God Sticks and Shame Caves

God Sticks and Shame Caves
More thoughts on what we teach our kids about sexuality.

As I wrote in my previous post, I’m not teaching my kids that abstinence until marriage is the best, only, or even necessarily the most preferable sexual option in the universe. Abstinence Only was taught to me as a child, and while it did keep me from joining the statistics on teenage pregnancy, the side effects of this puberty-long fast were pretty damaging.

Since beginning this conversation, I’ve experienced a virtual mind-flood of memories and ideas which have been floating around trying to organize themselves into a cohesive whole. Slowly they are settling into a couple of themed collections. Today’s Memory Collection: Messages of Shame.

Liz Hurly and the Ta-Ta’s of Death
In the first memory that’s been nagging at me to be told, I’m sitting around a conference table at a region-wide gathering of pastors for the denomination in which I am a minister. It’s a moderately conservative denomination and the particular congregation I have been hired to work at is urban, hip, and more willing to flex than most of the others in the area. I am the only woman in the room and several of my colleagues, most of whom are middle aged white men, are uncertain-to-down-right-sure as to whether or not I should be there. The leader of the meeting is on the fence at best, but to be fair, he is making tentative attempts at including the new girl in this fraternity of long-time buddies.

We have come to the portion of the meeting where the pastors share any new resources they’ve discovered. One man in particular is highly energized by a new sex-ed video he has been showing to his Jr. High youth group. He is relaying his favorite part of the video, in which the young, male, youth leader holds up a poster of Elizabeth Hurley and says something like this:

“Do you see this woman? This is a sexy, smokin’ hot woman. She has great legs. She shows a lot of cleavage. Her clothes are skin tight. Do you know who she was dating? Hugh Grant. And do you know what Hugh Grant did while he was dating her? He had sex with a prostitute. What does that tell you? I know what it tells me. It tells me that being with a woman who is smokin’ hot in the eyes of our fallen society only drives us to want more. Being with someone provocative like Elizabeth Hurly, just drives us deeper into sexual sin.”

Yes ladies and gentlemen—Hugh Grant engaged in prostitution not because he has issues; not because he was sexually addicted; not because he failed to respect his girlfriend or the woman he paid to have sex with, but because Elizabeth Hurly’s cleavage is dangerous.

I was having a hard time believing my ears. Here was a couple whose common law relationship had lasted longer than most of my college friend’s post-graduation “Christian” marriages. In spite of Grant’s truly bad betrayal, he and Hurly repaired their relationship and later their friendship to such an extent that even after their break up Hurly asked Grant to be the godfather of her child. Their relationship—at least the portion of it related to us in popular magazines—turned out to be a pretty stunning example of forgiveness, reconciliation, and compassion. But forget all of that, the real thing to remember here is that this woman’s ta-ta’s drove a man so wild with desire he had to pick up a prostitute.

If only she had worn more turtlenecks.

I held my tongue as the meeting went on, trying to formulate my thoughts in a way that would let me express them without being tagged as an “angry feminist” (a neat semantic trick which effectively prevents a woman’s story from being heard.) I waited to see if an appropriate opportunity would come up to shed some light on the topic.

Eventually the meeting moved into a discussion period where the staff could advise each other on things that were providing sticky in their individual congregations. One of the men raised a problem he was having at his church – the women wanted to introduce liturgical dance into the morning service. He wasn’t sure about this. Liturgical dance certainly didn’t speak to him, and he wasn’t sure there was a point to it. In an attempt to engage me in the conversation, this man turned to me and said, “As a woman, what do you think Rachelle?” My reply was something like this:

I understand that you don’t connect with liturgical dance. It’s not something that speaks to everyone. It’s not something that particularly speaks to me. But I think you should invite the women to introduce it to your congregation and I’ll tell you why. It will allow women to use their bodies as an expressive instrument in the midst of their community, and it will indirectly convey a message that women’s bodies are not inherently sinful. Women get the message in church quite a bit—that there is something wrong with their physical selves, that their bodies are dangerous and sinful. Can I give you and example?

I went on to explain how sex-ed video that had been mentioned might be consumed by the teenage girls. I pointed out how it took the burden of error off the shoulders of Hugh Grant, and planted it firmly on the um…shoulders…of Liz Hurley. I mentioned how this message – that women’s bodies were a temptation to men and should therefore be restrained, covered up, and hidden from view as much as possible, was a common message in the church. I explained that the only time women were mentioned as physical beings was in some story about how tempting they were, or perhaps to instruct them on a less revealing dress code while singing in the worship band. I explained how healing it is for some women to engage their bodies in dance, and how holistic it would be to introduce that option into their worship services. I tried to help them capture the idea that the dance of a few women might bring healing to many in their community.

