Photo courtesy Olivia Little

Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

My conservative church made me ashamed of sex

But the author says that when she finally lost her virginity, it didn't feel like she had lost much

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My four siblings and I were raised in a Christian home in rural Ontario. Our family church, where we usually found ourselves four times a week, still stands tall at the intersection of a quiet country road and Highway 4 in Centralia, Ont., near London. Although the lonely church doesn’t look like much, my life revolved around it until I was 18.

Engaging youth leaders and a “radical,” modern worship team made my non-denominational church look appealing to outsiders and masked the control it exerted over our lives. Beneath this facade was a deeper pattern of indoctrination into a destructive, repressive culture. I was homeschooled with conservative parents, which meant no awkward sex talk. My only sexual education came from bits of information I could piece together from my own curious Google searches and the teachings impressed upon me at church, which usually just discouraged any sexual curiosity at all.

My oldest sister, Emma, now 29, left the church when she was 16. What I understand now as normal teenage defiance was viewed by my parents and the church as a much bigger problem. Her rebellion brought conflict and hostility to our family home. After countless fighting matches between her and our mom, she was kicked out of the house later that year. Though I later came to understand my sister’s doubts about our secluded way of life, I was much more passive and would stay heavily involved in our church until I was 18.

Although it’s been over a decade since Emma has warmed a church pew, she can still recall the countless purity talks and the misogyny and double standards of the teachings. She says that for years, she felt like less of a person because she was a woman.

Olivia Little (second from right) and her siblings at a church event. From left, Jake, Sam, Emma and Hannah. (Photo courtesy of the author)

My two older sisters and I knew that if we didn’t act carefully, we would cause our male peers to lust after us. The importance of modesty was stressed and we made sure to do every bend, sit, jump and stretch test with each outfit. Despite our best efforts, we’d often still be approached by fellow church members on a Sunday with comments on the thickness of our tank-top straps.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that my sheltered upbringing had given me distorted ideas about sex, and the extent to which these ideas would affect my efforts to pursue a healthy sex life. I wasn’t able to orgasm with a partner until this year, at age 23. I didn’t have an open conversation with my mom about sex until a couple of years ago. She is now more open-minded and has distanced herself from our family church. Now, her only judgments come from a place of motherly concern and protectiveness.

I also didn’t touch myself for the first time until my 20s. Growing up, I was taught over and over that girls aren’t sexual creatures and that men are the only ones who masturbate and enjoy sex. Emma can recall our pastor saying the word masturbation once during her time at church. It was in a youth group class and was geared towards the young men in the room. Emma remembers her saying, “This is for the boys, so ladies, just sit and support your brothers,” talking about it as if girls didn’t masturbate.

I was always very aware of what it meant to be a virgin, and that relinquishing that part of my identity would be a big deal. I was encouraged to wait for marriage and always told that sex would significantly change my life. But when I finally lost my virginity, it didn’t feel like I had lost much. No one died and lightning didn’t strike me down. Having finally embraced my sexuality, I’m still the same person I’ve always been, but better for it.

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  • says:

    I wish people wouldn't push Christianity as something that is repressive. (I often blame poor Christian leadership with good intentions) God's laws not only show us how fallen we are as humans, but (if we follow them) also free us from future guilt, and to set us right before God, others and ourselves. Read God's covenants, they're full of blessings if we keep our half of the covenant (which we rarely do, hence the consequences). Remember, a covenant is a promise.

    If you don't think you lost much by losing your virginity, bide your time, I guarantee you'll regret what you did, whether you admit it or not.

  • says:

    Seriously? Is it 1910? Are we really a society suffering from sexual repression? Why the editorial decision for more conservative-bashing? It's a straw person. There are lots of sadness and dysfunction related to intimacy; repression doesn't make the top 10. And given that there are specifics, the article is probably hurtful.

  • says:

    I have never understood that misogynistic point of view that males were tempted into lust by females. I was able to control myself for most of my teen years, and since then.
    I, too, attended a church where premarital sex was considered the express route to hell and damnation. Once I got beyond that hypocritical teaching (one of our most respected elders was involved in an extramarital affair), I was able to enjoy a healthy, but moderate and guilt-free sex life.

  • says:

    Thanks for publishing this piece. I am adding a comment to counter the two already posted, which are sharply critical of it.

    Even in a culture in which a lot of the power of patriarchy has been eroded by economic and social changes since the industrial revolution, misogynistic churches like the one Emma describes continue to cause terrible psychological and spiritual damage. I'm glad to know Emma and others in her family are extricating themselves from the teachings of this church.

    In an era in which many churches are doubling down on their support for sexist and homophobic leaders like Donald Trump and Doug Ford, I applaud the countervailing efforts of feminist -friendly churches like the United Church of Canada.

    Replies

    • says:

      I'd like to know what your views of a family are. I'll bet it would be dysfunctional.
      I get that some churches are a bit self serving in their teaching. The article seems to imply there are more teaching issues at the home, and not in the church. Yes not all churches get it right, but you and the article seem to imply all "conservative" churches get it wrong. (which is my point above)
      Trump was a populist vote (just like our Justin Trudeau) and Ford was a knee-jerk reaction to Wynne's politics, don't let the press tell you otherwise.
      Feminism is a call to both sexes being equal in every way. God's design is structure with leadership. Yes I believe that women are not to be "under-foot", but there must be order for society to survive. Hence our current cultural meltdown as a result of extreme feminism.

  • says:

    I've always believed sexuality was a wonderful gift. Yes, it must be used responsibly, but it brings all of our senses into play. I feel the sensual experience is a gift of God. For too long we were taught that it was "dirty" and something to be spoken of in slang terms so as not to offend others. Sexuality involves giving, loving, being vulnerable, accepting your partner and being confident that there is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. Virginity is not a big deal. Giving it up doesn't change who a person is. I'm glad for Olivia and I wish more people could embrace their sexuality and see it as being totally natural.

    Replies

    • says:

      Hebrews 13:4 Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

      1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

      Not a big deal? I could list 10 more scriptures to support why losing your virginity is a big deal.
      If you have previously had sex with someone else, your marital intimacy has already been affected. Trust and intimacy is jeopardized. Shall we continue with disease spread?

      Replies

      • says:

        I base my ministry on the teaching of Jesus. Just the teaching of Jesus. All else is myth, hyperbole, metaphor, personal interpretation....call it what you like. Most "Christians" are able to pick and choose whatever verses, passages, books they like to enforce their opinion. As a follower of Jesus teaching, I base my ministry on love, compassion, justice, acceptance, forgiveness and the understanding that we are each unique in that we each have different views of the world, different levels of intelligence, different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and more. Scripture seems to have been given credence because it is old and theologians of the day arbitrarily decided it should be included as being somehow "inspired." We live in a modern world. I don't look to old time scripture to deal with modern concerns. What Jesus taught is simply common sense in living in community with one another. I'll stick with that. I have found that dealing in theological argument is a useless exercise. By the way, my marital intimacy has been greatly enhanced by any previous experience I may have had. Everyone always does a better job when they are experienced.