Neither my housemate Rachel, nor I could sleep the other morning and so we ending up talking about sexuality…. as you do. Now of course there is a context. She is currently taking a summer school subject on gender and sexuality. We don’t just randomly talk about sex a lot!
But the reality is that I have found myself having a lot of conversations with girlfriends lately about sex. About femininity. About the words we use around sex and sexuality. About marriage and sex. About masturbation. About cultural expectations surrounding sex- in the Christian culture bubble and the wider culture around us. About the conflicting nature of so much discourse around women and sex- especially in the church.
That’s normal, right?
I have spent most of my twenties (and the so far small part of my thirties) living in houses with other young women. But strangely these recent conversations are largely the most open and honest I’ve ever had. And my Christian friends usually agree. It is like we finally feel the permission to be frank with each other and be brave in speaking from our hearts about issues that are so deeply embedded in our identities and self worth. And this is the case whether or not we are single (as I am) or in relationships.
But it strikes me as deeply sad that up until now I have felt unable to speak and question and travel this road together with my fellow sisters. And I have a suspicion that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
The reality I’m discovering is that you can’t talk about your body and identity and value as women without talking about sex. Yes, that is a blindingly obvious point. But how did all my youth pastors and leaders manage to talk about these things without really addressing our female sexuality! The unspoken message that I seemed to absorb over my adolescence was that sex and sexuality was off limits unless you were married… and even then it was a very private, sanitised discussion. Sex outside of marriage- in word or deed- was bad, not good.
I bought into and believed this to be the righteous way (don’t worry, saying that makes me throw up a little in my mouth too).
Thankfully I am an unstoppable questioner. Studying Anthropology I was instilled with a deep understanding of the need to deconstruct my own understandings of culture and belief in order to engage in the world more authentically. So as I got older I became more uncomfortable with the tension between the Church’s clean, sanitised version of sexuality and their seeming obsession with it (sometimes it seems that the sin of sex outside of marriage is worse than all others). And don’t get me started on the fact that the gospels alone talk far more about compassion and grace and social justice than it ever does about sex, as far as I can tell!
And if sex and sexuality is off limits, is not good, than why when I began to talk with girlfriends more openly, did I begin to feel free? As my friends and I began to talk over our questions, feelings and concerns, we began to hear each other and realise we were not alone in being Christian women who were unwilling to accept the stories we had been told. And we began to feel more alive.
If genuine Christian community and fellowship is about sharing our lives, does that not mean our whole lives? If talking about our sexuality and femininity helps us embrace our true identities as women created by God, then is that not the best thing we can be doing?!
There is so much more I want to explore and discuss. I want to understand how it is we got to where we are and how we can move forward more authentically. So I am thinking that I would like to start a blog series on sexuality.
And in thinking that, I will.
However in truth – as I attempt to organise my thoughts on this topic - I am faced with the seemingly impossible task of ending this blog. So as she instigated this journey into all things sexual…I thought it was only fitting to get Rachel's very eloquent closing thoughts on a way forward…
“As we wade our way through countless books dictating the truths of sex, open our ears to the truths and lies society screams rather loudly at us, sip our way through cups of coffee talking with girlfriends, and pray over what being a female in this sexualised - and in many ways sexually oppressed - world means to us… Maybe the conclusions we come to will be eloquent enough to provide some clarity on the subject that is ‘sex’! “