Perfectly Imperfect

Planning a wedding can be stressful. Sometimes the bride doesn’t think of every little thing she is going to need until a couple of weeks before the ceremony and she ends up running around frantically trying to find wedding bonbonnieres / favours, and organising to have her leg hairs waxed, hair dyed and nails done before flying out of the country for a destination wedding ceremony. Or, at least, that’s my experience. I’ve been rather anxious the last couple of weeks preparing for my celebration wedding this month.

My perfectionism got the best of me a few nights ago and I cried because I realised that my wedding is not going to be “perfect.” In fact nothing in life is truly “perfect” in my mind. I’ve ordered flowers, makeup and cake, from a distance and will not see them until the big day. My shoes make me at least 2 inches taller than my husband–not exactly ideal. The photo slide show has photos of photos–they look less than perfect. The wedding music will be playing from an iPhone speaker. My mother (RIP) will miss our wedding by 4 years and 6 months…

My husband held me and said that our celebration wedding will be “Perfectly imperfect.” He loves that phrase and I’m starting to love it too.

The truth is, we will have been married for exactly 9 months on our wedding day. We have organised a celebration-wedding in Hawaii so that our families, coming from Australia and America, can meet in person, watch me walk down a sandy aisle in a traditional, white, wedding gown, exchange vows with my husband a second time, take photographs and have our reception dinner on the beach. We called our marriage in February an elopement day although it wasn’t actually a secret. We went to the court house in Parramatta, exchanged vows in front of our parents, two of whom were skyped in, and signed our marriage certificate. We will celebrate our wedding anniversary on February 20th because it’s not only when we legally married, but also the day we “became one flesh,” to use a biblical term, and it just so happens that we first met–through facebook–on February 21st 2013. But no doubt we will remember November 20th as well.

Our elopement day was another perfectly-imperfect day. We forgot our wedding rings and had to drive back home after the signing to get them. We did not have all our family members there to celebrate with us, just as we won’t have a lot of extended family in Hawaii and those were difficult decisions to make and somewhat sad. Definitely not “perfect.”

My husband and I were intercourse-virgins on our wedding night. I was 32 and my husband, 30, when we got married. Most people in general have experienced sex long before age 30-32 and if you think about the body of a teenager or adult in their twenties, they are generally a lot more flexible than adults in their thirties. They can also adapt to different positions and strenuous activities more quickly and easily than older adults. My husband and I have both experienced exhaustion before reaching climax, back pain and even leg muscle spasms during orgasm! Suffice-it to say, our sex life is also perfectly-imperfect.

Abstaining from sex for so many years not only affected our ability to perform sexually, but resulted in both of us placing some unrealistic expectations on our sex-life. When my husband and I had sex for the first time on our elopement night, I expected that I would feel a spiritual bond being solidified between me and my husband, a sense of awe and wonder, of unity and passion, of love and nurture. To my surprise, I didn’t feel any different after sex than I had before sex. I hadn’t changed. I was waiting for something to change, something magical to happen–no, something supernatural–but it didn’t feel supernatural to me.

I broached the subject with my husband a day or two later and he also agreed that sex felt surprisingly natural. It was a relief to know that he felt the same, but I was much more baffled by it than he was. It took me months to accept that sex was not a supernaturally mind-blowing, spiritually climactic, soul-tying experience for the two of us. I have struggled to orgasm (more than I expected to struggle) because of the expectations I placed on sex and how disappointed I felt in those early months of married life.

More recently I’ve let go of my disappointment and come to see sex being natural as a positive thing. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I would have to say that it was, in some respects, a relief that sex felt very natural and normal. If I had felt the supernatural feelings I was expecting, it might have scared me. I may have gone back to feeling insecure about whether what we were doing was wrong or right and I may have felt guilty and dirty. I’m glad it felt natural, I was simply surprised it didn’t feel more bonding, instantaneously.

However, over time (albeit we’ve only been married for 8 and a half months) I have observed that my bond with my husband has deepened, and I do believe this is linked to sex. My experience–and I can only speak for myself–is that when I first married my husband, he was my best friend, we had a lot in common, he ticked all my boxes, so I loved him and I chose him to be my partner in life. Now, I feel more of a family bond. He belongs in my life and nothing can ever replace him. It’s almost as though we’ve always known each other, always been together and will always be together, spiritually if not in body. Perhaps this is a soul-tie or perhaps this is a result of oxytocin, or both, but it’s a beautiful feeling of safety, security, love and family.

