When ‘no kissing’ doesn’t “work” (sex + shame part nine)

I remained physically `unblemished,’ which made the hypocrisy of my actual situation all the more stark in contrast.

The sex and shame series begins here.

As with all of these stories, all I can add is my gratitude to the author of this post for her candor and bravery, taking the time to let others know they’re not alone. 

It was called “The Blue String Thing.” The theme of this rally was based around a story about a girl who made a pact with her friends to save themselves until marriage. A few years later and struggling to keep herself chaste, she found out that many of her friends had already broken the pact. In desperation, she threw open her Bible and pointed to a random verse: Numbers 15:37-39.

“The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.”

Inspired by these words, she found a blue string and tied it around her wrist, so that “whenever [she was] tempted to go too far with a boy, [she’d] never have to look further than [her] wrist.”

I was probably in middle school and this certainly wasn’t the first time I had heard such a message. What struck me about this particular event was the message the speaker imparted to us. He mentioned that he was always being asked, “How far is too far?” His response would shape my sexual ethic for years to come: “When you are walking along the edge of a cliff, you don’t ask ‘How far is too far?’ You try to stay as far away as you can from that cliff edge!”

That analogy made perfect sense to my adolescent brain. Actually having sex seemed an impossible fantasy at that point, but if Sex Ed had taught me anything, it was that one thing always leads to another. The more boundaries I placed between myself and the `dirty deed,’ the more likely I was to succeed in my mission to stay pure. As the worship music played and people went up to the altar to cry and confess, I prayed and thanked God that I had never been kissed and vowed to save my first kiss for my wedding day. I felt so special for being able to impart this treasure on my adoring future husband, who I was sure would be so pleased with my devotion to waiting for him.

I considered myself blessed for the lack of temptation I experienced all throughout high school and the vast majority of college. I remained physically `unblemished,’ which made the hypocrisy of my actual situation all the more stark in contrast.

I think it was at some point during my freshman year of college when I was finally able to admit myself that I had an addiction to pornography and erotic literature. It wasn’t something that happened all the time, but every few months or so, I would feel the urge to dive back into that world. Even more shameful, my sexual desires and fantasies were on the darker side. Looking back, I can trace my online addiction to middle school, when I flirted with a fascination with torture by humiliation and slavery. My Wikipedia perusing led me to the world of BDSM. I quickly clicked away at first, but I found myself going back again and again, always diving a little bit further into that world. I kept this secret very close, because although Christians expect men to struggle with pornography, women who are addicted are often only mentioned in passing. I’ve sat through so many sermons where the preacher was listing off specific sins to elicit contrition and uttered the phrase “…and for the men, pornography…” That adds an entirely new level to the already burning shame. So I kept my shameful secret, and to the world, I was the girl who was saving her first kiss.

I brought all of this cognitive dissonance and sexual baggage into my relationships. On the one hand, I had very strict rules about what behaviors were allowed (no kissing, no sex, etc.). But on the other hand, my sexual desires were solely conditioned by years of kinky pornographic consumption. Any decent guy would be disturbed by the things I confessed to be turned on by, but any guy who wasn’t would never get past my prudish exterior.

I had my first kiss sometime around 25. I was not married, but I had been dating a guy for awhile at that point. We had not actually `had sex,’ but our relationship still had a sexual component (at least in my virginal eyes). I had been taught that the journey to sex was linear, but some of the activities we were engaging in were past the ‘kissing mark.’ As my boyfriend eventually pointed out, most kissing was more affectionate than it was sexual, so eliminating that made our physical relationship feel less intimate and more about mutual masturbation. He didn’t pressure me into kissing him, but I eventually acquiesced on my own. He and I are no longer together, and I have come to accept that my future husband will not be the recipient of my first kiss. Part of me is relieved that I won’t have to bring that burden into any future relationships. If there was one thing I learned from that relationship, it is that I have a tremendous amount of sexual baggage, both from the purity culture of my youth and from my secret pornographic consumption.

If I could go back and talk to my 15(ish) year old self, I would tell her not to vow to save her first kiss for marriage. I don’t say that to condemn anyone who has made that choice or would encourage others to do so, but for me personally, oversexualizing kissing is unnecessary at best and incredibly harmful at worst. I wish I knew what to say to my younger self about her pornographic addiction. I wish I knew how to stop her from starting down a destructive path without further forcing her to repress her sexuality. 

How does porn factor into the purity conversation for you?

How can the church people help people deal with sexual mistakes without piling on more shame?

How has the tendency to attribute certain sexual sins to one gender or another affected you?

Is the “path to intercourse” linear?

The rest of the sex + shame series:

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