Monday, November 12, 2018

"How Far Is Too Far?" My Story, And What I Wish I'd Known

Hercules and Meg kiss. Image source.
Christian teenagers always want to know "How far is too far?" which means "I know I'm not allowed to have sex before marriage, but, like, what exactly am I allowed to do?" Typically, youth pastors are very vague about answering this- they like to say things like "you shouldn't be asking that question, you shouldn't want to know exactly where 'the line' is just so you can go right up to it. Instead you should be focused on honoring God in your relationships." And I hate that answer. It's not helpful at all. It meant I was constantly terrified whenever I was dating someone and just *had no idea* if holding hands with him was a huge sin that would ruin my life.

I now know that the REAL ANSWER to "How far is too far?" is that you need to be aware of how physical closeness affects you emotionally, and keep the emotional closeness at a level that's consistent with how committed you are to each other and how much you believe you can trust your partner. The connection between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy is going to be different for everyone, so it's important to know yourself and be honest about what you feel, and communicate with your partner- don't assume that they connect physical and emotional intimacy in the same way you do.

Or, to put it another way: If kissing is going to make you fall in love, then make sure you only kiss someone who's worth falling in love with. But of course initially, when you have no experience, you don't know if kissing will make you fall in love or not. It's fine to go ahead and try kissing, and if you realize that it pulls you in to emotions that are way too deep and therefore not fitting to your situation, then you back off. It might hurt, but you'll be okay. No long-term harm done.

See? THAT'S the answer. But I never heard ANYTHING like that from any Christian teaching about relationships. I figured it out my damn self.

So in this post I want to talk about my own experiences with the connection between physical and emotional closeness. To give concrete examples to this principle I've given as the answer to "how far is too far."

All right. Here we go.

So my first romantic relationship was when I was a freshman in college. We will refer to my boyfriend as BF 1. (I'm straight, all the romantic interests in my story are boys.) A bit of background about what brand of purity culture I was in back then: It was a confusing and badly-defined strand of purity culture, influenced by my parents, who believe in "premarital sex is a sin, but dating and kissing are fine, those are normal things that teenagers do", and Brio magazine, which promoted the I-Kissed-Dating-Goodbye, be-terrified-you-are-losing-your-emotional-purity-because-you-have-a-crush strand of purity culture. At the time, I did not realize that they didn't agree- I thought that all Christian role models in my life believed in "the biblical view" of dating [or rather, I thought there was actually such a thing as "the biblical view" of dating], and I was trying to figure out how to reconcile all these different pieces of advice into one consistent ideology. Poor little Perfect Number, she tried so hard, but she couldn't make the pieces fit. And so she was scared. She didn't know if dating was a sin or not. She didn't know if holding hands was a sin or not. She didn't know if kissing was a sin or not. And so she was scared when she did those things with BF 1.

I dated him even though I didn't really think it was a good idea. See, he wasn't a Christian, so I knew that meant we couldn't get married; I knew someday we would have to break up. (Ahem, spoiler: I am now married and my husband is not a Christian.) I dated BF 1 because I was boy-crazy and just FULL of romantic attraction and I needed an outlet for it.

The narrative I'd been given by purity teaching was that people do romantic and sexual things because they "can't control themselves" when under the influence of "temptation." So I thought it was perfectly normal that I was overwhelmed with romantic attraction and choosing to be in a probably-sinful relationship that I didn't really think I should be in. That's how it works, right? Just like how nobody *wants* to have premarital sex, it just kind of *happens* when a couple is alone at night and they "stumble" because of "temptation." What choice did I have? If I wasn't dating BF 1, then I would just be single and boy-crazy with nowhere for all those FEELINGS to go.

And I told him that too. I told him I'm not really sure that our relationship is a good thing, and that someday we'll have to break up because he's not a Christian.

Huh. I guess I didn't treat him right. But I didn't realize it at the time. Yes, of course I learned in church that we should be kind and empathetic towards other people, but apparently when it comes to dating relationships, the rules are totally different. Instead of loving my partner, I'm supposed to view him with suspicion and fight him when he tries to "take" my "purity." I didn't think about how the things I said might hurt him, because purity culture taught me that boys don't really have feelings, they just want to use girls for sex. Especially non-Christian boys.

