So I know in the grand scheme of things I haven't been married that long - only four years. If anything I say here seems totally out of whack to those who have been married longer, please let me know.
Recently I've been thinking about when sex is the worst. And this is what I've come up with: sex is the worst when I want to be worshipped.
My husband and I have a really great sex life. I haven't shared notes with others, but I personally consider ourselves as having a good sex life because a) we like to have sex with each other, and b) we find sex with each other interesting and satisfying. I'm sure there are more clinical definitions of a good sex life out there, but to my mind I'm not sure what more I could really want.
Nine times out of ten sex is great. But I've recently been thinking about those tenth times and wondering what leads to them. Of course there are the obvious factors - one or both of us is tired, or someone ate too much ice cream and is bloated. But even those really obvious factors don't explain why sometimes sex just can fail to be what I know it to be most of the other times. Tiredness and gas produce laughter and mutual sympathy, but sometimes there is something else - something that creates distance and separation.
During those times sex just feels off. It feels like I am looking for something I can't get and as a result, I become petty and demanding. Why can't my husband treat me in a certain way? Why doesn't he do this? If we want to get down to the nitty gritty, it usually looks like me hoping he would start doing things like writing poetry, staring ceaselessly at me, weeping at my very ravishing presence. You get the idea. In short, why won't he fulfill all of my romantic aspirations (that I usually don't give squat about, but matter terribly when I'm in that certain kind of mood)? Surely something is wrong with him.
I went through one these bouts some time ago, and I kept growing more frustrated until one night it struck me - what I wanted was to feel worshipped in sex. I was suffering and making Trey suffer with me because, really at the end of the day, what I wanted was for sex, and everything leading up to it, to make me feel exalted and nothing short of glorified. Which, after all, is the backbone of all romantic thought. Haven't all of our stories told us that this is what sex should do - make you feel like the sole person in the world that matters? That a natural part of sex (especially for women) is the idea that your partner will be consumed by your very ravishing presence? Shouldn't my husband be literally going out of his mind just to be with me?
I can't speak for men, but as I've been thinking over these past few weeks, I find the above to be particularly true for women. Just think about it. Whatever perspective the story might come from - traditional, feminist, something in between - the climax of a romance is usually when the man becomes so hot and bothered by the woman that he can't get her out of his mind. Then they have sex (I'm counting more traditional narratives that end with a wedding). Women love that image, but what is it that they love about it? Is it the sex? No, it's what the sex represents - that the man has fallen at her feet, so distracted by her that the world must wait. Most romances kindle sexual appetite far less than they kindle the desire to be the center, the focus, and the purpose of another person's attention.
And that is a bad recipe for sex.
When I think about the good sex we've had it has never had anything to do with how much Trey is falling at my feet, and everything to do with how much we are giving to each other. In fact, many of those times have been a surprise, coming at times when sex is simply the result of fun companionship or when we are sharing one another's burdens. In short, sex is the best when I am not waiting for Trey to be breathlessly overcome by me.
The wife of the pastor who married us once told me that sex was best when both partners were working to please the other. I agree with her, but I also have had to learn that this statement doesn't necessarily mean a loss of self in sex. Rather I think it has more to do with understanding the self as with and for the other. It simply means that sex is an act of companionship, of mutual play and enjoyment. It is not an act of worship.
In a world influenced by discussion of the male gaze we are attempting to teach men not to view women as objects, but on the flip side, are we teaching women not to view themselves as idols to be put on a pedestal? During a recent trip to NYC, I saw The King and I on Broadway and started rereading Louisa May Alcott's An Old Fashioned Girl. These Victorian and 1950s cultural relics clearly articulate that women are deserving of breathless adoration, but I was surprised when a few days after getting home I introduced Trey to When Harry Met Sally and found the same general idea. These three stories all have very different views on sexual expression; but they all share a common idolization of women, encouraging us to see ourselves as something to be got.
I am actually pretty traditional in my views of men and women. I think it's good for men to value women and to treat them with respect. I like being wooed. But there is a difference between respect and reverence, and that difference can set a woman up for success or failure in the bedroom. Women, we are not made to be revered. Sex really isn't different than anything else in life, and I for one have found that desiring reverence does not work well for me in just about every other area of life. Just like it does in relationships, work, relaxation, etc., if you're anything like me, the desire for reverence, or worship, will most likely kill your sexual appetite, rather than fuel it.