Before marriage, I did not feel safe to orgasm in front of any man. For me personally, I wanted to know that I was loved and felt secure before my body would even relax enough to experience an orgasm. For all the fooling around I did for four years leading up to marriage, I never orgasmed in the presence of any man other than my husband. For me, this is one of the beautiful things about sex inside of marriage, or a relationship in which you feel loved and secure. It creates an environment of security in which one can fully express oneself.

Within this context, we are creating a perfectly-imperfect sex-life that works for us. Not every position is going to work. We’ve never made love all night long or even achieved having sex more than four times in twenty-four hours. I read an excellent book before I got married called “Sexual Intelligence,” by Marty Klein. This book talks about re-inventing your sex life at any age or stage in life. It throws out rules like “I have to orgasm in order to enjoy sex,” or “Sex has to be spontaneous not planned” and suggests we have sex without so many rules and expectations. In fact we need to accept the things we can’t do, the expectations or circumstances that aren’t met, and we need to find out what works for us where we are at.

My sex-life is never going to be perfect or ideal in every way. Nor is my celebration-wedding when it happens later this month. But I am determined to love and enjoy them for what they are. There is something freeing about acceptance. Acceptance lets go of judgement, expectation, disappointment, idealism and perfectionism, and creates something realistically beautiful in its place. That’s why my husband and I use the term “perfectly-imperfect.” It may not be ideal or the way you thought you wanted things to be, but it can still be amazing and special and have its own kind of perfection (i.e. perfect for us / perfect in these circumstances) in its reality.

What is Lust?

The general idea of lust that was presented to me as a child growing up in a Christian family and environment, was that every sexual thought about any and every person you are not married to, is lust.

Because of my extreme perfectionist inclinations as a child, I came to believe that people are lusting all the time, especially me. I believed that watching movies that sexually aroused me was lustful. That masturbation was lustful because, while doing it, I was focused on satisfying myself sexually. That thinking about different men I liked while masturbating, was lustful. That being sexually attracted to someone was lusting after them. That premarital sex was lust. That divorce and remarriage were lust. That watching pornography was lust. That extramarital sex was lust. That polygamy was lust. Sometimes, I even thought that marriages–perhaps all or most marriages–were built on lust.

I also came to believe that human beings are not really capable of love at all. I believed that God’s love is unconditional, all-inclusive and selfless, and as far as I was concerned I did not know any human beings who were capable of that kind of love. So I concluded that most of what we produce that we call “love” is really lust, and that when we marry, we are only trying to learn how to love and none of us achieve real love every moment of every day.

That was my pessimistic, somewhat-judgemental, perfectionistic, melancholy perception of lust versus love.

To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve actually broken away from this perception. I still tend to think that our attempts at love in this life are “filthy rags” in comparison to God’s amazing love. And I also tend to think that sin is so ingrained in us, that we wouldn’t necessarily recognise lust in the very thick of it.

Interestingly, over time, this perception has decreased my inclination to be critical of other people’s sexuality and increased my grace and acceptance of people’s sexuality. I judged myself the most harshly, and because I was taught that all sins were equal, I absolutely believed that my own sexual arousal watching a movie, was no better (or worse) than friends and family who had premarital sex, or decided to get a divorce, or looked at pornography etc.

When I was 17, a 20 year old male friend admitted to me that he masturbated after dates with his girlfriend and he asked me if I thought it was a sin. If memory serves, I said something along these lines: “I don’t know if it is a sin, but I do know that God loves you just as much when you masturbate as any other time, and if it is a sin, you are forgiven.”
I emphasised the love and forgiveness of God toward other people because it was what I longed for myself. I was a terribly guilt-ridden teenager and I am incredibly lucky that despite being taught that so many things were wrong, bad and evil, it was just as much emphasised to me that God is love and he loves us unconditionally all the time, no matter what we have done, are doing or will do. My brother Michael tells a similar story of being raised to believe that basically everything in life was sin, but that God’s love was somehow amazingly greater than sin.

Suffice it to say, God’s love is much more powerful than human lust. Regardless of whether we take the critical approach of believing that everything is lust, or the liberal approach that nothing is lust, we can rest assured that we are always loved and accepted by God, and therefore “There is now no condemnation,” or guilt, or shame around our sexuality, see Romans 8:1.

From this place of security within the love of God, I still want to explore what lust is and what I believe keeps us trapped in a cycle of lust, as well what we can do to start reversing that cycle.

