Monday, October 14, 2013

When We Were Asexual

This post is part of a synchroblog to promote (and celebrate!) Addie Zierman's new book When We Were On Fire. Check out this link to read the other, more intelligent entries. Funny enough, I kinda sorta wrote something earlier about this topic, which can be found here.

On a side note, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Addie IRL (as the kids on Twitter say) last year in Chicago. She's an amazing wife and mom with two insanely cute kids, and I can state with no hesitation that she is one of the most genuine, beautiful souls I will ever encounter this side of Paradise.


It was never a question of the fire we had as it related to our zeal for the Lord.

It was the fire in our loins.

I always hated it when our youth group would have the inevitable "boy/girl split" nights. This meant that for a few weeks, we were going to be talking less about the Bible and more about biology. Having been raised in - and all but raised BY - the church, Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and the occasional "Discipleship Now!" weekends, retreats, and youth camps were safe, comfortable nests for me. I could spend hours regurgitating neat, easy, fill-in-the-blank answers to questions posed about the Bible. We rarely if ever spent time interpreting what it meant for application into our lives or who we were growing into. Basically, we were taught that if you come across any blanks in life you couldn't fill in, just mentally scribble down "Jesus," and all will be well.

The problem is "Jesus" is a five letter word, "life" has four letters, and "sex" has three. What we were taught simply didn't fit in the blank neatly in a lot of ways.

I have numerous female friends who passionately write about the dangers and deceitfulness of Purity Culture and Modesty Culture, having been scarred by them both in their spiritual - and physical - development. For the most part, guys were never similarly warned that our bodies could or would produce sexual thoughts in the eyes of those who saw us. And I always thought - based on my absence of a dating life in high school - girls more often looked at my body as one might view a lump of clay than as an object of desire. (Parenthetically, EVERYTHING we were taught about sex or desire in church was from a heterosexual norm, so that's the perspective I'm writing from; the only difference is, now I know better.)

What we were taught - not so much directly in words as in attitude - was that we as men were drooling, hormonal savages, lacking in the basic ability to control our thoughts or groins. Women were beautiful, delicate, and weaker, both physically and spiritually. And while we were taught, appropriately enough, that it was our responsibility to not act improperly on our impulses or force women to act or dress differently in our presence, we were repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with one term that fell squarely on our shoulders as our unique cross to bear: lust.

We, as men, were slaves to lust. We were slaves to our desires. As such, any time we looked upon a woman (in other words, pretty much any time a teenage boy sees a girl) and found her attractive, we were either committing a sin or about to commit a sin by lusting after her.

So we needed to neuter ourselves emotionally and biologically. Pluck out an eye, cut off a hand. Do whatever was necessary. All the feelings or stirrings we felt were bad, bad, bad. All because we clearly could not control ourselves.

So I began to feel an immediate gut reaction of guilt every time I felt something for a girl.

Is she cute? Yes. LUST. STOP.

Does she make my heart race when she smiles? Yes. LUST. STOP.

Would I like to kiss - LUST. STOP.

I think I like her. YOU HAVE LOOKED ON HER WITH LUST IN YOUR HEART. STOP.

I was left confused. Screwed up. Because, while we were told how bad our thoughts about boobs might be, we were never taught that they were also okay. That it was okay to be attracted to someone. We were never taught or told healthy, appropriate ways to respond or react to our completely natural and normal hormones - only that we needed to not respond or react. And if we did respond or react, we were in sin. That these urges were evil. And by default, so were we.

Therefore, when I went to college and girls actually noticed me and thought I was cute? I had no clue what the hell to do. I was so deeply cocooned in the "friendship bubble" that I seriously actually never considered the possibility of being in a relationship with someone. And when my repressed sexuality suddenly found itself free from the confines of oppression? It scared me. Terrified me.

And it continued hammering home the guilt.

