Sex, Abstinence and Church…Oh My!

When I was about 13 or 14, our church had a True Love Waits ceremony.  This consisted of signing a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage, and then your father would sign it as well.  You stood in front the entire church congregation and made your sexuality everyone’s business.  Your youth minister, your pastor, your dad, the boys in your Sunday school class, the creepy guy in the back pew, the choir, and every gossiping church lady, are all witnesses to what you plan to do (or not do!) with your vagina.  One of the most personal decisions you can make has been put on a humiliating public display.  It’s awkward and embarrassing, especially at that age.

Now let me stop right here and explain some things–if you’ve been to a Baptist church, you know that it runs on gossip.  To say that gossip spreads like wildfire would be the understatement of the year.  Secondly, when you live in a small town, everyone knows who you are.  If you make one little mistake, everyone is going to know about it.  Your extreme fundamentalist parents have drilled it into your head that you are not to ruin the family’s reputation.  As a result, you have no choice but to participate in this public ceremony.  Everyone knows who you are, so they WILL notice if you aren’t standing up there proclaiming your virginity to the masses.  If you don’t make this pledge, your family’s reputation is at stake, as well as your own.  You will be considered a godless slut, and everyone will talk about you.  If you make the pledge and fail, everyone will find out through the grapevine and never forget about it.  This is an incredible amount of pressure at 14 years old.   So ready or not, you go through with it.  You really have no choice; the circumstances trap you into promising abstinence.  I’d like to think this wasn’t on purpose, that was all good intentions but poorly thought out, but I’m not really sure.  It could very well be a way to “control” sex-crazed teenagers so they don’t “end up in hell.”  I don’t know.

Girls get the most pressure from the church about abstinence.  Not only are we supposed to wear purity rings and make promises we don’t know we can keep, but we are also expected to help guys stay pure.  We are told not to show too much skin or take kissing too far, lest we MAKE a guy sin sexually.  It’s like we are responsible for ourselves AND for them, while they don’t have to take any responsibility at all.  In my middle school days, I used to bring my boyfriend at the time to youth group with me.  I was trying to be the good Christian girl and take my boyfriend to church, and tell him no when he tried to talk me into sex for the hundredth time.  However, no good deed goes unpunished.  I got taken aside by the youth pastor and got a sex talk out of the blue.  He more or less assumed we were doing it and I was the one that was in trouble.  Did he talk to my boyfriend? Nope. I guess I was causing him to think impure thoughts and that was my fault.  Did he get my side of the story?  Sure didn’t.  Ever since, whenever the lesson had anything to do with sex and purity, he made it a point to shoot a disapproving glance my way.  It was beyond humiliating and not to mention insulting.  I really stuck to my guns and never gave into the pressure to have sex and here I was being treated like a slut.

For some reason, the church is obsessed with other people’s sexuality (just take homosexuality for example)!  I believe that God sees sin as sin–not as one sin being “better” or “worse” than another.  We all have our particular sins that we struggle with, it’s part of being human.  The church focuses on sexual sins, and makes them out to be the worst things you can do.  It makes you feel like sex is dirty and wrong.  No one is honest or open about it; all the Sunday school teachers and pastors make themselves out to be perfect, as if they’ve done the right thing their whole lives without question or struggle.  Thankfully, my parents were very open and honest about this topic and I learned from their mistakes.  They both had kids out of wedlock and shared their regrets about giving something away that they could never get back.  Not everyone has a parent or mentor in their life to tell them the truth about these things.  All they hear is that sex is bad, and they end up in therapy.  If churches are going to make teenagers pledge to stay virgins in front of everybody, the least they can do is be completely honest about the topic.

I believe that promising abstinence is between me and God alone.  It should be something I CHOSE to do for the right reasons, not something I felt trapped into doing.  It completely misses the point to stay pure out of fear or obligation alone.  It should be a personal decision that you make to honor God.  I was given a purity ring at this ceremony, and I actually did keep my promise until marriage. I even lost a boyfriend or two over it.  Then I met my future husband, and he didn’t run when I told him I wanted to wait; he waited right along with me.  To be honest, I think we rushed into marriage too young; we wanted to follow through on our commitment to wait until our wedding night, but we didn’t want to wait forever!  Thankfully, we are still together and are so glad we waited for each other.  Not having that sexual past baggage is a gift in itself.

I hope the church can find a better way to approach this topic.  It’s so very personal, and so many Christians are grossly ill-informed about sex.  The way they handle it can be the difference between someone accepting God or rejecting Him altogether.  There is a dire need in the church for better education on sex in general, and what the Bible itself actually says about it.  The Bible is NOT shy about the matter, and we shouldn’t be either.  It’s part of life, like breathing.  Treating it like a taboo subject, picking on homosexuality and shaming teenagers into abstinence is not working. 

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