Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Dating, Courtship, and Purity: How a Stone Age Religious Text Shaped My Approach to Sex -- by Libby Anne


Read more by Libby Anne at lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com

I was taught to save my kisses for the man I would someday marry. My first kiss would be at the alter. I was not allowed to date in high school, because dating was practice for divorce. I, in contrast, was to wait until I was ready to marry, and then get to know a like minded young man through a courtship guided by my father. I was taught that as a woman, marriage, homemaking, and motherhood was my highest calling, and that sex within marriage was a sacred bond not to be profaned by unholy premarital sexual contact, or even premarital kissing. I was raised a fundamentalist Christian in a purity driven culture which based its teachings about sex, dating, and courtship on the teachings of the Bible. 

As a woman, I was taught to guard my purity jealously. My purity would be the greatest gift I could ever give my husband, and that moment when I would assure him on the wedding night that I was a virgin and had saved myself, my all, for him would be one of the best moments of my life. I was told that if I had sex before marriage, I would be forever haunted by regrets and my husband would never trust me. There would always be something wrong between us. If I came to the marriage a virgin, in contrast, unsullied by any other male, I would be set up for a perfect, godly marriage. In fact, I was taught that I would even regret dating or courting anyone else before my husband. During each relationship, I would give away a piece of my heart that I could never get back, and could never give to my husband. 

I was told that sex (within marriage, of course) was the most amazing thing ever. After saving ourselves for each other, I was told, the sex my husband and I would have would be out of this world. It would be like nothing I could imagine. Sex was sacred, holy, and amazing. I imagined some sort of holy lightening bolt that would fill during the act of sex, overwhelming us with pleasure. This would be worth waiting for. 
Weirdly, my parents never actually told me about sex. They just told me absolutely not to do it at the present, and to save it for marriage, and that it would be amazing. They didn't actually ever tell me what it was. I actually had to learn about it by reading through how to teach your child about sex books as I hide behind rows of books in the library. And what I caught in the few moments I had to myself - privacy is not easy with a dozen younger siblings - was not much. I knew almost nothing, and definitely nothing about my own anatomy besides the existence of a vagina down there somewhere. 

My parents taught me a lot of things (they instilled a palpable fear of demons in me, for example), but I have to say, their teachings about dating, purity, and courtship really take the cake. It was ALL WRONG. 

After several years of college, I began "courting" a young man I met there. My parents were fairly hands off, trusting that I would follow their teachings. While I got permission to start courting, my father didn't thoroughly screen my young man, which surprised me. I think he trusted that I would not be interested in someone who didn't share his beliefs, but college does not leave people unchanged and love does not always follow reason (or in this case, dogma). After some time, I began to openly change some of my religious beliefs, moving away from fundamentalism. My parents saw this and ordered me to end my relationship with my young man and to return to their beliefs. I refused. As an adult daughter they believed that I was under my father's God-given authority, but I no longer believed this. Conflict ensued and I refused to bend. It was at this point that I left my parents and their beliefs behind, declared my independence, and became my own person. Back at college I threw myself into my relationship with my young man and disregarded my parents' instructions about purity, instructions that I had followed completely up until that point. 

What I have learned since leaving has taught me how completely wrongheaded my parents' teachings about sex were. My boyfriend told me that he wished I had dated before. More than that, he wished I had had sex before. What was this? I was completely confused! I had thought that by "saving myself" I would be giving him a wonderful gift. I had thought he would be grateful. He wasn't. It meant nothing to him that I had "saved myself" for him. 

My boyfriend and I had premarital sex. And you know what? We've been married for several years now and that "regret" my parents taught me I would experience if I wasn't a virgin on my wedding day has never set in. My husband loves me passionately, and he trusts me completely. Didn't my parents say that if I wasn't a virgin on the wedding night my husband would never trust me? That is bullshit. 

Furthermore, I have to say that sex has been very disappointing. Sex is great, yes, but my parents set me up with horribly unrealistic expectations about it. That sacred mystical connection I was raised to see sex as? Yeah, NO. Sex is just sex. That effortless sheer physical pleasure I was raised to believe would automatically accompany sex? Yeah, NO. Sex is hard work, and it's sweaty, slimy, smelly, and downright gross sometimes. It also takes a lot of practice. My parents put it on a pedestal and idealized it as something it's not and taught me to do the same. It's not that I don't like sex, it's just that sex is absolutely not what they taught me it would be. 

And you know what? I wish I'd dated before meeting my young man. I wish I'd had sex before too. I wish I'd dated in high school and in the first years of college, I wish I'd dated casually and dated seriously. Dating is not practice for divorce, it's practice for relationships. Sex is not sacred, it's just a physical act humans do like eating or sleeping. Ironically, I suffer a lot of regret at these things I did not do, the very things my parents taught me I would regret forever if I actually did do. 

I've spent most of this post talking about what my parents taught me, but I want to point out that they believed they had this from God. God had made sex sacred, God had commanded humans to reserve sex for marriage, God had promised that sex would be a sacred bond between husband and wife, and God had guaranteed that those who did not follow his teachings regarding sexuality would suffer regret and distrust. When I left religion entirely during college, I realized that it is highly ironic that my parents follow and apply the sexual purity standards of a stone age religious text in the modern age. They think these standards are timeless. Well I have news for them: they're not. 

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