The Sacred and The Profane: Three Letter Words, Part I

“I’m starting to believe,

Something’s wrong with me,

‘Cause everyday, every night, every hour, every minute… I’m thinkin’ ’bout it

I can be at my job, in my car, up in church and when I try to pray it off,

It won’t work…” -‘Three-Letter Word, by Jamie Foxx

SEX. Today I can say it without associating words like evil, destructive, wicked and scary with it. This was not always the case. For as an adolescent, I couldn’t even think about sex without another three-letter word making an appearance: SIN. My family and my faith alike taught me that to have sexual relations outside of the strict parameters laid out by the Bible was to commit a grave sin. It wasn’t just sex; it was fornication, an affront to God Himself. Our very flesh wasn’t ours. All of mankind existed as the sole property of Yahweh and He was free to do what He pleased with us. As Christians , ‘saved sanctified and filled with the Holy Spirit’, we had to honor God with our bodies. God has sent His only Begotten Son that I might be saved; keeping myself pure the very least that I could do to show my gratitude?Adhering to the standards of the church and my denominations’ interpretation of sexuality was not taught as an option. To have sex outside of marriage was to defile and degrade yourself, especially if you were female. To have sex outside of marriage was to shake your fist defiantly at the heavens. To have sex outside of marriage was to go astray, to become unclean, corrupt, loose and used goods.

If abstaining from premarital sex was the only expectation, perhaps it wouldn’t have felt so bad. Perhaps it would have been somewhat tolerable. But abstaining from intercourse wasn’t the only demand. I wasn’t supposed to masturbate, as that was not approved by God. I wasn’t even supposed to think about having sex, because looking at someone with lust was allegedly equivalent to committing the act. 

But lust was a fact of life for me. Once I reached a certain age , sexual desire was simply there. I couldn’t deny the fact that the sight of a certain 6″2 dark-skinned boy with pretty teeth walking towards me in the halls made me want to do ‘ungodly’ things. I couldn’t deny the fact that I wanted to do much more than kissing. But what I wanted to do was supposedly evil. So what could I do to relieve this tension? NOTHING. Prayer, reading the Bible and fasting to remove the “urges” were all gievn as solutions. Yet I hadn’t prayed or fasted to receive this urge; it was innate. Looking back, the idea of praying to the very God who gave me these urges to relieve me from them seems comical. But as a teenager and later as a sexually active woman it was quite sad. My struggle to reconcile the teachings of the church with my sexual desire brought much emotional conflict and pain. How can one have a healthy idea of themselves and their body when they are taught such things? How does one become comfortable with their sexual desire if they are told to even think such things is wicked? How does one manage to suppress their very nature? I could not, and my inability to live up to these strict standards left me full of guilt and gave me a sense of failure. Even after my curiosity and desire were fulfilled, I wasn’t comfortable with sex for a long time. It wasn’t until I left organized religion that my thinking began to change. Before then I didn’t question what my family and faith taught me about sex. Even if I was disobeying what they said, I had to believe that they were right. My elders couldn’t be wrong. The Bible couldn’t be wrong. It had to be me. If I just obeyed, prayed harder, read the Bible and avoided temptation, it would all be okay. I couldn’t give up; I had to please God.

Now as an atheist, I obviously do not believe in any god, especially the Judeo-Christian one. But what I was taught about God in relation to sexuality is one of the things that makes it hard to accept such an idea. For if there was a god, and if he was the one of Christianity, why would he torture his children in such a manner? Why “create” us with such strong, innate desires, only to put strict limits on these desires? Why “create” humans with such capacity to give and receive pleasure, then tell them that they are sinners and will be punished with hellfire if they break the rules? Such an act is difficult to fathom and comes off as cruel. It’s like placing someone in a garden with a beautiful, fragrant tree right in the center yet forbidding them to sample the fruit of that tree under pain of death.

There was only one way out from this struggle: marriage. I’m sure that some reading this will bring this up. Well the solition is easy: just get married like the Bible says! It’s better to marry than to burn!  But marriage for the sake of sexual gratification isn’t an easy fix. On the contrary, young adults who marry quickly to avoid “burning” with lust sometimes come to regret this decision later. Furthermore, sexual desires increase at an age where we are not mature enough to handle the responsibility that comes with marriage. Telling teenagers that they cannot masturbate and cannot explore their sexuality in any way until marriage is to basically tell them that they will have to fight with their sexual urges for years on end. As well-intentioned as it may be, sexually repressing people in the name of religion is an act that tends to have significant fallout long after the turbulent years of adolescence have passed.

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A native Seattleite and East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been.

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