When I want your opinions, I will give them to you.
–Mok to his advisors, Rock and Rule
I’m noticing more and more often lately this tendency in Christians to presume to tell others how they ought to feel about pretty much everything, including–especially–those big-question items like personal meaning, morality and ethics, and, yes, sex.
When we feel very strongly about something, we might assume that anybody who knows what we know about it (or think we know about it, as the case may be) would feel exactly the same way we feel. Or we might assume that anybody in our chosen “tribe” (whatever it is–be it religious, sports-related, etc.) feels the same way we do about stuff.
A problem I faced when I deconverted was not knowing how to separate out how I felt about stuff versus how other people told me I should feel about stuff. Years after leaving the religion, I was still running into this problem. There are a lot of really pushy, obnoxious people in the world, and many of them think they’re doing us a favor by informing us of what they are absolutely positive are our opinions on a great many subjects.
Obviously this isn’t something that only Christians do, but they’ve certainly perfected the art of trying to force opinions onto people.
We should, though.
That we do not speaks to our uneasiness about giving Christians ammunition to accuse us of having left their religion “just to sin,” which means “to have unapproved sex” since of course Christians never, ever, ever, ever have unapproved sex and non-Christians are always, always, always, always sex machines humping everything in sight. And, too, sometimes we are hamstrung because sharing details about our sex lives may have real-world repercussions for some of us–these ambassadors of the Prince of Peace and God of Love can be vengeful, cruel, judgmental, retaliatory, and downright nasty when challenged, especially if the challenge involves their perceived stranglehold on “morality.”
As more and more of us are discovering, however, Christians have no backing whatsoever to try to say that they know more about morality than non-believers do, and certainly no better knowledge of the supernatural than anybody else has. Certainty, however loudly expressed, is not an adequate substitution for correctness.
I’m sure that Christian leaders–and the more fervent of their adherents–really aren’t going to like it when we start talking, because what we have to say won’t look much like what they think we should be saying and contradicts their loudly-expressed certainty.
Especially when we start talking about sex.
What we have to say really won’t look like their long-running, oft-repeated party lines about sex. They’ve got these narratives in their heads about how we must have done something wrong in how we practiced or believed, why we must have deconverted, what we must be like now that we’ve left their religion, and a host of other topics. But what they think we should be thinking and feeling about sex is probably one of the biggest disconnects of all with reality.
I don’t know if the Christians talking this way picked up on what we’ve been talking about or if we’re thinking about it more because we’re seeing Christians trying to clamp down (again) on the subject and dictate the general conversations people are having on the topic, but either way the topic is being discussed in ways that are no longer under Christian control. And that’s how it needs to be.
People’s attitudes about sex are really hard to change, and the damage done to our sexuality by well-meaning religious authority figures is often long-lasting and traumatic. The indoctrination we got about sex and sexuality runs to the core of our very beings–and it’s designed to do that; if Christian leaders can get control of someone’s sexuality, it’s like leading a bull by the ring in his nose. Lest you think I’m being a bit hyperbolic, I quite literally heard that comparison made many times as a Christian. Sexuality was seen as a primal, powerful bull, and hardcore indoctrination was how we could lead that bull around. A small but key bit of indoctrination was thought to do wonders in controlling a whole person and rearranging that person’s entire life. So years after leaving Christianity, men often still feel crippled by fears of soiling women with their romantic and sexual attention, while women struggle with all kinds of self-image and body-positivity problems–and both men and women suffer from all kinds of sexual hangups preventing them from having full, satisfying sex lives.
Deconverting doesn’t magically fix any of those problems.
For a great many of us, our attitudes about sex go far past who we bonk, when, how, and why. Those attitudes brush against every single aspect of how we see ourselves, our relationships, and our very place in society and our hopes for the future. That’s why Christians’ culture wars have focused on two topics that brush so close up against sex and sexuality: LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. The leaders who started these culture wars did not pick their topics arbitrarily.
