’ll just toddle back to Slacktivist… main blog I read here.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      I remember that episode of Tiny Toons! As soon as I saw that the video was Tiny Toons I knew which one you were pointing me to. :P

      Glad you enjoyed the banner.

  • springaldjack

    On twitter I commented that the “sell” of marriage in this system is based on marriage causing a fundamental change in human nature. What’s shocking is not that this is empirically unsupportable, but that they don’t even have a theology of the change that I’ve ever heard.

    It’s odd because they’ve recreated the medieval Christian suspicion of sex when it comes to premarital sex, but (probably because of Protestant history) can’t bring it to regarding marital sex as still pretty bad. Augustine famously considered acting on sexual desire as always sinful even in the context of Christian marriage.

    And it’s also weird because growing up Catholic there was plenty of talk about how pre-marital sex was sinful, but it really was just another sin, not something that inherently devalued you (at least if we mean heterosexual sex that didn’t lead to an abortion). I’m not at all saying the Catholic Church doesn’t teach harmfully about sex, but this pathology just seems so weird.

  • Bridget

    It seems like this is something my Gods (I’m Pagan) want me to work on, getting past the thoughts of “sex is a vile disgusting thing” because I keep seeing blog posts like this everywhere.

    I grew up in the “purity movement” and I think its done more damage than good.

    I remember being taught that to the Christian God, sex was like “being at the RIGHT party at the RIGHT time with the RIGHT person”–the “or He’ll hate you forever” wasn’t said outright, but it was implied heavily enough to scared 14-year-old me out of even THINKING about sex.

    I’m not even going to repeat what my health teacher said one day. Something about sex and suicide. *shudders and cries* It’s an even more horrifying comment remembering how casually he said it.

    I’m trying to get past this way of thinking, but there’s so much to unlearn….


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