A fun night
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A fun nightGrowing up in church, you hear an awful lot of things about sex that just aren’t true.

Of course, the same can be said about growing up anywhere. Surely there are no purveyors of misinformation more prolific than a gaggle of middle school boys. But the church has a vested interest in controlling the narratives you hear surrounding sex, and beyond that it has the resources to keep controlling the narrative long after the acne has cleared up and you get a chance to act on whatever it is that you’ve heard about “doing the deed.”

The church understands intuitively that if you can control what people do with their privates, you can control what they do with everything else. They also know that if you can script out what the family structure is supposed to look like, you can virtually rule the world.

With that in mind, I turned to my fellow expatriates from the Christian faith to ask them what they heard about sex growing up that turned out to be untrue—and more to the point, unhealthy—counterproductive to having an enjoyable, satisfying sex life. And boy, did I get an earful. What follows is a list of chief offenders in the misinformation campaign the church has been waging for decades—no, centuries—in order to control the narrative surrounding what we do in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

Lies For One and All

First I’ll list the morsels of misinformation that apply to men and women alike, framing how we think about the very purpose and proper use of our sexuality. Then I’ll move on to address the lies they told us about women in particular, and then about anyone else whose presence somehow brings out the fangs and the claws for them.

1. Waiting until marriage makes the sex better. No, it doesn’t, and for so many reasons. For one thing, you have no idea if you are sexually compatible with another person until you’ve actually spent time in the sack together. And if it is forbidden to bump uglies before you’ve both said “I do,” there is literally no way to find out if your relationship will sustain waking up next to this person every day for the rest of your life.  I wonder how many marriages have been preemptively sabotaged by this single dogmatic assertion?

2. If you have sex before you get married, the marriage will be more likely to fail. This is demonstrably, statistically, false. The research says that how young you are when you commit to another person has much more to do with your chances of success than whether or not you slept together before you tied the knot. And in those regions of the country where people are pressured into marrying before they can move in together, the divorce rate is higher even after teasing out all the other pertinent factors like income, education level, and yes, even religious affiliation (i.e. even the nonreligious fare worse in subcultures that pour contempt on cohabitation out of wedlock).

It’s quite a scam when you think about it. The Christian church has become an expert at setting up situations like this in which you are forced into making life-altering decisions before being given the necessary evidence to make those decisions for yourself, and in every case they are framed as irreversible:

They push you into “giving your life to Jesus” before you’ve developed the critical thinking skills to decide for yourself if the stories you were told from your grandmother’s knee were even true. They teach that you must believe in life after death before you will ever see the necessary evidence that such a thing exists, after which point it will immediately become too late to change your mind (sucks to be you!). And whatever you do, don’t disrobe for anyone before you’ve become contractually bound to them for life, at which point you will have no way out of getting out of the arrangement because now it’s too late. Thanks, Church.

3. If you love someone romantically, you’ll automatically be sexually compatible once you get married. Oh, sure, they’ll sometimes pay lip service to the idea that it takes work. But they take away with their left hand what they establish with their right by subtly but unmistakably communicating that committing your life to another before having sex creates the best environment for compatibility to develop. And that’s just. not. true.

But if couples complain after they discover this isn’t true, they are then told, “Marriage isn’t all about sex, anyway. You’re immature for being disappointed with lousy sex!” This is basically institutionalized gaslighting. They promise a great reward (if you wait until marriage, you’ll have an incredible sex life!) and then when it fails to deliver, it’s shame on you for expecting the reward in the first place!

4. Sex gives away part of your soul. No, it doesn’t. This reminds me of what I was told about why the Amish don’t want you taking their pictures. Which by the way isn’t actually true, either…they just believe photographs feed people’s vanity. Can’t imagine what makes them think that!

Becoming romantically or even sexually vulnerable with another person can significantly add to who you are as a person, bringing out sides of yourself you didn’t even know were there. Which is not to say that every encounter is a beneficial one. Sometimes the chemistry is just awful and you don’t know what you are getting yourself into before it is too late. I won’t lie and say that doesn’t happen.

