As uncomfortable and awkward as talking about sex may be, not talking about it may be doing more harm than good. Alice shares how she grew up with misconceptions about sex, and how she ultimately found healing and reconciliation.
I WAS GIVEN “the talk” when I was seven years old. You know — the sex talk. Except, it wasn’t my parents who sat me down and explained to me what sex was ... it was the American neighbor kids who were around my age. To this day, my parents still haven’t had “the talk” with me, though I think my mom attempted it when I was 20 years old. I am now 32 years old and married.
I grew up in a very traditional Taiwanese American home, with parents who emigrated from Taiwan as graduate students. We didn’t talk about intimate “American” things, like feelings and dreams. It’s no surprise that we never talked about sex. What I did learn about sex, I learned from my peers and the world.
My first exposure to pornography was shortly after “the talk” when those same neighbor friends and I found a stack of pornographic magazines hidden in a cabinet in a bathroom in a basement. It was the kind of bathroom that you only use when you need to go number two, but don’t want anyone else to know. It’s almost poetic how these magazines hidden in this cabinet in the bathroom in the basement that was used solely for number two came to symbolize my view of sex. Not to be talked about. Hidden away. Shameful. Dirty. The whispered conversations about sex amongst my peers only served to reinforce those views.
It’s almost poetic how these magazines hidden in this cabinet in the bathroom in the basement that was used solely for number two came to symbolize my view of sex.
It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. At that time, I began attending a local Chinese Christian church’s youth group on a weekly basis. It was there that I spent some of my fondest moments in high school and it was there that I was established in my faith.
Looking back, it is difficult to recall many teachings or open discussions about sex within the church context. We talked about the perils of “fooling around” and we “kissed dating goodbye”. Some of us even went so far as to wear purity rings as a symbol of our oath of chastity before God, unlike those heathens who would dare do terrible things, like make out with their boyfriends. But sex and sexuality itself? The only messages we received were short exhortations like, “Don’t do it” and “Sex should be saved for marriage”.
As teachings about sex were few and far between, the blaring silence about sex allowed me to fill in the blanks with my own conclusions about what God thought about it. Sex must be really bad since people seemed embarrassed to talk about it. Premarital sex must be an unforgivable sin if “fooling around” was so terrible. Losing your virginity before marriage meant that you were tainted for life. If you struggled with sexual urges and impulses, you were a sinner. And not only that, you were the lone sinner of a special kind of “extra sinful sinner”, since sexual sin was especially terrible and because no one else seemed to be struggling with it. It was in this silence that condemnation reigned.
Sex must be really bad since people seemed embarrassed to talk about it.
Initially, the fear of condemnation made it easy to keep it together, repress all of my sexual desires, and act the part of a good Christian girl, at least on the outside. It was extra easy to be quick to judge those who, through hushed voices and whispers of gossip, were suspected to have fallen into sexual sin. But then, the most terrible thing happened.
Unable to withstand the force of my own brokenness and sexual desire with such flimsy convictions as “Don’t do it”, I became one of the tainted and “extra sinful sinners” who lost their virginity before marriage. I fell into sexual sin.
I became one of the tainted and “extra sinful sinners” who lost their virginity before marriage. I fell into sexual sin.
I was convinced that I was alone in this extra terrible sin, so I hid it deep within the darkness of my soul, allowing guilt and shame to take root in my heart while being scared to death that someone might find out just how tainted I really was. Not only did I hide, but I continued to walk alone in sin and darkness. I figured that I was going to hell anyway, and that I was too far past the point of God’s redemption, too far beyond hope.
It wasn’t until my junior year in college that my eyes were opened to God’s plan for sex, through a women’s Bible study with my college fellowship. I remember meeting week after week, marveling in awe as I grew in understanding of the beauty of God’s intended design for sex. The beauty of being fully known, completely naked and unashamed before your partner. The beauty of self-restraint and self-sacrifice in waiting until marriage to have sex. That sex was even intended by God for our pleasure, within the context of marriage. That our sexual desires weren’t actually sinful, but part of how God created us as sexual beings.
And yet in the face of such great beauty, there was great lamentation. It was too late for me.
In the face of such great beauty, there was great lamentation. It was too late for me.
