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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear

Fear, from the movie "Inside Out", with the ace flag as the background. Image sources here and here.
They told us it would be a terrible, dirty sin which would ruin our future if we had sex before marriage. But they also told us that statistically, most people- even if they're Christians, even if they make a purity pledge- do end up having unmarried sex. Somehow, this horrible, ghastly fate is happening even to people who put great effort into avoiding it.

How? How does this happen? Well, they said, temptation. Sometimes you have this feeling like you want to do dirty sexy things, and it's so hard- maybe even impossible- to resist. No, you won't be able to resist, so your only hope is to never even come face-to-face with that kind of temptation.

But see, they said, here's how it goes: Don't kiss too much, and don't use your tongue, because if you do, then you might feel like you want to have sex, and you won't be able to resist the temptation. Also, probably shouldn't kiss at all, because then you might feel like you want to kiss with tongue, and you won't be able to resist that temptation. Also, better not be alone and cuddling with a romantic partner, because then you might want to kiss, and you won't be able to resist that temptation. Really better not hug a person of the opposite sex at all, because then you might want to cuddle with them. And probably you shouldn't hold hands, because then you might want to hug. And we can keep going, up the slippery slope, to more and more mundane and innocuous actions, which will, apparently, bring unsuspecting victims closer and closer to the horrible, life-destroying black hole that is premarital sex.

They told us stories about good, pure Christian couples who found themselves alone together and "one thing led to another" and they "stumbled" and "gave in to temptation" and sex somehow "just happened."

And there I was, asexual but I didn't know it yet, and completely unable to wrap my head around how sex could possibly "just happen." I thought, hey I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that in order to have sex, you have to take your clothes off first, and let another person see your naked body. And you have to touch their genitals, and let them touch yours. How on earth could those things "just happen"? How? Why? How? How on earth could there be any feeling or desire that would cause me to go against everything I believed in and take off my clothes in front of another person?

But, they said, don't go thinking it can't happen to you. Oh no, don't go thinking you're so pure, that you're not sinful and vulnerable to temptation. Pride comes before a fall, doncha know? And there have been Christian couples- role models in their purity and dedication to God- who were careful not to even kiss, careful to follow all the rules, and then one night they were alone and got carried away and it *happened*. Don't think it can't happen to you. Stay vigilant. Avoid any situation which could maybe lead to temptation. You never know what could happen. You never know what your body is capable of, what sinful desires lurk in your heart.

And so I did. When I was dating my first boyfriend, I made sure to never EVER lay down on his bed in his dorm room. Because what if one thing led to another, and, somehow, we had sex? When I went back to my parents' house for spring break, they said I could bring my boyfriend- and I was terrified. If we both spend the night in the same house, who knows what could happen? (He had no purity-culture background and he didn't understand what I was scared of. "Are you saying... you think I would... try something?"  No, I said, no I didn't think he would do it on purpose, I was scared that both of us would be, somehow, unable to control ourselves.) Another time, I was out really late at night and wondering if I should just sleep on the couch at this fraternity house where a lot of my friends lived, because it was too far to walk all the way back to my dorm. But no, I decided. Because some of the guys who lived there were attractive, and what if one of them showed up in the night and ... somehow, something happened? I wasn't thinking about rape; I was concerned that in the darkness I would be overcome with desire and unable to control myself. (Please note, though, how this ideology makes it impossible to understand the difference between rape and consensual sex. Apparently, if you choose to put yourself in a situation with "temptation", and then sex *happens*, it's your fault.)

In all of these examples, I made decisions based on my fear that sex could "just happen," while completely unable to understand by what mechanism it could possibly "just happen." Wouldn't that require taking off my clothes? Wouldn't that require letting someone touch my genitals? How? How could a slide into "temptation" cause that to happen? Seems like the only way I would take off my clothes is if I chose to take off my clothes, and why on earth would I choose to do that? What kind of "desire" could possibly entice me to "lose control" and do that?

Maybe for people who experience sexual attraction, the warnings about "lust" and "temptation" make more sense. Maybe they intuitively understand what it feels like to desire sex, and balancing that desire against their desire to be good, pure Christians. Maybe they get what's enticing about taking off one's clothes in another person's presence. Maybe they understand their own desires and they know which situations are harmless and which are dangerous "temptation."