But it’s equally untrue that sexual intimacy robs you of some piece of yourself, as if you were born with a limited supply of self which sex depletes with each new person you touch. More often than not, it works in the opposite way, teaching you something new about yourself or about sex in general with each new person you come to “know,” and I mean in the biblical sense.

5. Every time you have sex with someone you’re not married to, you catch a disease and will probably die. Does that sound like an overstatement to you? Have you ever attended a school-sponsored talk about sex in a region where the church controls this conversation? It’s almost impossible to parody it, it’s so extreme. The hope is that they can scare teenagers into never having sex. Three guesses how well that’s working, and the first two don’t count.

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6. That if you watch porn, you will soon be a rapist because it’s that slippery of a slope. I believe I heard at least three different sermons that said Jeffrey Dahmer started out reading Playboy. Do I even need to honor this with a response? Don’t let them insult your intelligence so easily, please.

I’m not saying porn is a great way to learn how to have sex (it’s not). But I’m saving that discussion for another time. Keep watching this space for more on that topic.

7. Masturbation ruins sex. Actually, the reality is quite the opposite. If you don’t learn to please your own body, how will you ever help anyone else learn to do it? Are you expecting the other person will just magically know what to do? Is this one of the things the Holy Spirit is supposed to guide us all into knowing?

Self-pleasure teaches your body to respond to touch, which can only help. Think of it as training your sensory memory to make the most of physical touch. Know thyself, as the Greeks used to say. It’s a necessary step to being known better by others.

8. Imagining sex with someone should count as actually doing it. Presumably it was Jesus who originated this terrible idea, but it’s not that easy to say how much of what Jesus said that Jesus really said. Ultimately, though, it matters not one bit who said it—it’s a ridiculous conflation of things which, if taken seriously, makes adulterers out of every human who has ever lived past the age of thirteen.

This is probably one of the most destructive hyperboles the Bible ever passed down to us. It makes desire a thought crime, and as one friend asked, “Is thinking about eating the same as gluttony?” That’s a really good question. Why is this one so different from all the others? Might I suggest it’s because the church has a LOT more staked on our sex lives than it does on what we eat?

9. Men and women cannot be good friends. It will always lead to sex, they seem to imply. I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is total bullsh** pushed onto us by people so desperate to control sex that they even want to control conversation. That’s pretty obsessive, when you think about it. And it seems to assume that we are all unthinking beasts unable to control our appetites. I suppose if you believe that even thinking about sex with another person counts as doing it, then you have little choice but to keep members of the opposite sex as far away from you as you can.

Do you see what each of these untruths is aiming to accomplish? These are ultimately all about keeping you from having sex—or even thinking about having sex—with anyone to whom you are not contractually bound forever. And why would that be so important to an institution like the Christian church? Is it simply because they have your best interests at heart, and they’re trying to save you from a world of hurt?

That’s a lovely sentiment, but the harsh reality is the church is a territorial entity, and they know that if they can dictate what you do with your genitals, they can determine what you do with everything else. It all comes down to control, no matter how many layers of high sounding rhetoric they bury it under.

Lies We Heard About Women

The next several lies center around the sexuality of women. I dare say no single topic has been more badly mangled than this one has by the Christian church throughout its history. But then, what else would you expect from an institution that’s been run by men—and largely by unmarried men—for the duration of its existence?

10. Women don’t have much of a sex drive. If you’re a woman with a strong libido, something is wrong with you. Try surveying a group of women and tell me what you find out about this. If you can ever get them to talk to you, you’ll find out for yourself that this is a grotesque distortion of reality. But the indoctrination runs so deep, most of them who were raised in church will just keep their mouths shut about this. If they were ever to start openly talking about it, they would soon discover that their deepest, darkest secrets are common to almost all women.