I was unprepared emotionally for what dating and a physical relationship entailed. I was racked with guilt every time I kissed or made out with someone. And this isn't the standard run of the mill church-based sex-angst-regret usually brought on by crossing a boundary, rounding a base, or mastering the engineering skills required to unhook a bra with one hand. It was a complex, textured soul-crushing guilt which combined the pain of thinking I was betraying myself and my faith for giving (or getting) a hickie, feeling good about kissing or making out, feeling guilty about feeling good over kissing or making out,  and worry that, by virtue of being "controlled by" and acting out on my lust nee hormones, I was spiritually decimating the person I was attracted to and tongue wrestling with.

I wound up unintentionally hurting a lot of people. Mostly because the "beautiful, delicate, weaker" women I dated were light years ahead of me in maturity, and were far stronger emotionally.

Although I have grown past some of my insecurities regarding sex and my own body, there remain nagging little voices I gave way too much value to during my formative years which are still at the back of my head and heart and continue to make me uneasy. Even though I'm married and have two kids (concrete evidence that I'm moderately more comfortable with making out), there are times when my biology and sex drive scare me. I question is it okay for me to feel the way I do about my wife. My mind worries if the desires I have are rooted in love and trust between two consenting adults in a committed relationship, or if I'm letting lust rule me. Again. And if so, I should stop.

I have to fight the conditioning to hold myself back. I have to fight to give myself the freedom to give myself fully to her.

And that's just freaking stupid.

When we - pastors, youth ministers, parents, adults - talk of this particular fire, impose laws upon it that we have written to control and dominate it, or perpetuate a culture rooted in fear without speaking to the beauty, right-ness, and normalcy of it all, we in many ways burn the very people we think we're helping.

Because the idea of combining sex with a burning sensation always works out great.

29 comments:

Addie Zierman said...

Loved hearing this from a male perspective. Thanks for being willing to share this story. Beautifully written and SO NEEDED.

Ed_Cyzewski said...

I can relate to this. There's so much control and fear that we don't learn ways to control our urges that will actually help. The stuff I remember is about sex and lust being so bad and terrible and there was never any emphasis on the good ways our hormones can play out in a healthy relationship.

Sharideth said...

And there it is. Everyone with sexual organs should read this.

Douglas Humphries said...

Thank you.

Sonny Lemmons said...

This has been rattling around in my brain for a while, Addie. Thank YOU for finally giving me the outlet I could write it in. The only "problem" with me writing about this once is that now, I want to write about it more...

Sonny Lemmons said...

EXACTLY. I was browbeaten over how I was in the wrong for, basically, being a teenage boy. It messed me up for years/decades, and it's something I still struggle with. It also explains how I was loved by the youth/feared & questioned by the church staff when I would always give "The Talk" when I was a youth pastor. I was...atypical...in my approach, mainly because I didn't want to perpetuate this other guys.

Sonny Lemmons said...

So, no Smurfs, then...


Thanks for reading, Sharideth. And thanks for the praise. (Smiles humbly.)

Sonny Lemmons said...

Thank YOU for reading. Always good to have guys reading what is apparently a common thread in a journey we've shared.

Addie Zierman said...

And where's the bad? :)

Sonny Lemmons said...

I'm not saying it's bad; I'm saying a hyper four year old and a cuddly four MONTH old make it difficult. ;)

Joseph Newman said...

That's not what asexual means. We asexual people do not feel sexual attraction. We don't repress it, it's just not there. We can be romantically, aesthetically, even physically attracted to people. We just are not sexually attracted at all.

http://www.asexuality.org/home/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEeGuCCQ_8w and http://huff.to/17hXhZi are some great resources on actual asexuality.

Ginger L said...

Wow! Great post - thank you so much for sharing. I am enjoying reading through all of the When We Were On Fire link ups - and even though I'm a girl, I can relate to how you grew up!

thomasshen said...

I can really relate to this, especially when you described the process of ”what we were taught - not so much directly in words as in attitude”. When growing up, everyone in church really did have the attitude of being asexual. It remained a mystery how any Christians could ever marry: how could they ever discover each other without the sinful attraction?