Anyway, I eventually decided- after a lot of prayer and worrying- that I was going to kiss him. Because I really wanted to. I was very attracted to him. So anyway, then one night we spent a bunch of quality time kissing. He used the term "making out" to refer to what we were doing, and I was terrified. Because one time I read an article in Brio addressing the question "Making out isn't as bad as sex, right?" and it said that making out was bad. I didn't know what making out was though- I assumed it was something that would feel more sexual and sinful. So I was extremely worried when BF 1 informed me that we had been making out.

See? That's the kind of fear I was working with back then. It was all about uncertainty and vaguely-defined terms, so I never really knew if I was sinning or not.

Oh, and when we were kissing, I made sure not to open my mouth at all, so we couldn't poke our tongues at each other. Because years earlier, a good Christian adult told me that was bad. I remember I asked "besides the fact that that's gross, what is the reason that one shouldn't kiss with tongue?" and she said because it "gets him going" and then it would be hard for the boy to stop.

Thinking about it now, I guess she meant it could make the guy get an erection. Ugh, this bothers me so much- if you mean "erection" you should just say "erection", not these vague euphemisms that 13-year-old Perfect Number definitely doesn't understand. She didn't know what an erection was either, back then ... so follow it up with a definition and we're good.

The point is, I made sure our tongues were NOT involved in this kissing at all, because somebody said it was bad. I didn't really know why, but I just knew it was bad.

(Oh also: It wasn't until I started reading feminist blogs that I found out this stuff about "don't kiss with your tongue because then a guy might not be able to stop himself from having sex with you" is total BS. Guys can stop. It's called "consent" and "being a decent human being" and "not being a rapist." Purity culture said that was WAY too high a standard to hold a guy to. Eff that.)

Anyway. So. We were kissing, and it felt AMAZING.

I definitely felt emotionally closer to him because of the kissing. I asked him, "Does kissing make you like me more?" He said, "Well, it makes me like you more in a physical way, but I try to ignore that." I didn't understand what he meant, perhaps something along the lines of temptation to have sex, but I hardly dared to even hypothesize in that direction. Sex was a scary, life-destroying monster that lived far far away from the normal, mundane events of my life. It was unimaginable that something so awful might be in any way associated with my nice sweet relationship with BF 1.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if he meant his genitals were getting aroused. (Ha, we are talking about erections again.) Hmm. Who knows. I certainly never ever thought about his genitals.

On a related note, it turns out I'm asexual. Yeah, the question of whether I would be interested in having sex with BF 1 never crossed my mind. But I still feared it, feared that it would *just happen* if we were alone in his dorm room.

Anyway, he said kissing didn't make him "like me more" in an emotional way, and I chalked it up to boys being heartless. Because how can someone kiss like that and not feel their heart opening up, feel an overwhelming desire to just adore and cherish their partner?

I tried to explain to him about how hugging and cuddling with an attractive boy would make me like that boy more, and BF 1 was pretty much appalled and said "so if some random guy comes up and hugs you, you're suddenly going to be in love with him?" To him, it sounded like I was so shallow, to base such big important feelings on something as superficial as physical contact. To me, it sounded like he was so shallow, to be capable of experiencing physical affection- taking a girl's purity!- without being emotionally affected by it. I wondered what the heck was wrong with him.

I remember one time I told BF 1 about an advice column I read in Brio, where somebody wrote in to say "I was worried my boyfriend would break up with me, so I had sex with him, but he STILL broke up with me, can you believe it" and the answer from the Brio writer was "yeah see this is why you shouldn't have premarital sex, because boys can't be trusted to value it the way they're supposed to." BF 1 was baffled- I think he even laughed- why would this girl think that having sex would make her boyfriend not break up with her? Why would those things be connected at all? Again, I chalked it up to boys being heartless.

Because purity culture taught me that the correct way to connect sex and love is this: Sex means lifelong love and lifelong commitment- ie, marriage. That's what sex is. That's what sex means. And if anyone disagrees with that- like, for example, if they are fine with having sex with someone they don't intend to stay with forever- then they are a BAD PERSON.

But I now see it doesn't have to be that way. Sex can mean different things to different people. You can't assume anything about how it will make your partner feel or what it will mean to them, and that's why YOU HAVE TO COMMUNICATE. TALK. Nobody is a "bad person" because of the emotions their body does or doesn't produce during sex. (Or kissing, or cuddling, or whatever.) COMMUNICATE. Keep your emotions and expectations grounded in reality.

