An obsession is a fixation. Most of the time, people with an obsession or fixation, try to keep it hidden, but when the topic comes up the person usually reveals hypersensitivity in the area of their obsession.
In my previous bog I suggested that the western church is obsessed about sex. I said this because my experience of Christians in general growing up, was that they desperately wanted to keep human sexuality under control. It is my observation that sexual immorality has stricter church-discipline-related consequences than any other kind of alleged-sin. It is the thing we are most secretive about because we know the moral police will judge us, but it’s also the most widely discussed topic when it involves someone else. In my opinion, this constitutes a hypersensitive area of fixation: an obsession.
I concede that part of the reason the western church is obsessed about sex is because western society is obsessed about sex. But if the goal of our obsession is, in fact, to control how Christians behave sexually, then this obsession will never reach its target. It is failing and will continue to fail us. I would like to suggest that we redirect our obsession and, instead of using it to judge and gossip about others while avoiding our own sexual secrets, that we start having honest-to-God conversations about our obsession with sex.
I’m obsessed with sex partly because I was raised in sex-crazed western society and the sex-crazed western church. I, like the Christians around me, learned to speak religious-virginese about how sex before marriage is wrong and was interviewed by “Girlfriend Magazine” at the ripe old age of 14. I said things like: “True love waits,” and I want to “Save myself for marriage.” I talked about how sex joins people for life and asked the question “Why would you want to be joined with more than one person?” What I didn’t understand is that this mostly comes across as condemning, judgemental and legalistic.
I didn’t even realise that I was obsessed with sex when I was a teenager, but the fact that I ended up in a pretty popular Australian magazine for teenagers, certainly begs the question. There were other clues as well. At my bridal shower just two days ago a high-school friend reminded me that I told my whole class I was scared the rapture would happen while I was still a virgin and I didn’t want Jesus to come back before I’d had sex! (That was 15-20 years ago and I no longer agree with the rapture interpretation of Biblical passages.) Some of the people in my high-school class were shocked. I was known for being a passionate Christian, yet I was talking about the desire to experience sex. I don’t remember being very embarrassed though. I would shrug that kind of thing off by saying: “Doesn’t everyone want to know what it’s like to have sex?”
Meanwhile, I avoided sex like the plague. I never masturbated in high-school. If I felt aroused while watching a movie, I would generally avoid my feelings because I thought that they were wrong or at the very least, dangerous. I was obsessed about sexual purity and sub-consciously kept myself overweight throughout my teen years in order to avoid being sexually attractive to the opposite-sex. Sexual repression, hypersensitivity to all things sexual, guilt connected to any sexual arousal and extreme perfectionism in the area of my sexuality should have been telling signs.
When I was 18-19, I became depressed because I felt guilty about everything. If I forgot to brush my teeth, I felt guilty because I was “supposed” to brush my teeth. If I shaved my legs, I felt guilty because God put hair there. If I watched a lot of television, I felt guilty for being lazy. I remember one time wondering if it was a sin that I walked around stepping on ants and prayed that God would forgive me for being an ant killer. If ever I felt angry or hateful toward anyone, I would pray for days “God please make me love them. Please make me love them. Please make me love them.” Most of the time, the people I didn’t like were men around my dad’s age. This should have been a telling sign too. I would actually get sick feelings in the pit of my stomach and find myself feeling repulsed by certain men 2-3 decades older than me–for no apparent reason–and thought for sure there was something wrong with me.
When my depression grew bad enough that I started wondering if death would be kinder to me than life, I knew I had to seek counselling. One of the counsellors I saw asked me if I had been sexually abused. I said I didn’t know and she explained to me that most people that present with my level of irrational guilt have experienced abuse. I became hysterical and I asked God to tell me whether or not it was true. It took me another nine years to really become convinced that I was molested as a three year old and to face the experience as God gradually reconstructed my memory of it.
I’m not writing this to stir anyone’s pity or empathy. I’m writing this to help readers understand why I have this desperate desire to openly discuss my sexuality. Because on the one hand, religion told me that sex before marriage was wrong. But, on the other hand, my abuse told me that I’d already experienced some kind of sex before marriage. And that made me feel very, very wrong. And I have carried the weight of my sexual-wrongness around with me all my life. Even now, as I prepare to be married, I am struggling with sexual anxiety. I don’t want to live with this secret, obsessive sexual anxiety on my own anymore. I want to talk about it!
“Let’s talk about sex baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex!”
This song made me cringe (with judgementalism) in high-school, but now it’s probably the thing I want most in all the world for people like me who have suppressed their sexuality long enough. So I am writing these blogs to encourage much more dialogue amongst my peers about human sexuality.
Navigating my singleness and sexuality throughout my twenties and early thirties has been a complex and emotional adventure. I struggled with people giving me the Christian-virginese answer to singleness and sexlessness: “God is all you need.” And I struggled with mixed messages around masturbation and sexual arousal (amongst other struggles). There are many other topics I look forward to discussing in future blogs, but we will start with masturbation first.
So stay tuned for blog 3: Is masturbation a sin?