I started a discussion on facebook recently asking: What is lust? One of the answers I liked was that lust is about getting and love is about giving. Another was that lust is wanting something that belongs to someone else. Other words that stood out to me were “lack,” “uncontrollable urge,” “never fulfilled,” “consumed by,” and “addiction.”
In the Bible there appears to be a link between lust and adultery.

Matthew 5:28 “Anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Proverbs 6:24-25 “Keeping you away from your neighbour’s wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.”

There were far more consequences after King David had sex with Bathsheba–a married woman–than there seem to have been regarding his other sexual partners, 2 Samuel 11-12. Yet David had more than 8 wives and many concubines as we see from 2 Samuel 3:2-5 & 5:13.

The Ten Commandments don’t actually list fornication as wrong, but include adultery twice in commandments 7 and 10!
Deuteronomy 5:18 “You shall not commit adultery.”
Deuteronomy 5:21 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.”

I did a search on Bible Gateway and the amount of times that the word lust is connected with the word adultery is astounding. Most of the time it seems to be talking about Israel’s adultery against God in turning to other idols and gods and “lusting” after them.

Before you assume that I’m limiting lust to people who have extramarital sex, remember that Jesus talked about lust starting in the heart. I still believe that pretty much all people have experienced and do experience lust. I do not believe that lust is simply thinking about or acting on having sex with someone who is not your spouse. I think that lust is entwined in obsession. In fact what I gathered from my prayer and study about lust over the past couple of weeks, is that it seems to be connected to an obsessive desire to possess something that we feel we lack.

This may be as simple as an obsession with controlling other people’s sex lives because we are scared to really analyse our own sexuality. I have seen this within the church time and time again: misdirected lust twisted into the condemnation and judgement of other people’s sex lives.

Yes, I can be critical of the body of Christ / the church (which I am still part of), but just as Paul claims to be the worst sinner of all in 1 Timothy 1:15, I can admit that I am the biggest lust-bucket of all. In my twenties I had a 6 year obsession with the same man who never loved me, never claimed to love me, but whom I “thought” God had told me I was going to marry. In my limited observation, this is not uncommon amongst sexual abuse victims. My own experience tells me that the confusion caused by sexual abuse can easily lead survivors down a path of unhealthy obsession. I later came to conclude that my obsession with this man masked my obsession with sex and marriage.

Obsession turns sexual attraction into lust or love … or, in my opinion, usually both. I still believe that we confuse lust and love all the time, but I think that some lust and obsession is unhealthier than others–like my 6 year obsession with one man who didn’t reciprocate. I will go into much more detail about healing from sexual abuse and overcoming the type of obsession that stems from abuse in my book: “Grace for Sexual Shame: The Abused.”

But there is some lust-obsession in all of us and that is what this blog which is part of my book, “Grace for the Sexual Shame: The Obsessed,” is all about. I brought it up in my first two blogs: “Why is the church obsessed about sex,” and “Why I am obsessed about sex.” Now I wish to bring the discussion full circle and talk about how we can start to move from this state of lust-obsession to one of love.

Lust-obsession is fear based. When I was obsessed about the same man for 6 years I was afraid that I was never going to get married, that no one was ever going to love me and that I was never going to have sex. I was desperately clinging to the hope that I might just get what I want from this man, because I was terrified that my desires would not be fulfilled elsewhere.

When we become afraid that our needs and wants are not going to be met, we become obsessive and lustful. But, instead of being honest about it, human beings have a tendency to go into hiding. We go into hiding because we do not want to be judged for our perception of our needs and desires. We go into hiding because we are afraid of what people would think of us if they really knew our desires. We cover up our lust-obsession with secrets, lies, deception, dishonesty and facades. These are the enemies of love that feed our lust-obsession.

So then, the obvious solution, is honesty. Again, this ties in with the blogs I wrote 9 months ago. The only way we can even attempt to overcome our obsession with sex which is basically the same as lust is to talk about it. To be honest about where we are at. To admit the things we have done in the past. To admit what we fantasise about doing in the future. To be real, authentic and honest about our sexuality.

When an alcoholic goes to alcoholics anonymous, the first step is honesty: “Hi my name is such and such and I’m an alcoholic.” When we admit our secrets we start to break free from those secrets. I think this is why the Bible says:

James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

Honesty is the enemy of lust, because when we start being honest about what we want, we stop being quite so afraid that we are not going to get it. We start to believe that we can actually have what we want. And sometimes, we come to realise that it’s not what we wanted at all, it is only a surface level desire. As we unload our honesty about what we think we want, we start getting to the heart of what we really want.

