One problem I have with Christians is that they’re often just like everyone else. We could be different in how we spend our money, in how deeply we love people, in how we search to bring heaven to earth. Instead, we are different because we don’t celebrate Halloween, and we go to church on Sundays, and we refuse to let our kids watch rated-R movies.
Also, we are really weird about sex.
I talked with a friend the other day. She’d made out with a guy she wasn’t interested in dating, and she felt guilty. “Because you kind of led the sucker on, or because of the physical stuff itself?” I asked. “Both,” she said.
Maybe someday I will write a moving, poignant history of my sexual expeditions, but right now it would amount to a couple paragraphs. You remember how my vagina has not seen the light of day? Clearly any kind of physicality I’ve been involved with, sexual-wise, is not much to speak of. However. Sometimes a brief paragraph and “not much to speak of” outside of the Christian subculture equates to “I was once a total slut” within it. So here goes:
I had a couple boyfriends in high school. One of them I kissed. I did not feel badly.
Sophomore year of college, I had a few make-out sessions with a guy I vehemently did not want to date. I felt extremely badly.
Weird, right? My friend’s guilt over her non-committal make-outs led me to some reflection on my own past indiscretions. And I had a difficult time understanding them, naming why the guilt was there and what the big deal about it was.
So I’ve concocted a few reasons for this phenomenon:
1. Thinking over thinking.
My high school brain wasn’t as developed as my college brain. I couldn’t overthink the kissing. I was with a boy I liked, who actually liked me, we were teenagers… What is there to think about? Don’t your parents’ basements exist for the sole purpose of watching movies and getting it on (as innocently as possible) with that cute boy from biology class? If I hadn’t kissed him, the world would have lost its order (and plus, I really wanted to kiss him).
Of course, a few years later, when you decide to attend a Christian college and you become inundated with critical thinking, and you study under people who are smart for a living, and you’re spending all day learning/observing/synthesizing/summarizing/arguing, then you tend to bring the same thought process to other areas of life. We analyzed the shit out of our romantic encounters at Wheaton; we didn’t know how to deal with them any other way. So of course I had guilt when I encouraged that poor little Bible and Theology major to go for a feelski; I was at a place where I could not avoid the consideration of what my body was engaging in. In high school, after a night of kissing, I could lie in bed and think, “Wow, that was fun,” but in college, at Wheaton, I beat myself up: “I am not respecting my body! Or his body! What kind of repercussions will this have? Will he lose respect for me as a person? Why do I have no self-control? Why am I settling for this?” Etc.
2. Save it for the bedroom, sweetheart.
Like I said before, Christians are weird about sex, and a lot of them are weird about making out. It sounds like I’m using “weird” as a negative term, but I don’t necessarily think that people outside of the Christian subculture, who view sex in a way that is normative, have a clearer, healthier, or more substantive view of sex.* I say that Christians view sex weirdly because it is different from the norm. That said, a couple things are clear in this Christian subculture that I’ve been raised in and can’t seem to escape: Premarital sex is wrong. Done. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone willing to debate that. Of course, some Christians still do have premarital sex, but they are (from what I’ve heard and seen) in the minority. If you’re in the evangelical culture, you know it’s Good to Wait. Maybe you sign a purity pledge in junior high. Maybe your dad buys you a purity ring.** Abstinence is where it’s at, baby. Haven’t you heard Rebecca St. James’ hit “Wait for Me”? Unlike the rest of America, that would look at my virginity with raised eyebrows and a small dose of pity, the Christians all pat me on the back.
And though my tone might hint at otherwise, I’m not saying it’s Bad to Wait. I am quite content in my chastity, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And I attribute this to the Christian community, who makes it such a big deal. But. Because they make it a big deal, bigger than it probably actually is, it can be a curse as well as a blessing. We become afraid of sex. We feel guilt with greater severity than we do with other sins. And we associate even the most innocent of physicality as taboo. Making out becomes a moral issue. Why is this? How can it be considered sexual when you keep your pants on? Is the Bible so clear on good old-fashioned premarital tonsil hockey? I think not.
