Growing up in a neighborhood that was dominated by the Southern Baptist church at its center, I was hell-bent on fitting in. Yes, bad pun intended. Seriously, though, I desperately wanted to fit in, and my family didn’t go to church, especially not the Southern Baptist kind. I was confirmed in a liberal United Methodist church in downtown Houston, far from my conservative suburban neighborhood. My Methodist confirmation classes had absolutely nothing to say about sex. Zero. It didn’t occur to me that sex was in any way related to religion until I started going with one of my friends to the Southern Baptist church. That’s where I learned that “True Love Waits.”
Yes, it waits, the way that Duggar kid was shamed into waiting and then proceeded to wait for true love by preying upon his sleeping sisters because he was so sexually repressed. But I digress.
“True Love Waits” was a philosophy, I suppose, indicating that if you were truly, madly, deeply in love with “the one,” “the one” would be happy to wait for/with you, ensuring that you both make a binding legal mess prior to making a sloppy sex mess. (Yes, kids, that’s right – sex isn’t sexy! And you waited til your marriage night to find out…) It made sex into a super-special gift, to be “given” to only one person. It was something to hold onto, to possess, and to legally and ritually purchase, in a court of law and in a house of worship.
I was evidently in the minority in not connecting religion with sex. A friend I met while I was in college was given a book, about sex and Christianity, during his early adolescence. That book nearly singlehandedly (single-pagedly?) cemented my friend’s rejection of Christianity. How? It said that masturbation was wrong. Even as a teenager, my friend looked at that and went, “Well, that’s silly.”
I wasn’t quite as intellectual as my friend, though. When I heard about “True Love Waits,” all I thought was, “A Way for Me to Be Special.” I took the vow. I was going to remain chaste til marriage. My Virginity was a Thing with a captial “V” and I was excited and I felt Special with a capital “S” because God has a capital “G” and this was seriously God-Special stuff. I went home and talked to my stepmother about it, expecting something admiringly supportive in response.
Instead, she blurted, “What the heck kind of fun is that?!”
That little statement opened up my mind. It told me that sex was fun. Sex was not terrifying, not necessarily emotional, and not particularly tragic in and of itself. It was an action, rather than something that sparkled in a little box. Angels were not going to sign upon high, nor were they going to pelt flaming arrows. If Don Henley was singing in the background, it would be of my own doing. Sex was not a magic spell. Sex was…sex.
At the start of adolescence I was a little jealous of girl friends with over-protective dads. This type of dad would threaten potential suitors with bodily harm should any harm or -gasp- sexual filth – be thrust upon said daughter. Don’t make me get out my shotgun, boy! My dad’s attitude was always something like, “Well, I don’t have to kiss the guy. Your body is your business.”
In adulthood, I’m so thankful I didn’t have that kind of dad, the one that turns his daughter into a commodity that must be purchased with an appropriately-sized diamond and legal contract. My dad gave me the gift of trust and respect. I could make my own decisions about my body. And I did. I was on birth control for nearly two decades before very consciously deciding to try to have kids. I can count the number of partners I’ve had on one hand – but you know what? That doesn’t even matter. What matters is it’s still my body. And I want to pass this along to my children.
I’m also thankful my husband does not feel that weird, sexually proprietary way about our daughter. We wondered, together, whether something would change in him when she was born, in this specific way. But nope, he said he still doesn’t understand it. He thinks it’s a sign of some pretty creepy over-involvement. Not that he wants to be the one to have these conversations at all with our kids – the penis-ing and vagina-ing is all my thing. But it would never occur to either of us to think heavily about our kids’ sexual preferences and/or choices, beyond trying to equip them to make choices that respect their own bodies and minds, and to feel satisified with their own decisions.
If my kids ever come to me and say they’re abstaining from sex until marriage, I’ll tell them I support what makes them happy, and I’ll probably ask them why. I’ll listen with an open mind, hoping that they’re not guided by shame, fear, or archaic paternalistic religious doctrine.
But I already know what I’ll really be thinking: “What the heck kind of fun is that?”