Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the author at One For Jesus.
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When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to grow up to be a porn star. It seemed like the ideal job. Because even growing up in the comparatively innocent 1980s, when the raciest thing on TV was The Benny Hill Show, I got it that sex was the best thing going.
The adult men in my family—all good sons of the 1950s—had married young and missed the sexual revolution by about 15 minutes. As the eldest grandchild and first boy, I was to be their deliverer. I was to get out there and make all the sexual conquests they never could.
And so we had that time, on a big family trip to Disneyland, when I was taught how to spot a woman with no bra and sneak a look down her blouse. Or that lesson about the anatomical muscle action that makes sex feel so good. Or in junior high, when I overheard a remark that, with my blond hair and blue eyes, “I can’t believe all the pussy this kid’s gonna get.”
I was taught, with an enthusiasm bordering on fanaticism, that women are every bit as interested in sex as men, that any differences are just a puritanical myth. Movies and TV backed up the point in spades. Even women who started off overtly hostile to their suitors were having great sex less than 90 minutes later. (See Anthony Michael Hall in 16 Candles.) I went into high school fully expecting girls to be throwing themselves at me before I had even memorized my class schedule.
And then something funny happened. No one threw herself at me. My whole freshman year, no one went out with me (never mind that I was still too young to drive), and no one slept with me even once! A note of desperation appeared in the council of my elders. Maybe I wasn’t “trying hard enough.” Maybe I needed more “encouragement.” Maybe I was gay!!
I began to dread having any female friend over to the house. Without fail, my dad would beckon me into the other room and command, in an urgent, bad-breath whisper, “You should ask her out!” One Saturday morning, I got a phone call from a female friend. As I hung up, my dad came down the hall in a purple fury that I hadn’t asked her out. (He had been eavesdropping from the extension phone in his bedroom.)
Despite my outward resistance, I took the advice to heart and “tried harder.” Later, I found out that women were put off by my aggressive, overtly sexual advances, but I had it as an article of faith that they wanted the same thing I wanted, so that possibility never occurred to me. Instead, I cast about desperately for the right key to open the lock like other guys. I tried calling, I tried not calling, I gave enough flowers to put a florist’s child through college. All through high school, all through college, nothing worked.
I left college still a virgin and the shame of my family. I felt that I must be physically disgusting in some way. I contemplated suicide.
And then: it happened. A home run! A one-night stand! Only it wasn’t like I’d been told. Instead of a life-altering nirvana, instead of robbing me of speech, instead of validating my entire existence up to that point, it was just sort of…regular sex. I mean it was nice, but in the words of Monty Python, “it was no basis for a system of government.”
I became confused. What happened? Had I done it wrong? Was there something more? Something else? Years of searching followed, but society was so unanimous that sex was the answer. Even the advice from the religious right—how “saving it for marriage is what makes it so incredible”—seemed to underline the point that great sex is the ultimate goal of life.
The end finally came one night in Dallas. I was there on business, met a cute local, and asked her out. She said yes! My head filled with visions of not needing my hotel room that night. But no sooner had we reached the restaurant than she told me how she had just become a Christian and was off sex. “DAMN IT!” I thought. But I was stuck for the evening anyway.
With nothing else to talk about, I said, “So… tell me about this Christian thing.” And as she began to talk about her life, I realized she was also describing my life–the searching and disappointments–as well as the life I wanted: newfound freedom and joy. I thought I knew all about what Christians believed, but I’d never heard anything like this.
Especially when she talked about the Bible’s advice on sex. “Flee from sexual immorality.” That’s the phrase that pays. Though it’s been callously reduced in our times to nothing more than “save it for marriage,” in its life-giving prescription strength, it’s more akin to “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” After 26 years of serving Aphrodite, every fiber of my being sang out in recognition of the truth at hearing her called a false god.
The rest of my story is a year of deprogramming in therapy, two years of twelve-step recovery, a total moratorium on family news about my dating life, and nearly a decade of sexual abstinence while I figured out how much else there is to life.
I will never be one of those “anti-sex” Christians who think that sex is bad or who hide their children’s eyes when a movie shows people kissing. Like I said, sex is nice. It’s a good aspect of my marriage. But you will also never see me posting on Instagram with, “Check out my hot wife!” You will never see me inspecting my daughter’s wardrobe for forbidden spaghetti straps, or urging her to take “the pledge,” or buying her a purity ring. All of that is the same stuff, different day.
When your whole life is obsessed with sex, it doesn’t matter if it’s sexually pure or sexually active. What was destructive in my life was invasive over-involvement of adult male family in my sexuality from the age of pre-pubescence. Since then, I have read many accounts that resonate to my core of people victimized the same way by “purity culture.” My vow in recovery was, that stops with me.
Christian faith was my salvation; I am never going to reduce it to a public obsession with sex. Instead, the church should be the place where people, washed ashore and broken on the beaches of a sex-saturated society, can hear something else. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” That cornerstone is not “being good;” it is not “sexual purity.” It is the love of Jesus Christ and him crucified to set us free. Any other message is a betrayal of our God-given purpose. Anything else is, ultimately, destined to collapse.