The room was silent. Not the kind of silence that accompanies disagreement, but the kind that happens when a group of like-thinkers is introduced to a totally new concept. I think the word I’m looking for here is:stunned.

God Sticks and Shame Caves
This story about Liz Hurly came back to me of late while watching this Jon Stewart clip about the success (or lack thereof) of government funded Abstinence Only programs in schools. (Warning: this clip is NSFW and in the words of Ira Glass “does mention the existence of sex.”) In this footage, a female sexual health educator who had traveled with one of the abstinence educators testified that reluctant girls were repeatedly pulled to the front of the class and shown a dirty toothbrush that “looked like it had been used to clean a toilet.” The instructor then continued to say, “If you have sex before marriage, you are like a dirty toothbrush.”

So glad to see my tax dollars at work. (1.3 billion dollars over the past 11 years)

Jon Stewart’s response to this and other parts of the abstinence only assessment reports was to say: “Of course, we all know that! Boys have a God Stick and girls have a shame cave.” Now obviously, this was a joke and Jon was employing exaggeration to make a comic point. But I’ve got to tell you, he’s not far off. This is the message many young women receive when they are taught that the only acceptable course of action is for them not to have sex until marriage. Even if they are in love. Even if they are mature. Even if their body is screaming otherwise. Even if they don’t marry until 25, or 35, or 45.

True, in these abstinence programs, boys are also taught to refrain from sex before marriage. But somehow they are not shamed the way girls are. For instance, it’s not that boys that are not hauled up front of the class and told they are a dirty toothbrush. The language is different for boys than for girls. Boys “sow their wild oats.” Girls are “fallen women.” Boy’s may “lose their virginity,” but the girls “lose” their virginity tothe guy, who then gets to claim that he’s “popped her cherry.” It’s all just so discouraging. And speaking of how we use language, here’s one more story…

Bye Bye Miss American Pie
In college I read a piece about premarital sex in a religious magazine. The article began by telling a story. A group of girls were meeting in a dorm room. They were gathered around one girl’s bed, pouring champagne and toasting her success at having ‘lost’ her virginity the night before. In the article, this story was meant to be disturbing – it was pitched as being a sad way for these young women to behave, another example of “the world” celebrating sin rather than living a life of piety.

At the time I was well entrenched into my conservative religious world. Still, I can remember thinking, “That doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, that seems like a pretty good rite of passage to me.” Twenty years later I still think it’s not a bad idea. But I’d change the language. What is this crap about “losing” one’s virginity? Did it fall out of your purse when you went to pay the check? Did you forget it with your umbrella on the bus?

In the case of consensual sex one doesn’t ‘lose’ one’s virginity. One moves from being a virgin to being someone who has had sex. “Loss” connotes something regretful. It doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to lay that guilt trip on our girls—or on our boys for that matter. We don’t have to start our young people off on their sexual history with a tick in the losses column. We could, perhaps, celebrate his or her budding maturity. We could, perhaps, use language which honors moving into a new stage of sexual, emotional, and relational development. We could, perhaps, create a reality in which it is possible to have sex for the first time (married or otherwise) without a sense of loss, but rather with a sense of pride.

It’s just and idea. I’m just saying.

There’s a scene in the film Real Women Have Curves where the teenage heroine Ana, played by America Ferrara, decides to have sex for the first time with a boy she cares for and admires. They are graduating from high school and will not see each other anymore. She’s not fooling herself about that. She’s looking at the situation very clear-eyed, realizing that there will be no romantic movie ending. They will drift apart. They will find other people. But in the now, in the well considered now, Ana wants to be with him. While they are together in the bedroom, Ana gets up and walks to the mirror. She says something like “This is me. This is what I look like.” The moment is so real, so honest and confident. I remember being quite struck by it.

Since seeing that movie, I have logged more than a decade raising children—raising girl children, as a matter of fact. Now, years later, that scene floats up through my memory. I consider it and I decide, if my children have that kind of confidence, that kind of assuredness, that kind of certainty the first time they have sex, I’ll be a happy mom.

What about you? What kind of stories have shaped your sexual identity?….What have those stories given you to carry—a shame cave? A glass of champagne? Something in between? ….What kind of stories do you want to give your children about themselves as sexual beings?….What language will you use to talk about their bodies and their virginity (or the lack thereof?) The comments are open!


Pat June 13, 2008 at 3:05 pm

I really appreciate this series. I honestly can’t say yet what I think we’ll teach my now-5.5yo daughter, but as boy crazy as she is already, we’re definitely working on it earlier than we anticipated. I can say with certainty that the pact I made with her 2yo self that she couldn’t date till she was 25 is right out the window.

Best part about this post? I remember the meeting you describe – at least the liturgical dance part of it. I don’t remember a thing today about Liz Hurley’s cleavage, but that’s quite likely because I was fixated on that image. But I *do* remember the discussion of dance, and of it being a way for women to express themselves in worship. I also recall you saying something like, “and if the guys in the room can’t deal with that maturely, they need to deal with that” :-).