When you corner an anti-gay Bigot for Jesus, chances are that person’s main objection to the idea of equal rights for LGBTQ folks is that their way of having sex is different and–to the Christian at least–ickie to think about. I once had this incredibly entertaining Facebook comment squabble with a Christian who’d learned his style of apologetics from places like this one–or this one, or this one–you get the idea. It’s incredibly common to see Christian writers and leaders treating evangelism like a courtroom and focusing on apologetics that help Christians build a “case” for their faith like they’re all lawyers or something. Well, this one Christian I ran into was trying his best to say that because anal sex was ickie to him, same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married–and he had a whole question-and-answer routine that he viewed as vital to convince others of his views. When I refused to let him start up his routine, the dude short-circuited.
He reminded me of a BattleBot trying to right itself after being knocked upside-down. He kept hammering away at anal sex (haha), like if he could get someone to follow along with his leading questions long enough then he’d get the chance to point all dramatically and triumphantly roar “AHA! SEE?!? YOUR WITNESS, YOUR HONOR!” It was hilarious to watch him vapor-lock when someone else pointed out that lesbians have anal sex too, as do opposite-sex couples–and Christians.
Similar thinking is seen when Christians engage with the idea of women who aren’t responding to their overtures of control. When I say “rebellious woman,” I guarantee that 99% of those hearing the term ain’t thinking about a woman robbing banks or slapping babies. They’re thinking about a woman having unapproved sex of some kind. And a woman who allows her sexuality to be controlled, harnessed, reined-in, and dominated by religious authorities is said to be “in submission” and highly valued.
Christians are usually correct in assuming, as well, that women who look out of compliance are also very likely to act out of compliance in lots of other ways that are totally unrelated to the bedroom. A woman who dresses and acts in a “worldly” way is also likely to demand rights and to laugh in the face of Christians’ attempts to control her, while one who follows all the rules is likely to be easily controlled and cowed. (When I was Christian, an accusation of rebelliousness or selfishness usually settled my hash very quickly.)
Too bad it’s not working as well as it used to.
There are a number of opinions that Christians take utterly for granted regarding sex and how relationships work. These opinions are not often informed by reality. Here is a very short list of them, and bear in mind that none of these are 100% universal, just ones I found very common across the breadth of Christianity:
* People are happiest when they follow strict gender norms in their relationships.
* Men always want sex more than women and enjoy it more than women do.
* Porn is the worst thing ever and viewing it devalues a man’s relationship with his significant other.
* Women should feel devalued by their mates’ porn consumption habits and in competition with the women featured in pornographic materials because they are–on both counts.
* Masturbation is like adultery committed against a man’s wife–or, if he’s not married, against his future wife.
* Women who look at porn or masturbate do not exist.
* Wives should look forward to sex because it makes their husbands happy and makes the marital bond stronger, but actually relishing sex itself? Foul sorcery. They especially should not want sex more often than their husbands do.
* Women who aren’t “pure” and “modest” don’t make good wives.*
* The use of contraception devalues the sex act (unless that contraception is from a short list of approved methods). People should feel that the risk of a pregnancy should always be part of the sexual experience, so people who are doing everything possible to avoid pregnancy are totally missing the point of sex.
* Sex outside of marriage is not only morally repugnant but not as awesome as sex within marriage.
* Certain kinds of sex are disrespectful and possibly sinful, while other kinds are ideal and holy.
* People who follow Christian leaders’ indoctrination about sex and marriage will have happier, stronger, and more stable marriages than people who disobey.
Considering how often Christian leaders are wrong about stuff and how often they turn out to be hypocrites, I’m really not sure why anybody listens to them when they talk about how people should feel about sex.
I’ll damned well decide how I feel about sex, thank you. I’ll dress as I please, expect and exercise my rights without compromise or negotiation, and I’ll use whatever contraception I and my doctor decide works best for my situation without worrying if it gives Christians the vapors.
I’ll decide for myself what I want to do with porn, toys, and masturbation–for me and my partners.
I’ll judge people not by their sexual habits but by their honesty, integrity, and compassion. I will not devalue people for any reason because people are not cars that lose half their value the second someone drives them off the lot the first time. I will judge that all people are worthy of protection and basic respect–regardless of their sex life. As long as everyone involved in that sex life is of-age and consenting, it is not any of my business, and it’s not my place to criticize or try to control anyone else’s sex life. I will refuse to force other people to live by my opinions or think less of them for feeling differently than I do about something.