One of my all time favorite quotes is from Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She says, "Here she comes, running, out of prison and off pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman." Gilman wrote these words in critique of Victorian ideals, and I find them to be applicable today in my sex life. I don't need Trey to give me a crown or a halo to have great sex. I simply need to run to him as I am - a live woman.
I was recently remembering a few shocking conversations I had about love in the months leading up to my engagement to Trey. As with everyone seriously considering whether or not to marry a particular person, I was having a challenging time really knowing if I loved my boyfriend, so I occasionally asked married friends when they knew they loved their spouses. Most of the answers I received were pretty standard, pat answers. And by now, I've forgotten every one of those answers. Except for two.
My brother got married a year before I did. He had been pursuing the same girl for seven years, since the middle of high school. I figured that if anyone understood knowing when you love someone, it was him. So one summer afternoon while I was feeling particularly stressed over my relationship, I found him out on my parents' hot and stuffy third floor and asked when he had known he loved my now sister-in-law. In typical fashion, my brother cut straight to the chase. "I knew I loved Bethany when I asked her to marry me."
I was shocked and incredibly displeased with the answer. I told him to make sure Bethany never heard him talk like that, but he laughed at me. I pushed for for further explanation and he struggled to go into more detail. But eventually he landed on telling me that you don't really love someone until you decide to love him or her. Romance and dating have uncountable feelings associated with them, but love doesn't exist without the decision to love. His answer didn't really satisfy me, but I left with a lot to mull over.
Sometime later that summer, I was out for coffee with an acquaintance. We weren't close friends, but we talked for a long time about my dating life and whether Trey and I would get married. I asked her the same question - when did she know she loved her husband? Without any hesitation, she bluntly answered, "I fell in love with him when we got married." Again, I was shocked. If I remember correctly, I almost choked on my coffee.
How could anyone give such an answer? How could anyone give it as shamelessly as she did? She wasn't embarrassed to make such a statement. She didn't blush and say, "It's kind of sad, and one of my biggest regrets, but sadly, I didn't really love my husband until we got married." No, instead she was honest, forthright, and giggled! This was her experience and she wasn't shy about it. Along with my brother's answer, I was now very confused. But I didn't immediately dismiss these thoughts. I continued to contemplate these answers and ponder over their meaning.
By the end of the summer, I had agreed to marry Trey. I still didn't feel like I had great insight to the definition of love, and I sometimes felt fearful that I didn't know what it meant to love someone enough to marry him. But I knew I wanted to marry Trey, even if I still felt confused. I didn't doubt that I wanted to marry this particular man and spend my life with him. But I couldn't quite put a finger on whether I knew, really knew, that I loved him. Marrying my husband was the single greatest step of faith I have made thus far in my life. Not because I didn't deeply respect, or enjoy, or feel attracted to him. But because, as with all skeptics, I didn't feel like I could know what love for him really was.
Looking back on the first six months of our marriage is looking back on one of the strangest times of my life. In so many ways, those six months were magical. Truly some of the best times of my life. We were long-distance for the entirety of our dating and engagement, so simply being in the same place brought with it a certain kind of heady joy. Everything seemed so relaxed now that we could just sit next to each other on the couch and watch TV, rather than talking on the phone every night. Being in each other's physical presence was a treat. Discovering sex together was incredible. Not incredible because it was instantaneously everything it would ever become, but because it was the entrancing exploration of virginal youth. Even fighting together was good. It was painful, and at times bitter, but it was good, so good to be working towards unity and understanding, laying the foundation of our lives together fight by fight.
And yet, throughout all of this wonder and growth, I was still nagged by the question, "Do I really love Trey? And if I do, how do I know I do?" This question that lingered on in my mind was the single most difficult part of my first year of marriage. I didn't think about it often, but sometimes it would enter my head late at night as I tried to fall asleep. Or when I felt incredibly homesick and wanted to go home to my family. Or when a fleeting attraction to another man crept across my consciousness. It wasn't rational, and it wasn't predictable, but every now and then this question would arise and it would leave me deeply disturbed, sometimes for days.
I wish I could tell you about the one spectacular thing that completely erased this question from my mind. Instead, it was a totally random and quiet night. I can't even recall what took place that day. But one night about six months into our marriage, I lay in bed as Trey fell asleep as I asked myself the same question I had been asking for almost two years. "Do I love Trey? Do I know that I love Trey?" And without any hesitation or any explanation, I knew that, yes, I loved this person more deeply and more truly than I had ever loved another person before. I knew that this new certainty didn't invalidate or belittle the love that I had felt for him before. But as an intense warmth of emotion washed over me, I knew I had reached a new place in our relationship. I wanted to love him, not just be married to him, or have sex with him, or enjoy life with him, but I wanted and decided to love him. And so I did.