And I get why it becomes a moral issue. We think of making out as the gateway drug; kiss for long enough, and you’ll find yourself doling out blow jobs. Plus, we’re big into the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law, and if it’s titillating, it’s still sexual, whether the bra is unhooked or not. But rather than stressing purity and respect of heart and body, we make rules, and it still becomes letter of the law.
3. The kissing standard.
So we’ve got the over-thinking problem. And the Christians-make-sex-a-big-deal problem. But then we’ve also got the problem of the kissing happening with someone you’re not actually into.
This one also has Christian roots. We believe sex was made as a gift for people who are becoming one. They’re committed, they’re devoted, they’re in it for life. If you’re going to be sexual with someone (and, as I argued above, we think making out is sexual), it should probably be with someone you like more than in the physical capacity.
But here’s my issue. Again, making out isn’t sex. Also, my standards for kissing are way lower than my standards for dating. Is it so terrible to be physically intimate with someone you aren’t dating, as long as you both know that it’s nothing more than physical? I don’t think so. I admit it’s easier to get messy when the physical happens. I admit it’s easier to go further than you intended, because you might not be respecting the individual or yourself as much as you would if there was a deep emotional bond and commitment. But. I also think that I (and my friends) are young and vibrant and alive, and if we don’t have a line of potential marital suitors lined up at our doorsteps, we shouldn’t have to completely deny our bodies all forms of physical intimacy. We are physical creatures. We like closeness. Sue me.
Just because making out with someone you don’t want to date isn’t the ideal, that doesn’t mean that it’s a sin. I think the same thing about masturbation. I would prefer sex with my wonderful, doting husband, wouldn’t you? But if you don’t have a wonderful, doting husband (or wife), I don’t think you get handed the Sin Card for masturbation or some mostly-not-sexual making out with that person you aren’t dating.*** It’s truly not worth all the guilt and shame we associate with it.
But that’s not all, folks.
Non-committal make-outs (and masturbation) are not sinful, in my mind. But. I don’t think we should necessarily be basing our actions on what is sinful and what isn’t. That can just become about cheating the system, finding loopholes, feeling righteous and good.
Once when I was considering getting involved physically with some guy I knew (and had purely platonic interest in), I asked my friend Brittaini if it’d be wrong. “I don’t know, Rach,” she said. “Mostly I just don’t think it’d be very beautiful.”
I could’ve made out with him. It would’ve been fun. Instantly gratifying. Maybe not a huge deal (aside from my inevitable over-thinking of it). But it would also not be beautiful.
Ditto for masturbation. People do it. It’s not causing a lot of harm. It’s not wrong. But something about it (and it could be my Christian upbringing) still reacts with, “Yeah, not so beautiful…”
I told a lot of these things to my friend. I said that what seems most beautiful is sharing your body with someone you’re deeply attracted to, committed to, known by. But. As Brittaini told me, our lives do not have to contain only beautiful things. In fact, they will not.
I thought that was good advice, and my friend asked for me to write it down, so here it is. You will have a lovely life, friend, and you already do. But we are gifted with choice, with the freedom to pick the tone of our lives and the arrangement of our actions. The whole can still be beautiful even with parts that are not the most glistening and wondrous, but I hope, when you can, even in the smallest ways (like whether or not to allow some boy’s tongue in your mouth), you do choose beauty.
*In fact, when some of my boarding school girls were getting it on left and right, I had moments when I thought it might’ve been better for them to have a moral framework which encouraged, at least to a degree, the waiting of the sex. I just saw too many regrets, too many sexual encounters done thoughtlessly and carelessly and often resulting in heartache.
**Don’t get me started on purity rings.
***I’m not including porn in this statement. I’m pretty anti-porn. Which is another story for another time.