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The Answer To Sexual Shame is Not MORE Sexual Shame, Carson T. Clark

The Answer To Sexual Shame is Not MORE Sexual Shame, Carson T. Clark March 5, 2014

[Content Note: Sexual and Spiritual Abuse]

When I was 16, I dated an abuser who was constantly coercing me into having sex with him. I had been raised in fundamentalist purity culture, so I thought of sex as something gross and scary. My boyfriend at the time tried to combat those feelings by sending me on guilt trips and by holding me to his manipulative, subjective standards of “responsibility.”

He’d say things like,

“You hugging me turned me on. You’re a horrible person if you turn a guy on and then just leave him like that.”

“This relationship isn’t going to work out if you can’t give me something. You’re making me cheat on you.”

“You’re such a prude. There’s nothing wrong with ____. Why do you have to act so self-righteous?”

“You’re selfish. You want me to hug and kiss you and give you what you want, but then you won’t give me what want.”

You get the picture, I’m sure.

This was an abusive relationship. That’s pretty obvious.

Yes, I had a lot of hang-ups about sex because the the culture I’d grown up in, and it was liberating and healthy for me to learn later in life that my sexuality could be a good thing. But the fact that purity culture hindered my acceptance of my sexuality does not excuse the way this person treated me for over a year.

Being in a relationship like this was a horrible process. I constantly felt guilty for not having sex, and then guilty for having sex. Even when I consented to sexual activity, I felt violated. I never felt like I really had a choice in the matter. I thought it was my responsibility to have sex with him, or I felt afraid of what might happen if I didn’t. I felt trapped, like I didn’t belong to myself and was no longer a person. 

Does anyone want to deny, even just from these few details, that this relationship was abusive? Anyone?

Now, take this same scenario and put it in a different context:

Pretend that my abuser and I were a few years older and that we were married. 

Now is it abusive?

Would the different context have magically changed the way his words impacted me? The way they caused me fear and misery, helped make me a self-injurer, and led in part to the mental health problems I still have today, eight years later? 

If you don’t think it is okay to coerce a woman into sex before marriage, but feel that people have the right to coerce married women into having sex with their spouses, I want you to stop and think about why. 

I bring up my story because  I recently read this post by Carson T. Clark that has been making the rounds on the Christian internets for the past couple of weeks. In this post, Clark tells the story of a male friend of his who is in a sexless marriage. This friend’s wife grew up in purity culture and now “cannot shake the deeply held belief that sex is gross, men are pigs, and restraint (i.e. abstinence) is more holy,” so now they don’t have sex.

Clark’s post gives no indication that the friend is abusive to his wife in anyway, so I am not making that claim. It sounds like the friend is frustrated and confused about what to do, which is understandable. I have been on both ends of sexless relationships where sex was wanted by one or both people but never happened. It can be extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

Clark’s appraisal of the situation–which he bases only on his friend’s side of the story, never sharing his friend’s wife’s perspective–however, uses language that mirrors the coercive tactics my abuser used on me.

Let’s look at some of the things Clark says about people (mostly women, according to Clark, even though I know plenty of women in heterosexual marriages where their husband is the one who is much less interested in sex):

1. He calls the wife’s dislike of oral sex, lingerie, and sex toys “self-righteous.”

Where purity culture manipulates women into pre-marital abstinence using stereotypes of “The Whore,” and telling women, “You don’t want to be that girl,” Clark utilizes the stereotype of “The Prude.”

This woman, whose story from her own words is not important enough to Clark to make it into his blog post, gets called “self-righteous” because she won’t consent to some of the things her husband wants to try in the bedroom. Rather than tackle the purity culture teachings that tell women certain sexual acts are sinful, he goes after a woman affected by these teachings.

2. Echoing the teachings of Mark Driscoll on this topic (as described in this post), Clark insinuates that the wife is being selfish for not having sex with her husband, and flat-out accuses her of sinning against her spouse. 

He states that, in order to get out of having “regular sex” with one’s spouse, one needs a “valid medical or psychological reason.” I hate that he thinks he gets to determine what a “valid” reason is, and I hate that he doesn’t see years of brainwashing from spiritually abusive purity culture leaders as “valid.”

3. He accuses people  who marry without informing their spouse if they have a low sex of trying to “trap” (yes, he uses this word) a spouse into marriage. He tells people to make commitments about the frequency of sex before marriage, and calls a person who cannot keep these commitments “a horrible person.” 

He never stops to think that maybe people who grew up in purity culture often have no idea what their sex drive is like because they’ve never been allowed to explore it.

He also states earlier in the piece that his friend’s wife had a high sex drive before she got married, which means he should know that sex drives change for many, many reasons. I cannot predict today what my sex drive will be like next year or even next month, especially as someone who is attempting to find medications that work to treat my mental illness.

To accuse those who marry and end up not wanting sex as often as they thought they would of being “horrible” people out to “trap” others into sexless marriages is a pretty significant empathy fail.

4. He thinks more evangelicals should tell women, “It’s not OK to not fulfill your sexual responsibilities.” 

Newsflash, Carson T. Clark: They tell us this ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

Clark claims to be “Livid at the Evangelical Subculture” for the way it shames women about sex. He thinks his perspective is radically different, but it’s really not. Do Evangelicals shame women into abstinence before marriage? Yes. Is Clark right that this often leads to shame that carries over into marriage and can cause frustration, confusion, and hurt for everyone involved? Yes.

But Clark’s solution to the Evangelical Subculture’s shaming tactics is to heap more shame on women who are already drowning in it. As I pointed out before, this isn’t much different from Mark Driscoll’s take on the subject. Or Emerson Eggerichs’. Or Focus on the Family’s.

Sorry, Carson T. Clark. But your view on marital sex is the Evangelical Subculture’s view and it is both spiritually and sexually abusive. 

Being in a sexless marriage/committed relationship is already an experience that carries shame with it [edit: not always. Many people are asexual and in sexless relationships by choice and happy with this arrangement]. That shame can keep people from working things out in whatever way is best for them. People in these relationships need to hear, “This happens to lots of people and you aren’t alone.” They don’t need someone coming along and telling the person who is less interested in sex, “You’re horrible and selfish! Suck it up and do your duty.”

Clark states that “[f]or the longest time…a marital rape culture existed. Just awful.” I’m sorry to say, that marital rape culture still exists, and Clark’s words serve to reinforce it

Most of us (I hope) would be horrified if we heard a teenage young man say these words to a 16 year old young woman, trying to persuade her into sex. I don’t understand why we are not also horrified to hear a pastor saying them to married women or married people in general.


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