Just like the Christian church asks us to believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old (rather than 4.5 billion years), it also asks us to believe that a female sexuality is something that creates obstacles for men, rending them weak and helpless. Therefore a godly woman is a married woman, who is demure and serves her husband faithfully. This clash of religion and facts has always been troublesome for me -- indeed, I would say that for the longest time it was the bane of my existence.
Growing up Christian the Bible was our source for instructions on living. As a girl there were two main female figures that greatly impacted my Christian world view. I like to think of them as the housewives of Heaven and Hell. Eve, who was naked, disobedient and all powerful over Adam, her cunning ways led him to eat from the forbidden fruit, which resulted in man's fall from Grace and God. The second was the Virgin Mary, so pure that God himself impregnated her to bring hope back to humanity through Jesus Christ. These stores and biblical characters were pressed deep into my consciousness, suggesting what type of woman is good or bad.
Like many Christian homes, abstinence was taught to me by my faithful Southern grandma, the daughter of a preacher herself. I was told to just keep my legs closed, and to stay pure in order to strengthen my love for God. In the Catholic high school I attended, we were encouraged to save ourselves for our husbands or better yet, for Jesus (not sexually) as the nuns, our teachers, were doing. I lived in conflict from the time I started puberty until a couple of years ago, silently (but endlessly) questioning how my sexuality and sexual desire could be sinful in nature. And yet my Christian understanding that sex should be enjoyed only within the confines of marriage had me spinning desperately to find a husband so that I could feel honorable, virtuous, and loved by God. Inasmuch as I was sexually active, I was clearly a mere whore, worthless, and without God's blessing and love. Those were very dark years for me; after every relationship ended I thought of suicide -- another wasted opportunity to find a husband and be rescued from sin.
As a girl growing up in the church, I was never taught the biology of female bodies or sexuality. Information like, our bodies have nerves that connect from our brains down our spinal cords and into our cervices and vaginas. Naomi Wolf's extensive research on female sexuality and the brain/vagina connection offers that the vagina is works like a brain in many ways in women. The two organs operate almost as one influencing female creativity, confidence and character. The vagina is not just an organ for sex or childbearing, it impacts how women experience themselves and the world at large. Wolf states, the way a society handles the collective conversation and beliefs about the vagina, will determine and impact how women feel about themselves. Dr. Louann Brizendine, in her the Female Brain, describes how at a certain age, usually puberty for girls, the brain and ovaries start communicating that it is time for sex; time to procreate. The signals are so strong and persistent, working in tandem with hormones that are designed specifically to attract the opposite sex. I never understood this to be a normal part of human development. All of these developments in a girl's body are natural, biological and, if you ask, me, even divine. Rather than being taught the truth about sexuality and what a natural and necessary part sex is in life. There was a great deal of shaming, derived directly from the Bible.
For me, freedom has only come by leaving the faith my grandma so lovingly taught me and traveling a less conventional spiritual path. Since venturing out to understand and explore my sexual nature I have learned that sex and a healthy sex life are key to our health; they boost our self-esteem and for women, even enhance our creativity. In her book, Vagina, Wolf contends that women who experience shame and guilt about their sexuality suffer further from a diminished sense of self -- their ability to think freely and express themselves creatively is suppressed. In fact, it is only recently (last few decades) that scientists have begun to research female sexuality. What they've revealed has caused many people to question everything they once thought about women and their sexual pleasure. For example, a study discussed in a recent article in the New York Times stated that some women have been found capable of having spontaneous orgasm -- just by imagining being touched. But as Daniel Bergner points out in What Do Women Want, most women would be unable to have that experience, as they've been conditioned out of their natural sexual urges by their culture and religion. Scientific testing from his work found that women are less connected to their bodies than men and often unable to identify what sexually stimulates them. He calls this the mind denying the body, when the probes connected to the female body says she's aroused after seeing sexual photographs but she says she is not.
I was 21 when my grandma died at age 76. Several weeks after her funeral, her daughter and I went to her home to begin cleaning and packing her things. Surprisingly, near my grandma's bedside we found a stack of pornography magazines and sex toys. Later we also learned that my divorced grandma had a lover. In my heart, I was happy to learn that at 76 she still desired sex and was receiving pleasure. On the other hand, I was sad that at her age, her devotion to her religion compelled her to keep her desires secret from those who loved her and wanted the best for her. I was deeply conflicted that my grandma had reprimanded me for something she herself was not able to live by. In my experience growing up Christian, I have seen countless women hide who they are sexually due to a belief that marriage is the way to avert sin. The shame and secrecy associated with something as intrinsic as sex, is a breeding ground for self esteem issues, feelings of worthlessness and depression. I can't say that having all the information would have helped me abstain, however it would've helped me understand that what I was feeling was normal and nothing to be ashamed of, or something that would tear me away from my creator. Sometimes biology matters.