That conversation – still when I was really new to the gig, I think – was a good eye opener for me. Thanks.

Monica June 13, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Oh, this is such good stuff. Man (Woman!!)!! I wish I had friends around me who liked to talk about this! :) Or, to talk about it without the usual ‘pat’ answers. Thank goodness for your blog and this series!

I have a few memories … one of them being my group of girls from school, getting together sometime in our grade 12 year, and one of my girlfriends ‘confessing’ to us that she was having sex with her boyfriend. And that it wasn’t really that great. I was devastated. Not that she’d been having sex (although, I’m guessing that it bothered me somewhat at the time). I was bothered that it wasn’t SUPER FAB, AMAZING!! Because my boyfriend (who’s now my husband) and I were having a heck of a time keeping our pants on! And what the heck??? It made no sense to me that this thing I ‘couldn’t have’ and wanted so badly would suck.

Another memory .. I started dating my husband at 16 (I know, young). I’d had a few short relationships before that (but really, I hardly think those count). After four years of dating and a proposal planned (but secret), I remember driving in the car with my mom and dad and thinking that, ‘I have to warn them that I’m getting married soon b/c they just need to be warned .. I’m SO young’. So I suggested that marriage might be a probability and somewhere in that conversation my dad said, “Well, my suggestion would be you either get married or break-up …” I don’t remember how the sentence ended but the implication was that if we kept dating we’d soon (if not already) be having sex and that was not a great idea. I wonder what he would have done/said if we’d kept dating.

Another funny story about my dad … on our honeymoon, I opened my suitcase to find a wrapped book, I forget what it was called, but it was a how-to sex book …. wait for it … for Christians! Because we all know that Christians have sex, oh so differently, than people who are not Christians. Little did they know I’d already found all the how-to sex books at all the places I’d babysat and read them front to back AND I’d found their book too. AND the sensual massage book in his top drawer with all kinds of naked pictures.

Okay, enough stories, although there are more. Not sure how this all impacted me. But maybe I’ll think on it some more.

I honestly don’t know how I want to raise my children with respect to sex. All I want is for them to absolutely love the person they have sex with and I want them to love the experience. Is that possible? It wasn’t for me … I loved the person dearly, but it was not so much fun until many years later. Mostly b/c I thought I was (we were) doing it all wrong. And I wonder .. were my expectations shaped by movies/TV? Or Christian sex books? We had a few other books (not overtly Christian), but I must say, I felt totally dirty reading them. Hmmmm … Thankfully, I’ve managed to shed most of that shame (I think).

A couple of things I’m thinking about and exploring … I want to teach my children the power of women’s bodies … mostly in terms of birth. I’ve had AMAZING birth experiences and my girls both watched my son being born. I’m active in my local birth community and as my girls get older I’m going to take them along to ‘all things birth’. I want them to know about the divinity of their bodies, how strong they are, and how they’re created to bring forth life. I want them to see birth without fear, as something God created them to do (if they choose). This is huge in our society … and I’m just beginning to understand some of this.

Along the same vein .. I listened to this podcast the other day (http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/archives/2008/051808.html) and was totally captivated. It’s an interview with Tim Ward who wrote the book, Savage Breast: One Man’s Search for the Goddess. Have you read it? In the interview he talked about seeing this pagan statue of the feminine divine. A statue with many curves and tons of breasts. And then he talked of God’s abundance and nourishment. About how the breast symbolizes ‘enough’. That’s not a good descriptor, but it’s all that’s coming to mind. Anyway, I want to think on these ideas some more.

I think I’ve rambled on long enough here. I’ve got a lot more thoughts bopping around in my head, but who the heck is even going to get through this super long comment, never mind 5 more paragraphs. If you’ve actually made it through this comment … you’re amazing!!

Tess June 14, 2008 at 9:27 am

You are so fantastic! I wish I could have thought of the speech about women using their bodies in liturgical dance and had an opportunity to use it.

“Hurleygate” reminds me so much of my own experiences at convent school, when as young teenagers we had to listen to speeches from visiting priests about our role as sexual temptresses.

I remember one particular occasion when the priest described to us three scenarios: firstly a young girl dressed in modest clothing, including a long skirt; the second was a young girl in just a swimsuit; the third was a young girl in a… wait for it… miniskirt. (I’m not even attempting to describe the relish with which he described this young temptress’s attire.)

What he then told us was that the modest clothing and the swimsuit were OK, because the first was, well, modest and the second was functional. But the miniskirt was the temptation of the devil because it almost but not quite revealed everything. So if we wore miniskirts, we might drive boys to commit the sin of masturbation. (I wonder if Hugh Grant was driven off the rails at an early age by a miniskirt.)