Being the internal processor that I am, I never told Trey about any of this until sometime this past year. One day I tentatively told him that I didn't think I really, truly loved him until after we were already married. It didn't surprise him and he kind of laughed when he heard it. He knows me in ways he himself often doesn't understand.
We celebrated our third anniversary in May. I've been thinking a lot about how hard it was for me to know if I loved my husband and how simple the answer to that question now is. I've been thinking a lot about the difference between knowing you want to marry someone and knowing you love them. I've been thinking a lot about my culture's inability to distinguish between the two and how much that stunts my generation's ability to healthily consider marriage. I've been thinking a lot about how previous generations lauded the growth of love, describing it as a blossoming flower - there, in existence, but needing to grow beyond the bud into its full glory. Love is not something that comes upon you, but rather it is something you choose, and once the choice is made, it springs open into a radiant splendor.
I love you, Trey Nation. I know I do.
Weddings are most often big and beautiful declarations of love between a man and a woman. Sometimes they are flashy, sometimes quietly artistic, and usually highly emotional. Whatever the budget, weddings are a time for individuals and families to lay aside other important endeavors and invest what they can into the creation of a new family. They take a lot of energy and a lot of focus.
In the West, we commonly talk about a wedding being the primary time for a women to "express herself," carefully arranging even the smallest details to reflect her beliefs, tastes, whims. If she wants to feel like a princess, her wedding will involve sparkles and tiaras. If she is an environmentalist, she will work to make her wedding as green as possible. If she is a musician, great care will go into arranging the music. The list of things to express is as varied as women are. Every bride has been told, "It's your day." We've all had conversations with women who are greatly concerned with displaying the best things about herself through her wedding. The West looks at a wedding and expects an answer to the question, "Who are you?"
We need to pause here and consider how much pressure women are under by believing the idea that their weddings must demonstrate who they truly are. So much of the stress surrounding weddings is first and foremost stress concerning identity. Even the bride who declares, "I don't care about all of these silly details!" is often still trying to tell the world something about herself. She is still telling us what to think of her as much as any other bride.
If this is all true, and weddings have become the primary place for women to express the things they identify with, then I've come to realize that weddings really incredibly fragile and tender things. And the women behind them even more so. How can an event and the woman behind it bear not only the weight of a covenant and vow, but also the brunt of ultimate self-expression?
I first started to see this problem in myself when I got engaged and then married. Up until my engagement, I had exhibited many different attitudes towards weddings. As a little girl growing up, I idolized them and dreamed of the day I would act and feel like the fairy princesses I dreamed of being. In high school, I believed a wedding was an inevitable dream and would never have doubted my chances of wearing the white dress. By college I started to develop a more critical attitude. A hint of scorn started to show towards other women who openly obsessed about their future wedding day. Though a wedding still loomed large as my secret heart's desire, I thought it best to approach it circumspectly and realistically.
In the five years between finishing college and my own marriage, I mostly harbored bitterness towards weddings. Really what I harbored was bitterness towards other women's weddings. I hid this jealousy under a veneer of criticism concerning "wedding traditions" and "frivolous expectations." The amount of money, time, and energy given to weddings became ridiculous to my mind and only the closest and dearest of my friends escaped my all out exasperation with wedding season. I declared to myself that I would not be like every other bride if I ever found myself planning a wedding. I was going to be sensible, after all, and avoid throwing myself into the unnecessary craziness of obsessing about insignificant things. My three main goals were to never make wedding planning a bigger priority than all of my already established relationships and responsibilities; to never obsess over what I perceived to be the silly and superfluous "details"; and to make sure the wedding was a community event, not something isolated from the people involved in every aspect of my life.
But once the ring was on my finger, and real decisions had to be made concerning an actual wedding, it felt like something slowly and powerfully started to take over my mind. I cared about everything connected to the wedding and obsessed over every detail. But it wasn't an obsession that led to joy and delight in the coming day. It was an ensnaring obsession that more often than not led to insecurity and worry. I could not let go, because in my mind, the decisions being made weren't about an event, they were about me. For example, if I had never been a girlie girl, but chose pink bridesmaids dresses, what did that say about me? My girlfriends were all surprised with this color choice, as was I, so how could I not contemplate what these physical details told the world about the changes romantic love was creating within my personality?