Anyway, back to my story about me and BF 1 and our kissing. So, the kissing felt so sweet and perfect to me, and it felt like we would be together forever. It really felt like that. But my mind said whoa whoa whoa whoa, this is not right, we can't be together forever because he's not a Christian.

So a few days after our first kiss, I put a stop to it. I knew it wasn't right. It made me feel things that weren't true.

And that was a good decision. See, this is what I mean about "the answer to 'how far is too far' is to keep your emotions matching the reality of the situation."

But let me tell you something. If it weren't for the "I can't marry a non-Christian" issue, I would have 100% believed that, because of the way we kissed, it meant we were going to get married.

Wow, how naive and ridiculous, right? Like, over here in reality, marriage is a HUGE BIG DEAL, a huge decision that will affect you for the entire rest of your life, and you have to spend time thinking about it rationally before you make that kind of decision. But in purity culture, marriage is always the next logical step after any romantic or sexual closeness. The alternative would be breaking up and losing part of your heart, and that's too scary to think about. So if it weren't for the "I can't marry a non-Christian" thing, it would have felt perfectly logical to me that kissing would so easily indicate that this is "the one", my "future husband."

So anyway, I told BF 1 we can't kiss anymore. So we didn't. A few weeks later (for unrelated reasons) he broke up with me. The relationship had lasted about 3 months.

So what do I wish I had known back then? I wish I knew how to handle my attractions better- surely there must have been something else I could have done besides getting into a relationship I didn't really think I should be in. I wish I knew that boys have feelings- I saw him as a leech trying to steal my "purity" and therefore I didn't care if I hurt him. Well, I did care, I am a human with empathy and if someone is right in front of me looking sad, my heart cares about them. But on an abstract, theoretical level, nope I definitely did NOT believe I should care about my boyfriend's feelings. (Or rather, I believed that complementarian nonsense about "men need respect, women need love" so I suppose I did care about "respecting" him. But that's all.)

I wish I wasn't so scared about everything. I wish I could have just tried those things- dating, holding hands, kissing- and evaluated my emotional reaction to decide if they were right for my situation or not. I wish I knew that it won't be the end of the world if I accidentally do something that's a bit more physically close than what I'm really ready for. If it's too much, I can just back off, no harm done.

I wish I knew that you can't communicate "we're going to be together forever" with only a makeout session. It has to be in actual words. I wish I knew it's okay if the two partners don't have the same emotional response to their physical intimacy.

I wish I'd had good enough sex-ed that I could have figured out I was asexual, but haha, I don't think that even exists. Well, we can dream.

But when I stopped kissing him because I knew my emotions didn't match reality- that was the right decision.

Moving along with the story. After that relationship ended, I re-dedicated my life to Jesus and went looking for answers about how dating is supposed to work. No more of this wishy-washy "I don't know if it's a sin or not so I'm just scared" stuff. I read purity-culture books and listened to Mark Driscoll sermons, oh god. And I was so happy because I got my answers. (Extremely conservative answers...) I built up a logically-sound purity-based ideology. It said I can't date until God says so. And if I'm dating, I need to show as little affection as possible, only the bare minimum required to gain enough information to decide if I can marry this person or not.

That's where I was for several years, but then thank Lady God for bloggers, I found some people on the internet saying "hey do you think maybe it's kind of harmful that we are teaching kids they are chewed-up gum if they have sex?" And I started to take small steps out of purity culture.

I started dating a guy we will call BF 2. I started dating him even though I did NOT get explicit approval from God. I decided I don't believe in that anymore. I decided that even though I don't have God giving me a guarantee that this guy is "my future husband", he was a good enough guy that it would be worth it to at least try it out. No longer was I letting baseless fears about "but what if we break up someday" stop me. Because yeah, I had realized my whole purity ideology was about fear.

And yes, I stand by that. It WAS a good decision to start dating him. Based on the information I had at the time, it totally was worth it to try it out.

I remember how much of a big deal it was to do tiny little affectionate things that brought me no closer to making a decision about marriage. I remember I used to text him every night to say goodnight, and he would text back to tell me how cute I was. It made me happy. I no longer thought of it in terms of "I am losing emotional purity" and "my purity is the currency I used to buy information on whether or not I should marry him." I just did sweet things for him just because I liked it.

But we didn't kiss. We never kissed. Because I was terrified- what if kissing is bad? What if purity culture was right about that? What if it ruins my life?

