A Type of Sex Magic
It’s a bold statement, but I’d venture to say that there aren’t very many people who can remember the day they lost their shame. I can.
Growing up in a high demand religion like Evangelical Christianity, all you know is shame. You grow up learning that boys and girls shouldn’t be alone together, they shouldn’t be friends, and they definitely shouldn’t interact physically. So many of us endured and continue to endure through inauthentic “side hugs” as a result. Fronts shall never meet, saith the Lord.
For the most part, it was easy to refrain. I held hands, kissed a few boys, cuddled and so on, but sex was always off the table. I was serious about my faith… and my childhood felt like such a disaster that boys were only a tiny blip on my radar. Crushes were fun, but no one needed to know what was really going on in my life and boyfriends know things.
I was so serious about not having sex until marriage, that I bet the guy that sat next to me in band $50 that I would be a virgin on my wedding day. Well, now I owe that guy money.
In my heart of hearts, I truly think there’s something wrong with me. My therapist says that getting good at compartmentalizing is a natural response to a traumatizing life, but I think she’s just trying to make me feel better.
My feelings can turn off quickly. It used to be my modus operandi. But through lots of brain shrinking, I’ve mostly mastered not shutting down… until I feel like it.
It was easy for me to shut off the sex parts of my hormonal puberty brain for the Lord. There was nothing I wanted more than to be a “Good Christian.” God had saved me again and again in circumstances I thought I would never see a way out of. My miracles weren’t counted in the Pentecostal church my parents went to, but they counted to me and I felt chosen.
But I was never the right kind of serious about my faith. I was a reader, a learner, an investigator. Only all the context and history in the world would do and when it came to the Bible and my faith, I was ravenous.
In a church context, I’m sure my parents would say that my greatest achievement was reading the Bible through more times than most kids my age. I used to be proud of that, too.
The problem with diving with your whole heart and mind into a High Demand Religion’s text is that the issues you’ve ignored for so long start ringing in your ears non-stop. You stop being able to ignore the rich preachers making loads of money while people are starving. The prophecies they told your parents about being rich start being a burden. And in my case, the prosperity gospel that was force fed down my throat started to feel like a cruel joke while everyone around me and my family were just getting by. Then when I started digging even deeper under the surface… well, the whole system crashed down before my eyes and I was lost.
Plenty of people would fall apart then, when they feel like they’ve lost everything, but my particular life circumstances led me in a different direction. I felt free.
But this isn’t the part where my shame was blown away into the wind, not yet. This is the part where the seeds were sown in fertile soil.
If we get down to the stereotypes, I grew up as a First Generation Mexican American woman in Greater Los Angeles County. My parents were and are deeply devoted to their religion, which meant that I was purposefully set apart from the rest of my extended family around us. No drinking, no drugs, no dancing. Not the ripe Chicano experience I hoped for, but at the very least I speak Spanish and Spanglish. It was a skill that led me to my culture when my religion said it was all sin. All traumatizing enough on their own.
In my experience, calling out the abusive parts of your culture as a First Gen kid in America isn’t so much a double edged sword so much as it is family-structure-social-suicide. You open your mouth and all of a sudden you’re Julius Caesar, dying from multiple knives stabbed into you by people you were supposed to trust.
I was born a mouthy kid with too many questions. My parents wanted nothing more than to have smart children, but I’m not so sure they understood what they were wanting. Regardless, they were convinced that their religion would save their smart kids from themselves and it absolutely did. Just not in the way they prayed for.
The intelligence I inherited from my father saved my life. And some members of my family would say that it ruined theirs.
Not only was I fighting for my own faith and beliefs, but I was also fighting for myself. I was grasping for the life I wanted while living a life that was too hard for any kid to handle. I was searching for a way out so that I could finally feel free to pursue my dreams and ambitions. Eventually, we got there via the road less traveled: higher education.
Of all the dreams I’m proudest of achieving, graduating college is the one I hold dearest to my heart. Everything I ever wanted as a kid was wrapped up in a piece of paper I hoped to store in my garage one day and getting to finally leave my parents’ house for college was what saved my life.