11. Women aren’t visual. Only men are. If a woman is visual, she has a demon (I wish I were joking). Maybe you’ve heard  that a woman who is visually attracted to men has a character flaw and is usurping a masculine trait. Well, I’ve got news for you: Women have eyes, too. And while it may have taken popular culture a long time to start objectifying men as openly as it objectifies women (Ryan Reynolds and Jason Momoa, anyone? Or how about Idris Elba?), the cat’s out of the bag, now. Women like looking at pecs, abs, and tight butts on professional soccer players.

I once brought this issue up with the Christian marriage counselor whom my then wife wanted us to see. He replied that the only women who seem to be visually stimulated have been tricked by the world into thinking they want anyone other than their own husbands, who are the fulfillment of their true sexual desires. More on that in the next one.

12. Women don’t masturbate much. Heh. Ha! Hahahahaha!! HAHAHAAAAAAHAAHAHHAAAHH!!! *wipes tear* Clearly you have never talked to a woman. Or at least no woman has trusted you enough to tell you the truth. I do happen to know from experience that there are a handful (heh) of women who really don’t touch themselves, like, ever. Some are too ashamed, and some just really aren’t feeling it. But they are by far in the minority.

I asked the aforementioned Christian marriage counselor what percentage of women he thought masturbated with any kind of regularity, and he ventured a guess: “Ten, maybe fifteen percent?” I was stunned, speechless. I honestly didn’t know what to say to him except that I wanted to tell him he was living in a delusion, an alternate reality created by Baptists or whoever. Man, if I had those sessions to do over again, I would have been a lot bolder. But at the time I was just terrified and felt cornered and outnumbered.

13. Your body belongs to someone else. Be it your husband, your wife, some person you’ve never yet met, or else it belongs to an Invisible Person whose preferences about what you do with your body can only be known through the opinions of complete strangers who claim they know exactly what the true owner of your body wants you to do with it.

This is asserted for both men’s and women’s bodies alike. “You are not your own,” the good book says, “You were bought with a price.” But if you’re paying attention, this idea is enforced far more vehemently and consistently when it comes to the woman’s body. In the Bible’s way of thinking (you have read it, right?) a woman goes from being a father’s property to being her husband’s. That’s why fathers “give away” their daughters at Christian weddings even to this day. And it’s why a woman goes from having her father’s name to having her husband’s.

The property claims are clear. Which makes it really difficult to then establish a sense of bodily autonomy, a sense of self-ownership among women. Neither the Bible nor the Church have every prioritized that, and I suspect they never will.

14. A woman’s virginity is a commodity that determines her social value and, once it is lost, her chief value comes from producing more virgins. Go ahead and deny that this is the truth. But then sit back and just listen to the kinds of language people use about sexually active women. The ostracism is blatant. Watch how quickly you hear the language of devaluation, of depreciation.

They literally believe a woman’s value is tied to her sexual “purity” as defined by their own rules. And search as you may within those rules for any sense that a woman gets to decide for herself what she does with her own body, you won’t find any evidence that they care about such things.

15. It’s the woman’s fault when men take sexual advantage of them. Because men can’t control their sex drives, amirite? They’re basically unthinking animals against whom you are helpless prey if you are a woman. And if they lust after you, it’s your fault for showing your body at all.

The social system is quite thoroughly rigged. First women are stripped of their bodily autonomy by being treated like another person’s property, then they are blamed for men acting on their unguarded impulses as if somehow men cannot resist their wicked wiles. Men are absolved from their own misdeeds while women are blamed for them, yet somehow without ever crediting women with the authority to determine what happens to their own bodies.

If I were a woman, I believe I would live in a state of constant rage. The more I listen to them, the more it makes me want to burn the whole world down, frankly. Lately I just can’t bring myself to feel any contempt for the angriest of feminists. I may grab a torch soon and join them.

Lies About How Sex Works

Beyond rigging the system to keep people locked into rigid role expectations that preserve the religious institutions that keep the system going, the church also does a terrible job of transmitting reliably helpful information about how to make the most of the sexual encounters you’re actually permitted to have.