We never kissed. And I was so scared, so worried as I agonized over that choice. I wasn't overwhelmed by "temptation" or unable to "control myself"- so that meant we shouldn't kiss, right? Better safe than sorry? If we can avoid it, we should, right? Just in case it's bad.

When I moved to China, I was a little bit relieved that I no longer had the option of kissing him. I no longer had to think about maybe making a different choice.

So our relationship lasted about 1 year. At the beginning it was good, but at the end it wasn't. He didn't treat me right, but I didn't really have the tools to recognize that. I tried everything to fix the relationship. I tried to manipulate him into being a better partner. Occasionally he would kinda-sorta act like a good boyfriend, and it made me so happy, but it never lasted.

I didn't know that if one partner is no longer interested in being in the relationship, it's not really possible for the other partner to fix it. That's just not going to work in the long term. Maybe it was because of all that church teaching about how a wife can get her husband to change- submit more, pray for him, and so on, and he'll magically turn into a good husband. Or church teaching about how we should build friendships with people so we can "share the gospel." How we should pray for God to change other people so they give up their beliefs and agree with ours instead. Basically a lot of teaching about how to manipulate and pray for people so they start acting the way we think they should act. I didn't know about boundaries.

And I was taught in church that, when people divorce, there is sin on both sides. Which makes it sound like, if one side does the right thing, they can singlehandedly change it into a healthy marriage and stop the divorce.

Basically, BF 2 was acting like he didn't want to be in the relationship anymore, but he never actually said that out loud. I didn't *get* that a problem like this is not really fixable. Sure, maybe I can get him to at least act nice occasionally, but is that what I really want, in the long term?

I wish I knew more about breaking up, so I could recognize when it was the right time to do it. I wish I had some healthier teaching about breaking up. Not that purity-culture stuff about how it's the Worst Thing Ever and will Ruin Your Life. Or testimonies about "God is telling me I need to break up with my boyfriend" after a Christian conference. I want actual practical tips about how to tell if the relationship is not going to get better.

I didn't think of it in terms of "he's not treating me right." The only narrative I had about "not treating her right" was when "a boy is having sex with a girl but he doesn't love her." Our relationship was so pure though- we didn't even kiss! That meant it was a healthy relationship, right?

I also wish I had known that just because the beginning of a relationship was good, and your partner is really great and supportive during a hard time in your life, that doesn't mean it's right to stick with them FOREVER. It might be good for a while, but then at some point it's time to break up, and that's not a bad thing.

Towards the end of my relationship with BF 2, I was taking more and more steps out of purity culture, and embracing my desires. Sensual attraction, in this case. I was like, I like boys, I want to touch boys, I want to kiss boys- and for the first time in my life, I didn't repress it. I knew I couldn't, like, actually go kiss someone, because I was still in a long-distance relationship with BF 2. But in my own mind, I was honest about how I felt and what I wanted. And that felt good.

There was this guy, let's call him Creepy Guy. I was very attracted to him. He knew I had a boyfriend. He kissed me, without my consent, and oh god I wanted so much to kiss him back, wow I wanted it so much, but I told him no, because I had a boyfriend. We were alone in his apartment, but it never even crossed my mind to worry that he might rape me. Because he was hot, and I thought rapists were unattractive. FORTUNATELY, he was not a rapist. I told him to stop kissing me so he stopped. But then we sat around for a while and talked. And I think about that now, and I'm like, ugh he was so creepy, why didn't I just leave immediately... but when you're in the situation, it's hard to recognize what's happening.

That actually happened twice- two separate occasions, with two different guys, so we will call them Creepy Guy 1 and Creepy Guy 2. Forcing kisses on me, when they KNEW I had a boyfriend. And also when I texted with them, the way they talked to me was creepy too- as if I owed them something. Creepy Guy 1 kept asking me if I was having sex with any guys. I knew it was none of his business (no thanks to Christian accountability groups where it's completely normal to pry into people's sex lives...) but he just seemed so sad about it, so I told him the truth, which was that no, I was not having sex with any guys. I didn't tell him I had NEVER had sex. I didn't tell him I never even kissed BF 2.

