GRACE UNBOUND

comprehensive sexuality education rooted in the spirit

Me Too

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#Metoo.  On Facebook women have been posting and sharing this phrase, “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.  My newsfeed is swarmed with “Me too” from so many women I have known throughout my life. I didn’t know of some of their stories, even some of my closest friends, because it’s something we don’t like to share, but now I think I am learning that we do need to give that story a voice.

I shouldn’t be surprised that so many women have said “Me too”, because  1 in 4 women have experienced sexual assault.  So it’s really more surprising to hear of a friend who hasn’t had that experience.  This is sad, more than sad really. I just can’t find the words to describe the emotion that I feel every time I hear that statistic.

For a long time I never wanted to come to terms with what I experienced.  I never believed that I had been abused or assaulted in anyway because there was no intercourse involved.  I had been made to believe that sexual abuse was primarily when you were touched in your genital area as a child or forced to perform sexual acts on another person, or rape.  Rape in my mind was when someone violently stripped your clothes off and inserted themselves inside of you.  So since my experience didn’t match those descriptions I told people that I had been “taken advantage of”.

It really wasn’t until my classes in Sexual Health when I realized that if others were to tell me about what I experienced, I would have told them they were abused/assaulted.  To be sure I did what any person would do.  I asked the sex therapists in the class and said, “So, my friend had this happen to her…” Their response was, “That’s abuse”. Shit.  Another reason  I didn’t want that to be the answer was that I have had cycles of sexual abuse happen throughout my family and my hope was that I wouldn’t be another in that cycle.  That the story would end with me. My abuse was not perpetrated by family, so in that sense that story did stop there, but I was abused and my abusers were friends.

I am not going to go into detail about what I experienced but I will give you an understanding of what happened and why I have decided to write this and share it here

I hope I don’t regret this…

My first experience was being fondled by a family friend.  We would have sleepovers all of us kids together and always spent time together.  During the sleepovers I would wake up to find that my budding breast was being touched.  This person also touched my bare breast while I was in church praying.  I loved being with the other kids in this family group, but I couldn’t nor did I want to be around him.  Eventually I stopped attending the sleepovers or wouldn’t go if I knew he would be there.  However, I never told anyone.  Something inside of me said, ‘don’t ruin the fun of family/friend gatherings for everyone else’.

Another experience was when I was working as a camp counselor.  Most of my summers were spent working for Christian camps. At this particular camp, we had overnights, where the campers would sleep in a field or building and the counselors would sleep in the middle to separate the boys from the girls.   In the pitch black of the night I woke to one of the male counselors with his fingers in my vagina.  I didn’t know what to do.  I laid there frozen and in disbelief.  All I could think was, and pardon my language for a moment,  “What the fuck are you doing to me” and “There are children surrounding us ”! Because there were children around I did nothing. I didn’t want the quiet of the night and their slumber be jarred by this. It was hard for me to process because this person was my friend, who was caring and loving and sang about Jesus all day long. How then was his hands inside of me without consent?  I think at one point I finally tugged at his hand and said stop.  Again, I never said anything or told anyone.  He should have been fired. I went to him the next morning and said he would never ever do that again to me.  I still get upset with myself to this day for not telling anyone, but to be honest I didn’t know I had a voice then, nor did I have much self-worth. That’s something I am still trying to learn; self-worth.

Unfortunately, my stories of abuse and assault don’t end there, but I bring light to these two because they, to me, were unassuming.  They have one major thing in common.  Both times I was asleep.  For many years in my twenties and through my earlier thirties, I was terrified of staying anywhere overnight alone. When I was 23, and my roommates went away, I would have panic attacks at night and suffered from insomnia. When I lived alone for the first time when I was 25, I had a ritual of locking my apartment door,putting a chair up against it, and then shutting my bedroom door and putting a crate of books up against that.  I felt so silly and like I was a big scaredy-cat. I thought so poorly of myself, that I wasn’t mature or independent enough to sleep alone in a space by myself.  Again, my sexual health class was where I put it all together. My terror of sleeping alone was directly related to the abuse. We store trauma when we don’t acknowledge or work through it.  When I finally connected those two things in class, a weight lifted off my body and on the drive home I cried.  Now when I am alone I am able to practice breathing and talk to myself about any paranoid thoughts I might have.   

