Monday, January 21, 2019

My Husband Is Not The Entire Focus Of My Sex Life

Two heart-shaped carabiner clips, clipped together. Image source.
Unlearning purity culture is a WHOLE PROCESS, y'all. You think you've finished, and then you discover ENTIRE NEW FRONTIERS of messed-up beliefs you still hold.

A few years ago, I thought I had completely escaped all that Christian teaching about "sexual purity", because I no longer believed unmarried sex is a sin, I had sex with Hendrix (this was before we got married), I didn't feel bad about it, and actually it was extremely good for my mental health because I learned I don't have to be afraid of sex anymore. Sex is not some momumentally-big deal that will completely change what kind of person I am AND RUIN MY LIFE. It's just a thing I can do with my partner if I want. It is what it is.

Growing up, I was taught this "sexual purity" ideology that's OBSESSED with people's pasts. If you've ever dated anyone, if you've ever kissed anyone, if you've ever had sex, then you're not marriage material. Your spouse will be heartbroken over those things you did in the past- and they have every right to be! It's cheating on them! Or, that's what the church taught me.

I rejected that. Instead, I believe it's totally fine if you've had other relationships in the past. That has nothing to do with your ability to love your current partner. You weren't with your current partner back then; how could you possibly owe them anything?

They defined "purity" as a lack of experience with romantic and sexual things. And they said "purity" is obviously inherently good, and is the best way to guarantee you will have a happy marriage. I reject that concept entirely now. So I thought I was out of purity culture. I thought I was done.

(Note that another important tenet of this "purity" ideology is that everyone is heterosexual. Marriage is "one man one woman." Same-sex attraction is EVIL and BAD. I also 100% reject that. But I'm straight [straight, but not heterosexual] so that part doesn't affect me personally.)

It was a really really big deal for me to reject the concept of "purity." It took a long time to get out of all that "dating is bad" and "sex will ruin your life" nonsense. But, at the same time, someone might look at my marriage and say I basically did follow the rules. I've only ever done sexual things with one person- who is now my husband. We are different genders. We are monogamous and intend to be together for our whole lives. Yeah, chronologically speaking, we started having sex before our wedding date, but other than that it pretty much looks like the model of marriage that I learned in church.

And that's a problem, because I've realized there were a lot of things wrong with that model of marriage. There's a lot I still need to unlearn. Purity-culture beliefs that have nothing to do with one's past- because I've already rejected all those- but with what my marriage is supposed to look like right now. How my husband and I relate to each other in the present.

Basically, I was taught that my body belongs to my husband. He is the rightful owner of every aspect of my sexuality. In the same way, his body belongs to me, and I own every aspect of his sexuality. In theory, it's symmetric... but they taught us that in reality, men REALLY REALLY need sex and women don't like sex that much. So his body belonging to me wouldn't really mean much to me. But my body belonging to him means that I have to have sex with him basically whenever he wants. Of course I didn't think my husband would physically force me or anything like that, but I FULLY EXPECTED that if I didn't say yes "enough," he would tell me that's not okay, I'm not allowed to do that, I'm not holding up my end of the deal.

When I started learning more about consent, I learned that no, being married does NOT mean that you have the right to have sex with your spouse even if they don't want to. So I sort of updated my model of "what marriage is." But of course I still believed my body belongs to my husband, and that the whole entirety of my sex life- all my sexual experiences, all my desires, everything- has to be about him. I had never ever heard anyone suggest that a monogamous marriage could work any other way.

Some of my ex-purity-culture friends are into casual sex or non-monogamy, and I think those could be really good and healthy ways to develop a better ideology of what sex is, and how you don't "own" another person's body. But I personally am not interested in those things. So ... so I could have been just stuck here. Thinking I've gotten out of purity culture, but still buying into its teaching on what sex is in a marriage.

But these two things got me un-stuck:
  1. My husband is not a Christian
  2. I'm asexual
First of all, my husband, Hendrix, is not a Christian, and WOW this is SUCH A GOOD THING. He wasn't taught any of this effed-up crap about "my body belongs to him." He has no experience with that kind of ideology at all. He has much more healthy beliefs about bodily autonomy. I find myself shocked, over and over, at how he TOTALLY DOES NOT hold these misogynistic views that I always thought were totally normal, self-evident facts about "what marriage is."

It was Hendrix who told me it's okay to masturbate and watch porn. He told me those are completely normal things that most people do, and it's not "cheating." (Yes, I used to believe that masturbation was basically cheating because you're SUPPOSED to get all your sexual everything from your spouse. If you get it from yourself then that's WRONG. One of the biggest Christian talking points for why masturbation is a sin is "what if you like it better than having sex with your spouse, so then you don't want them anymore, that would just be disastrous.")

And second, I'm asexual. When Hendrix and I started having sex, I thought he was the be-all and end-all of my sex life, that every single part of it had to be about him, or else that's "cheating." Of course that's what I thought; I had never heard of anybody in a monogamous marriage not believing that. I tried, I tried to live that way, but I couldn't. I went looking for answers, and concluded I'm asexual.

I thought I was heterosexual, and I thought sex would just *work*. I thought we both take off our clothes and lay in bed and the next steps after that are obvious and will basically happen automatically. (LOL. Nope.)