But at the time I didn't really realize they were creepy because they were both SO HOT and I was really attracted to them, and I was having a lot of problems with BF 2 so I was kind of starved for attention, and also discovering my own desires and no longer bound by the rules of purity culture but not really sure how to construct an alternative. (Well, actually I had read a lot of feminist stuff about rape culture so I was able to see some of the signs of creepiness, but I had no idea what to do about it.) It was a confusing time.

Anyway. I'm including Creepy Guys 1 and 2 in this post about "how far is too far" because they did kiss me, and in purity-culture ideology, that's important. Over here in reality, it was non-consensual, so it's not my fault, it doesn't "damage" my "purity", it doesn't really have anything to do with me, it's just them making a decision to be creepy.

In both cases, I really wanted to kiss them back, but I made the right choice and said no, because I was loyal to BF 2. He didn't deserve my loyalty, but we were still technically in a relationship, so there ya go.

I guess what I want to say is, this is a post about my experiences with the connections between physical and emotional intimacy. The kisses did not deepen my romantic/emotional attractions toward Creepy Guys 1 or 2. I remember afterwards, both times, thinking about how I wished so hard I could have kissed him back, but I was sure I had made the right decision. Because I had a boyfriend. If I didn't have a boyfriend, I totally would have kissed whatever hot guy wanted to kiss me, because I was working my way out of purity culture and that's what I wanted.

I just wanted to kiss boys but not really be in a relationship. And I now believe that's a completely valid thing to want. We'll see in a minute that it wasn't really suitable for me personally, but it's totally fine if that's what someone wants and does.

So I finally sent BF 2 an email to say we were broken up. I knew he wasn't going to reply to it, because he hadn't replied to anything I'd sent him in a long time. And indeed, he didn't reply.

Looking back on it now, did it matter that I never kissed him? What if I had? Do I regret not kissing him? Well my first thought is "he didn't DESERVE my kisses" which is 100% true... but he didn't deserve a lot of the attention and affection and love I gave him. Kissing wouldn't have been different. Or, let me put it this way: Purity culture would see it in terms of things we did (holding hands, hugging on the couch in a sitting position, saying "I love you") and things we didn't do (kiss, do anything sexual) as if those two lists tell us everything we need to know about the relationship. As if moving "kiss" from Category B to Category A would be a HUGE CHANGE in the nature of the relationship. But it wasn't like that. There were other issues that were way more important.

So I really don't think it would have made a difference if I had kissed BF 2. I was already very emotionally attached to him, and kissing wouldn't have deepened that; it was already deep. And I don't regret not kissing him either, because, as I said, I now see that he didn't deserve it.

I wonder if it would have made a difference in my reaction and feelings about Creepy Guy 1 kissing me. When that happened, it had been 5 years since I'd kissed a boy. 5 years is a long time... Would it have been different, if I had kissed BF 2 fairly close to when that happened? Would it have made it easier or harder to say no?

Eh, it's been 5 years since I broke up with BF 2, and 10 years since BF 1. Whatever the status of my "purity" back then, how much of my "self" I "gave" to them, it just doesn't matter now. Purity ideology made me so terrified of all those "how far is too far" decisions- terrified because I really believed it was going to follow me for the rest of my life and it would mean I couldn't *fully* love my husband... I'm here to tell you that's a load of bullshit. I kissed BF 1 10 years ago. Who the hell cares? It doesn't affect my marriage at all. Why would it? It's ridiculous that I even have to say that.

Let's get back to the story. I told BF 2 we were broken up. The next day, another guy told me "I want to kiss you" and I let him.

We spent a bunch of quality time making out on my couch. (And used our tongues. Because we wanted to.) Then I went to work the next day and I missed him. And I was like, oh no, I wasn't supposed to miss him. I just wanted to make out with boys for fun. I didn't want to like, actually date any of these hot guys.

Ugh, I kissed him and I caught feelings from it.

He was SO into me. He SO wanted to be in a relationship. We had known each other for about 1-2 months. I definitely thought he was hot, but there were a lot of hot boys in my life. I wasn't really planning on getting into a relationship again, until after we made out and I suddenly, unexpectedly wanted to date him. I told him I would need some time to think about it.

So I spent maybe 1-2 weeks thinking about it. He was living in a different city, so we just talked online during that time and did NOT kiss or anything.