We need to be educating everyone that any touch, any words used to violate or demean, any forced action, or disregard towards your body without your permission is abuse.  Those actions whether considered big or small in society’s standards hurt and affect a person to their core.  Our sexual bodies and beings are so incredibly personal and when you hurt that, you hurt the soul of a person because those two things are the same thing.  To me, it’s one of the biggest violations to a person and it fills me with fury faster than most anything else.  It is not okay that the statistic is 1 in 4 women.  It is also not okay that 1 in 71 men will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives.  What is even more upsetting is that 1 in 2 people who identify as Trans will experience sexual assault.  We have a problem.  

I went into sexual health education for a number of reasons and this is one of them.  When I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, a friend asked me, “What gets you angry”?  This. This makes me angry.  The fact that so many people are violated in their lifetime sexually and we can’t have these conversations about sex and consent in our schools?  Stupid.  That is what that is.  We are being plain ignorant by not providing comprehensive sexual health education for our children.  If we educated more, than maybe a child/teenager/college student would know and understand that if, like me, they were fondled while asleep they could, with confidence, tell someone they were just abused and understand that it was indeed abuse. And that they would be believed without hesitation.  We also should be having these conversations so we can change the statistics.  If people learn about healthy sexuality, self-worth, how to stay safe, that having thoughts about sex is normal, that they deserve to know a partner’s STI status, and learn how to communicate to get consent, well then maybe we would begin to see a change to the statistics.

There is also something behind assault that we need to understand. It’s not always about sex, but power.  What is making so many men of all ages need to feel a sense of power or unhealthy dominance over another human being? I had experienced a male exposing himself to me, when I, his supervisor in a former job didn’t give him his paycheck which was in a sealed envelope in my boss’s mailbox. He got so angry with me, he pulled his penis out. As if his penis was his source of power.  That because he showed me his penis he was saying, “You may be the one in charge, but this has more control and significance than you.” When anger takes you to that place, that sort of acting out goes deeper. The questions are how and why?

This is what we as a human race need to stop, understand, and address. We need more education and more chances to hear each other’s stories. With the changing of gender roles and expectations we especially need more conversations. We should address how young men of this world still need tender loving touch from caregivers.  We need to hug and comfort our young men like we do our young women.  Just because you’re a “man” doesn’t mean that you don’t want to feel cared for or protected.

All of us who have written, “Me too” won’t tolerate it any more. It’s alarming to me that this world seems to be going backwards when it comes to protecting the human right of not having your body violated or feel threatened because you happen to have breasts or may not fit a certain image. This all needs to stop.  My prayer is that our children will be confused at the notion of #Metoo.

How Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After Killed The Fairy Tale

 

My eight year old daughter just finished second grade.  Throughout the year I heard her tell stories of the boy she had a crush on.  She liked him all year and documented this by drawing little hearts around his picture in her yearbook.  She and her friends would spend their time at recess chasing the boys they liked and planning their weddings.  My daughter would often say, “I wonder if we will get married? Or, maybe we will go to prom! Then I will know how he feels about me”.

Isn’t that the way? Isn’t that how the majority of us women and girls in this American culture have been brought up? I remember in fourth grade I too had weddings. I spent a good majority of my day daydreaming about PJ or Jeff, the two boys I liked. Anytime I had a relationship, I was the girl who would write my first name with their last name, just to see what it looked like.  Why?  Because I was taught that finding a man and getting married and having children was my role.  This was the expectation that was set up for me.  Find something you like to do, be happy, but find a good man.  Women are subtly told throughout their existence that their worth is found in the man they are with.  It breaks my heart to know that my daughter has already fallen into this trap even though I have spent a lot of time telling her that what is important is her heart, soul, and mind and that no boy makes up her worth.  But stories are persuasive; especially when told in the popular culture through movies, books, clothing, and toys.

 Look at every Disney Princess movie apart from the recent, Moana. The princess finds herself in some sort of distress or trouble where she is the victim and it is a man who rescues her.  He is the hero and her life is once again happy, but silent. As much as I do love Ariel, she literally loses her voice and transforms her body to be with a man she admires from afar.  Yes, she did rescue him and saves his life, but she also gives up a whole heck of a lot of herself to be with him.  How often do women do that? Look at old cartoons where the villain ties the woman to the railroad tracks and she cries out because a train is coming, and then right before danger strikes a hero on a horse comes to save her.  The motif here is that of a persecutor, a victim, and then a rescuer.  All of these stories affect how we enter into relationship.  They have been a part of the collective story for a long time in our culture.  It’s clear to me that when the girl becomes a woman, she has this need for a man to like her, then love her, then rescue her.  It is also clear that in our culture there is an underlying connotation that if a woman is not married, then there is something wrong with her.