Anyway, it was totally mind blowing a few years ago when I stumbled upon the discovery that the words of Jesus (”everyone who looks at a woman with lust”), from the vantage point of the LXX’s translation of the Hebrew wording in the ten commandments, have been mistranslated. (That’s right, ”lust” is not the correct translation: should be "covet" instead, a tiny difference which makes it a whole new ball game). I cover this in more detail in a comment I gave on Jonalyn Fincher’s article ”Modesty and the Emerald City” on her blog Ruby Slippers: http://soulation.org/jonalynblog/2013/06/modesty-and-the-emerald-city.html. Make a search for my name ”thomasshen” about 80% down the page. Jonalyn summarizes it pretty well: ”My favorite [in your comment]: Jesus is not suggesting that any sexual thought or inclination towards a woman is sinful. Nor is he suggesting that such thoughts or attractions being triggered by a look are sinful.”

AlissaBC said...

As mama to a (still baby) boy, and as a human, THANK YOU for this honest perspective.

Tony J. Alicea said...

Wow man, you're writing my story. I can completely relate to this. I'm still doing damage control on my sexual thought life and healing the hurts inflicted by church culture's view of sexuality (even if unintentionally). There's so much I'm still trying to "unlearn" and even when I KNOW something is good, there is still a measure of emotional "knowing" that I still need to work through.

coloradojoe said...

Excellent...my 22 year old son sent this to me...excellent!

lisacolorado said...

Oh my god--me too!

Considerer said...

Great post :) Really well done.

Sonny Lemmons said...

Thanks for reading!

Sonny Lemmons said...

We all carry some craptastic baggage, friend...

Sonny Lemmons said...

Thanks! I'm glad you both read it and enjoyed this.

Sonny Lemmons said...

This is me, hugging you, because you're awesome.

Sonny Lemmons said...

It's kind of AMAZING what sticks with, and scars, us years after the fact, isn't it?

Sonny Lemmons said...

I'm trying my DARNDEST to make sure my two boys don't get saddled with this pain as well. It's time to start breaking some cycles.

Sonny Lemmons said...

Thank YOU for reading!

Lucie said...

Thank you for your honesty here, Sonny. While I obviously have not dealt with this situation as a man would, even just seeing the title reminded me of how at times I've wanted to write something about this subject. More than once I've felt that Christian singles are essentially supposed to be neuters...no romance literature ("emotional porn"), no sex, and no thinking about sex ("impure thoughts). Recently I read a comment that "sexual fantasy has no place in the life of a single Christian." While I may agree with the spirit of that statement, I couldn't help thinking, "Good luck with that, especially in this era of delayed marriage and record number of never-marrieds!" A person striving to be "pure" could cut out all romantic music, listening to nothing but gospel on the radio (the only surefire way to prevent his mind from wandering to forbidden longings that will steal his commanded contentment, or worse), cut out all romance novels, "take captive" any stray thought that even hints at sex, stop watching all TV channels but Nickelodeon or Disney, bounce his eyes off every questionable billboard, newspaper ad, etc., and...what?
The result I inevitably picture is not one who is more pure or holy, but one who comes to feel largely like sawdust. Sexuality is an integral part of our humanity and we cannot divorce ourselves from it unless, in most cases, we have been born asexual. With so many, I keep thinking "there must be a better way," better than, say, the likes of the Stephen Arterburn franchise - seriously, what's next, "Every Grandmother's Battle"? "Every Great-Uncle's Battle"?, and its ilk.

Alece Ronzino said...

So so good, Sonny! This is my story as well...

Liz Dyer said...

After reading your contribution to Addie’s synchroblog I thought I should invite you to participate in a monthly synchroblog that I am a part of.

It’s made up of a home-grown group of bloggers who like to write on topics of post-modern faith & life. This group is open to anyone who is interested in participating. We value respectful conversation and dialogue while honoring our differences. We share links & try to learn from each other.

Some of the people that originally participated in the synchroblog no longer blog and I am trying to reach out to people like you who are currently passionate about blogging in order to keep our monthly synchroblog relevant and vital.

If you are interested in joining us you can join the facebook group and receive monthly invitations to the synchroblog. Here is that link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/114506961937378/

And you can find our website (which you can subscribe to if you want to receive an email when we post the monthly theme announcement/invitation) here: http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/

(You can see all of the themes that we have covered in the past on our website in order to get an idea of what we do)

Ruth Curcuru said...

Have you ever done any reading on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body?