See? That was a good decision. It turns out I'm not able to just make out with a hot boy without developing romantic feelings for him. Some people are, and that's totally fine, but it turns out I am not. But it was fine to kiss him because I didn't yet know that about myself. It's fine to try it out and see what my emotional reaction would be. And then when my emotions were much different than I expected, I took a step back to think about "is this actually a person that's good enough for me to date?" Sure, I was sort of biased at that point, but I was still able think about it in a healthy way and make a good decision.

I decided, yes, he was good enough. So he became BF 3.

Or... maybe you know him as Hendrix. Reader, I married him. <3

So I told him yes we are now boyfriend and girlfriend. We immediately started sleeping together whenever he came to visit. By "sleeping together" I mean literally just sleeping together; I never use the term "sleep together" as a euphemism for sex because that's just ridiculous. Sleeping and having sex are such incredibly different things, it BOTHERS ME SO MUCH how people use language that implies they are the same. As an asexual, I have A BUNCH OF OPINIONS about this.

So right from the beginning of our relationship, whenever he visited me, we slept together. With clothes on and not doing anything sexual.

I chose to sleep with him because it was sweet and warm and comfortable. When I was in purity culture, of course I believed it was a sin to sleep with one's romantic partner- even with clothes on and not doing anything sexual. It was a sin because, as I was told, "don't be so naive, everyone who's sleeping together is having sex." Apparently, if you sleep in the same bed, the temptation will be too strong, so you'll definitely end up having sex, even if you don't intend to. Again, as an asexual I have Some Opinions about this.

I wanted to sleep with him, and it felt good, and he wanted it too, so we did. As simple as that. Just doing things because I want to do them, not overthinking it, not spending all my time and emotional energy trying to puzzle out "is this a sin or not?"

Well, I say "simple as that" but the reality was not simple. Intellectually, I believed [unmarried] penis-in-vagina sex was a sin but everything else was not a sin... but I still had so much shame and guilt because of all the internalized purity beliefs. We very gradually started doing more physical things- touching genitals through a layer of clothes, then seeing each other's genitals, then touching directly, then stimulating them, then stimulating enough to get an orgasm. But at every point along this progression, I felt so much shame. While I didn't count any of that as "sex" (I only counted penis-in-vagina as "sex", which is, uh, a bit silly) it was still definitely "impure" and "sinful" under the rules of purity culture. It was sexual even though it wasn't sex, and so for my entire life I had believed it was dirty and should only happen after one gets married.

So I would feel so bad, and I would tell Hendrix "no we can't do X anymore", where X was whatever new sort-of-sexual thing I was experiencing for the first time in my life, so we would stop doing X for a day or so. But I would feel like "okay, this is ridiculous, I no longer believe X is a sin. I like X, so why should I let this shame hold me back?" So then we would do X again.

We cycled through that a bunch of times, with different values of X. It was hard. I loved being with him and I loved everything we did together [though I now realize that I loved it for reasons that had nothing to do with sexual attraction], but the shame was overpowering. Those of you who are longtime readers of my blog know about how that shame caused me to have depression back then.

So coming back to our question of "how far is too far": Sometimes I would choose to stop, because of the shame, and sometimes I would choose to say yes, because it felt good. And all of those were good decisions. Even though I felt that logically I shouldn't feel shame because I don't believe any of this is sinful, that emotion was still real, and so it was worth taking into account when I made those decisions.

Basically, see how the physical intimacy affects you emotionally, and make changes if necessary.

As far as the connection between physical and emotional intimacy with one's partner, I don't remember any times in my relationship with Hendrix where I felt like "I feel very emotionally close to him and this might be a problem because the actual reality of our relationship isn't really at that level." Except, of course, right at the beginning when we kissed before we were dating and I caught feelings from it. I guess from the beginning of our relationship, we were very committed to each other, and it just kind of grew in a gradual and healthy way and everything worked out. (Or, I was just winging it and doing what felt good in the absence of any actual rules...?) There weren't any moments where I discovered some huge character flaw of his and thought "ohhh that's quite a red flag, am I sure I want to be so emotionally close with somebody like that?"

And then eventually I decided I no longer believe unmarried sex is a sin. But I was still terrified and decided we weren't going to do it, just in case purity culture was right and it would ruin my life. And then eventually I decided nope, I am done living terrified of this decision over whether to have sex, it's time to just face my fear and do it and prove that it doesn't ruin my life.

(Wow, what an asexual reason to have sex...)

So we finally did have sex- before we were married, before we were even engaged- and that ended the shame and fear once and for all. It didn't "ruin my life"; I didn't feel any different, except that I wasn't afraid anymore. Awesome!

