My recent post about Christians lightening up about premarital sex struck a nerve. And it came just as my friend Joy told you that you probably won’t be marrying a virgin. Others have been talking about this, too, as my earlier post noted.
Posts that attract attention like that also seems to provoke private correspondence. As a result of that post, I received the following email from a reader, and he asked that I publish it anonymously. As a pastor, I’ve heard many such stories over the years. I know many adults who are in loveless and unintimate marriages. Some are staying in, and some are getting out. I know that this story will resonate with many of you. I look forward to your comments on this post.
So here’s my background: I became a Christian in my teens and discovered deep, liturgical, intimate, confessional theology as a young adult. However, I think I still held onto ideas of pre-marital sex from youth groups and other communications targeted at young Christians. That idea was that sex is designed by God to be awesome but only with the one that God has planned for you to spend your life with.
Eventually, I found a girl actually willing to give me a chance, and I married her. However, my parents didn’t like her and engaged in a lot of psychological warfare to try to prevent me from marrying her, and while trying to make peace between them, I upset them both. Again and again. My wife felt that this man who was supposed to be protecting her let his parents walk all over us both. I said my marriage vows with messages going around my head of my mother trying to convince me that it was the worst mistake I could ever made. I was clinically depressed on our honeymoon. The start to this great divine sex adventure was quite lame.
Eventually, despite my parents continuing to raise hell after we were married, I got over the depression. But by then, my wife started to feel less and less inclined towards intimacy. (We had had the opposite problem before we got married). We went to professional marriage counselling and recounted all the crap we went through, reopening every old wound. We took a “temporary” break from sex that’s now lasted 3 1/2 years of our 5 1/2 year marriage.
The trauma has also left her apostate and reeling against the impracticalities of forgiving others only to let them trample over you again. I cut ties with my parents because of their psychotic behaviour. My wife and I now live like close friends in civility and politeness, not as passionate lovers, with exceptions of a few flashes of hope. Sometimes, I don’t know if we will make it.
I know it would be “easier” if I could bring myself to it to just start a relationship with someone else. I’m young, athletic, now have some kind of personality thanks to my wife, and I make good money. In a way, it would be easy. But I love her and live each day for her, and she lights up my life with her character. I still feel that when I love her more than myself, I am loving God, Christ and touching heaven. In, with and under this shitty little life.
So what the heck has that trauma taught me about sexual ethics?
1. That the world fetishes (as in ascribing magical powers to a mundate object) sex, but then so does the church. If there’s any wisdom in the worldly teenage rush to rid oneself of virginity, it’s that it unmasks the object and robs it of some of its power. Meanwhile teenage Christian guys struggle with porn because sex is mysterious and powerful, and God cares just as much about sexual “purity” as he does about people getting tortured and killed or going hungry or without shelter, apparently.
2. The message of the Christian sexual ethic shouldn’t be “save sex for marriage and everything will be great,” because it won’t.
3. Virginity doesn’t have the moral value attached to it that we think it should have. If that really weighs into how you value a person, you’re not even seeing that person. In fact, your view of other persons is depraved.
4. No one ever talks to Christian youth about how lame sex in marriage can be. (See also 1 and 2) Sure it can be great, but for many, many people at some greater or lesser time, because of stress/kids/sickness/etc. it isn’t. No one ever talks to them about how or why affairs happen. I think it’s cruel to let someone go about building their life on completely unrealistic expectations because no one cares to mention to them that the story might be different.
5. Masturbation is not a sin. For men, or at least me, sexual release is a biological need, the equivalent of taking a dump, and just as necessary. And you’re just as unpleasant to be around if you really need to do it but don’t.
6. Whatever Jesus meant by “if a man looks at a woman with lustful intent…” has gotten blown out of all proportion by a society, in church and outside of it, obsessed with sex. Then again, sometimes I just read it and think “REALLY? So my wife should be just as upset as if I look at a woman as she passes on the street, as if I was to enter into a clandestine relationship with her? You sure about that, Jesus?” I don’t know how to read that without feeling like the implications seem ridiculous, so perhaps the ones blowing it out of proportion are right in a sense. In which case, I reject it as incongruous with life in this world.
I thought I was going to write something consistent but I just vomitted out my mind. If there’s anything in there that can be used, please go ahead. If you don’t, I just managed to vent, so some good has come of it. If I can reflect again and come back with something other than the raw screams of pain and disappointment above, I will. In the meantime, I hope this can help someone.