I’m almost two years into my marriage; a marriage between two people who started in similar places but took very different routes sexually. It’s something we talk about a lot and have a great deal of difficulty communicating about – and I don’t think we’re the only ones.
Shortly after getting married I told a few of my guy-friends something along the lines of, “Married sex rules – have you ever had sex and not felt guilty or immediately tried to figure out how to get out of the relationship/friendship/house afterwards? It’s amazing!” Because until that point, I hadn’t.
In the spirit of full disclosure, one of us came into the marriage having waited until marriage for sex, the other (me) had not.
One of my friends cut me off. He actually said, he loves hearing about sexual conquests or funny sex stories but as soon as it involves someone’s marriage it becomes weird and uncomfortable. And the crazy thing is, I totally understood what he was talking about.
We send a lot of mixed messages about sex in our culture and one of the biggest seems to be subconscious. We talk ad-nauseam about celebrity sex, after-party sex, afternoon sex, college sex and friend sex (you know when there is all that tension between friends until one night when they get drunk and act on the tension and then it’s weird – they make movies about it).
What happens when we get married? We quit talking about it. We quit making sex fun and interesting. It’s not proper to talk about your sex life. We also quit talking about sex as soon as it becomes real: It’s not proper for a guy to talk about the porn he watched last week when he was feeling a little lonely and had nothing else to do. It’s not proper for a woman talk about what she thinks would make her uncomfortable sexually, just how good she is and how she’s up for anything.
Here is my story:
I grew up in a culture and church where we didn’t really talk about sex. I mean I knew how babies were made – we lived on a farm – but we didn’t talk openly about sex a lot outside of the science acknowledging it only happens during marriage. Sure, we could make sex jokes from time to time but it was often serious and uncomfortable. To be fair, my parents were incredibly cool and tried very hard to be open with us about sex, but at the end of the day something was still missing or unsaid.
Why? Because sex is bad, or at least that’s the message I received in church and in Christian culture. I’m sure somewhere along the way someone tried to make the point that sex is good, when done respectfully and consensually in the confines of marriage (and only in the missionary position after a long prayer), but that’s not the message I received. And adversely, pop-culture was trying to tell me something totally different, it was saying all sex is good – or a lot of sex is good.
(As a side note, I think that speaks to the church’s position of making every issue very black and white for teens. Drinking is a sin. Drugs are a sin. Sex is a sin. Smoking is a sin. The people who do these things are sinners and not to be trusted. But more on purity and the way we treat it later).
I wholeheartedly believed this lie (that sex was bad and dirty) and the propaganda completely worked on me. But then I started dating. The relationships I entered into always seemed to last a long time. For whatever reason, going on a casual date or two wasn’t a real possibility in high school. High school kids always like things to seem high stakes. Once two high school kids have been kissing for a few months, they get bored and the kissing turns to the time-honored youth group tradition of dry humping. You know, keeping everything on top of the pants so God won’t think we’re sinning – because like Superman can’t see through kryptonite, God can’t see through denim.
And then the allure of the female figure crippled my True Love Waits vow the summer after my senior year and I, a good Christian boy, had sex. And nothing bad happened. I realized I had been lied to all along; sex wasn’t bad it was good. And fun. And way too accessible. Think about it, we all have the necessary equipment for sex – no need for a trip to the sporting goods store for a frisbee or a baseball mitt. There is also no need for a trip to the local drug store for protection when you’ve been told sex is dirty and you’re filled with guilt. Since you’re not allowed to do it, you’re not allowed to do it safely. Or maybe the trip to the drug store doesn’t happen because no one told the young couple how to use protection, where they can get it or how inexpensive it is. Maybe they aren’t even fully aware of what they are doing.
The thing I’ve realized in studying the people around me is, once two people have had sex before and are slightly romantically proximal, it’s usually only a matter of time before they have sex. Yes, some people commit to working past prior sexual experiences and abstinence happens, but sex also happens – a lot. And since those people aren’t planning on having sex, because they’re filled with guilt and trying so hard to abstain from this thing that has existed on pedestal all of their life, they don’t go to the drugstore for protection. Guilt may not be, but unprotected sex definitely is the leading cause of teen pregnancy in Mississippi, a state in which most sex-education classes teach abstinence as the only form of birth control in high school.
We live in a country where seven in 10 teens have had sex by the age of 19 and seven in 100 teen girls become pregnant each year. We can’t lie about sex anymore. We need to be honest. No matter what you believe about where sex belongs the following is true: Sex is good, but irresponsible sex leads to pregnancy, STDs and deep psychological pain. Those consequences are bad. Some can be prevented with condoms, others with conversations and still others with a safe understanding of abstinence and healthy sexual relationships.
Let’s have those conversations. Let’s be honest about what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable. Let’s be real about what has caused pain in us. If we get this conversations right we can have fun with it and then hopefully, in the process, prevent a lot of later conversations about sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancy.
For my part, I’m going to share more of my story and ask some questions about some different aspects of sex. Give me your feedback. Tell us your stories (but not your partners’ stories, those are theirs) and your hangups and the things you’ve learned along the way.
** It should be noted that I have let my mother and wife read and make notes on this since it is also their story.