Exodus: Chronology of an Apostate (Part 5)

"Let's talk about sex, baby. Let's talk about you and me,"

is an example of something I was not listening to in the nineties. It didn't play very often on the only FM station on the dial of every radio my family owned- WCRH 90.5, "Where Christ Reaches Hearts." And the songs on WCRH generally didn't want to talk about sex... baby. Although I must admit that one of my favorite Christian bands as a kid, dc Talk, did have a song entitled I Don't Want It, the chorus of which was,

I don't want it, I don't want it, want it
I don't want it, want your sex for now
I don't want it, I don't want it, want it
I don't want it, 'til we take the vows

It's a curiously repetitious song. After about the 68th iteration of "I don't want it," you sort of start to suspect that you're listening in on the desperate mantra of a very horny man trying to delude himself.

And the rest of the messaging I received from birth through my teenage years echoed the sentiment found in I Don't Want It. 

The thing about telling someone who's repressed that they are in fact repressed, is that they'll most often just repress your observation of their repression as well. If you bring up the subject, lots of born again believers will say, "Oh no, man. I love sex. God loves sex. Sex is great- it's in the Bible. God created sex. But He created it to be part of the bond between one man and one woman within the framework of the committed, lifetime covenant of marriage. As soon as I find the right person and get hitched we're going to have all kinds of crazy sex, just like God intended and it'll be better for having waited. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to starring into the corner and grinding my teeth while I concentrate on not masturbating. I've made it nearly twelve days now and I think I might just hold out all the way until my theoretical future wedding night this time." 5 minutes later- bursts into tears and runs crying into the restroom, clawing at the crotch of their jeans.

In fairness to some of the cooler Christians I knew, there were certainly some who had a more realistic view of things, those who admitted that it was a struggle and forgave themselves and others when they failed to uphold what even they admitted were astronomical standards. These individuals blurred the line between repression and mere masochistic self-discipline/impulse control. 

Self denial certainly has its place. Who among us hasn't had the urge to do any manner of heinous, terrible, violent, despicable things? If you're reading this post on a Dell desktop running Windows XP in a prison library, then you're already well acquainted with the consequences of failing to quell those very natural impulses. Did a stranger in a pub just call you a pussy and now you're fantasizing about breaking your beer bottle on the edge of the bar and jamming what's left of it into his neck? Quell it. Did the associate at the jewelry store just walk into the back room, leaving you alone with a Rolex you know you'll never be able to afford? Better quell it. Do you find small children sexually attractive? You really, really definitely need to quell it. In fact, stop reading this right now and start looking for a mental health professional who can assist you in quelling it.

But the problem with the Pentecostal Christian take on sex is that they don't just want you to quell sexual urges that could have a negative impact on others, they want you to suppress virtually every form of sexual expression until you get married. Now maybe that wasn't quite as big an ask in the 1950s when everybody was getting married at 17 anyway, but when the average age of first marriage is 28, as it is in the US today, we're talking about 15+ years of celibacy. Not even abstinence, because that would generally allow for masturbation, but 15+ years of complete celibacy. And that's if you even get married at all.

Being home-schooled, and sheltered as I was from all things sexual, I knew so little about my own anatomy that I discovered masturbation by accident at the relatively late age of 13. It was quite a surprise, I can tell you that. Discovering a whole new bodily function. You don't see that coming. After 13 years of intimate and constant acquaintance with anything, the last thing you're expecting is a new trick. It's like finding out that the car you've been driving for the last 13 years has an extra row of back seats you've just somehow overlooked this whole time. And then you realize that that extra row of back seats is perfect for getting it on.

Innocent and naive as I was, I had learned enough about sexual purity in church to immediately feel a deep and profound sense of shame, and after several guilt-ridden weeks I broke down and confessed to my mother... who promptly redirected me to my father. Not my circus, not my monkeys. My father and I had had "the talk" a year earlier, shortly after my twelfth birthday. Masturbation had not been a part of that talk. That talk had consisted of, "Penises go into vaginas to make babies. Don't do it until you're married."

After checking to make sure that I was at least thinking about women while committing these lewd acts, my father went on to confess that he himself had never been able to control his sexual urges. But just as I was beginning to feel more like a normal, healthy human being instead of a vile pervert, he continued by saying that even though he, a married man in his forties, had never been able to stop masturbating, maybe it wasn't too late for me to conquer my carnal impulses if I redevoted myself to Christ's redeeming power. Thanks, Dad.

