Our theme for the month of June is “Sex and the Church.”
Being raised in the Church, I was always warned about being bombarded with messages about sex. Watch out! The World is going to pervert your views of sex and warp you into a depraved monster. The World is out there, and all that happens out there is evil. All any of the sinners in the World want to do is talk about sex. It is around you 24/7.
And sure enough, I was bombarded with messages about sex—not from the outside World, but from the Church itself. I went to church regularly, attended youth group, went to a Christian school, had weekly chapel services at school, and was raised in a Christian family. And it seems like a good seventy-five percent of all the messages directed at teenagers in the Church are about sex. Every parent, pastor, soul-patch having youth group leader, Bible teacher, school principal, and Buddy Garrity-type speaking at chapel that week wants to talk to you about sex. Just so that you know what’s what.
Be friends with girls, but don’t be attracted to them. Think of them like your sisters. Treat them as the brides of Christ. Girls are purity incarnate. Boys can’t be trusted to be alone with any girl ever. Boys have no control over their impulses or hormones. But also watch out because there are girls out there who are little more than modern-day Jezebels just waiting to seduce and ensnare young men. Premarital sex is the worst thing you can do. Having sex before marriage will ruin any future relationship you will ever have. But it isn’t just premarital sex—any sexual or intimate act is wrong. Not just wrong—a sin. A sin is something that damns you to Hell. You know what? If you even think a dirty or lustful thought, you just committed a sin. In some ways, the thought is even worse than the act because that means your inside is rotten and corrupted. When you sin, you are supposed to confess and work to never do it again.
What do you mean you feel guilty?! Jesus is full of forgiveness? Why on earth would you feel guilt? You prayed for forgiveness, right? But don’t ever do it again because it is wrong—a sin! You don’t want to be a sinner, do you? Wow, I’ve noticed you haven’t met a nice girl yet who you are seriously dating and considering marriage with—are you gay? What is wrong with you?
These were the thoughts and words running through my head every day, formed from the constant bombardment of messages and dire warnings imparted by the adults in my life starting when I was a preteen. And it really messed me up.
Like any teenage boy going through puberty, I felt sexual feelings. I desperately didn’t want to sin or have lust in my heart, so I did what any good Christian would do. I prayed. I poured my heart out to God and asked for forgiveness. I wept over every minor transgression. I begged Him to make me pure, to take lust from my heart and eyes. Just help me be a good Christian…
So I decided to take drastic measures.
First, I reduced how much I ate. I had seen in some documentary that eating less reduces your libido. Perfect! If I didn’t eat, I literally would not have the energy to be sexually aroused or look lustfully at girls.
It wasn’t foolproof, but it worked okay. Of course, there were side-effects—like the times I blacked out at school or at home, or my friends started to worry because they could see I wasn’t eating. And there was the constant hunger, the dull pain that made it hard to sleep at night.
So, I started taking pain medication and sleeping pills. It was essentially just a cocktail of over-the-counter pain relievers and nyQuil, so it wasn’t harmful because it wasn’t illegal. I did find some leftover Vicodin that my sister hadn’t used after her surgery—I felt a bit bad about using those, but it was all for a good cause. It dulled the pain, helped me sleep, and put me in a dazed state during my waking hours.
But the mixture of starvation and self-medication wasn’t working completely. So I did what any teenager does—I internalized all my guilt and self-hate and anger and confusion. I became sullen and withdrawn. I could be angry, irrational. Sometimes, I thought about (although I never did) self-harm just to drive away the demons of lust inside of me. I saw myself as ugly and wretched. Unloved. Broken.
That’s how I dealt with the problem of temptation and lust during high school. To the Church’s credit, I did not have premarital sex as a teenager. But there was also a lot of damage done. And it took me a long time to heal.
I wanted to end with a pithy paragraph cajoling the Church to rethink its priorities and how it addresses sex. Something lighthearted, maybe uplifting. But honestly, reliving my teenage years when writing this made me really sad. I realize that the Church profoundly fucked me up in a lot of ways. I know that a lot of church leaders and teachers and adults were trying their best, but they did a piss-poor job. Or maybe I just focused on the wrong things and was the one who was at fault. Either way, somebody needs to do better.
Paul (’10) lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Emma (’10), and cat, HandsomeMarcoCat. He loves board games, Babylon 5, and honey-curry chicken. Everything else is negotiable.