This post is about what Christianity taught ME about being a woman, life and MY sexuality. I understand that not all christian women feel this way but this was my journey.
I have never spent so much time questioning what it means to be a woman. The definition and role of woman has been taught to me in my christian upbringing and just as I did with the belief of JC, son of God, I never questioned it…I just did the “right” thing in the eyes of God and the eyes of my peers and leaders.
Since becoming an atheist I often question whether I believe religion is harmful and worth fighting or if it’s best if we all just agree to disagree. While I don’t think most forms of christianity are intentionally harmful to young women and adult women alike I do think the patriarchal teachings inherently affect women’s identities with their sexuality, roles, ideas, etc. My own personal beliefs over the past 30 years have had a definitive role in my marriage, self esteem, and inhibitions and I’ve spent the last year trying to break free of some very damaging leftovers and trying to renegotiate what it means to be a woman. I don’t believe there is one standard definition…as always there are varying shades of grey with which to define woman. Without remaining in the confines of the religious definition and without conforming to the completely secular and cultural definition I end up creating what I want my personal definition to be and that’s complicated.
Christianity (or my interpretation of christianity) taught me:
My virginity was sacred for my future husband. It wasn’t about the enjoyment I would get from my first sexual experience. Rather the focus was not being flawed or dirtied for my husband. So I had a virginity ring that I wore until my wedding night. And let me tell you a little about my wedding night…for a year prior to our wedding Mark and I turned off all sexual feelings for each other and withheld from anything other than kissing so we could honor God and our marriage bed would be absolutely pure (although Mark had already lost his virginity…a common double standard). The purity of the marriage bed mostly relies on the virgin female. Needless to say the “deed” happened and Mark proclaimed “You are not a virgin anymore!” to which I curled up in a ball on the floor and cried tears of shame and regret. In fact I had so much shame (even though I did everything “right”) that I canceled breakfast with my family the next morning because I couldn’t look anybody in the eye knowing that they knew I was no longer a virgin. I wish I could rewind time and celebrate the joy of sex for myself and find enjoyment in the act of having sex for the first time.
Christianity taught me to suppress my sexual urges and curiosity. Each time I experimented sexually with a boy whether it be kissing or touching I was riddled with guilt and shame. I felt there was something wrong with me that I desired these feelings. I had to hide what I was doing and repent frequently. Suppression taught me to be disingenuine with people. To hide a part of me. It affected the first years of my marriage as I had spent so much time fighting my sexual urges and suppressing them that I didn’t know how to turn them back on. I didn’t know how to enjoy my sexuality without the guilt associated with it.
Christianity taught me that if a man lusted after me I did something to cause his sin. This was difficult as a young woman who developed large breasts by age 14 and found them hard to always cover up. I felt guilty and dirty for ever causing a man to lust. Even though my intentions were not to bring attention to myself. Today I try to celebrate the beauty of having a large bustline and show them off for my husband but I still find myself mostly trying to cover them up for fear I will cause another man to stumble or another woman to judge me.
Christianity taught me that my body was dirty and sexual topics are all taboo. Sex Ed was unheard of in my private school and in fact I remember that being a hot topic about public schools. Parents didn’t like it. I knew so little about my body and sex going in to marriage that I still didn’t know how I could get pregnant. I remember being afraid of sitting on a toilet seat that might have sperm on it and I would get pregnant (I don’t know why I ever thought there’d be sperm on a toilet seat but that’s another topic!). I didn’t know how to use a condom or birth control. I knew very little about STDs and still know very little about STDs. I couldn’t tell you what my vagina looked like or the various external parts to it. I couldn’t tell you how I liked to be touched because masturbation was a sinful act. I can vividly remember the few times I read a steamy book or saw a porn film on cable t.v. to which I masturbated and I vomited afterward thinking I was such a horrible person. It’s taken me nearly 15 years but I can finally say that I actually see beauty in masturbation and there is no longer any shame in that word or the act.
Christianity taught me that tattoos defile the temple (our bodies) and God has asked us to keep our temples pure. I recall looking down at any person who chose to ink their bodies. Today I find tattoos sexy and liberating and in fact getting a tattoo on my back was my first stance against my religious beliefs (that or voting for a Obama, a democrat!). What liberation!
Christianity taught me to judge others. Girls who “caused” men to lust or slept with guys were all sluts. I tried to stay far away from them as their sin might be contagious. Women who worked outside the home and focused on their careers were not following God’s plan for a spiritual wife. Homosexuals were acting in sin and needed to repent or pray the gay out. Smokers were addicts in need of God. Porn watching husbands were guilty of affairs (Matthew 5:28). Churches that had women as leaders were not really biblical and should not be attended. People who didn’t tithe were not genuine christians. Women who had abortions were murderers. Evolution believers were employed by Satan. People who practiced yoga were open to demonic forces. Those who had not been baptized were not able to go to heaven. Everything was black and white. Everything! It was such a high standard to have to maintain and anybody who was failing was up for judgement including myself.