As cliché as it sounds, we all want to be loved. And that includes sexual love. I’m not saying that we are all going to resolve our lust by realising that we really just want to give and receive love, but I do believe this recognition is a healthy step. It is a step toward the love we want, need and actually have.

God is love, and by extension, so are we.

To be truly ourselves is to be loved, love and loving. When we see ourselves as trapped in an obsessive lust cycle, we are not being our- true and authentic -selves. We are living from a place of fear. Afraid we are not going to get the love that we need. Denying that we already are loved, love and loving.

If you feel that you are trapped in lust right now, please know that I am not judging you. Not only have I been in unhealthy lust places in the past, but I believe that I will always be tainted by lust until the day I die and God sets me completely and finally free from all sin.

For example, as a newly-wed I have wrestled over my decision to remain a virgin until I was married. When I am honest and authentic, I am unsure whether I feel like sex was worth waiting 32 years for with all the anxiety, fear and lust-obsession that I experienced prior to marriage. Sex became so much bigger in my mind than it actually is and during this first year of marriage sex has felt like a deflating balloon for me. But I don’t know whether having sex before marriage would have made life any better. It would just be a different story. A different experience. I would have learned other lessons instead of the ones I’m learning through my own choices and experiences.

Because I believe so much in honesty, my husband has had to listen to me deflate my sex balloon all year. We’ve talked about disappointed expectations and disillusionment etc. Being honest with my husband has only made our marriage deeper. When we let our thoughts out their power tends to evaporate over time.

The way I see it, there are two options. We can be honest about our lust-obsessions and/or we can act on our lust-obsessions. But both of these things will lead us back to the same conclusion eventually. And that conclusion is our eventual freedom or salvation from the lust that entangles, to being the love that we were created to be.
If you don’t believe me, check out what the Bible has to say about it:

Romans 1:26 “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts …”

The result:
Romans 11:25-26 “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in and in this manner all Israel will be saved.”
Romans 11:32 “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all!”

Similarly:
1 Corinthians 5:1&5 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you … a man is sleeping with his father’s wife … Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh [lust], so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

Lust is destroyed and the person remains saved. So even when we give into lust, we will learn from our decisions, reap the consequences, and remain saved.

God will use any means to bring us back to the same conclusion: love. Love is the answer. Love is the way. The more we focus our attention on love, the more our lust-obsession will likely decrease. As we become who we truly are, we are less inclined to act according to our sinful nature–our lust-obsession–which is who we are not.

1 John 4:16-18 “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus [we are love]. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Be honest about where you are at. Then focus your attention on love because that is who you truly are.

For an excellent and challenging book on honesty I recommend “Radical Honesty” by Brad Blanton http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Honesty-Transform-Telling-Truth/dp/0970693842

Pornography

I will never forget the story of Michael Guglielmucci who claimed he had cancer to mask a pornography addiction.

When I first discovered that he was faking cancer, I was angry. My mother was dying of cancer at the time and I didn’t understand how anyone could make a mockery of the disease she had by writing a song about God being our healer while pretending to be sick, having thousands of people donate money to his cancer treatments and publically pray for his healing, while my mother shrivelled up and died.

But see, I was angry because of my own circumstances and struggles. It was a reflection of me, not of him. I wanted to be gracious. I really didn’t want to judge him because I strongly desire to be as non-judgmental as I can be.

When I found out the backstory about Michael’s being addicted to pornography, suffering from so much guilt and shame … I realised he was just like me. He was beating himself up for his sexuality and perceived sexual failings. He wanted healing from his addiction so desperately that he deferred all of his pent up emotions onto a different disease: one that he could talk about within the church without being judged. In fact, he rallied their support. They were praying for his physical healing from a disease, while he asked God to make those prayers count toward healing from his addiction, healing from shame and condemnation, healing from lies and facades.

“It is with much pain and sadness that I make this statement today. For over 16 years I have struggled with an addition to adult pornography. As a result of this secret life of sin my body would often breakdown. I’d report the cause of my symptoms simply as illnesses and I’ve thrown my life into a ministry for many years trying to compensate for my sin.