I have to say that the effect was rather lost on me. I was only 13 and quite an innocent 13 at that. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and had to go and look the ‘m’ word up in the dictionary later. That gave me lots of ideas!!

Stacey June 14, 2008 at 6:54 pm

wow, you’ve gotten me thinking with this post. thank you. as a mom to 3 young girls (6,6, and 3), i have been interested in this series. i have lots of shame stories in my past and am slowly breaking free from them. it’s so deep- these memories of sexual shame, and so pervasive in the church. growing up in a conservative church, i had countless experiences like the one you tell with the liz hurley movie, and i think those messages stuck somewhere deep inside me- the shame of my body. i’m slowly breaking free from them and it’s amazing how that’s transforming me. my girls now see their bodies as beautiful and powerful (i loved your comment, monica!), and i hope they stay on that path. i want to do all i can to keep them there. it’s healing to me to mother my girls in a way that celebrates them as girls.

Lydia June 17, 2008 at 12:29 pm

I’ve never commented here before. I’m one of your secret readers, coming out.

I grew up with the same expectations as you. I personally felt that having sex before marriage would be the most damning thing.

I started wanting to have sex when I was in high school. When I had my first boyfriend I started to compromise my standards but I never had sex. But I was tormented by my lust for it.

I got over him and stopped lusting. I met my future husband and we tried really hard, and were successful, at keeping our hands and bodies to ourselves. After we got married we could reap our reward for waiting. But sex was disappointing. I thought that we deserved having a good sexual experience for waiting. The truth is that I was so naive about sex. There was so much I didn’t know and was ashamed to ask about sex before I got married. I didn’t investigate the subject until a couple months before we got married because I was afraid about lusting.

I have thought about how it would be so much more natural if we would have done it when we felt like it–when the passion was there. After we got married it just felt like we were supposed to do it. that’s sad. But I’m happy to say things are better now, three years later.

I think you’ve brought up such a good topic to discuss and think about.
I get very frustrated that women’s bodies are blamed, like in your story of Liz Hurly. You might want to read this post of an old professor of mine about women’s bodies. It’s very good. http://shahshankedredemption.blogspot.com/

Rachelle June 18, 2008 at 3:11 am

Pat,

I always felt your supportive presence at meetings and conferences. I’m so glad you’re my bro!

I wrote PAGES in my journal after that (my first, and last) regional meeting. I do remember saying that bit about the men in the congregation/audience needing to deal with thier own stuff. I remember that thought RUSHING to me at the meeting. There was a lot of HS prompting for me in that meeting. The Muse was defintely afoot. (Although I’m sure I followed her lead imperfectly.)

At the time, our staff had been tiptoeing into beginning SA groups at the church, and there was a lot of talk about ‘protecting’ the men from slipping up. It’s a balance, I supposed between ‘helping a brother’ and making men responsible for their own shit–which is _so_ neccessary for health/shalom. I’m still trying to suss that thang out — but I’m sure I tend to err on the carry-your-own side of things! :-)

Workin’ it out with fear and trembling! -R

Rachelle June 18, 2008 at 3:12 am

Sisters!

Your stories are breaking up ground and making a fertile place in our collective souls! We need a ritual for naming and releasing these damaging tales. Let’s create one together. I’ll post one idea and you post yours. Watch for it! We can bring shalom to this place on earth.

All my love,

Rachelle

neil June 18, 2008 at 10:16 am

It’s too bad that the message of the Elizabeth Hurley scenario ended like this: “Being with someone provocative like Elizabeth Hurly, just drives us deeper into sexual sin.” As I was reading it, I expected that the message was going to be more of an empowering one for the girls, something like: “Being someone provocative like Elizabeth Hurly doesn’t keep your husband from cheating.”

How would that be empowering? Well first of all, with a little more dialog it takes the guilt off the woman where it does not belong. But I think it can become liberating because the message out there is that girls have to look a certain way to have value. Contrary to what I read in a lot of posts about freeing the body image, the message does not even need to be about being free to be sexy. Who made being sexy so important, anyway? Probably men, and the women who have been fooled into thinking that liberation necessarily includes the right to be provocative. Don’t get me wrong, please, I’m not saying that beauty is bad, I’m not saying wanting to be attractive is bad, I’m not even saying that being sexy is necessarily bad. It just seems to me that so many times (and yes, I’m admittedly on the outside looking in, in a way) that the drive to be sexy is a desire to be lusted after, perhaps by the opposite sex, perhaps by our friends, maybe even to a degree by ourselves. That’s not healthy, it’s not even the truth of beauty. It’s a substitute for confidence. Bodies are good, yes. Lust leaves out the soul, though.

I do think the message for girls should be confidence. With confidence, if/when they are presented with someone who is a potential mate they can think through their options and make a decision based on their heart, beliefs, etc, not on pressure.