As I broke everyone of my three "goals" concerning weddings, it felt like I was slowly loosing ground to a version of myself that I never wanted to exist. I felt guilty about putting so much time into the wedding, but I didn't know how to not think about it. I became more and more isolated over the period of engagement, one of the primary things I had promised myself would not happen. I wasn't being the person I wanted to be, but I didn't know how to be free of this thing that was so incredibly important.
I continued to muddle through this minefield my entire engagement, through the wedding day, and into the first months of marriage. Of course, I often found peace in knowing that in the light of eternity, the details of the wedding didn't matter. In the comfort and love of my fiancé, I knew that the vows we made were the most important part of the whole thing. And of course my wedding was one of the most wonderful and amazing experiences of my life, blessing my husband and I deeply as we committed our lives to each other before the Lord.
But I started to realize something was really wrong when I continued to obsess about my wedding after it had taken place! For days, then weeks, then months, I found myself going back over the details of the wedding. Had everything been as I wanted it to be? Maybe if I had just changed a few things here, a few things there, then it would really have been ideal. I fully acknowledge that some of these things can be chalked up to personality - it's rare, but sometimes I really can be a bit of an OCD psycho.
But who among you married women of my generation hasn't dealt with some of these feelings when you first get your wedding pictures back from the photographer? You scour them, desperately hoping that the photographer has captured the true atmosphere of the day, the one that you skillfully crafted and planned. You look to make sure that you are captured as you want to be, according the image that you picked for yourself on the most special of all your days. And if something, anything in the pictures didn't turn out how you hoped? You have to admit you feel like a key piece of the wedding, a key piece of your identity, has been lost.
So let's pause here. What am I trying to get at with all of this musing and soul sharing? Frankly, I believe modern weddings have become a quagmire of idolatry in our generation's drive to create their identities. Women are being trapped within their own drive for self-expression when it comes to their weddings. I spent a lot of my first year of marriage chewing the cud on this topic and here are the conclusions I came away with.
1) We need grace.
Your identity is not found in your wedding. Christ has made you free and given you a new identity! You do not need your wedding for anything - anything - to tell yourself or the world who you are. That is Jesus' job, let him do it. If you want an environmentally sound wedding, and styrofoam plates show up, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to lose ten pounds and instead gain twenty, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to create community by inviting everyone you know, and your parents will only pay for half of the guest list, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to walk down the aisle to Sufjan and your best friend insists on singing a duet, the blood of Jesus covers you. Create beauty and do good in your wedding, but remember that not a single thing on that day can stick to you like the sweet blood of Jesus. Claim it is as the strongest identity you have.
2) Think upon the wedding feast in heaven.
Because of your new identity, you know where all of this is headed - think upon it in the months leading up to and following your wedding. Whether your wedding turns out exactly as you dreamed up, is an unmitigated disaster, or just more normal than you're content to accept, it is only the faintest foreshadowing of the real wedding we expect to attend. Relish the good things about your wedding as a foretaste of heaven and mourn the disappointing things about your wedding as the remnants of a fallen world, but in both, keep your eyes on heaven. With the whisper of heaven in your ear, the work of a wedding will become sweeter and the disappointments less tragic.
It took me months before I could think about my wedding without worrying over everything that went wrong and what people would think about it. But I learned that with your identity soaked in the blood of Jesus and your mind caught up in the winds of heaven, the anxieties and frustrations of "your day" can blow away like the chaff of yesterday. There are many things I still wish had ended up different, or better, about my wedding. But when I think back on it, I delight in the beauty that was created not because of what it said about me, but because "...Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know if part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." The feast of Christ is coming and I could see its approach on my wedding day.
Sometimes I feel like there is fault line that runs between single and married women. It can often feel like women on both sides of the divide are gazing across at each other, wondering what is going on over there, on the other side, without ever attempting to cross the divide created by one adorned little finger.
When I was single, I remember trying to interact with the married women I knew. I remember feeling like they didn't really listen to what I had to say. It seemed like they were always so quick to give me advice that always summed up as "Just wait and it will all work out." Then they would launch into their own personal experience finding a husband as if it somehow was the golden ticket for finding a man. To be honest, though, I didn't really listen back. I found their advice irritating, if not sometimes silly, and quickly chalked them up as not relatable.
Now that I'm married, I still feel the gulf. My single friends like to do things more spontaneously and later at night. They are always with other singles. They somehow both want and are offended by my relationship advice in the exact same way I was some years ago. I'm on the other side of the divide now.