In my relationships, my partners and I will figure out for ourselves how we want to handle division of labor and how we’ll relate to each other as men and women. If it makes more sense for him to handle the shopping or me to handle the automotive upkeep, then that’s what we’ll do without wondering how to explain that to anybody.
My partners and I will make decisions together, with neither person holding ultimate veto power or considering him- or herself “the boss” because we are fucking adults here and not ten-year-old children in a cardboard box fort, so we know that when people have to pull rank like that to force others to comply, it’s because their ideas were shit to begin with.
I’ll consider my own pleasure to be not a nice add-on to sex, but a goddamned requirement. I will choose partners who agree with that assessment and we will engage in the kind of sex that gets us both what we need. I’ll without apologies consider “unrepentantly shitty in bed” to be a dealbreaker in my romantic relationships.
And the wild part?
I’ll do all that and I’ll still enjoy a sex life that is a zillion times better than anything I faced as a nice, modest, pure, sweet, sex-shamed and cowed fundagelical wife.**
And even worse from their perspective, I’ll still have way better relationships than I ever had as a Christian.
I know, right? It’s almost as if Christians’ opinions are not universally true for everyone everywhere and that people can be perfectly happy doing stuff that runs totally contrary to Christians’ opinions.
When we hear a Christian chirp some platitude “oh people should never have sex outside of wedlock because obeying ‘God’s’ plan for sex makes it better!” then we are allowed to challenge that idea. We are allowed to remind them that their opinions do not universally apply to all other human beings and that their opinions do not dictate reality for anybody else but themselves. We’re allowed to tack on a “… in your experience” when they express their opinions.
We’re allowed to tell them that we don’t happen to agree. We’re allowed to mention that our experiences have been markedly different from their insistence about what our experiences must have been. We’re allowed to tell them that we don’t accept their interpretation of our experiences, if we don’t.
What I’m suggesting here is that we be aware of these blithe and usually strikingly ignorant statements about reality, and that we gently challenge them when we see them (if we can do so safely!). I keep thinking about how my life looked when I was a nice Christian wife and how my mother’s life looked as one, and I think it would have knocked me over with a feather had someone seriously challenged my opinions. It never even occurred to me that an egalitarian marriage model could work, or that sex could feel so good that women could enjoy it simply for its own sake–or that they even should. I can still remember the first time someone did challenge my views–and how amazingly liberating it was to have my upset and anger validated!
I didn’t think to challenge these opinions before that day because they were so pervasive that I assumed they must be correct. I was wrong about almost every single thing I thought was true about relationships, sex, and marriage. My mistake in judgment worked to the advantage of the Christian authority figures who put those ideas into my head, but those mistakes didn’t do me a lot of good! I spent half my lifetime laboring under incorrect opinions and trying to shoehorn them into my own head and life.
I’m a lot more careful now about letting others’ opinions override my own lived experiences, and way less patient with letting Christians or anyone else try to dictate to me what would make me happy and fulfilled. Considering all the other stuff they’ve been wrong about, I think I’m better off figuring out for myself what I think and how I feel.
So I’ll keep doing so.
The second half of my lifetime seems to be working out a lot better so far under that system.
* Women’s “purity” is measured by how often they have had sex, how much they enjoy it, how many partners they’ve had, and what age they were when they first had sex. Their “modesty” is expressed by how well they conform to a given male Christian’s idea of how women should dress or act. Women who are not pure and modest enough are not as highly-valued as women who are more pure and modest, and cannot expect the same level of protection from either the men around them, society itself, and even the Christian god. Women who are very pure and modest get more protection and are considered higher-quality mates. (Most of this paragraph only applies to women who are conventionally attractive.)
** Obviously my sex life improved after I deconverted because of demons. I wish I could say this has not been a genuine argument I’ve gotten from Christians, but it’s their go-to explanation. Nothing else fits the evidence, apparently. I don’t recall a single time that they’ve actually wanted to know why I think my sex life got better. My input, as always, is not required here.