So, I would say to girls: nothing you do, no way you dress can make a guy be the perfect guy or even guarantee that he’s not going to break your heart. So start with the parts of you that really matter: your character, your confidence (in your spirit and your body!), your ability to be a friend and to love with wisdom, grace and charity.

Is sexy in that list? No. is beauty? That list is all about beauty! Who would not be attracted to a person like that regardless of the clothes or body type?

What I’d love to hear sometime in discussions of body image and sexual readiness is a confident woman’s perspective of modesty.

(Sorry for the rantiness of these comments; I just really feel that there is another perspective missing sometimes)

neil June 18, 2008 at 10:19 am

Oh! I forgot — that paragraph should read more like:

So, I would say to girls: nothing you do, no way you dress can make a guy be the perfect guy or even guarantee that he’s not going to break your heart. He will have problems that you can’t fix and that aren’t your responsibility. So start with the parts of you that really matter: your character, your confidence (in your spirit and your body!), your ability to be a friend and to love with wisdom, grace and charity.

neil June 18, 2008 at 10:26 am

Actually, I’d say the same to thing to boys.

Rachelle June 18, 2008 at 11:05 am

Neil,

Yes, It’s a double edged sword ins’t it? Because the message is that girls should look a certain way to have value; yet when they go ahead and dress to look that certain way, they are condemned for doing so. (see the Miley Cyrus scandal of a month or so ago.)

What seem obvious is that dressing ‘provacative’–or not–is _not_ what keeps your husband from cheating. Your _husband_ keeps your husband from cheating. I think this message needs to be much stronger in religious circles, where women are far too often considered responsible for their spouse’s infidelity. The fairly recent affair with Ted Haggard and prominent pastor’s comments regarding how pastors are more likely to cheat if their wives ‘let themselves go’ are testimony to this sad reality.

Sigh. Sometimes it just makes you so tired, doesn’t it?

I hear what you are saying about confidence. Something I heard years ago in a Barbara Walters interview has stuck with me. Walters was interviewing Madonna, who had recently become a mother. They were talking about Madonna’s public history, including her “Sex” book, which had come out several years prior. Walter’s asked Madonna what she would teach her daughter, Lourdes, about men. Madonna paused for a long moment, then said something like, ‘If I teach her to be confident, I shouldn’t have to teach her much about men.’ I’ve often thought there was a lot of wisdom in that.

As I think a bit tonight about sexuality and modesty, some questions come to mind. Who gets to define what is sexy? Can one person’s concept of beauty be another’s definition of sexy? Does the woman who is dressing herself in the morning get to define that for herself, or does our patriarchal and consumer culture get to create those parameters–or is it both?

I feel that I’m a confident women, and yet my perspective on modesty has been repetedly questioned in the church (though not in the rest of the world.) And while I have striven to be a friend and to love with wisdom, grace, and charity, I have been been acused, more than once, of having seductive and ulterior motives–each time by men who’s own dysfunction has been projected onto me as a bystander. (Which came out later in the storyline.)

For instance, I was once accused of ‘dressing seductively’ while working the overnight shift at a church shelter. Becuase I would be required to sleep part of the night on the floor in a sleeping bag, I was wearing my husband’s oversized sweatshirt, which went down to my knees, and a pair of thick leggings. My fellow volunteer was wearing a baggy peasant dress with leggings. Both of us were asked not to wear these items any more. (This is just one memorable example.) So, who is defining sexy–and who has to carry the weight of that definition?

This is hard to bear, but common enough. A woman in today’s (American conservative) religious culture develops survival techniques for this experience –although she often carries wounds with her along the way.

As I watch my girls grow up I’m so grateful they are confident in their bodies, and that they feel free to dress and move in the ways that feel right to them. I hope I can protect that healthy place–in the religious world and in the secular world as well. And even more, I live in hope that parents like you are raising the the next generation of boys — boys like your little wonders–to carry healthier attitudes towards women’s bodies, and towards their own bodies, than the generation before them.

Can I get an Amen?

neil June 18, 2008 at 3:37 pm

“the message is that girls should look a certain way to have value; yet when they go ahead and dress to look that certain way, they are condemned for doing so.”

I guess that’s where I think that another perspective is needed. Both of those above unhealthy messages are from 2 different camps, I think; 1) the culture/media, etc. at large, and 2) many conservative religious circles (but maybe not all religious circles).

The 3rd view is modesty and beauty. I’m saying we can leave sexy out of it, because I don’t think it belongs in the public arena much, if at all. Is there a purpose for it that we could do without, publicly speaking? Yeah, one could argue that my view is a man’s view and one that’s all messed up as far as sexiness goes, too. And one could say that it is an archaic view, as well. We’ve come so far as a culture, perhaps, to ever go back in this area. But what if we and our children stuck out for our modesty? They might not fit in with their friends. But isn’t it worth it?