Penis-in-vagina sex didn't make me feel closer to Hendrix. It felt just as intimate as the other stuff we had already been doing. It didn't change our relationship- it just changed my own emotional state by making me not afraid any more. That's all. I guess for other people, sex does make them feel more emotionally connected to their partner. But not for me. Which is fine, everyone is different. Actually in my view, it seems there are some necessary steps that you need to take before it's possible to have sex- like being naked or partially naked together- and it's those things that feel the most intimate to me. Not the actual having of the sex. I mean I could take it or leave it.

(And to be honest, I'm really curious about how other people feel about that- if you compare "being naked with a partner" vs "being naked with a partner AND ALSO having sex with them", which one is better, which is more intimate, etc. And also, having sex with some random hot person sounds good in theory but do you realize that would mean you have to show them your genitals? So like... surely one-night-stands don't actually exist in reality????? I mean I know that they do but like I just can't wrap my ace mind around it...)

What do I wish I had known, when I started dating Hendrix? Ha, well some basic sex ed would have gone a long way. I wish I had known what genitals I had. I wish I had used my hand to feel around "down there" and get a sense of the basic layout of things. But I was far too "pure" for that.

I felt so rebellious when I took a small mirror and looked "down there" for the first time. Was that before or after I showed it to Hendrix? I don't remember. I don't remember if Hendrix saw my vulva before my first time seeing it. Kids, don't do this. Don't be this pure. I wish I was familiar with my own body before I tried to share it with someone else. I regret that.

I wish I believed my body belonged to me. Not "my future husband."

I also felt quite rebellious the first time I bought condoms. I had absolutely no intention of using them for sexual purposes- I just bought them as a way to rebel against purity culture. Just to "be naughty." (Wow, what an asexual way to "be naughty." Buy condoms and then don't have sex. ~Wild~ ) Because I felt that the act of purchasing condoms was dirty and shameful, and I wanted to grab that feeling by the throat and face it head-on and defeat it. Maybe it helped that I was in China... news of my purchases at some random Chinese grocery store is never going to make it back to my nice Christian friends in the US. I wish I wasn't so scared of condoms, so horrified by their mere existence. Over here in reality, condoms are GOOD and IMPORTANT for HEALTH REASONS. I wish I had adult role models who told me that.

I wish I hadn't been so terrified of everything related to sex and genitals. I wish I had friends who just talked about sex like it was a normal part of their unmarried lives and not a big deal, and I wish I could have understood that- while at the same time I would also need to understand myself as asexual. I wish I had known that living with one's [unmarried] partner is totally fine and normal- and some of my friends even saw it as a big relationship milestone and congratulated me, can you believe that? When I felt so much shame and I didn't want to say it out loud.

I wish, when I first went to the doctor for help with depression, I could have just opened my mouth and said I live with my boyfriend and that's why I have depression. I couldn't say it. I couldn't bear to say it to anyone, because surely they would judge me and think I was dirty. Surely the doctor would say, well yeah, you're not supposed to live with your boyfriend, so of course you're feeling the emotional consequences of that *sin*. (Note: Ha. Nope. When I finally said it to my therapist, not only did he not think it was "dirty" at all, but he assumed that when I talked about starting to work my way out of purity culture several years before, he assumed that I started having sex back then, and didn't bat an eye at that. Well LOLOLOLOLOL nope when I told him all that, I was still firmly terrified of the very concept of me having sex.)

I wish that, when I was a child and good Christian adults told me that living together is a sin because every couple who's living together is having sex, and I said "well couldn't they just be living together but not having sex?" and they said "don't be so naive"... I wish somebody had challenged that. I wish that, when a Christian "friend" "confronted me about my sin" of living with Hendrix "and sleeping with him", I could have had some other thought spring to mind besides "I can't try denying that, she'll never believe me and I'll end up looking even more sinful- nobody would ever believe I could be living with my boyfriend and I've never had sex." Yeah, we lived together for a while without having sex. I was dealing with all that purity-culture shame and fear, and also it turns out I'm asexual. If you don't believe me then **** you.

