The Shame Of Sex For A Young Christian

Cross necklace cleavage

When I tell people who I used to be, they’re often incredulous. And not just because I used to be black. It’s because I was withdrawn, lacking in all things self-esteem, clad in Matrix gear, and emphatically Christian. When those from my past hear of the person I am now, there are in equal disbelief.

I was a very sexual child growing up, though like most kids that’s not something you realize till looking back years later. I couldn’t wait for the recess bell to ring in my early elementary school days. When I wasn’t warring with the other boys on the schoolyard, each of us assuming the X-Men role we associated with most (I was naturally Gambit), I waited desperately for the girls to invite me to play “house”. Sounds pretty gay, but it was far from it.

While most boys and girls embraced the battle of genders with which we’d been unwittingly enlisted (turns out there is a cootie shot, and everyone should get one), I focused on the similarities I had with the girls, ingratiating my way into their favor.

I was Mittens the Cat. And like any good house cat, it was my job to rub against the rest of the housemates, my head encouraged into the laps of girls who stroked and played with my hair. I didn’t know it was sexual at the time, but I knew I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was attention the other boys weren’t receiving. Looking back it was all very sexual.

I was just 7-years-old when I had my first sex dream. A young girl sat in a lone bathtub in the middle of a dark room, the edge of her nipples barely submerged beneath the water and voluminous bubbles. This wasn’t just any girl. This was then 11-year-old Wednesday Addams, as portrayed by Christina Ricci. I woke from the dream with two foreign desires. The first was that I REALLY wanted to return to that dream. The second is that I very clearly wanted to “kiss her boobies”. We like to deny that children have any notion of sexuality — and if they do we think of it as wrong or unnatural, clearly the result of some trauma that set their innocent course astray. I wasn’t molested as a kid. Seriously.

My parents were, however, decently liberal with the facts of life, especially coming from the Christian parenting perspective. When I asked where babies came from in 1st grade, there was no stork. Babies happened when a man and woman loved each other, and he put his penis in her vagina, at which point bees shot out and and swarmed the flock of sparrows that had been nesting in there.

But I was raised Christian. When I moved from Sunday School to the church’s teen-focused youth groups, sex became a very real thing for me and my peers, even if only in our own bodies. Periods and wet dreams were happening. Our church youth leaders had to begin talking to us about the importance of sex, and why it was important not to have it.

They weren’t all terrible. One youth pastor in particular, Mo, had a knack for discussing Christianity in a level-headed way. Mo thought it was important to allow room for the cynical nature of someone like myself. I would frequently question the seemingly arbitrary and unsympathetic values espoused by the Christian faith. “I’m not going to tell you God works in mysterious ways, because that’s a cop-out answer to a great question,” Mo would respond, never feigning to have all the answers. But the Mos were few and far between in the church. Madonna burning cross

As I was about to begin high school, my family moved from the not-really-that-diverse Redwood City to the I’ve-never-seen-a-colored-person Burlingame. The church’s youth were far more affluent, and the emphasis on chastity and the evils that befell those who didn’t practice it became more and more sinister.

“These two pieces of paper represent your body. Now this glue here, this is sex.”

Our pastor began rubbing the glue sensually over one of of the sheets of printer paper.

“And when two people have sex, it bonds them together” he continued.

The dry sheet now began to mount his very wet counterpart.

“See here: now they’re bonded. Forever. And what happens when you try and tear apart that sacred bond?”

He began to pull the pieces of paper apart, and they began to tear frivolously, our 14-year-old eyes widening with each ripping noise.

“A piece of you is torn away, and taken with that other person. And you’re never whole again.”

That is some fucked up psychological jiujitsu and speaks to the immense desire the church has to maintain a stranglehold over other’s sexuality, particularly a group of children who are already in the prime of sexual anxiety.

I took to reading my bible nightly. As my own adherence to my religion was strengthening, I became confused at what role religion played in the lives of my peers. I remember watching Katherine, a peer of mine from Spanish class, stand in front of our youth group, hand held towards the heavens, as she testified.

“I have Jesus in my heart, and I know that I am walking with him, and with strength, you can too.” There was clapping, there were tears.

The following Monday morning, Katherine sat next to me in Spanish. What do you do when the most popular girl in your youth group has the front of her binder plastered with pictures of her doing tequila shots off another girl’s tits from the weekend prior? What did it mean to walk with Jesus?

matrix trench coat

“Maybe if I start wearing a trench coat I can scare girls into talking to me!”

I went into a tailspin of disenchantment. By this point I had already felt ostracized, and had made the transition from wearing dockers and sweater vests to black spandex and fingerless military gloves. I figured if I didn’t act, talk, or think like these other people I most certainly shouldn’t look like them.

I began to relentlessly scrutinize myself and others. I lived in a world where it was impossible not to be failing God’s will at all times. I took it upon myself to become the high school-level guardian of God’s word. Which sounds like a hilarious idea for a pilot.

The Bible our youth pastor instructed us to purchase spoke of the sin of “sexual immorality”. What the fuck did that mean? Was it a sin to have sexual desires? Was it a sin to masturbate? To kiss? To get an erection? None of us were perfect, but unless every second was spent trying to get there, we were falling short.