What I often find myself wanting to tell my single friends is that marriage isn't a piece of cake. I remember so many married women saying this exact thing to me and reacting to it really negatively. Of course, I thought, but at least you have what the rest of us want. Honestly, it felt like a queen complaining about the weight of her crown to a peasant looking for food. To my mind, marriage was hard, yes, but it seemed like winning the game we were all playing and with that win certain doors to life and status opened up.
But now, I do know it's not a piece of cake. Any person in a healthy marriage will tell you marriage is beautiful wreckage. It involves the total collision of two people traveling at high speed in pursuit of their own wills, and nothing but a major accident brings them together. It is an incredibly beautiful thing. But marriage is also an incredibly painful thing.
I believe that the pain of life is what can and ought to bridge the chasm between the single and the married. After all, the honest truth is that this side of heaven, we all live our lives in grief. Grief is the pain that exists in us from knowing things are not as they should be. We all have a myriad of things which cause us grief throughout our lives and being able to enter into another person's grief together with them is one of the most humble and humane expressions of love a person can offer.
Being single was painful. There was a persistent grief to it that I hated. My body was frequently grieved by the denial of sexual desire and I remember shedding tears many times over the frustration it produced. Grief was present when everyone else had someone to love and look at, someone to take pictures with, someone to cherish. It was painful to wonder if my singleness was a sign of my immaturity, my lack of beauty, or my inability to interest a man. Every birthday was another reminder that I had yet to enter into the "inner-circle" of married life and standing on the outside looking in caused me to grieve deeply over my unfathomable loneliness.
Being married is painful. Many of the specific griefs of singleness are gone, but none of them entirely. Instead they have simply morphed into new married versions of themselves. My sexual desires can now be fulfilled, but because sex is not about one-sided individualized fulfillment, it can become a disappointing or twisted thing if not guarded carefully. I do have someone to love and look at, but I have not known any pain worse than when that love is out of joint. Singleness brought the dull pain of absence, but marriage ushers in the sharp stabbing pain of a knife. There is simply no pain like being wounded by your best friend and no remorse like being the one who plunged in the knife.
No one lives a life without brokenness. If we want to foster better relationships between single and married women, if we want to go deeper in each other's lives, if we want to jump over the chasm, this is what we must understand. No one is carefree, no one is satisfied. Married women need to take seriously the pain of their single friends without rushing in to offer advice. Single women need to understand just how difficult it can be for married women to be open and honest about the grief they experience in their marriages and stop idolizing something they don't understand. If we took time in our communities to be truly honest with each other and to listen to each other's stories, we would see that we have more in common with each other than not.
After all, God's daughters know that this side of heaven is a world that is still awaiting its full redemption. But that redemption is coming and it is real. In the meantime, whatever story our lives tell, there will be beauty amidst the grief. Singleness is not just loneliness, but it is also freedom, and whimsey, and exploration, and openness, and community. Marriage is not just a collision, but is also the refiner's fire, and surrender, and passion. All of these things are good. All of these things are to be desired and celebrated in their time. Let us support and encourage each other as sisters, weaving our stories together across the fault line.
Quoting Ruthie’s intro to her post last week:
“This is the kind of post that is addressed explicitly to Christians, and will be confusing and strange for many of my friends who are not Christians. So, secular friends, if you keep reading, you are about to get an intimate glimpse into one aspect of Christianity. And Christian friends: grace. Grace all around.”
"Men enjoy sex more than women."
Of all the conversations I had about sex during my adolescence, this phrase was the most important. Spoken by a trusted and authoritative source during a conversation about how a young teenage girl with a blossoming bosom should conduct herself, this comment shaped and formed much of my views on sex. It’s important to understand that the person making this statement was not in any way trying to denigrate sex. Actually, it was quite the opposite. As typical of orthodox Christian beliefs, he was speaking quite eloquently on the beauty of sex and how good a part of creation it is. The goodness of sex was the key reason why this man wanted his listeners to know that it should be protected and not treated carelessly. He made the above comment upon noticing the discomfort his female audience displayed, proceeding to explain that while women may not see certain issues concerning sex as a big deal, all men did.