To those ends my mother took me to a Bill Gothard seminar, where I learned, again, how bad lust and sexual impurity is. "The consequences of lust is more lust," is a phrase I still remember from that afternoon, as Bill warned us all that masturbation and pornography would push us into a downward spiral of addiction, broken relationships, and self-destructive behavior.

Today I'm married and in my thirties with kids. Sometimes I finish doing my taxes and realize I haven't had an orgasm in weeks- I've just been walking around all tense and irritable and I don't even know why. Sometimes my wife and I talk about having sex and then we get distracted by snacks and end up watching TV instead. I masturbated twice a day when I was fifteen, WHERE'S THE ENDLESS SEX DRIVE YOU PROMISED ME, BILL? He's a goddamn liar. Of course, Bill also preached that syncopated rhythms were satanic. The "rock beat" as he called it, was a tool of the devil that African tribesmen had understood for millennia could be used to "get the demon spirits into the people." Christian rock music? A contradiction in terms- the beat itself was demonic. 

The very phrase 'rock ‘n’ roll' describes a form of immorality. To say that we can have 'Christian rock' is like saying we can have 'Christian immorality.'

In fairness to my mom, that is the one thing she disagreed with Bill on. The one thing. That's like walking into the Arkham insane asylum, pointing to a particular individual and saying, "I think this one guy might be a little off. The man in the clown makeup seems nice though."

While Bill may have been on the fringe with his zealous condemnation of Christian rock music, he was very mainstream when it came to masturbation. You'll get a pretty similar message from everyone else in the born-again charismatic Christian movement, and even the slightly softer line adhered to by some more progressive youth groups amounts to- "We know you're all masturbating, just don't forget to feel bad about it."

If only Jesus had been that permissive...

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Mathew 5:28-30)

Everybody tells you masturbating is a sin, you feel bad about it and want to repress your sexuality, so you look to the Bible for some practical advice and God's hot tip is self-mutilation. Thanks, God.

Barry Thompson, on the other hand, actually had a clever idea. He pointed out that while the Bible condemns lust in no uncertain terms, it doesn't comment on masturbation as such. If lust could be decoupled from the physical act of pleasuring oneself, that act then would not necessarily run afoul of anything explicitly prohibited by God. He also made the point that even if a young man could exercise Herculean self control and stop masturbating entirely, his lustful impulses would merely express themselves as nocturnal emissions. Are pornographic wet dreams really preferable to masturbating sans lustful thoughts?

Barry Thompson was a member of our church in his early fifties; tall and overweight with balding hair. His pale blue eyes and snearing lips where reminiscent of Dick Cheney, but his general demeanor was jovial. While not affiliated with the youth group in any official capacity, he felt he had a message for teenage boys that he needed to share. He proposed taking us out on a three-day camping trip for a weekend of fellowship and male bonding, and the centerpiece of the weekend would be his talk on healthy masturbation.

The church agreed to Barry's somewhat heterodox proposal, on the condition that two trusted junior leaders from the youth group also chaperoned the excursion.

It was one of the great weekends of my teenage years and Barry's message made a lot of sense to me. I wasn't always able to banish all thoughts of breasts from my mind, but at least I was able to feel comfortable with my sexuality and at peace with myself to some extent for the first time.

But Barry himself turned out to be a little... suspect.

The signs were there from the beginning and ironically, the Boston Globe revelations about the depth and duplicity of the Catholic Church's pedophilic priest scandal and subsequent cover-up were being published at the time.

A couple of us from the youth group were packing things for the camping trip at Barry's house the evening before and somehow I ended up making one of the trips between his house and the church alone with him. He started telling me that he could smell sulfur every time a homosexual was nearby. Like olfactory gaydar, but fueled by the fires of hell. Then he went on to talk about these guys he knew who had sex with dogs. "Yeah, people do some really sick stuff out there," he concluded, turning into his driveway. Either that, or you frequent some really niche porn sites, I thought as I reached for my seat belt. But vehement, overcompensatory condemnation of homosexuality and exaggerated, shocking stories about the perversity of the secular world were not uncommon in the Pentecostal scene, so I didn't really think much of it at the time.