16. Certain positions are holier than others. And doggie style is too animalistic for people made in the image of God. Go ahead and think that if you like. People can have their own preferences. But variety is the spice of life, folks. And while face-to-face sexual intimacy can be an out-of-this-world experience, it’s not the only way to enjoy each other’s bodies.

Some strains of Christianity openly assert that face-to-face sex is somehow unique to human beings (it’s not…read something other than sermons for a change) and that this exemplifies the image of God in us. Many of them go one step further and suggest that the man-on-top missionary position is the only truly satisfying position to use since men are supposed to be in charge, and this keeps them dominant.

How insecure are these people, really?

If you’ve never experienced the thrill of a woman riding cowgirl, or the mind-blowing intensity of a hair-pulling, throat-grabbing rear entry lovemaking session, you are missing out, my friend. Really good sex should require changing the sheets once in a while. And here they are suggesting their specific proprietary deity created sex, and they still don’t really know how to get the most out of it? I’m calling bullsh**.

17. Vaginal sex is the best way to make a woman climax. No, it’s not. If you know anything about human anatomy, it’s that the closest physiological analog to the male penis is the female clitoris. And yet most men probably couldn’t even find it if they tried. If they even know it exists as a separate structure in a woman’s genitalia.

All fetuses start out with the same raw structures before the natal hormones begin to act on them, causing them to differentiate between the sexes. At first, we are all essentially female (read a biology textbook). In time, the presence of that Y chromosome eventually acts upon the clitoris until it extrudes and becomes a penis. That’s where all the good nerve endings are, and that’s where a woman’s key pleasure centers will remain, just as they do for the male.

The vagina seems to exist in its current form mostly for enabling sexual reproduction by maximizing the pleasure of the male. But that’s not where the real magic happens for her. For the woman, clitoral stimulation is where it’s at (just like the way it is for men and their favorite piece of equipment), and even vaginal stimulation seems to do the most for her to the extent that it indirectly stretches and stimulates the clitoral structures (which we now know extend far beyond the proverbial “button” you find there on the front of her anatomy).

If all of this sounds foreign to you, maybe you could use a few days of digging through articles or books that explain all the things of which patriarchal approaches to sex have deprived us for so many centuries. I’ll leave you to that.

18. Sex is mainly for making babies. Then what is the clitoris for? See the above explanation. Here we have an entire organ of the female anatomy that serves no other purpose than to bring pleasure to the woman—it has nothing to do with pleasing the man. That would certainly explain why most evangelicals have no idea that it even exists, much less could they find it on a diagram. They probably all still can’t properly distinguish the vulva from the vagina. I’m embarrassed to say I was once one of those myself.

19. Genitals are dirty and shouldn’t be in your mouth. Oh, but you shouldn’t knock it till you’ve tried it. And you have heard of bathing, right?  There’s this splendid new invention called SOAP. And I am just here to tell you, if you’ve never learned how to please your partner by making the most of all the parts of yourself that would feel good against—or inside of—your lover, you should really give some thought to how you could incorporate more of that in your daily, or weekly, routine. You’re definitely missing out, in my opinion.

20. Incorporating sex toys will make your partner less satisfying to you. Please see #7 about masturbation. Your body has a kind of muscle memory where sex and orgasms are concerned. The more time you spend training your body to respond to sexual intimacy, the more responsive it will be to the touch of another person. And should they want to include toy play in the midst of your most intimate moments, I would highly recommend giving that the ol’ college try just to see what it leads to. You may very well find out that you’ve been missing a new level of fun in your relationship, and all at the hands of your lover. What do you really have to be afraid of?

Lies About Sexual Diversity

If you survey groups of people who have left the church for good, you will encounter a disproportionately high number of people who identify as LGBT or at least who ally themselves so strongly to those who do that they can no longer respect the church’s ability to speak to the human condition. The remaining points that I will address speak to those issues.

21. You choose to whom you’re attracted. No, you don’t. Did you choose to be attracted to the opposite sex, or did you find it simply happened, and you had little control over it? And if you didn’t deliberately determine the sex to which you were attracted, why would you insist that it’s a matter of choice for others?

