When I was eleven, I signed a contract with God to remain a virgin until I was married. It was an actual piece of paper that I was handed by one of the youth pastors in my church. I said a pledge and signed my name at the bottom, probably with a heart or a flower over the letter _i_ in my first name. At the time, I had no real concept of what I was promising with that paper. All I knew, was that the worst thing I could do was become one of “those girls” who ruined herself before God and gave away the most precious gift she could give her husband on her wedding day.
The adults knew what I was signing. They probably thought they were doing something good in my life. They also gave it to me at such a young age simply because I was too young, naive, and sheltered to understand the meaning of such a promise. As soon as I put my name on that paper I committed myself to years of additional guilt and shame. All the normal pieces of growing up, the flirtation, dating and discovering who I was going to be as a grown woman were all shadowed by the promise to never have sexual thoughts, desires or actions until I was properly married.
Sex isn’t wrong, it’s a part of being human
Sex is a basic biological drive. All of us are driven to find food, shelter, safety, and to reproduce. It is hardwired into us as creatures of this planet. To tell a person that these urges are wrong, sinful, and shameful is simply ridiculous. Trying to convince someone to not want sex is about as logical and useful as telling them not to want food and water.
Most every person on the planet has an interest in sex and most of the adults have it on a regular basis. To pretend that our teen children are somehow exempt from this basic drive, and expect them to ignore it in the name of God is cruel. You can’t ignore your body when it is hungry and cold, you also cannot ignore your body when it has a desire for sex. To destroy sexuality is to destroy something fundamental about who we are as humans.
Many adults slap a childs’ hands when they dare to touch their own genitals. I was taught that bodies were created by God, beautiful and perfect, in his own image. Except for that part between my legs, that part is dirty, and disgusting and sinful and never touch it. No one had to explicitly tell me this, it was inferred through conversations about women, and as a girl becoming a woman, I listened.
A penis is called a penis, a vulva is “down there”
As women, the name of our genitals is almost never even spoken except in euphemism and whispers. The vulva is the Voldemort of a women’s body, the she-that-shall-not-be-named, or seen, touched, or explored. Male sexuality is discussed in mainstream culture as a given. Masturbation is a common comedic joke in many forms of film and media. Female sexuality has two options, virgin or whore, with nothing in between, and we had better choose the virgin.
When I was old enough to know a bit more, I discovered that I, as a daughter of Eve was responsible for all the sin in the world and that painful childbirth is my reminder of the damnation I, as a woman, have brought into the world and unto men. My periods, make me even more unclean and dirty, adding another layer of shame that emanates from the space between my legs.
I could watch television on any day and a commercial for a feminine hygiene product would tell me my body was always in need of additional freshness and a clean feeling. I never wanted anyone to know I had my period, even other girls.
I also learned how my body further creates sin in the minds of men. I was told in many different ways that it was my job, as a women, to not tempt men with my clothing, actions or words. Men they said, are no more than walking sex crazed maniacs, a veritable penis with legs who cannot be held responsible for their actions if I was perceived to be dressing or acting too provocatively.
If I did get touched/assaulted/raped, I would likely have asked for it, and would be partly responsible. I spent years in fear of men’s eyes on me, aware that I was constantly in danger, striving to be as unattractive as possible so that I would be seen as a thinking person and more than a sexual object. I had conflicting desires to be a sexual person, to be pretty and attractive but the lack of autonomy made me hate my body for making me weak, vulnerable, and afraid.
Becoming fully sexual seems impossible
My virgin sexuality became the most important aspect of my image, or at the very least being able to portray myself as a virgin, even if it was a lie. The inability to keep my pre-teen contract as an adult woman created a double self. A secret, unacknowledged sexuality shrouded in shame and denial, and the external false purity constantly in need of prayer and grace. I showed the world a woman that was pretty but not sexy, smart yet accommodating, until I was so far into the act of upholding expectation, that I had no idea who I actually was. My one hope was resting on the promise that my imposed asexual child-state was temporary and that one day I could float into adult sexual bliss within the confines of a marriage bed. Except it didn’t work that way.
I got married at 27 only to find it wasn’t possible for me to transition from being a shamed, quasi-sexual child in an adult body, to a fully sexual, well adjusted woman in a single thirty minute ceremony by the magic contained in the exchange of rings.
Now I am the adult, raising a child of my own. I am over a decade into the process of healing my own sexual self, learning to love my body, and now I find myself on the other side. I look at my daughter and I want none of this for her. She asks me questions about her body and I refuse to instill in her the shame and guilt and grief that consumed me for so many years.
The cycle stops with me.