But little stuff started to add up. Barry was a very touchy guy. He was always giving someone a back rub or had his hand on someone's shoulder. We woke up the first morning and someone made a joke about the morning wood fairy and Barry just got a little too excited and giggled a little too long. It was pretty much the most delightful thing he heard all weekend. He was always trying to steer the boys into one-on-one scenarios where he could have a "heart to heart" talk with them. After the camping trip he followed up with all the guys and tried to stay in contact. I remember one time he drove me to the gym and then we went out to McDonald's. He had his hand on my thigh the whole drive, which I thought was a bit odd, even at that time as a naive, 15 year old in the presence of a "trusted" member of the church. At McDonald's he pumped up my self-confidence and told me how God had a special plan for me. He also told me how jealous the other boys from the camping trip were of my athletic physique and that he had told them how hard I worked at the gym to get it.

I wish I could say that was my last encounter with Barry. And I can. Because it was. But another boy who went on that camping trip came out as gay several years later, and I don't want to tell tales out of Sunday school, but word on the street was that Barry had molested him. I guess Barry really could sniff out a homosexual. No one knows for sure; it was all kept very hush hush. All I know is that the church leadership banned him from having any further contact with the youth group and a few months after the camping trip Barry disappeared from the church entirely and no one ever saw or heard from him again.

But all that to say, if a (definitely) creepy (probable) pedophile has advice on the topic of masturbation and sexual purity that is more coherent and makes more sense than what your church has to offer, you probably need to reexamine your church.

The next year I turned 16 and everything changed. I moved up to the senior high school. I got my driver's license and a car and a job waiting tables at the Cracker Barrel. And I met Kylie.

I met her in calculus class, a class we were both in even though she was a year younger than I was. I went on to flunk out of that course. She would go on to be salutatorian in a graduating class of nearly five hundred. She was in the gifted program and had an IQ of over 140. She was also gorgeous; thin but voluptuous with straight, dark brown hair, flawless, porcelain skin that somehow bronzed as dark as mine in the summer, enormous blue eyes somewhere on the spectrum between Elijah Wood and an anime character, and a ski jump nose that a rhinoplasty surgeon could only fantasize about. And somehow she was interested in me. I couldn't believe it. If you had asked me at the time how many girlfriends I'd had, I'm sure I would have given you a list, but somehow I've forgotten them all in the meantime. Looking back now, it's clear that my romantic history starts with Kylie.

It was all so very intoxicating. I may not be the brightest LED on the tree but I'll be damned if I don't have a way with words. In Kylie's intellect I found a sparring partner that pushed me to new heights. Sparks flew as steel sharpened steel. And the sexual magnetism was undeniable. Which was a problem, because I was wearing a purity ring.

It wasn't just the church that was constantly telling you to keep it in your pants. I went to high school in a small, conservative town during the Bush years. I guess somebody showed us how to snap a condom onto a banana at some point, but all I really remember were the abstinence groups that came to talk to us. They did a good job of making themselves memorable. Whichever gym teacher does the sex ed lesson once a year is pretty much just trying to get through the period with as few jokes and snickers from the peanut gallery as possible. The Abstinence Crew used that awkward allure to get and hold our attention, as did the youth group at church. That's not to say the videos were well produced- they weren't, and the skits were pretty lame and the logic was flawed and often appealed to arguments from authority, received biases, and gender stereotypes. But at least I remember what their message was, and I guess that was the point. 

True love waits.

They focused a lot on how disappointed our future spouse would be if we had already had sex with someone else. Your sexuality was like a stick of gum, they explained; no one wants gum that someone else has already chewed. They explained how important it was to go on group dates and avoid the temptation posed by private encounters. They told us how oral sex was still sex and could give us diseases and how making out and "heavy petting" (to this day I'm still not 100% sure what that means) were gateway drugs that would lead us to having intercourse. They showed short videos featuring teenagers who had had sex before marriage, their faces convulsing into tears, wracked with guilt over their terrible mistake. Thank God for born-again virginity

And then there was the next level fear mongering. The good, God-fearing pastor's daughter believes some boy when he tells her he loves her. Then she gets pregnant and herpes, the boy splits, and she's too ashamed to tell her parents what happened so she sneaks off to the big city and gets an abortion but now she's so stricken with guilt over murdering her child that she turns to drugs, and yada yada yada, three months later she's a used up, dried out husk of a crack whore, turning dead-eyed tricks for truckers under an overpass she's about to climb up (with those crack muscles) and hurl herself down from in one final, self-destructive act to end the pain once and for all.

