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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Am Not One Bit Surprised By the Claim "Sex Is Like a Microwave"

A microwave oven. Image source.
Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta shows us a page from a teen study bible which addresses the question, "If God made sex for people to enjoy, why do some people get AIDS and other STDs?" The following answer is given:
Did you ever get a present and have to read the instructions before you used it? When microwaves were first available, a woman used one to warm her cat. It did warm the pet, but it cooked its organs and killed the cat. The oven was wonderful, but its owner didn’t read the instructions on how to use it and how not to use it. Does that mean microwave ovens are too dangerous or that you shouldn’t use them? No, but you need to follow the instructions in order to enjoy them without getting hurt.

The urge to have sex can be very powerful as well as very dangerous. You need to know and follow God's instructions for this wonderful gift. God knew marriage would be a difficult, lifelong commitment. So he gave husbands and wives a special gift, a way to bond together. Sex in marriage helps a man and woman stay close in body and soul.

When people who aren’t married to each other have sex, it’s sort of like putting a pet in a microwave. Someone could be burned, damaged, or killed (Proverbs 6:26-28). Having sex before marriage can bring an unwanted pregnancy or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), many of which have no cure, some of which are fatal. And did you know promiscuous sex is also linked with serious depression? Why take the chance? It is much better to follow God's instructions and enjoy this precious gift only after you are married, just as God intended.
Apparently, Mehta posted this because, to him and his readers, this analogy is shocking and laughably ridiculous. He only adds a few sentences of his own because the absurdity of that study bible's "answer" speaks for itself.

Oh.

Yeah... to me, it sounds completely normal. I grew up in purity culture. I always knew that having sex outside of marriage was bad and dangerous. Analogies like this were given to show us just how dangerous it was. "Sex is like a microwave" does not sound one bit weird to me. I don't believe that anymore. I now believe there's nothing intrinsically bad or sinful about premarital sex. But my response to reading it is not "hey guys look at what this study bible said, can you believe how ridiculous it is?" but more like "yes, I used to believe this, and let me go through and break it all down logically and explain in detail what's wrong with it, because for people raised in that culture, there's nothing self-evidently wrong about this at all."

I've never heard an analogy about microwaves, but there were other analogies given to make the point "sex is a very very powerful tool, and if you use it in the right way it's awesome, but if you use it the wrong way it's INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS. Oh and by 'right way' we mean marriage. Yep. That piece of paper suddenly makes everything okay." (Generally this sort of argument is used when Christians realize they've gone too far in making sex sound dirty and bad, and that causes problems when people get married and are "allowed to" have sex but still feel dirty and bad. So now Christians want to emphasize that sex is good, but only when it's done in the "right way".) I heard that sex was like a really really nice racecar that you can only drive on a special track. Cars like that, you can't take them out on normal roads. And you can't just let any random guy test-drive it. Or, sex is like a Christmas present. It's a wonderful, valuable thing, but you can't open it yet. Or, you received a huge amount of money at birth, and sex is like giving ALL OF IT to one person. Don't do that til you're married- what if they run off and you end up with no money left?

So the microwave thing sounds totally normal to me. Yes, of course people are saying things like that in order to convince teenagers to "stay pure." I'm surprised that anyone is surprised.

I believed that I had something incredibly powerful, and that using it would feel good but would destroy my life. I was taught that there would be temptation- that most people do end up having sex outside of marriage, because the temptation is so strong- so I would have to fight. I feared that temptation. I feared my own desires. If I ever had a thought like "ooh it would be cool to have sex with that guy", I did my best to squash it down and "take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ." I was so afraid. Because it's all a slippery slope, you know. First it's one tiny thought, and the next thing you know, you're out of control, the temptation got too strong, you've had sex and lost all your purity and ruined EVERYTHING.

I also believed that God was very very concerned with what I did with my genitals. It was very important to the Creator of the universe that I have no sexual experience whatsoever until marriage. When I "struggled with lust", I reminded myself about how much I would hurt God if I "gave in" and sinned. (Note: "gave in" here means letting myself daydream rather than stomping down any and all sex-related desires.)

It was hard, though, putting in so much effort to force myself not to think about attractive boys. And when you do that much work, you have to tell yourself there's a good reason that makes it all worth it. So I piled up more and more fear, told myself there were so many scary unknown consequences and the drop off the slippery slope would be steeper than I could imagine. Told myself over and over how bad it would be to sin against God, how completely hurt God would be, how much of a betrayal it would be to Jesus.

This is what happens when you believe sex is like a microwave. It's so powerful, and you fear it. Furthermore, you're not even allowed any real information, only some vague euphemisms and medical-sounding definitions. No looking at a naked picture, no explicit descriptions, no porn, no masturbating, no looking too closely at your own body. Sex is a big scary, unimaginable thing, and you must make sure you don't ever get near anything marginally related, because who knows what could happen?

(And I won't even get into how this writer's understanding of sex and marriage isn't supported by the bible. People in the bible had a very different concept of marriage than we do now- women didn't have rights so they really needed a husband, polygamy was seen as totally fine, virginity was about making sure your property [ie wife] hadn't been damaged, not about an intimate and romantic connection between two individuals equal in status. The writer takes the Lord's name in vain by claiming that their view of sex is what "God intended.")

At the end of his blog post, Mehta says this about the study bible's advice: "And it doesn’t even answer the question! If you want to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, use some goddamn protection." I'm a little bit confused- what did he mean by "And it doesn't even answer the question"? Nowhere in this excerpt from the study bible was there any question about how to prevent STDs. Did Mehta totally miss the point [which is understandable, it's a pretty weird Christian subculture], or is he trying to say that, instead of that nonsense about microwaves, they should have talked about how to prevent STDs? [ie they should have answered a different question from the one that was asked]

From my point of a view as an ex-purity-culture girl, this crap about microwaves totally did offer an answer to the submitted question. (An answer I now disagree with, obviously, but it did give an answer.) The question was "If God made sex for people to enjoy, why do some people get AIDS and other STDs?" It's purely theoretical. It's about the apparent logical conflict between the risk of STDs and the belief that God made sex to be a good thing. I would never ever expect to find practical advice on preventing STDs in an answer to this question. (Or rather, if there's "practical advice", it's abstinence and nothing else.) And yes, they did answer the question of the apparent conflict between sex being goood and STDs existing- the answer is sex is good in marriage but horribly dangerous outside of marriage. I don't agree with that, but it answers the question.

Of course there are Christians trying to tell you sex is a good and powerful thing that can be dangerous if used incorrectly. (Much like a microwave.) Of course. That's what I was taught, that's what I used to believe, and I lived with the fear of my own thoughts and my own body. It's awful. It's a terrible thing to teach kids. But I'm not one bit shocked.

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