The tenor of this conversation is very familiar to most women my age who grew up in conservative Christian homes. We grew up with the idea that all men we encountered were loosely reigned-in hormonal torpedoes possible of being set off at a moment’s notice should we give any false encouragement. Now that I look back on adolescents, I actually think this very well may be true of most lads between the ages of twelve and twenty. I do not believe it was damaging to be told as a young woman about how much men are wired for sex or that how I act and dress can communicate certain unintended things. What I do lament as I look back upon my sexual awakening was the constant and pervasive idea that somehow keeping male sexuality in mind meant women do not like sex as much as men or that women do not struggle sexually as much as men.
Because here was the problem - by the time I heard the above statement, I was already struggling greatly with my sexuality. I don't remember exactly how old I was, but I think I was about fourteen or fifteen. The reason I didn't feel comfortable with discussing the topic was not because I didn't like the idea of sex, but rather that I was terrified of how much my body did seem to like the idea of it. I truly believe many young women's reticence to talk about sex in our teenage years was not because weren’t interested in it. It was because sex seemed like a daunting and awe-some thing and we couldn't find the courage to speak up concerning the questions we had or the hormone induced feelings we were feeling.
As I let the idea of men liking sex more than women sink further and further into my teenage psyche, the more and more confused I started to feel. I liked the idea of sex and I liked the sexual feelings I was feeling. Did that mean I was some kind of outlier of femininity? Was I somehow a dirty, over-sexualized woman because the idea of intercourse sounded great? I was convinced that I must have been way more sexually wired than every other good Christian woman I knew, and within my world, this did not seem like a positive thing.
For me as a woman, ideas of sexual purity were somehow closely linked with sexlessness. Teenage male sexuality was recognized and addressed as a good and natural drive; male purity seemed to be defined as Christian restraint. For us young women, though, our own blossoming sex drives were mostly unacknowledged. Purity for us was about helping keep male sex drives in check rather than learning how to address our own rising desires. Male lust and masturbation were seen as natural inclinations out of place of what God intended. The idea of female lust and masturbation did not even exist.
I saw these things play out with even more intensity at my small Christian college. The idea that women did not enjoy sex as much as men and therefore were more naturally pure continued to cause major confusion as young women entered and went through college. Sex was the primary topic that we all wanted to talk about, that we were all obsessed with, but hardly ever got to really engage on. When I look back on life in the female dorms, it seems like the sexual tension was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife. Though it may have looked different from the struggles of our male co-eds, I do not believe we women struggled any less with sexual issues. Porn was not an open problem at the time (though I'm guessing it would be more of one in today’s generation, at least statistically), but there were hardly any limits on what movies or tv shows girls felt they could watch. They had so imbibed the idea that they were more naturally pure that girlfriends frequently told me they didn’t think it mattered what they watched. I frequently and commonly heard women talk about men in ways that if the genders had been reversed would have been immediately called out as sinful lust. Young women, including myself, got away with this kind of openly sexual talk, again, because of our Christian culture's assumption that women do not struggle with lust as much as men. Female masturbation has been the absolute taboo topic of recent Christianity, (most people, male and female, simply do not want to believe that women have the type of sex drives that would be tempted by it), but I know it was very present within our dorms.
Yet, even with all of these very real ways in which we young women were struggling with our sexuality during college, we never once stopped believing that we might not actually like sex itself. I'll never forget the time there was a panel discussion on the topic of sex at the college. I didn't attend it myself, but something was said by one of the panel members that threw all of my female friends into a tizzy worrying about whether or not they would like sex after getting married. One of my friends was engaged and I can still see the panic-stricken look on her face as she worried about what her future would hold. A few days later, a recently graduated and married friend visited campus and many of my friends fell upon her with questions about whether or not she liked sex. An open and unassuming person, she simply smiled widely with a glint in her eyes and said, "Yes. Very much. You have nothing to worry about." A loud collective sigh echoed throughout campus. Somehow, despite everything that almost every fiber of our bodies was telling us about our sexual desires, we needed convincing that it was possible for women to like sex.
I never needed convincing that I would like sex, but I did need to understand that my sex drive did not make me less pure as a woman. I had many fears about sex going into marriage, but figuring out how to want sex was not one of them. It's sad to me now that I ever feared I was too sexual. How can that even be a thing? I and many of my dear friends often talked with each other about wanting to get married simply so we could have sex, but these conversations were always quiet and in private so that we would not seem like “those” type of women. It is a common idea within the Christian community that it’s good for men to get married so that they do not burn in lust, but who has ever heard women openly talk about the goodness of getting married for their own sexual needs?