However, my question is, if there was no wedding, no huge party, would people get married as often or as quickly? The wedding is primarily focused on the bride.  She gets to be the princess for the day.  All eyes are on her, quite like Cinderella at the ball. But that day - one of great bliss where we act like royalty - is just a day. Yes a magical day, but in the great scheme of marriage, it’s just one day.   Marriage involves all the days after that; marriage involves the mundane, the hard, the sticky, the life transitions, the sick, the annoyances, the beauty, you know…. the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The truth is, is that sometimes we are all victims in relationships and we all need another to rescue us from time to time.  But another person cannot fully save us or provide us with the fantasy we thought, as children, we would one day get.  The truth is, is that in order to have a fairytale of some sort, we need to find our own worth and a way of rescuing ourselves.  So much of marriage and love are set up on these false expectations we develop as children.  They become our template of how relationships should be.  The problemis that it’s rarely like that and we find ourselves hoodwinked.

As young women in college sit around the television watching wedding shows like, Say Yes to The Dress, they dream about what that day will be like. I would even go so far asto say that it becomes the primary focus of many.  I remember my friends and I would ask, “What colors would you have?  What setting would it be? What kind of dress do you want? How will you wear your hair?” We never ask questions like, “What do you think marriage would be like? How do you handle conflict in your relationship? How are you going to feel when you find another person attractive?  How will the two families get along?  How will you figure out whose family to visit for which holiday? What if sex isn’t good?  What do you think it will be like managing finances?” These are the questions we should be asking and these are the sorts of conversations we need to have in pre-marital counseling.  If I may say, I do think that the purity culture within the Christian community has made this emphasis on weddings even worse.  There is such a strong focus on staying a virgin until you are married that so many people I knew, and later heard stories of, entered into a marriage very quickly in part so that they could have sex without the guilt and shame.  But as they dreamt of the wedding, they weren’t prepared for the marriage or their sexual relationship beyond the wedding night.

I know that this doesn’t hold true for everyone, but I have seen it in so many relationships and have found so many of my fellow mom friends saying that maybe we had the wool pulled over our eyes. I want everyone to have a healthy and loving relationship experience of some kind whether it be marriage or not. To do so, we need to step out of the fairy tale a bit and into a more realistic story.

My daughter loves a great fairytale story and anything involving fantasy, so I know I need to be careful and loving in my conversations with her, but this is what I hope I can teach her: 

“No matter what the world is telling you, your worth does not revolve around whether or not you are in a relationship or not.   That you are worthy because you exist and because you are trying every day in this journey we are on together.  What is important is to find your voice and to make it strong.  Work hard to learn your own heart.  What makes your heart hurt? What makes it love?  What makes it jump for joy?  What makes it crumble into your stomach? Where do you feel whole as a person?  Where do you feel the most like yourself?  How do you like to serve and love others, because it’s important to be kind and good to our fellow humans?”

If she gets in a relationship, I would say:

“Learn how to communicate even if it makes you ache.  Find someone who makes you want to create and makes you want to try harder to be better than you already are.  Make sure you can laugh with this person.  The world is full of muck; laughter makes the muck bearable.  Be kind to your person and pay attention to how they are kind to you.  Remember the word grace.  Be equal in your give and take.  Don’t give more than the other and don’t take more.  Find something outside of your relationship that you do just for you, that the other person is not a part of, but hears about.  Think about your identity and how you can nurture it as you share a life with another person and become a couple”.

There is so much more I could say, but mainly I want her to know that the Once Upon a Time and the Happily Ever After comes when she lives her life followingthe rules of what feels right for her; not the expectations the world has created for her, because she is a woman.  I want her to know that she can break the glass slipper, pretend to keep sleeping after the kiss from a prince (which is a whole other conversation about what consent looks like), and that she can climb down the damn tower herself.