People can be wired differently. I can scarcely remember what it’s like to think differently about this one, but I do vaguely recall it. All I can say is it doesn’t line up with real life experience, and all you have to do is talk to a few people who identify as LGBT and you’ll soon learn they didn’t choose any of this. It’s just the way they are. Just like you’re the way you are, not by choice, but by wiring, somehow.

22. People are gay because they lack good father figures. Wow, this trope needs to die. One of the first friends I ever had who “turned gay” on me came from a model family whose father figure was an exemplary youth minister in charge of much of the youth ministry in my state among Baptists. My friend didn’t lack a strong father figure. He was just wired differently. But he had to move out of Mississippi because this isn’t a place that accepts people for who they are.

23. Human sexuality isn’t a spectrum but a rigid category. If we could only dispense with binary thinking, it would eliminate a massive amount of emotional strain, freeing us up from the burden of telling other people how they are supposed to view themselves and the people whom they love. Some people are into traditionally masculine types, or traditionally feminine. But not everyone fits so neatly into such categories, and is it really your business to tell them to whom they should be attracted? Who died and made you the boss of them? (and if you say Jesus I’m just going to roll my eyes at you)

24. Homosexuality in other animal species isn’t common, or doesn’t even exist at all. Try reading a book for a change. I’d tell you to look this one up on Wikipedia, but ironically enough evangelical Christians have been programmed to distrust open sources of information because they “aren’t reliable,” while instead they are quite certain an ancient book whose authors we don’t even know for sure contains all the authoritative answers for life because their parents raised them to believe God himself (and there’s only one) dictated what would end up inside the brains of its admittedly anonymous authors.

I once got into a Facebook argument that lasted several days with my child’s Sunday School teacher about whether or not animals exhibited homosexual behavior. He insisted it didn’t happen in nature (because it’s really a lie of the devil, you see) and he challenged me to provide any evidence that such a thing existed in the wild. I started sending link after link with videos showing animals performing same-sex acts for their own pleasure and he just insisted it was “gay-like behavior” but that somehow this didn’t constitute any evidence of homosexuality in nature. I gave up on him. Incidentally, that daughter who took his class no longer considers herself a Christian.

25. LGBTQ people kill themselves at a disproportionately high rate because being LGBTQ is a horrible depressing thing. As opposed to depression resulting from…you know…people treating you like crap just for being who you are. This may be one of the most sinister aspects of social engineering I’ve seen:

You shame people for being different, then try to scare them out of being the way they are by warning that unpleasant consequences will come their way if they deviate from the norm. But all the while you distance yourself from the consequences, absolving yourself from them because it is, as you say, simply a matter of cause and effect. If you do THIS then THAT will happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And yet YOU are the ones whose actions produce the consequences they are supposed to fear.

It is YOUR rejection of people who are different from you which produces the pain in these people lives. It reminds me of the Catholic culture warrior who insists that gay people don’t want legitimate marriages because they can’t produce children, when that’s only a problem because those same culture warriors tirelessly work to lobby legislators to outlaw same-sex adoption because they are convinced before any actual longitudinal studies can be completed that having two parents of the same sex makes kids maladapted, somehow.

These culture warriors outlaw same-sex adoption and then turn around and suggest gay sex is shallow because they can’t raise children together? Do you not see the hypocrisy in that?

Anyway, I’ve written enough for today. If you’ve made it to the bottom of this, you’re clearly a person motivated by this topic! Each one of these points could be expanded into a discussion of its own, and frankly I’d like to see that in this very space. Is there anyone out there interested in contributing to this discussion? Obviously you can always leave comments below. But we are also looking for people willing to talk about these issues in this space in the coming weeks, so maybe you’d like to be included?

Drop us a note at removingthefigleaf@gmail.com and we’ll get back to you shortly.

Again, watch this space for more contributions in the near future. There’s an awful lot to talk about!

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Neil Carter is a high school teacher, a father of four, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil now writes mostly about the struggles of former evangelicals...