I wish I had known more about my own desires and attractions. But in purity culture I couldn't explore that, couldn't think "so what kind of person do I find hot? and what do I mean by 'hot'- like what specific physical acts would I want to or not want to do with them?" That would be lust. I wish I could have explored that. I wish I wasn't trying to figure out a healthy way to deal with my attraction to boys who are not my husband DURING MY FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE- ugh, that should have been a skill I figured out a long time ago, but instead I just repressed it back then (and thought that marriage would magically make all those other attractions go away. Spoiler: it doesn't).

I wish... oof, I don't know if I wish this or not... I wish I had figured out I was asexual... or... do I wish I had known I was asexual before dating Hendrix? What if I thought it meant I wasn't good enough for him, or I wasn't going to enjoy doing sexual things with him? What if I thought it meant I shouldn't even try?

I'm blogging about all of this to show what I mean about the connection between physical intimacy and emotions in a dating context. That connection is going to be unique for each person, and they might even experience it differently at different times in their life or in different situations. So the important thing, the #1 thing, is to know yourself. Check in with your emotions and see how they are affected by the physical closeness with your partner. If your emotions end up in a place that it's not healthy to be in (for example, if you feel like you're totally in love and will definitely marry this person but actually you've only known them for a week) then remind yourself of what the actual reality is and adjust your acts of physical intimacy so they produce emotions that better match that reality.

Yes, I realize this is easier said than done... when you're infatuated with a specific person it's hard to truly convince yourself "no, this is not a healthy thing to do." But there's no alternative. Nobody else is qualified to run your love life. Sure, you need role models and general advice about what healthy relationships look like, but nobody can tell you what your desires are and what's important to you.

It's probably not possible to do this 100% perfectly. Perhaps you'll realize you've gone "too far", like I did when Hendrix and I first kissed and then I had *feelings* for him. But that's FINE. That's not something to fear, it's not something that will ruin your life or damage your "purity." (I don't believe purity exists anyway...) Just make the necessary changes, and it might hurt emotionally, but it's okay. How can you learn your own emotions and desires without some trial and error? Everyone is different, so you can't rely on other people to tell you what you feel.

There was something kinda-sorta like this in purity culture. They said "don't do X because it will make you feel Y" (for various values of X and Y). Yes, I agree that the key is in the way physical actions in a dating context affect one's emotions, BUT you can't tell other people how something is going to make them feel- you can't assume that. Everyone is different. Everyone needs to figure this out for themselves. And so I tell my story here in this blog post to show a concrete example of what it looks like to "figure this out." Perhaps some readers will feel the same way I did about some parts. Perhaps not.

I stand by this answer. This is THE ANSWER to "how far is too far?"

This post focused on just the physical part of those relationships, but I'd like to make it clear that that was DEFINITELY NOT the most important aspect. There were other issues and problems and emotions and happiness and growth going on with each of these relationships. Purity ideology talks as if the most important measure of a relationship is "how far you went" physically. That's ridiculous. That's nonsense. Yes, in my experience the physical part is an important component of the relationship (though that may not be true for everyone) but it's nowhere near being the most important thing.

Like... the idea that I could write you a few lists of all the physical things we did in each of these relationships, and that you could learn anything meaningful from that information alone... that's absurd. It's laughable. But that's the entire focus of purity culture. How far? How far? As if that's the only question that matters. Try to keep the physical aspect as low as you possibly can, and that's the #1 predictor of how good your future marriage will be. How on earth did I use to believe that? WTF?

I focused on all the wrong things, back then.

Any physical things that I did in a dating context in the past, they don't matter now. No, they don't affect my marriage. No, I don't think about BF 1 every time I kiss my husband. Like, WHAT ON EARTH, why would I even need to say that? OF COURSE I don't think about BF 1. Eww, why would I think about him? What an absurd thing to even talk about- but I am writing it out explicitly here because purity culture LITERALLY SAID THAT and purity culture was WRONG. Purity culture told me that if I have any physical/sexual experience with anyone before my husband, then I won't be able to love my husband fully and I'll always have those exes in the back of my mind, always comparing my husband to them. They'll always have a "piece of my heart." Wow, what a load of bullshit.

ALL RIGHT well this post has gotten super-long and I haven't even said all I wanted to say. (I might do a follow-up post, if any of you readers are interested in more on this topic?) Anyway, remember, the answer to "how far is too far" is different for everyone and is based on you knowing your own emotions and desires. You have the ability to make healthy decisions about this. Nobody else can decide "where the line is" for you.


I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage
For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear
They said it was about "valuing our bodies." That was a lie.

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