“You’re having sex, I KNOW YOU ARE! TELL ME THE TRUTH!”
I clenched my fists tighter and sucked my teeth, inhaling deeply as I looked out of the window of the passenger seat of my aunts’ car. Damn it, I thought to myself, do we really have to go through this again? I was sixteen years old at the time and it was one of multiple conversations that we’d have about sex. Perhaps conversation is the wrong word though, for these episodes were more like interrogations. My aunt would yell as she badgered me to disclose whether or not I was still a virgin, doing her best to make me confess that I was having sex. The problem, however, was that-contrary to the assumptions of my aunt and others at the time-I actually was a virgin. Each time she grilled me I would tell her the truth, but she would not let it go. Unable to accept the fact that I was not copulating with any and every eligible boy who crossed my path, she would prattle on endlessly about the dangers of premarital sex and how I needed to stop doing it, repent and give myself back to the Lord. Full of passion and zeal, my aunt was marching forward in her own holy war, determined to keep her female relatives from succumbing to sin and lust. This woman is off, I thought, and I tuned her out.
“So are you going to finally to come clean now?”
I covered my face with my hands. There was so much I wanted to say to her. I wanted to yell right back at her and tell her for the fiftieth time that I was NOT having sex. I wanted to yell at her that even if I was sexually active or had any questions about sex and boys I would never share that with her, because her harshness, lack of empathy and judgmental nature made her impossible to talk to. I wanted to yell at her that I was not her. I wanted to yell at her that even if I was having sex I wouldn’t make the choices that she had, intentionally getting pregnant as a teenager because she thought a baby would give her the love that she felt her family didn’t show to her. As angry as I was,however, I knew that saying such things would be a mistake. After all, this was the same woman who had wrapped her fingers around my throat when I’d broken my curfew a few months earlier. Through gritted teeth, she threatened to knock mine out if I ever came home late again. If coming home an hour late could elicit such a response, yelling and saying such things to her probably would have gotten my head thrown against the car window. So I did what teenage girls do best: I sulked to myself.
I mention this episode with my aunt to illustrate the aspect of my adolescence and early adulthood that bothered me the most in regards to sex: hypocrisy. As a teen I had no shortage of adults wagging their finger in my face, admonishing me to remain abstinent until marriage and do as I was told. But those who placed this standard on me struggled to uphold it in their own lives. And as much as they told me that having or even thinking about sex was wrong, the plain fact was that the environment that I came of age in was saturated by sex. When I say that my environment was saturated by sex, I am not speaking of the secular world I stepped into when away from my family. I am speaking of the church itself.
I didn’t need to look at the secular world to know that people were engaging in premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexual sex and having illegitimate children. I could look around at the teens and adults in my faith community and see Christians engaging in these behaviors. It is part of the reason I smirk to myself when I hear homophobes claim that GLBT people are somehow going to ‘corrupt’ the morals of America’s youth. In my experience heterosexual Christians did a damn good job of that all on their own. But I digress.
The Bible was supposedly our authority on sex and love, but people sure had trouble acting like it. There was the preacher who thundered against women who didn’t save themselves till marriage, calling women who knew what satisfied them sexually disgusting-yet had a child out-of-wedlock. A former pastor of mine devoted numerous sermons to fornication, liberally and gleefully referred to homosexuals as faggots and preached that they would be thrown in a lake of fire-yet he had a child out-of-wedlock as well. There was the preacher who would undress women with his eyes as he preached. There was the preacher’s son who pursued me and asked to be my first, an act that would have been statutory rape as I was only fifteen years old when he pursued me and he was a grown man. There were the young women who served as leaders and mentors for teens, paying lip service to abstinence and purity in the sanctuary. Yet outside they became different characters, giggling and laughing as they recounted their last sexual encounter with their lovers to their friends, explicitly describing what they did and how they craved to feel that pleasure again.
There was so much ‘illicit’ (according to the Bible) sex going on behind closed doors, but everyone pretended otherwise! And I haven’t even touched on the homosexuality that existed(that topic deserves a post of its own). Witnessing such wanton behavior by those I was supposed to look up to led me to become jaded. I doubted the sincerity and belief of the adults around me and wrote most of them off as hypocrites and frauds. Yet as the years have passed, my view of them has softened and my judgment has become less harsh. They were not hypocrites. They were just human, enduring the same conflict that I was for the same reasons. They were products of an environment which taught them to see their sexuality as sinful. As a result they couldn’t develop a healthy sense of sexuality, instead adopting the schizophrenic mentality regarding sex that tends to go hand in hand with Fundamenatlism.