They were right about one thing, though- making out is a gateway drug to sex. Initially Kylie and I limited ourselves to kissing, but I mean, what do you expect us to do with our genitals during all of this passionate necking- not dry hump? Be realistic. The only problem with dry humping is that after about half an hour I would ejaculate, leading to some awkward, impromptu costume changes. I'd excuse myself to use the bathroom and come back downstairs wearing shorts.

"Weren't you wearing jeans before?"

"Yes... (eyes wandering around the room) yes I was. I just felt like it was time for something different. I often change my pants at random intervals throughout the day just for the variety. Different materials. Different thread counts. Different levels of... fabric breathability, for instance, (waving my hands to demonstrate the movement of the air) some fabrics wick better than others. Variety is the spice of life... I've always said it."

Somehow that fooled her the first couple of times. 140 IQ my ass.

But I did feel guilty. In fact I felt like a real dick hogging all the orgasms for myself, so it only seemed fair to expand our repertoire to include manual sex. The first time we did it I expected some real waves of shame to wash over me afterwards. Somehow they didn't. By the end of the first semester we had added oral sex to the relationship. Again, it was a delightful, life-affirming revelation, and the guilt I had been assured was coming... didn't; at least not nearly as often as I did.

But that's where we stopped. Despite having pressed my luck and gotten away with it, I still believed there was something different about virginity; a spiritual point of no return if you will.

A year later it was over as quickly as it had started. Kylie and I broke up. I guess she was intimidated by my peerless expertise in the field of fabrics.

On the bright side, now that I was no longer committing heinous sexual sins on a regular basis, I could finally "get right" with God. Only now that I had the chance, I discovered that I didn't want to. Kylie had changed me. Thinking about going back to the old routine of daily devotions and youth group just turned my stomach. It all seemed so childish, so dreary- like a pale, weak imitation of a past life. I realized I didn't miss it. I missed Kylie.

Contrary to the scare stories I had been told, I didn't find myself on the fast track to becoming a heroin-shooting sex addict. I had the chance to lose my virginity a couple of times in the months after Kylie and I broke up. I didn't. It didn't have anything to do with God, or Christianity, or morality, or my parents, or trying to live up to an authority figure's expectations. It just didn't feel right- to me. So I didn't do it.

One of Kylie's first thoughts after we broke up was relief that she hadn't lost her virginity to me. What a wasted gift that would have been. But her thoughts shifted as the weeks went by. I had been her first great love. That year had been the happiest of her stressful, over-achieving life. It should have been me. I should have been the first. The relief slowly decayed into regret. They don't dare breathe a word of that during the abstinence program. They don't warn you that you may look back on your high school years and regret the sex you didn't have.

Kylie and I got back together half way through my senior year. And we didn't repeat the mistakes of the past. We had sex- the glorious, ravenous, unslakable sex that only innocent, starstruck kids discovering it together for the first time can have. And I haven't regretted it for a moment. I left for college that Summer and never saw Kylie again, but I look back on those years with nothing but fondness. In my recollection every memory is bleached with sunshine. It's as if we spent every day down in the orchard at her mother's house, lying together under the apple trees.

Even though the physical consequences of premarital sex can be devastating and life threatening, some people underestimate the emotional and spiritual effects of sex outside of marriage. Furthermore, the emotional and spiritual effects of sex can be longer lasting and even more severe than the physical repercussions.

After having premarital sex, a person may feel lonely, hurt, broken, afraid, guilty, used, unlovable (by God and others), confused, and many other emotions. Although it might seem like these feelings will never go away, eventually they can diminish and sometimes even disappear. Through prayer, counseling, confession, and penance, God has the power heal us. This process doesn’t work like magic. One must be truly sorry, understanding the hurt that has been caused. He or she should sincerely desire forgiveness so they can be made whole again. And, most importantly, one must also seriously re-commit him/herself to a life of chastity (refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage) for the remainder of his/her life.

Can sex be complicated? Sure. Can romance end in heartbreak? Of course. But fuck
 these people who use lies and half-truths to laden one of the most beautiful things in life with guilt so they can sell you a solution to the problem they themselves created.


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