During the first few months of my marriage, I had a recurring experience after having sex with my husband. We would have a glorious experience, full of love and adventure, but when we finished, I would go and sit in the bathroom by myself. A few times I cried, but mostly I just sat as a certain wave of emotion rolled over me. I still can't name the emotion specifically, but there was a sense of emptiness and loneliness to it, along with a profound recognition of loss. It was similar to homesickness, but wasn't the same. I was not unhappy; I had just been exuberant. I was not ashamed; I have never been more sure and confident of my body. I was not really lonely; my husband is my best friend.
The feeling stopped after a few months and the farther away from it I’ve come, the more I think it stemmed from the perceived loss of my sexual identity. Before marriage, Christian women have a certain and particular identity - sexless and pure. And now, all of the sudden, in the throws of marital passion, I was experiencing a profound and fundamental shift of identity. I was now a fully recognized sexual being in the eyes of my Christian subculture. During my times sitting in the bathroom, my soul was mourning the passage of my perceived purity. But how was I at all any less pure than before I was married? How was I any more a sexual being than before I was married? It seems to me that in our Christian views concerning sex, men simply go from being inactive sexually to active. Why is the change for women so much more fundamentally deep and dramatic? Because the Christian community tends to falsely believe that sexual purity for men is a matter keeping in check something that is already present, while for women, marriage is the turning on of a sex drive that shouldn’t have previously exist.
Like men, women are sexual agents and the Christian community has got to start talking and acting like this is true. In a culture as saturated with sex as our is, we need our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and dearest friends to be showing the younger generations that they are sexual beings who have something to say to us. Of course there are tasteful and dignified ways to do this, but there is nothing healthy about us pretending that sex is not an issue for women. Women want sex and we can either keeping telling them to deny their identities as sexual beings or we can start an ongoing conversation about the glories of female sexuality as God created it.
So... let's talk about sex.
Addendum: This post was getting really long, so I’m leaving it here for now. But this is a conversation we want to keep having at Carved to Adorn. I’m listing a few points below that I think would be beneficial for anyone to consider when taking up this topic and hopefully Ruthie and I can attempt to write about them in the coming months.
First, Christian purity does not equal female sexlessness. Second, women and men may experience sex differently and prefer different aspects of it, BUT women do indeed love sex. Third, in most cases, good sex takes work, so if a woman does not enjoy it right away, it doesn’t say anything about her (or the gender as a whole’s) natural capacity to enjoy sex. The wisest and best women (and men!) know there are ways to increase your pleasure during sex. Fourth, women are not limited to liking sex when they are young, but rather they can and do love sex throughout the many different stages of life.
If these points can start to be more a part of the general conversation concerning female sexuality, we will make long strides in helping women, young and old, embrace all that God made them to be.
This post will be short and probably not altogether coherent, but these thoughts have been floating around my mind so I'll share them.
The shower is an amazing place. My most lucid thoughts seem to come to me in the shower. I don't know why I was thinking about teachings on wives submitting to husbands (I'm careful to avoid saying "female submission" because there is nothing Biblical about the idea of general and broad submission of one gender to the other), but I was pondering it while showering the other day. It suddenly dawned on me that particular words and their grammar are really important.
I think all Western women within Christianity struggle with Paul's admonition for wives to submit to their husbands. What female hasn't seriously questioned her and her sisters' places within the kingdom because of it? I have long made peace with this issue and actually find much joy in it, but I continue to ponder it every so often.
What particularly struck me about Paul's admonition to wives was the nature of the word "submit." I have been studying vocabulary for the GRE, so perhaps that brought about my thoughtfulness concerning wording. But I digress. "To submit" is not a passive verb, but rather a verb of willful choice and action. The women Paul speaks to are the perpetrators of the command, not the recipients of its action.
As daughters of the 21st century, I think when we hear "submit," we often think "subjugate." But these words have very different meanings. Subjugation is an act of the strong against the weak who have no will or rights. WIthin subjugation, women have no voice and are not addressed. If Paul were really calling for the subjugation of women, he would not have spoken to them, or if he had, it would have been to say wives must be passive as they are acted upon by their husbands. Instead the grammar calls women to act out themselves whatever this thing is called "submission." If Paul's command read "Wives be subjugated by your husbands," he would be restraining us. Rather, he speaks to the use of our individual wills, telling us to do a specific action. As much as women might react against Paul's words towards wives, we should recognize that submission as Paul talks about it is an act of a wife's own will, not the act of her husband's will.
It seems to me there is a lot more that could be added and discussed here, but since I do not have the voice of a wife, I'll close my thoughts with the voice of Alicia Keys.