But I went to a Christian University. Here’s where the shame exits the story.
You can only run away from your own sexuality for so long and I found mine in the eyes of men I befriended.
By this point, sex was just another natural human response to living in my mind. You’re born, you have sex, you die. The lack of “morality” in premarital sex had been stripped out of me through context and information. In a fairly conservative Christian University, I found the liberal agenda: healthy sexual expression. Virginity was just a construct to me now. It was a meaningless milestone I hardly thought about in my day to day life… until I did.
I had lots of male friends in college. Some of these friendships were deep and spiritual, so much so that they still exist today. Platonic seems like too blase of a word when people become part of your chosen family. They’re just part of your world now.
Some friends I had for other reasons. Richard was one of those friends.
It started off as tension, like any other between two people with matching sexual identities. But like any other type of tension, it kept building until the dam broke.
My sexual debut wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t cute. It just was. But what it wasn’t was full of shame. As crass as it may be, the shame disappeared as soon as Richard and I started sleeping together for real.
Truly truly, God Bless Richard. I could ask him whatever I wanted about his sexual ethic and he would give me honest answers. We didn’t have sex that often (I was still busy trying to achieve my dreams and fall deeper in love with my friends), but the casualness of our “relationship” only helped solidify who I wanted to be: A woman beholden to no man and no religion.
After Richard, I had a few flings with the same level of casualness over the years. Sex became something I wanted to do and only did when I felt it would serve me. It was revolutionary in my mind, the idea that sex was something I could want and control for myself. After spending your whole life in churches that called people like me whore and Jezebels, this stage of life felt healing. As an act of liberation, I divorced sex from romance. I felt unstoppable.
Due to my amazing ability to compartmentalize, this didn’t become an issue for me. I met the love of my life, slept with him, and the feelings flooded in. For the first time, I felt the divinity of loving the person you were sleeping with and I married him. An easy decision when you consider the type of person I married.
All that being said, I’m not a psychologist. This may not be the best solution out there for everyone and their own journeys of eradicating shame in their life. Just because this crazy plot worked for me, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.
But fuck, did sex before marriage help every type of shame melt away from my skin. As soon as this friend of mine entered my body, the shame left me, like a demon being exorcized.
Surely you’re thinking, “Sure sure sure, but what happened after the shame disappeared?” And it’s a fair question. Living your life as a sin verguenza, as my mother would put it, isn’t all flowers and rainbows. New dynamics spring up and the friendships you formed start to change. The society we live in wasn’t built for people like me, mainly because there are plenty of examples of shameless people doing horrible things in the world. Brene Brown wasn’t quite as famous back then.
Even still, when relationships fall apart and people leave because they just don’t like you all that much, the people that have stayed in my life are able to love me more deeply now.
When I say off-the-wall things and bring up sensitive topics at inopportune times, they forgive me and roll with the punches. Whether they admit it or not, they too want to see where this fucked up brain is leading. And more often than not, they have expressed gratitude for being the kind of person who can handle talking about anything and everything that may make them feel ashamed.
That’s the best part for me, being able to talk through the hard parts of life with people.
It would be disingenuous of me to imply that shame never comes back into the picture. He does every once in a while, knocking on my door in the hopes of getting in one more time. Sometimes I forget to check to see who’s wanting to pop in for a visit.
He never stays long, though. The rest of me tends to shove him out the door sooner or later.
The funny thing is, most people would probably assume that I had lost God throughout this whole process, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In ridding myself of shame in whatever way I saw fit, I found unconditional love. The full scope of the human experience started to show itself to me and I was thrust into a world full of endless beauty and possibilities. Up until the point of penetration, I was deep in a religion that holds us all back. It’s a religion that demands we relinquish our bodies and deny our desires because they don’t fit an agenda, because they don’t fit a moral code that didn’t even exist when their holy text was being written.
After that first time, I went home to friends who helped me figure things out. And as I showered Richard off my skin, for the first time, I was free.