I believe that I do love Jesus and I know that he loves me and it is this love along with the prayers of people around the world that bring me to this place of confession. Two years ago, I reported that I was suffering from cancer, the truth is that although I was ill I did not have cancer but was again using the misdiagnosis to hide the lie that I was living. I know in my heart that it is the truth alone that will set me free and this is the reason for my confession.”

http://manofdepravity.com/2008/08/healer-a-lie-closure/

Unfortunately, hiding our addictions only makes them worse. Secrets have a hidden power that honesty takes away. Most of us have experienced the relief of finally telling the truth about something we feared we would be judged or punished for. Even when we experience negative consequences, the weight of the secret still seems to lift to a degree.

If you have a secret pornography addiction, the first thing I recommend you do is tell someone about it–preferably someone who is not going to tell you that you have to stop, but who will accept and love you where you are at. This is what enables us to change, if we desire to change. When we are supported by people who understand, who admit to their own perceived imperfections, then we feel free. We know that everything is okay whether we change or even if we don’t. Then if we want to change, we are actually far more likely to do so!

As with every other topic, I’m not here to tell you that pornography addiction is wrong or right. But if you feel wrong about it, if you feel trapped in a secret, a lie or a façade, then you need freedom from the lie that you are trapped. God has already set you free. He has already said that no matter what you do, you are completely forgiven. What you do with that freedom, is your choice.

Now, if you desire to change, it might be helpful for you to ask yourself what payoff/s you are getting from watching pornography. Porn isn’t reality, it is a fantasy. It can certainly offer ideas that may alter our own reality, but trying to reduplicate what we’ve seen isn’t always realistic. Are you watching it because you don’t feel you are having enough sex–or not any sex? Are you honest about this with your partner, or if you do not have a partner, can you be honest about this with someone else?

As I said in an earlier blog post, you may also want to ask yourself if you can bring your body to orgasm without porn. Are you in touch with your physical sensations, with your emotions, with your soul? Or are you relying on fantasy to get you off, instead of turning inward to the sexuality God created you with?

If you have a partner who uses pornography, I really want to encourage you not to think of porn as a reflection on you. It is not a reflection on your body–that your boobs are too small, that your butt is too big, that you don’t have any abs or a six pack, that you aren’t as loud as they are, they you don’t like the positions they are using, that you aren’t flexible enough or young enough or whatever else. Even if your partner tells you that you are lacking these things, it doesn’t mean you have to believe him/her, nor do you have to change for him/her.

I hope that you have a partner who validates you the way you are. I hope you can have conversations about how you can make your own personal sex-life more satisfying for the both of you, by talking about what you like and don’t like etc. Porn may come up in the conversation–perhaps a position will be suggested. But there will likely be a rude awakening for the person who expects to mould their partner into a porn-star.

In all honesty, I have seen a small amount of pornography. I found it sexually arousing, but emotionally disturbing. I think that is because I have heard that a lot of women involved in the creation of pornographic videos have been and/or are being sexually abused and exploited. So I feel sorry for them, and I don’t feel comfortable watching porn.

But it is of utmost importance to me that people know they are loved and accepted while watching pornography. I experience a twinge of guilt or embarrassment when I watch porn, almost similar to the embarrassment of walking in on my parents doing it when I was a kid. But I don’t believe guilt comes from God and I don’t feel guilty before God, because I know he loves me unconditionally, at all times.

Whatever you choose to do, be it with or without pornography, I hope you believe that too.

See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wqRAJrl0eA

I Need Volunteers for a Sex Survey

When I was a child I naively assumed that most of the adults around me: my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, school teachers, pastors and church leaders etc., were NOT having sex before marriage. We were told not to, therefore I simply presumed most couples had abstained.

Listen to these American statistics:
50% of men and 13% of women born in 1890 had sex before marriage
58% of men and 26% of women born 1890-1900 had sex before marriage
66% of men and 50% of women born 1900-1909 had sex before marriage.

These statistics aren’t even talking about Woodstock or how many people are having premarital sex today, these implicating my grandparents and great grandparents.

I need volunteers to take part in a survey about your sex lives and sexuality. I am not here to judge you. I am here to learn. I will keep your answers anonymous and will write only generalities and statistics about the data I collect.

What is my motivation?
Abstinence was a difficult battle for me. I felt guilty about masturbation as an adult, and felt invalidated as a sexual being until much later in my twenties, only to discover that the people implying I should abstain, for the most part did not abstain themselves. It shocked me and has caused me to ask a lot more questions about sex. I am still somewhat angry that very few people talked to me about my sexual struggles in my twenties and I am adamant that this is a topic we need to stop avoiding particularly in the Christian world and throughout society!

(Statistics taken from “When Sex goes to School” by Kristin Luker)