I began abstaining from masturbation. It was not an easy task, especially not for a 15-year-old boy. I would use an old pair of boxers as my masturbatory towel, assuming it could escape into the laundry with less scrutiny. Numerous times I took the boxers while my parents were out grocery shopping, ceremoniously burning them in a Yuban coffee tin in our backyard. If I had nothing to masturbate into, surely I would stop. I might make it a week before a new pair of boxers was chosen, and a deep sense of shame and failure beset me once again. By the way, if you think burnt hair smells bad…

Eventually I found my abstinence groove. I would turn the tv to Spice — a Pay-Per-View porn channel I had used many times prior to masturbate, and now simply ogle the scrambled breasts and moans that would come into clarity every few seconds. Nightly watchings became weekly, and eventually I stopped altogether. Because I had stumbled upon masturbation at age 11, my body had never found it necessary to induce a wet dream. Once I stopped masturbating, that all changed. Countless nights where I wouldn’t get to sleep until 4am, having been up all night studying for an AP history exam, I would be awoken by my less-than-welcome nocturnal emissions.

You can enact any fantasy imaginable in a sex dream. I knew it was getting bad for me when my sex dreams started to be about me being allowed to masturbate.

I made it eight months to the day without masturbating. Considering I had previously been on a 3x a day schedule (twice at night, once in the shower in the morning), that was an enormous feat. If you calculate the average amount of male ejaculate over the course of that time (which of course, I did) it equates to roughly an 8 1/2 gallon aquarium full of semen that I spared many laundry cycles.

My decision to begin masturbating again came after I started looking vigorously revisiting what the fuck “sexual immorality” meant. I started looking into early Latin translations of the bible. I REALLY wanted to masturbate.

The furthest back I found scripture-wise was that “fornication” was really what “sexual immorality” was referencing. And if you look at the latin etymology of that word, it’s actually a reference to vaulted chambers and cellars where prostitutes most commonly plied their trade. And so I concluded that the Bible was saying engaging with prostitution is a sin. Hallelujah.

black and white mirror

This mirror only cast a reflection when Bright Eyes was playing.

 

But in those eight months a lot had happened. I began an underground free-speech newspaper, Revelations (I’ve always been a bit of a twat). The paper put forth a variety of viewpoints, but anti-abortion articles and the fare were all part of it. I was consumed with an enormous amount of frustration and dissonance concerning the logic of my own viewpoints and what the Bible had to say about sex.

I rejected girls – girls I really liked – telling them that we were not “equally yoked” in our faith, and therefore we could not be together. I made one such girl cry, guilting her when she confessed that she had given a blowjob before.

One youth pastor called me “the future of the church”.

By age 16, there were too many fundamental questions that had gone unanswered for me to continue steadfast in my faith. I wrestled with these questions for months, years, until one day I said one last prayer:

God, if you do exist: I need proof. Like real proof. Like blood on the wall, ‘Hi Eric, it’s Me’ proof. Believing something just because the people who raised me told me it’s true doesn’t make it any more true for me. And what about the other people who have different beliefs, but ones they adhere to just as strongly because their parents taught them their religion? Faith cannot be the sole determinant of how I live my life. I can no longer beat myself and others up, insisting that what is natural for us is somehow imperfect to you.

The prayer went unanswered, and I expect it to continue in that vein. I became Agnostic. I didn’t know what was out there, but none of us did. And by the time we’d find out, it’d be too late anyway.

It would be another three years before I’d lose my virginity. Even with girlfriends I had in that interim, an enormous sense of sacredness enveloped all matters of sex. I guilted them, insisting that couples don’t masturbate when they’re seeing each other, because that somehow detracted from our relationship. If a girl I was seeing talked to their friends about our sex life, I shamed them for disrespecting our bond.

Fortunately I am no longer plagued by these guilts (thank you, UC Berkeley!), but they occasionally still rear their head. I now fetishize that which is morally perverse. The more sinful, the better. It’s as if everything that was withheld in the name of God must now flourish, be explored, and celebrated.

I’m finally starting to feel a sense of peace at who I am sexually. I started Full Disclosure, a sex-positive podcast. I now consider myself ethically non-monogamous. I’m starting to understand that I fit into a sexuality sphere much more than the increasingly antiquated Kinsey scale. I enjoy many elements of BDSM.

But the journey was one that caused an immense amount of shame, confusion, and hurt to myself and to others. Was it all worth it?

I know this: I know far more ex-Christian perverts than I do ex-pervert Christians. When you buy into an immense and comprehensive dogma like Christianity, it comes entangled with an array of prescriptive values. And when you arrive at a point in your life that you’re ready to give up that dogma, you have to let go of the entire assemblage of Thou Shalts, and begin defining your own morality And in a way, you feel more liberated as an ex-Christian than those around you who were never forced to confront their principles in such a consequential fashion.

Those of us who were once fervently Christian, having broken free from the chains, are now able to channel that same fervency into forming an active community of our own, where we embrace chains for an entirely different reason.

What would Jesus do? I don’t know. But WWJD bracelets make awesome cock rings.
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Checkout this week’s podcast where we talk non-monogamy with Monogamish director Tao Ruspoli.
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About Eric Barry

Eric Barry is a Chicago comedian, writer, and creator of Full Disclosure, voted "Best Sex-Positive" podcast by the Chicago Reader. He holds a B.A. in Theater & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley, and his work has been featured on Huffington Post, Cosmo, SF Chronicle, and more. He is currently working on developing a pilot based off his time in the sex work industry.

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