I’m over at The Atlantic today, writing about the invisibility of female-on-male rape.
In an episode of Mad Men last month, a prostitute named Aimee has sex with a teenaged Don Draper (née Dick Whitman) after nursing him through a nasty chest cold. Actually, let me rephrase: Aimee doesn’t just have sex with young Dick Whitman–she rapes him.
Throughout most of the episode, Aimee serves as a surrogate mother for Dick; she lets him recuperate in her bed and offers him rest, comforting words, spoonfuls of warm broth. However, in their penultimate scene together, Aimee’s maternal kindness turns oddly predatory. She approaches her bed where Dick is lying weakly, fever newly broken, and asks, “Don’t you want to know what all the fuss is about? “No,” Dick replies forcefully, averting his eyes and hugging the blankets tightly against his chest as she reaches under the covers to touch him. “Stop it,” he says, clearly uncomfortable, even afraid. But Aimee doesn’t stop.
To me, this interaction was an unambiguous depiction of rape–and not simply statutory rape. Dick is in a physically weakened state and repeatedly makes it clear that he does not want Aimee to touch him sexually, much less “take his cherry.” As a child of the ’80s, I was raised on a healthy diet of “No Means No.” Rape isn’t just something that happens at gunpoint with a strange man in a dark alley; rape, essentially speaking, is being subjected to sex without consent. And Dick clearly did not consent.
My son just turned four months old yesterday, and I’m already wondering how I am going to talk to him about sex. To be perfectly honest, this is something I’ve been thinking about for years, long before becoming a mother.
Yes, I have a problem with “future tripping,” as a friend of mine recently phrased it. One of my many neuroses is the inability to stop planning for and fantasizing about things that are years down the road – like the sex education of my children, for example, of whom only one has been born yet.
I’m still working on the finer details of the “sex talk,” which I imagine will be an ongoing dialogue, rather than a one-time super-awkward chat about “what happens when mommies and daddies love each other.”
I do know one thing, though:
I’m not going to talk about virginity.
I’m done with virginity. Done and dusted. Yeah, no big surprise, you say: I’ve been married for seven years and have a baby – of course virginity and I have long since parted ways. And that’s true. In fact, we parted ways quite awhile ago. Before I got married. Yes, I was one of those 80% of evangelical Christian youth who pledge to save sex for marriage and don’t actually make it. But that’s not what I mean by being done with virginity. I mean that I’m done with the concept itself.
There’s been some buzz on the blogosphere lately about the damaging impact of “purity culture” within Christianity, and I feel compelled to throw my hat into that ring, because I’ve got some serious wounds from growing up in that culture, wounds that keep splitting open just when I think they’ve finally healed. [Check out these other posts on the topic by Emily Maynard – no, not the Bachelorette – Jamie Wright, and Elizabeth Esther.]
I won’t get into the finer, messier details of my story here. (I tried to reassure my mom the other day that I do have SOME boundaries when it comes to blogging – which doesn’t mean I won’t eventually share my full story; after all, it is mine to tell. But I don’t feel ready yet. Probably because of those wounds I mentioned earlier…)
Instead, let’s have some fun with bulleted lists!
This is what the virginity narrative taught me:
- Sex is dirty and shameful — until you’re married, and then it’s suddenly AWESOME! AND BEAUTIFUL! AND FROM GOD!!!
- There are two classes of Christians: those who waited, and those who failed. You now belong to the second class.
- Your sexual history is the most important thing about you.
- As a woman, your moral worth is rooted in your body and sexuality.
- “Virtue” is just another code-word for “virginity,” which you lost…
- …And, since you are no longer a virgin:
- You have less to bring to a marriage. (If anyone actually decides you’re worth marrying, that is.)
- You’ve lost a part of yourself that can never be regained.
- You are damaged goods.
- You can never be “pure” again.
- Your marital sex life will be haunted by the ghosts of your former partners.
You are a creature of shame.
That last one is the cruelest. The last one is a fishhook to the soul. I’m not talking guilt here. Guilt implies a fault in one’s behavior, and I think guilt can sometimes be helpful for us to experience, when we’ve been naughty and it’s warranted.
Shame, however, is a different animal altogether. Shame isn’t about what you’ve done. Shame implies a flaw in one’s being. “Purity culture” isn’t just about policing behavior; it’s in the business of ontology. And that’s dangerous.
It is this narrative of flawed being that broke me. Even years later, despite much time and healing, I can still abruptly stumble into deep wells of pain when I hear “purity talk.” Suddenly the shame I thought I’d managed to peel away from my skin reappears, burning like ice, and I feel sick. I want to hide.
Some might say that I’m just another anecdote about why sex before marriage is so damaging. But I know that what really damaged me was being told that I was damaged. We desperately need a new Christian narrative about sexuality, one not fueled by shame and fear, but a narrative of wholeness and health and grace.
So that’s why I’m writing this, even though I’m feeling anxious and exposed as I type this out. I’m writing this post for the girl I used to be, for the 17 year-old non-virgin who showed up at a college (ostensibly) full of Christian virgins and learned to devalue herself, learned to see herself as unworthy of love and respect. The girl whose classmates gave her all sorts of new ways to think about herself — as a piece of candy that had already been sucked on, or a bride in a wedding dress covered in red handprints, her shame for all the world to see.
I want to tell that girl that those are lies. I want to tell her that she cannot be reduced to her history, that she is valued for her mind and her fierce heart, that she has a life of fullness and love ahead of her.
I want to tell that girl within me – because she’s still there, still aching – that one day she’ll meet a boy who couldn’t care less about her non-virginity, and after years of great marital romping (which, it turns out, is NOT haunted by the ghosts of past lovers) they’ll have a cute baby, and then maybe a couple more babies, and she’ll somehow figure out how to talk to those babies about all this sex stuff without shame.
More than anything, I want to tell that girl, and others like her, this:
You are whole and holy.
You are immeasurably loved.
And that’s not something you can lose.