For me, though, it was all about fear of the unknown. They told me I had these desires, evil, dirty, sinful desires, deep inside, and I can't ever let my guard down or else "you never know" what could happen. They warned me about things that were dangerous, things that would lead to "temptation," and I believed them even though I never understood how on earth those things could lead to accidentally having sex.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of desires that I had never even experienced, fear that those desires were dirtier than anything I could imagine.

Here's the thing, though: I am attracted to boys. I'm a straight asexual. I experience romantic and sensual attraction- that means I have a desire for a romantic relationship, I can have crushes, I can fall in love, I like hugging a romantic partner, I like kissing and touching and being warm and comfortable together. But as it turns out, I don't have sexual attraction at all.

But they said those desires were all just steps along the slippery slope to sex. They said sexual desire is the same thing as sensual desire, but more intense. If a desire for holding hands gets out of control, it would turn into a desire for sex. And so I believed that, since I had such strong romantic attraction, of course I also really really REALLY want sex- that if I gave up an inch of ground to my romantic desires, then I would start to feel sexual desire too. And we can't let that happen. "You never know" where it could lead.

Anyway, fast forward to me and Hendrix, doing sexy things while not being married. No, we weren't having sex- I still believed it was a sin- but we took off our clothes and touched each other's genitals and such. But none of it happened because of "temptation." I was astonished at how, the entire time, I was fully aware of what I was doing. Every action was a conscious decision that I made. I wasn't "carried away." I wasn't "out of control." I was there, in reality, in the same reality I'm always in. The same laws of physics, the same bed and walls and cold air from the open window. Nobody was being carried away by "temptation." Nothing "just happened." I chose it.

And then, many months after that, when we finally decided to have sex, we couldn't even do it the first time. (By "sex" I mean penis-in-vagina sex, because that's what purity culture counts as the most impure, dirty thing you can do, that is the thing at the very bottom of the slippery slope, you do that and you lose all your purity. Even though in real life there are many other forms of sex and they're not in a heirarchy.) Yes, the first time we tried, I was still not totally clear on what a vulva was, and I had no idea that my body needed to be aroused in order to get the vagina to open. So the first night we tried, we couldn't get the penis to go in, and we gave up.

(Don't worry, we eventually figured it out.)

I look back on all that fear and I'm just amazed at how there was no way it could have ever happened like I feared it would. All those years ago, I was so worried that sex was going to "just happen", that I would "lose control" of my body and somehow do terrible things I would regret for the rest of my life. And then when I finally did try to have sex, when I actually wanted to do it, made a clear-headed decision and applied my problem-solving brainpower, I couldn't even do it then. There's no way it could have ever happened "accidentally."

All that time, I was scared for nothing.

(Really, I think all this "it just happened" language is either 1) blaming a victim for their own rape or 2) making excuses for consensual sex so it sounds less "sinful." Even for people who aren't asexual, I don't think sex can "just happen" with neither party consenting.)

I remember before I decided to have sex, I no longer believed in anything purity culture said, and I no longer believed sex was a sin. But I was still too terrified to try it. Maybe I just shouldn't, I thought, just to stay on the safe side. Just in case they were right and it really does ruin my life.

And there I was, with a partner who loves me so much, so comfortable together, so committed to each other, but with this artificial divide between us, this belief that if his penis goes inside my body, that would be THE WORST THING EVER and it would RUIN MY LIFE. Why? Why would it ruin my life? Why would this one little arbitrarily-chosen action have such devastating effects? Why can't we just try it?

The fear was awful, because there was no answer to "why". There was no reason I could think of that it would be so life-ruiningly terrible to have sex with Hendrix. Just the thought, "what if they were right?" Just fear of the unknown.

And I'm so glad we finally did have sex. It didn't change me into a completely different person. It wasn't an amazing transcendant feeling that totally changed my life. It wasn't really a big deal at all- and so, the fear vanished. All this time, there was nothing to be scared of.

They told me that I had to be on guard against the "slippery slope" so I didn't get "carried away" and have sex somehow. And I believed them even though it made no sense to me- which is a recipe for fear. I was terrified of sex. But now, all these years later, I've discovered that even though I desire other "impure" things- like kissing and being in love- I never had any sexual attraction at all. I was so afraid, but now that I've found out what sex actually is, I see there was NO WAY I ever could have done that without actively choosing to do it. There was never any chance it could have "just happened."

One might think that purity culture is easy for asexuals. For me, it wasn't. I wish I had been allowed to actually explore my own desires and find their limits. Instead, I lived in fear of desires that didn't even exist.

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