I don't consider Alicia a particularly deep lyricist, but I do like her a lot one of her songs caught my attention around the same time I was pondering the definition of submission. I think some of what Paul talks about is deeply rooted in our hearts so that it bubbles through even in completely secular contexts. Both Paul's command to wives to submit and his command to husbands to love sacrificially are about using our wills to put the other person first. So let's indulge in a great 90s pop version of this idea. Enjoy!
A few weekends ago, my brother married his longtime sweetheart and our close family friend. These two are some of the most beautiful people I know, inside and out, and they put a lot of careful thought into the details of their wedding. Aesthetically, they have an eye for beauty, and spiritually, they have a heart for justice.
This was particularly evident in their choice of engagement ring. I interviewed my new sister-in-law recently and thought you would be interested in hearing her answers concerning the issues surrounding diamonds. And make sure you check out the Marlene Harris website...
1) Dish about the ring! What do you like about it?
"Exquisite" is the word I think of when I think of my engagement ring. It is a new ring designed in an antique style. The thing I like the most about this ring is that I have never seen another quite like it and there is a lot of beautiful detail work. I also like the effect of having many small diamonds surrounding the larger diamond; making it extra sparkly.
2) Did you choose it or did your fiance choose it?
My husband (then fiancé) chose the ring with the help of two very tasteful sisters who both knew me well.
3) Where was the ring bought? And why?
The ring was purchased from Marlene Harris who is a small business jeweler in Blawnox, PA (right outside of Pittsburgh). I believe Daniel chose to go there because a number of our friends had bought their engagement and wedding bands from Marlene and he had heard good things about her collection.
4) Are you happy with the ring?
I am happy with the ring. I do not know if I would have picked it because I had something much more simple in mind but I am very happy with it.
5) Why did you want a conflict free diamond?
A conflict free diamond was very important to me because, particularly in Africa, diamond sales have been known to support slavery, violence, and in general the exploitation of communities and peoples. I knew that this ring is likely the most expensive item that I will own and I did not want the money to support the suffering of individuals. I also did not want to feel guilty about something that so beautifully symbolizes the covenant that Daniel and I were to make to one another and to God.
6) How important was it to you to have a conflict free diamond?
I felt very strongly that I wanted a conflict free diamond. Daniel and I had a conversation about it so I was confidant that he would keep my concerns in mind. I definitely would have been disappointed if he had not gotten a conflict free diamond.
7) When did you first think about wanting a conflict free diamond? What caused you to consider it?
My family has a good friend from Sierra Leone and I remember him talking about how his country had very valuable resources, particularly in diamonds, and yet his people were living in severe poverty and devastation because of exploitation and oppressions that had taken place in that land. I believe that was the first time I was made aware of the issues surrounding the diamond industry.
8) Can you explain the issue of conflict free diamonds to us?
A conflict diamond is a diamond that has been illegally smuggled and sold on the open market. The proceeds of these sales have been known to financially support violence, slavery and manslaughter. In Sierra Leone the diamond industry supported a brutal civil war that devastated the country and destroyed the lives of many. The rebel forces that had control of many of the diamond mines would smuggle the gems to dealers who would then place them on the open market. The money from these sales went to support the rebels in their merciless campaigns. These forces were known to use amputation as a weapon against villagers and would also enslave their captives forcing them to dig, at gunpoint, in search for gems. Although the civil war is now over, the effects and devastation remain. In a 2007 National Geographic documentary called Diamonds of War: Africa's Blood Diamonds, it was estimated that 60% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds are sold illegally and placed onto the open market. In addition to supporting potentially dangerous organizations and groups, the profits from these diamonds are not shared with the people of Sierra Leone because there is no way to tax the profit sales or registration of the stone. This is just one example of the devastation that conflict diamonds can have on a country and its people. Other African countries have also experienced the effects of this illegal market. Here is a link to a page that has more information on this topic.
9) What advice do you have for couples thinking about buying a diamond?
Do your research. This may be one of the biggest purchases that you make, so just think about it and make sure you are on the same page.
10) What thoughts do you have for someone who does not have a conflict free diamond and starts to feel concerned about the issue? How should they feel about their ring?
Well if you really want to find out what the origin of your diamond is then talk to your jeweler. No matter its origin, the diamond that your husband/fiancé gave you has meaning because it symbolizes his commitment to you. That alone makes it special and the chances that your diamond was illegally sold onto the market is still relatively low.