Virginity...Let's Talk About It

 

 The concept of virginity has been a topic of conversation lately in the groups I have been talking with, in podcasts I have been listening to, and articles I have read.   From the stories I have heard, it has made me think differently about virginity.  In this new learning and understanding, I find myself getting more and more irritated.  This might throw some of you off when I say this, especially since I am a Christian woman, but the more I think about how virginity is talked about and taught, the less I like it.  In fact I am going to say that the entire topic needs a makeover.

 Growing up Christian what I thought about virginity was that it was the mode of conduct.  Virginity was the rule I needed to follow to be a “good” girl. As a girl I was taught that being a virgin was the “ideal” for me; to retain a sense of purity before marriage.  I was to save myself for that one person.  So, whenever I had sexual urges or desires, I felt shame.  I thought, “Oh this isn’t right.  I need to not think this way.  God will be mad at me.”  As a grown woman and mother this makes me so very very angry.  I want so badly to go back to that girl and tell her that her thoughts are normal and okay.  That God loves her and she is not bad.  Emphasizing virginity like this, is based out of fear, guilt, and shame and let’s be honest, it’s sexist.  My brothers did not receive the same message as I did. The quest to remain a virgin is primarily focused on girls and not boys.

The sexism around virginity is my first problem with the approach society and/or church takes on the subject.   In the Bible there was a high priority for a woman to be a virgin to get married. We have turned that notion of virginity into, “because it is for love and saving yourself for that one person.”  In reality, that virginity clause was so that the father could receive a bigger dowry from the groom’s parents.  In biblical times there was no birth control, so if the woman had sex with a man there was a higher chance for pregnancy.  Whoever the father was, the descendants of the father received the land rights.  If the woman had had sex before the marriage ceremony and became pregnant shortly after, then who is the father and who does the land go to?  If the bride was a virgin then there was no confusion.  There was one owner; it was about property: a business arrangement.

 What is interesting about this scenario is that there is no talk of the same expectation for the man or groom to remain a virgin. Since that was the case, then, with whom could this man have relations with? The man still wants sex; they want the play, and the satisfaction of pleasure.  However, they also want the woman to be their “pure” shiny new wife. See the double standard?

This expectation on girls to uphold their virginity is a lot of pressure.  Some communities have purity balls for girls, but again, I rarely hear of any for boys.  What is this saying? It implies like how I felt, that if a girl experiences sexual thoughts or desires, then she is ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean.’ Her wiles are to blame for tempting and seducing the young boy or man. So as a culture we have this notion of the girl to remain a virgin but in complete conflict with that, are quick to over sexualize girls in the media. "Be pure young women, but in the same breath it is important for you to show a lot of skin so we can sell a hamburger."  Fascinating, isn’t it? 

The other issues I have with the discussion around virginity are the phrases: “I lost my virginity.” “I gave myself to him.”  What was lost? What was given away? The way I view sexual intimate relationships is how I believe God intended them to be and so with that, nothing is lost or given away, but something is shared and gained.  Having sex with another person should be a time of great vulnerability by both parties.  It is a place of great sharing where we care for the other with great intention.  It is my hope that what is experienced in the sexual act is laughter, passion, intimacy, and a sense of safety where we can share and experience a sense of communion.  Sex should be a place of taking in the other where we are gaining great intimacy, pleasure and spiritual connection.  This is achieved when sex is consensual, the partners know and appreciate the other, and there is a level of safety and reverence.  When we talk about “virginity being lost” then we are talking about sex with opposition. Indirectly we are indicating that someone has less power or say then the other.  With that however, I will say when sex is non-consensual, then yes, I do believe something is lost.  Nothing is gained when another is violated sexually.

When we talk about virginity it’s also important to define what we mean when we say “virgin.” Primarily the conversation has focused around intercourse between a man and woman.  So the question begs: “Are you a virgin if you have oral sex?”  “What if you have anal sex?” “What if we just rub our genitals together?” This leads into being able to define the term “sex” altogether.  We have too many different categories that we fit different sexual experiences into, without being very clear about how they really are defined or interpreted.  This can cause great confusion.

If virginity is important to you, then I encourage you to have it clearly defined.  When do you consider someone no longer a virgin? I also encourage you to have the same conversation with your children regardless of gender, gender identity, or orientation.  Instead of making virginity a “stamp of approval,” make it a conversation about how you want your child or loved one to experience sexual pleasure.  Sexual intimacy is about equality; sharing a part of yourself you want the other to know personally, an expression of love and care, and a place where both people should be able to experience amazing pleasure.

 

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