Like millions of people, I grew up in a loving, two-parent, Christian household. My parents loved us and each other. They aligned their parenting styles to our Christian beliefs. We had strict rules about dating boys, dressing modestly, being chaste, and behaving like young ladies. Me and my two sisters all attended church with my parents every Sunday.
At church, we were taught to love God, be kind, and that marriage and family were our next step in life as young women. We were taught how to look for good men to date that had the same values as we did. Our young women leaders told us that our chastity was our greatest gift to God and to our future husbands. An internationally recognized leader of our church gave a speech to a congregation of college women once. He said:
“The flower by the roadside that catches the dust of every traveler is not the one to be admired and seldom is ever plucked. But the one blooming way up on the hillside, protected by the perpendicular cliff, is the flower with the virgin perfume, the one that the boy will almost risk his life to possess.”
Insert eye roll here. This sentiment, in various analogies, was often recited to us as girls. Even into my years at a Christian college across the country. Our virginity and pureness was our most important quality. In cultures across the globe and outside of Christianity, a women’s virginity is most revered. There are poems and ancient songs written about the desire of virginal women and how beautiful it is to be desired by men. Contrarily, men in modern society are expected to boast about their lack of virginity.
There was never any sexual education in my school or church regarding women’s bodies and our sexual desires. We were only taught to repress those feelings and push them down. This led to a lot of assumption and experimenting with sexual desires, on my part, because I had no direction one way or the other. Nowhere to ask questions. Shame inevitably followed.
Into my college years, at my Christian school, I met a lot of girls who are now my lifelong friends. I started to realize my small pile of sexual experiences was much larger than my friends’ experiences. As far as I’d been taught, there were only two sides to the coin of chastity. Either you are or you aren’t. I was not chaste. This dangerous pattern of thought stayed with me until marriage. This notion that I’d willingly given away pieces of my sexual purity with boyfriends along the way made me think I was a “whore”. Now, I never did actually call myself that word, but I knew I wasn’t virtuous.
This became the perfect breeding ground for the abusive relationship with my future husband. He came at a point where I was at my lowest and he was a wonderful man of God, in my eyes. For a while, at the beginning of our relationship, I hid my sexual sins. But soon enough, he started asking me questions. I asked him questions too. Piece by piece we both showed each other our similar piles of sexual experiences that were behind us.
I was relieved that our experiences were very similar. Yet, he was very angry with me. I was the women. I was supposed to be the pure one. I was supposed to be clean and untouched for this man. He had a “boys will be boys” attitude about his sexual transgressions. He was terribly disappointed in me.
I tried desperately to be desirable to him.
After all, like that flower on a hill- my desirability- was my most precious quality. To be wanted. I did everything he wanted. He used me as a verbal punching bag. And I apologized and cried and changed myself to whatever he wanted me to be. Our relationship, too, became very sexual in nature. As happens when you “love” someone. This only caused more confusion as I was being told that I was a slut for doing the same things with other men that I was currently engaging in with Alex. I was comically confused.
One night we were alone in his parent’s basement. We had been kissing passionately when Alex took both my hands to pull me up off the couch. I asked where we were going and it was made clear he wanted to take me into a side room. I said no. I pleaded. I said no multiple times. Every word out of my mouth was no, I did not want to. But he pulled me down the hall and into his dad’s office. I said no as he took off my capris and pulled down his pants. I was silent and he forced himself on top of me and started pushing.
I’ll never forget the darkness. The silence as I stared at the ceiling. I just wanted it over. I laid so still. My hands gripped the brown carpet as Alex’s silhouette was barely visible from the light coming under the door. He quickly got up and pulled his shorts back up. He helped me off the floor. I don’t remember what I said or what happened after that.
Only a few weeks ago did I remember this experience at all.
I asked my boyfriend, “What is the technical definition of rape?”
He looked at me across the cab of the truck and said, “Uh. No means no.” I had said no. But he didn’t hit me, he didn’t yell at me, it wasn’t abusive or volatile in any way like movies or news portray. But I had said no.
I said, “I think Alex raped me.”
I had not even been taught the working definition of “rape” as a girl; I basically just picked up on the definition into early adulthood. I had never been taught to protect myself or how to put an end to unwanted sexual advances. It was quite a jarring revelation to realize how many times, after marriage, I had told him no but he proceeded to have sex with my regardless.
I tried so hard to be the girlfriend/ wife that Alex wanted. After we were married, I remember such debilitating frustration because now I wasn’t as sexually adventurous as Alex wanted me to be. I didn’t know myself as a sexual being. I didn’t know how to relax and have fun with it. I didn’t know anything about oral sex (neither did he, for that matter) and was so embarrassed to do that for him. Only as his wife did he see my sexual innocence as a flaw rather than a desirable quality.
Coming to know myself as a sexual being and understanding my sexual identity has been so hard for me. I’m still working through those issues. I can’t say that if I had been taught more/better/earlier that my abusive relationship wouldn’t have happened, but something needs to change. Women need to be seen as equal in every way as men. Sexually and otherwise. Not held to such impossible double standards.
Anyone else with similar experiences?