I thought we would just mindlessly "go at it" and that would feel amazing. I thought there would be no thinking, that we'd be driven by our love and attraction and just do what feels good.

I knew basically nothing about my own genitals. Not only did I have no experience with touching my genitals to know what feels good and what doesn't, I didn't even know that "what feels good and what doesn't" is the sort of thing that would be important to know about myself before trying partnered sex.

I thought Hendrix was in charge of my pleasure and whatever he did would be the right thing for me. And if it was mediocre then I would just have to accept that.

I remember one time during sex, I discovered that it felt good if I used my hand to rub my clit, but then I immediately felt ashamed, like I shouldn't do that. Because it's me giving myself sexual pleasure, and has nothing to do with him. It doesn't affect him at all. Even though it's AT THE SAME TIME I AM HAVING SEX WITH HIM, it's still kind of like masturbation, so it's kind of like cheating. It's "selfish"! (Which is one of the worst things a Christian can be accused of...) During sex, my whole attention should be on him, right? I focus on him, not myself, he focuses on me, not himself, and that's how everyone's needs get met. Right?

I tried to play that role but I couldn't. I tried to be a good wife for him, to say yes to him, to center my entire sex life around him... I couldn't. Sex was painful and confusing, because I knew basically nothing about my own body. The only opportunity to learn about my genitals and what feels good was during sex with my husband- I can't do it by myself, that would be cheating!- and I didn't think he'd really have the patience for sitting through a bunch of scientific experiments while we're trying to have sex.

I had to find answers on my own. I had to discover my sexuality on my own. I had to develop an understanding of my body and my identity BY MYSELF. For me. Just me. Separate from my husband. I have to be in control of this. I'm the only one who knows my own needs.

So I did. I did research into asexuality and concluded I'm asexual. I read a lot of sex-ed materials. (Guess what, it turns out "sex ed" can mean "learn how to have sex in a way that feels good, so many interesting possibilities, so much amazing stuff to learn" rather than "we hope that no one has sex but if they do then at least let's make sure they use a condom" which was what it was in my high school health class.) I bought some sex toys and I masturbate in order to learn about my body. I'm not interested in watching porn, but I read sexy fanfiction which I think is a good resource for learning about different feelings or motivations people might have related to sex. Like, I don't assume any of it is "realistic" or "normal", but it's better than only knowing what Christian leaders told me I'm supposed to feel about sex.

And all along the way, I found myself asking for Hendrix's permission. Will he let me identify as asexual? Is he okay with me masturbating? And so on. Because, my whole sexuality is supposed to belong to him, right? I thought that was what the deal was, when we got married. It turns out he never thought that. It turns out he doesn't believe he has the right to tell me how I can identify and what I am allowed to do with my own body.

Wow. Like I said, SO GLAD I married a non-Christian.

So I've come to this understanding: That my sex life does NOT revolve around my husband. Yes, we are monogamous. I'm not talking about doing sexual things with other people. I'm talking about knowing myself first, rather than just naively showing up in bed and assuming everything will just *work* because we love each other. 

I no longer believe "my body belongs to him, his body belongs to me." I believe we both have to be our own people first. I develop my own understanding of my sexuality, my desires, what I want, my goals. From there, we communicate with each other and do sexual things that we both want. And it's okay if he doesn't necessarily fulfill everything I want, because I can masturbate or have my own fantasies or whatever. We're monogamous so we won't do anything with other people, but that's not the same thing as saying we need to get all our sexual everything from each other.

And YES, me understanding my own body and my own desires makes partnered sex 100 times easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

Even though I consider myself to have gotten out of purity culture, I can easily imagine still being stuck in its understanding of marriage. If my husband was a "good Christian"- like I always imagined I would marry- who forbid me from masturbating or exploring my sexuality separate from him, I would have seen that as completely normal. I would have 100% believed he had the right to control that part of my life. That's what I was taught in church. I've never heard anyone suggest it's possible to be monogamous and not believe that.

And if I wasn't asexual ... Well, I used to think I was heterosexual, and I used to think sex would just *work*. I have no idea if it really does "just work" for people who really are heterosexual. But I imagine, if sex wasn't confusing and painful, if it didn't cause me to go looking for answers about what was wrong... if it was generally a good experience... I would have just continued to believe that my whole sex life belongs to my husband, and I would have continued to know almost nothing about my own body. I would have been happy with that, and I would not have known about all the cool things my body can do, and how much more enjoyable this can be.

So thank Lady God for making me asexual.

And this realization, that my sex life shouldn't be entirely focused on my husband... Feels like such a new and revolutionary idea to me. (Of course, I explained it all to Hendrix to make sure he would "allow" me to think that way... he was like, "if it all makes sense to you, then what's the problem, what's stopping you from just believing that and being fine?" and I told him I had to make sure he was okay with it... and again discovered he totally does not see himself as the owner of my sexuality, which, again, is a nice surprise.) So new, so completely different from everything I was taught about marriage and sex. And it's exactly what I need.


A Post About Masturbation
I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage
They said it was about "valuing our bodies." That was a lie.
"Is it Okay for Christians to Use Sex Toys?" (An Exercise in Missing the Point)


This post is part of the January 2019 Carnival of Aces, an asexual blog carnival. This month's topic is "asexuality as a blessing."

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