Over the following few years, God did a great healing and redemptive work in my life, not only in releasing me from the hold of shame from previous sexual sin, but in restoring my view of sex. In Him, I would come to know and rely on the unwavering truth that there is no sin too great for his forgiveness. Slowly, I began to invite others into the darkest parts of my sin and shame. Rather than being met with the condemnation and judgment that I had feared for so long, I was met with grace, mercy, and a whole lot of people saying, “Me too”. It was in the light that true healing began.
My husband and I began dating along the way, and though we struggled with sexual desire for one another, there wasn’t the same experience of shame and hiding on account of these desires. This was largely due to the men and women who came alongside each of us and normalized the struggle for sexual purity in dating, as well as reaffirmed our sexual desires as a part of our God-given design. Perhaps the greatest gift of all was that God could renew my innocence. Although I wasn’t a physical virgin on my wedding night, God had redeemed me to the point where I felt the same shyness as though I were.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all was that God could renew my innocence.
What I wasn’t quite prepared for in marriage was how different sex would be than I had originally thought. Sex didn’t come easy. It wasn’t a natural culmination of pleasure, nor was it as glamorous and pretty in the same way that the movies and pornography made it out to be. Wedding night sex ... well, frankly, it was a little awkward.
What was more surprising to me was my reaction to sex within marriage. Throughout the course of our first five years of marriage, I found myself vacillating between periods of freedom in sexual expression and periods of intense shame and guilt. In these moments of intense shame and guilt, I would be overcome with a desperation to hide my body from my husband, to cover my nakedness. I would show restraint and hesitation, instead of freedom and enjoyment in sexual expression. In these moments, something deep within me would convince my whole being that sex with my husband was wrong, that somehow it was dirty.
I would be overcome with a desperation to hide my body from my husband, to cover my nakedness.
This was confusing to my husband, as he never knew which wife he would encounter, nor did he fully understand my reaction of shame. And my reaction of shame was difficult even for me to explain, as its origins lay deep beneath the surface of my awareness. It was in this time that God asked me to follow him into deeper waters through personal therapy.
In therapy, I discovered that despite God’s work of personal healing, redemption, and restoration of my view of sex, there were yet deeper layers in which I still internalized these messages from the silence surrounding sex. Ghosts of past sexual sins would haunt me from time to time, echoing the same words of condemnation, creating similar emotional experiences of intense guilt and shame.
I had repressed my sexual desires for so long, believing them to be sinful, condemning them as ungodly, and restraining myself from sexual expression in obedience to God. It was difficult for me to just “turn off” those views, even though freedom in sexual expression was not only acceptable in marriage, but also beautiful in the eyes of God. It wasn’t until these underlying lies were exposed and brought to light that they were able to be taken captive and made obedient to Christ. Only then was I finally able to find freedom in sexual expression in marriage.
It was difficult for me to just “turn off” those views, even though freedom in sexual expression was not only acceptable in marriage, but also beautiful in the eyes of God.
As I’ve grown in freedom in Christ, not only from shame and in my marriage, but also in the freedom to speak openly about sex itself, I’ve found many other individuals and couples with similar experiences of shame, struggling in the wake of a culture of silence surrounding sex. Some couples were ill-prepared for what sex in marriage would look like. Others have been struggling with sexual intimacy for months, even years. Others still don’t enjoy sex. Some individuals can’t separate sex from shame. Others believe they are too far beyond redemption due to sexual sin and have walked away from God. Many struggle alone. But why should they?
I have often wondered whether my experience and the experience of so many others would have been different had there been a culture in the church where sex was not only openly discussed, but also celebrated. Would so many marriages still falter on account of sexual difficulties? Would shame and condemnation still drive so many away from the throne room of grace? Would individuals and couples still struggle alone?
Though we may have reaped the consequences of a culture of silence surrounding sexuality in the church, this doesn’t mean that the generations to come should also suffer those consequences. Instead of allowing the world to fill in the blanks while the church remains silent, we can shape the next generation’s view of sexuality, facilitating a culture of openness and honesty. We can paint the picture of God’s beautiful and redemptive portrait of sexuality. For we know that it is far too costly not to.
We can paint the picture of God’s beautiful and redemptive portrait of sexuality.