Seems like either way we fight a difficult battle, but I would argue for the protection of the soul over fitting in, I guess. But you’re right, who defines modesty and when and by who’s standards does it become sexy? That’s precisely why sexiness doesn’t belong in the public sphere, in my opinion. It’s pretty easy to see something as innocent as a pony tail from afar and think “that’s pretty hot,” only to find out when you get closer to the person it’s an old hippie dude with nice hair. It’s just a pony tail! but because “sexy” is such a widespread, bought and sold concept, that pony tail is easily “sexy-fied.” I’m not arguing for a no-pony tail dress code. Sure, one could argue that boys (and girls?) would think about sex even without the sex-machine influences. Okay, true, but there is such a thing as discipline (very valuable character trait, I hear) but we feed our whims and impulses so much easier than we fight against the forces that go against discipline and morality. (There again, who defines morality? There must be some authority we can look to… or are we just out here on our own?)

Anyway, just more thoughts. Yes it is tiring. And yes, Shelli and I do hope we can raise our boys to respect others’ bodies, as well as their own.

Good dialog here BTW. You always strike a chord with your readers as the comments show.

Monica June 19, 2008 at 7:35 am

Interesting comments. My thoughts as I read Neil’s comments and Rachelle’s comments go something like this:

I wonder whether we as women are just totally mixed up.

I’m constantly watching my 6 and 8 year old (innocent, I think) girls, raised in a small town ‘sheltered, conservative, Christian’ community, exploring who they are and what they are. A few years ago they found this little super short halter top and tight capris at the thrift shop and begged to come home with it. They were 3 and 5 and in my opinion hadn’t really been influenced by the media (directly anyway .. no Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus etc.). This was their favorite little outfit to wear. They’d put it on and stroke their bodies and flip their hair. Me, the mom, told them they were only allowed to wear this at home, in the backyard. Inside, I was worried, concerned, and frustrated!!!!! What had happened to my sweet innocent girls? What kind of stuff had they been watching at friend’s places (the *few* times I’d left them alone)? All of our friends and family are very modest, so I wondered what kind of potentially sexually promiscuous girls I was raising. This is one way to react and a lot of my head space was consumed by these thoughts.

The other way to look at it is that they were being girls. And girls, who eventually become women are, in their soul, in their purest being, sexual. What do you think? What if being sexy is what we are? And what if we’re not being true to ourselves if we’re constantly worried about being too sexy. If we’re always worried about committing some sin. What if NOT being sexy is the sin? I just asking these questions. I don’t really have an answer.

I think of the world God created, and I think of the many animal species who have certain ways of being with their sexual counterparts. We wouldn’t think of telling the male Mallard Duck to tone down on the colourful feather action b/c the female is getting too excited. The primping, the licking the sniffing.

Maybe the sin, for us women, comes in denying who we really are. SEXUAL. @@ Maybe we’re more about sexiness than about washing dishes, doing laundry and raising the kids. And maybe our sexuality is more about the soul than about the act of sex itself, or how it makes a man feel.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here. Not necessarily personally attached to all the opinions I’ve written. I’m thinking off the top of my head to a large extent.

Rachelle Mee-Chapman June 19, 2008 at 8:09 am

Yeah, what she said. :-)

Josh June 19, 2008 at 11:33 pm

Monica. I think you nailed it. I think your intuition (even if you claim it was playing the devil’s advocate) was perfect.

The stories told here are an insight for me. I have no idea what it is/was like for women and girls of any age. I never had to experience that and I can never fully understand what it is that any woman has/is going through. But I can say that holding yourself back from being yourself or from being sexy because you are ashamed is tragic.

I don’t think that there is any reason that one should hide their sexuality. It is as much a part of themselves as the color of their hair. Sexiness is obvious. Whether it be in the form of confidence, or in the form of modesty or in the form of the human body. We can all see it and in some way shape or form we tend to be attracted to it.

Hiding oneself has never done anyone any good. Backing down from those that would have you submit to them has rarely ever turned out well.

This is why I love your stories Rachelle. The words that you write and the way that you say them, and having the fortune of knowing you, the picture your words paint can only be described as ‘standing tall’. Being strong and determined and trusting your own feelings and intuitions. Pardon the french, but that’s fucking awesome.

Monica June 20, 2008 at 7:02 am

Love the conversation and that the guys are interested in the conversation too!!!

Rebecca Dallin June 20, 2008 at 10:09 pm

The thing is, it’s hard – probably impossible – to protect girls from the way the patriarchal society we grew up with views women. I think maybe the best you can do is give them a good arsenal of self-love and good sense. And I think you’re doing a good job with that!

Add my name to the list of women who regret waiting until marriage to have sex, by the way. It was an odd feeling to sort out “what are my feelings about sex and dating” in my mid thirties.

