The most warped messages I have internalized because of Christianity deal with – you guessed it – sexuality and being a woman more generally. I have not shed the influence of these detrimental teachings, and I’m not sure I ever will completely. I generally cry and feel physically ill when I think about it. As a Feminazi™, it sucks when I can’t put those principles into practice in my own life.
Where do I even begin here? I guess with an anecdote.
The summer after I finished eighth grade, I attended a church camp – Camp Caswell if you want to look it up. Church leaders like to subject preteens and adolescents to endless lectures on budding sexuality. This camp was no different. They foisted their fucked up views about sex and women’s bodies onto me and everyone else in attendance. We passed around a piece of tape and noticed how it got less sticky the more people it stuck to. Here that, ladies? You’re a piece of unsticky tape if you’ve had sex with someone other than your husband. Later in the week, the lecturer made us chant “sex is great … when you’re married!” That’s some next level creepy right there.
The creepiness never ends. Married adults in the church seem to sadistically enjoy holding sex just out of young adults’ reaches. From pastors making jokes about wedding nights from the pulpit to “girls’ retreats” where the female leaders made knowing glances at each other about how great sex is, the creepiness never ends. The leaders make sex so taboo that they obsess over it. They obsess over who does it, with whom people do it, where people do it, how people do it, and in what context people do it. “Like, I get it. It’s great, and I can’t have any part of it. Please shut up already. It’s gross.”
This explicit stuff is mostly seen in fundamentalism, but don’t worry, liberal Christians. I’m coming for you too – namely, your obsession with using the word “purity” and your obsession with not masturbating. I’ve had sex. I’m not impure, so please stop talking about “guarding your heart” and “staying pure.” Stop telling stories about how a “really amazing” group of guy friends helped you stop committing “sexual sin” in the shower. (If you’re reading this, and you aren’t laughing/cringing yet, you should be.)
The church should know how detrimental it is to shame people’s BIOLOGICAL DRIVES. It leads to too-soon marriages, unwanted pregnancies because of abstinence only sex education, and the view that women’s bodies first belong to their dads and then to their husbands. Sex, first and foremost, is a drive just like hunger and thirst. I guess people can’t die without it, but when people are deprived of it, bad shit happens like sexual assault that gets brushed under church rugs.
Women don’t even know they have the right to refuse their husbands’ requests for sex. Tell me how that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture because when girls hear that, they internalize that they shouldn’t reject advances from ANY man before they’re even old enough to have sex. Further, women are treated like they don’t even have a sex drive! Sex is talked about like a chore that women must do to satiate their husbands’ animal-like desire for sex. Women are literally convinced that they innately won’t enjoy sex. You know what this leads to? It leads to women being complacent in unsatisfactory sexual relationships because they don’t think it can get any better. It leads to women who are afraid to ask for what they want. It leads to women who don’t even know what they want because sex is a performance for their husbands.
Rape culture perpetuator number two: men are never asked to maybe keep their impulses in check. I heard things like “men are very visual,” “don’t cause your brothers in Christ to stumble,” “boys will be boys,” “it’s your job to say ‘no,’” and “modest is hottest” on an absurdly regular basis. In the church, men “need” sex, and women dole it out on command. And because the women giveth, the women can taketh away, and they are expected to taketh away in any sort of premarital or extramarital sexual encounter. If they don’t taketh away, they get all the blame. They get labeled “impure.” They get their scarlet letter. In marriage, however, if women don’t giveth, they’re selfish. They’re depriving their husbands of their needs.
Hey husbands, maybe just whack it and go to sleep. That’s what women have to do 99.9% of the time, sex or no sex (if they’re lucky enough to know they can actually do that).
Anyway, the church operates on a profound ignorance of women’s bodies and extreme deprivation of women’s autonomy over their bodies. This is obvious in the types of policies they support. I won’t get into that here though. They also place undue weight on a woman’s sexual status, when in all honesty, sex changed me exactly zero percent.
But the demonization of sexual women and subtle support of unbridled sexual urges in men has a parallel form: teaching about the fragility of women and the need for men to protect women at all costs. Either way, women are stripped of their agency and are being treated as second-class citizens. I might be smaller and have less muscle mass, but women treat men with intellectual and emotional kid gloves 100% of the time. Men don’t like having their worldviews challenged, and we all know how easy it is to crack the fragile male ego. Just look at how women aren’t allowed to be leaders in many churches. Male church leaders have said women are lesser for all of Christian history, but actually, they just needed to shut women up and persuade them of feminine inferiority because it would’ve been hard to subordinate women if they were unafraid to speak on intellectually equal terms and given an equal platform.
In terms of physical strength, though, I won’t even get into periods and childbirth. Christian men treat women like incubators, but truth be told, women could literally harness the world’s supply of sperm and exist without men.
The erasure of female agency doesn’t stop with bodies. It bleeds into how women actually live their lives. In the church, the woman’s job is to help her husband fulfill his calling. Pushing women to achieve is couched in making sure they don’t achieve more than men.
Whether explicit in evangelical fundamentalism or implicit in hippie-Jesus-commune churches, Christian doctrine (and many other religious doctrines) is inherently misogynistic even if the people who practice it aren’t. Sure, it’s a woman’s choice to maintain virginity until marriage, dress modestly, and guard her heart, but if she’s been indoctrinated to believe that’s the only right way to live as a woman since she was a little girl, is she really making the choice? If she’s made to believe her husband should protect her from other men and that she should protect other men from lustful thoughts, the misogyny becomes twofold. I’m not writing a prescription here, but I’m not sorry for pointing out the ways Christian views about sex and femininity can be deeply harmful to women.
For me personally, this led to disordered eating, a dependence on validation from men to bolster my self-esteem, a fluctuation between being sex-repulsed and sex-crazed, a fear of speaking up when I disagree with a man, a lack of identity outside of the men with whom I was affiliated, undue admiration for men simply because they were men, NOT KNOWING HOW TO SAY “NO,” internalized misogyny, piss-poor sexual education, shame for my body (especially in its natural state), etc. I have not shed the influence of these messages entirely.
I think parents instill these ideas in their daughters for their protection, but institutionally, churches do it to keep women subordinate. I don’t believe that a woman has to be sexually active to be sexually liberated. Our bodies, our rules. I only hope that women make their sexual decisions based on their own values. If something feels “off” about a sexual decision, odds are it’s not coming from one’s own value judgments in regards to sex. Sex doesn’t have to be a big deal, but if it’s mishandled, it can be disastrous (as with anything). My sexual insecurities stem from the church’s mishandling of sexual teachings. At least I can now confidently say that no dick has the power to change my life in any significant way.