Whoops! Lindell and Amelia are here – gotta go!

nudy garland June 23, 2008 at 12:21 am

here’s something i’ve never told anyone, ever, probably because of some strange sense of shame i STILL have about it to this day. i am not sure i can post this under my real name because of said sense of shame :-/

i’m female and heterosexual, these are two important details for this story i am going to share:
when i was 5 years old, my best friend (who i’m still friends with 21 years later, and she is also female and heterosexual) and i had a fun game we played, we called it “fashion show.” i am 100% sure my only exposure to a “fashion show” at this point was the one miss piggy is involved in in “the great muppet caper”- not exactly brimming with sexy imagery, there, but i could be convinced that perhaps there was some sexual confidence that seeped out and stuck with me about the way those women (and piggy) sauntered down the run way and showed off the latest styles.

my friend and i were two completely innocent girls- grew up in christian homes, were never-exposed to sex on tv or anything at that stage of the game. i think i knew the basics of sperm and eggs, but not much beyond that. we used to play “fashion show” in the bathroom at my house. i am not sure what my mom thought we were doing in there behind the locked door- playing with bathtub toys in the sink? or maybe that we were just keeping each other company whilst the other took a dump? what we were really doing was taking all our clothes of and taking turns walking down the make-shift runway (the long, bathroom counter top), strutting our fully nude “stuff” (hips swaying and everything)!! somehow, my friend and i just WANTED to be naked and flaunt ourselves around.

i distinctly remember NOTHING about when it was her turn. i didn’t watch her thinking anything of it, i don’t remember caring about her nakedness in one way or another- it just was what it was- there was no sense of any child-form of arousal from viewing her flauntiness (can it be called ‘sexuality’ that young? i kinda think so…). all i can remember is how it felt to be the one showing off my body when it was MY turn. it felt sooo great! not tingly, not arousing in the way i associate with feelings of sexiness now, just very freeing and independent, in some way that was unique to any other way i ever expressed myself. it even felt great in the process of stripping down, i remember the fun of gradually wearing less and less. it didn’t feel dirty, or shameful (although… we still somehow had that gut feeling that we needed to do this behind a locked door, and i may never know where that instinct came from… but maybe there is a distinction between “shameful” and “private/intimate” that could also stand to be made in this conversation about sexuality). it was just all about ME. me being naked, me showing off my body, me feeling… i think… SEXY in some strange, 5 year-old way.

many years later my same friend was telling me about some pictures she had just seen of herself as a 5 or 6 year-old in which she was wearing a little sun dress with one strap pushed down her shoulder, and she was making a pouty face at the camer. i recounted memories i had of being in totally “unsexy” situations (in my third grade class room, or walking down the street with my family, etc) and the simple act of rolling a shoulder backwards in a circle used to feel … well … i don’t know how i would have described it as a kid, but now the only word i can think of to describe it is “naughty”!! but in that *wink wink* good kind of way ;)

???!

where did we get these ideas?? i think it’s built in. i think i AM sexy, and i mean that not just in a “self-confidence” kind of way, i mean it like that mallard duck comment, earlier- you can’t ask me to tone down the colours of my feathers- i’m just built for attracting a mate. sexy is something i am by nature.

the sad thing is, at age 16 when i had my first serious boyfriend, we had been trained and taught not to have sex or to THINK about sex (also known “lusting,” in my upbringing) until marriage- so we didn’t. we got married at age 20, and… 6 years later here we are getting divorced. i am very certain that our lack of a chance to explore our sexuality a bit more before marriage does play a big role in our divorcing now. i am not sexually attracted to him- whether or not i was (or even “should be”) is not a question i was “allowed” to ask prior to marriage, because of my christian upbringing. sex and sexual “compatibility” (or whatever you want to call it) didn’t play into our decision to be together forever because we never had a chance to explore sex (with each other OR anyone else) until we had already tied the knot. so, i spent 5 years having sex with him anyway. because it was my “duty” as a wife, and because that’s what is “normal” when you are married. you are just supposed to. don’t get me wrong, i loved him and cared about him as a good man and close childhood companion, and i even learned the ways to make it enjoyable for myself, too. but now i’m a grown woman trying to figure out for the first time what it means to be sexually attracted to people and how to engage with those feelings. i mourn the loss of my late teens/early 20s to have been figuring out this vital part of becoming an adult.

i’m sad that the confident, seemingly inherently sexy girl i was at age 5 got trapped in a sexless youth and eventually a sexually unsatisfying young adulthood the more and more i was brought up under the banner of being a “good Christian.”

i love this conversation you’ve started, rachelle. thanks for a place to talk about it.

Becky June 27, 2008 at 9:04 am

Love. Love. Love this post. Absolutely love it. You are a kindred soul — and much better at articulating what I am often thinking but can’t put into words.

On a professional level, after working in sex therapy and education for a few years now, I can attest that many of our clients are Christian women who have been emotionally, spiritually and physically damaged by misinformation and ignorance about their bodies and about sex.

I was one of those people, and my personal journey is what led me into this field. I love being able to help women (and men and couples for that matter) develop a healthy appreciation for their bodies, for the wonders of sensuality, and for the sexual experience.

Kate Phillips July 3, 2008 at 3:29 pm

LOVED the God Sticks and Shame Caves post, Rachelle. I remember at SPU a speaker came, I think it was Josh McDowell, and scolded the girls giving the boys blow jobs for behaving like whores and temptresses. (He did not scold the boys likewise.)

I agree with Monica that denying who we are as sexual (and sexy!) beings is the problem, not the sexiness itself. It seems that exhortations to young women to exercise “modesty” are essentially shame-based, though perhaps less obviously than the Hurleygate video. If “sexiness doesn’t belong in the public sphere”, we might as well put back the fig leaves back on, convinced of the inherent shamefulness of our bodies.

Thanks to “Nudy Garland” for a thought provoking and “revealing” response, not to mention a fun name! I agree, it is tough to discover who we are sexually after you’ve made a lifelong commitment to someone. We are taught in churches to deny or hide who we are as sexual beings, I believe it is disempowering for both men and women. Bravo to Becky the therapist for addressing this issue with her clients and helping them to recover their full selves.

Ashley October 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Sadly, sex has become awesome, since we stopped going to church.
Don’t know if that is correlation or causation. This post is amazing and brings up so much shame inside of me that took almost a decade to resolve and lots of money in therapy. Even now I sometimes apologize for being more “in the mood than my husband.” He always asks me why I feel the need to apologize. It is shame I tell you.
And it is slowly being shed the longer I am away from church.
Sad, but true.

Evelyn October 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I responded to Rachelle’s post about sexuality and spirituality, and wrote: I was exposed to several very diverse messages about sexuality, in some ways twisting and knotting up how I understood sexuality & intimacy:
1) within the perceived secrecy of my parents life, I experienced a lot of unconventional sexual behavior – a product I guess of the 60′s and 70′s (free love) kinda thing. They told us to “Stay in our rooms” and the secrecy with which they behaved suggested there was tabboo on the other side of my bedroom door.
2) I was shamed for trying to make sense of, or playing around with the same things I observed adults doing. This in turn frustrated and shamed my own beliefs about my sexuality
3) I was told sexuality was beautiful, and that I could talk freely about my journey; God gave us sex as a gift (yet when I did finally start talking I was accused of being promiscuous or even trying to destroy other relationships)
4) I struggled with fears of being bad within the religious perspectives my family held. Although MY understanding of God certainly contested my family’s doctrine, I never understood the god-liness of being sexual or sensual. Where was god in all that, especially when it was expressed as both beautiful and bad. Not sure if that confuses things here …

At this point I am working at understanding myself sexually. I believed I was frigid, or desire-less, but I think it was fear of my sexuality, my sensuality, that has blocked me from really knowing intimacy.

THEN – I read all the commentary (still late on the draw – but I so wish I had a soul-group to discuss this with.) I am 41 (where in the world did my life go) and now wrinkles, and glasses, and pudgy spots on my body… and wading through what it is to be a sexual being… divorced, single mom again, and toying with ideas of new partners? in my own skin? WHAT?

Perhaps it isn’t “sexy” but the word “Sensual” – a deep sense of self that I am slowly cluing into. Sexy is what we do, sensual is what we are. My ex-husband was wonderful at telling me how beautiful I was, but I didn’t trust that information at all. I have learned, or come to believe, (and I beg the universe to teach me something different here) that it isn’t about me but about the sex. I have been an instrument of others pleasure for a big portion of my life. Even at 8, sitting on a family friend’s lap on a car ride, and protesting the uncomfortably hard spot I was sitting on, I got messages that I was for someone-else’s pleasure – everyone else controlled what I was allowed to feel, reject, or experience. And here I am, half scared to death to explore having a new partner – half excited about the open doors this creates for me and my budding sensuality… but still the gremlins of old beliefs tear away at what I dream to get comfortable with. I am still on my journey… but so love the honest, full, thoughtful responses your readers share…

Barb April 13, 2012 at 6:36 am

Wow. We are going backwards and there seem to be more and more (mostly) men who want to subjugate women

The quote from the pastor regarding Liz and Hugh which I have quoted below, tells me that MEN cannot control themselves and have a tough time keeping it in their pants. Perhaps he should place more emphasis on keeping body parts where they belong if he has issues with sexuality.

“I know what it tells me. It tells me that being with a woman who is smokin’ hot in the eyes of our fallen society only drives us to want more. “

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