Christianity taught me that a man is the head of the house. All final decisions are made by the man. If we are in disagreement he gets the final say. This left me often feeling I was without a voice. Resentment.
Christianity taught me that spanking my children was an active and positive form of discipline. In fact I was a big advocate of Growing Kids Gods Way and now I hate the practices of those teachings. It robs children of any choice. It teaches a patriarchal dictatorship and that is no way to parent children. I spanked often not as a last resort but as an only choice of discipline. I refuse to spank my boys now. There are many effective ways to discipline and the tools given to us by Love and Logic are fabulous for both christian and secular families alike.
Christianity taught me that science was evil. I went to public junior high school for a whole 4 days. On day 4 they taught us about the Big Bang Theory. Day 5 I found myself back in christian school. I shunned science so much that even in college I missed great opportunities to learn about evolution. Hell, I have a degree in animal science and I left college with zero knowledge of evolution because I dismissed it as evil.
Christianity taught me that sex was the right and enjoyment of my husband. It did not teach me that sex is equally as enjoyable for me and that there’s lots of fun variables to sex. I believed that if a man had an affair it’s because his wife was withholding sex. It usually boiled down to her fault for getting fat or saying no to sex or to being boring in bed. But on the flipside experimenting with my husband was always scary and I often wondered what God was thinking. It was never just me and Mark. It was always me, Mark and God. Creepy. I’m thankful I have lots of years left for fun in the sack with just me and Mark this time around!!!!!
Christianity taught me to be a one issue voter. If the candidate supported abortion then he’s out. If the candidate supported gay rights…no way! But if the candidate says He loves Jesus Christ…he’s clearly meant for the position.
Christianity taught me that my husband was to be my spiritual leader. He was to lead me in prayer, devotions, and he was responsible for the spirituality of our children. This was one of the most frightening things to me when Mark announced he was no longer a christian. I feared not having a spiritual leader in our home and I was used to being shepherded. I have since learned how empowering it is to rely strictly on myself for my spiritual needs. It is my responsibility to meditate, to run, to calm my mind and body. What a relief to not rely on another person for such a deep part of my life.
Being a christian woman taught me disdain for the feminist movement. Feminists, in my opinion, were responsible for the breakdown of families. They clearly didn’t understand their role in the family and were putting men in positions that challenged their maleness. They promoted female sexuality, women in the workplaces, equal rights, abortion, the ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ mentality. All that seemed contrary to biblical teachings. Now I would call myself a feminist in the making and I’m astonished at how negative my viewpoint of my own gender has been. That is rapidly changing and I’m becoming empowered as a female. I’m fortunate to have a very feminist husband by my side 🙂
I was taught that a woman is soft spoken. The pride of her husband. Worth more than rubies. (All over the book of Proverbs). But only if she was just right. I have always had a foul mouth and have been direct with my words. The difference is I now recognize that a foul mouth and stating my opinion do not make me less worthy. They do not make me less of a wife or less of a woman. They are not my sinful nature that need praying out. They are simply me. So I still swear and I still am often bold with what I share but I no longer feel shame or the need to seek forgiveness for what I once considered flaws.
Christianity taught me to be an elitist. I don’t know where this came from as Jesus is very intent on teaching us to help the poor but somewhere along the line I, along with the entire republican party, starting living by the motto that God only wants us to help those who help themselves. I lost sight of the fact that so many people are not able to help themselves. I looked down on addicts, alcoholics, homeless, teen or single moms. They made bad choices and that’s between God and them. I will help those who lost a spouse or are just having a few bad months. I became the judge and jury. Not only was I elite in who I was better than but I was elite in the sense that I had the ONE true God and all others were fools or evil. You don’t get any more elitist than that. Today I no longer believe in borders or the American, Christian dream. I no longer think you need to believe like me. I no longer believe that some of us deserve heaven and some hell. I think we are all on equal ground. The rich. The poor. The educated and uneducated. The christian and areligious.
Christianity taught me to view the world in right and wrong. There was no middle ground. Either God commanded it or He didn’t. Premarital sex, drugs (although I’m not sure where the Bible talks about that), gossip, vanity, thought crimes, stealing, homosexuality, science, lusting: all wrong. Praying, serving, attending church, tithing, proselytizing, taxes, spanking: all right. It taught me to not think. It taught me to stifle doubt and to remove questioning. Today I am an absolute skeptic. I challenge everything and process everything presented to me and determine what makes the most sense. Not all things are black and white. In fact very few things are outside of grey.
Christianity taught me to hide my thoughts. Not only to hide them but to shun them. I find the female body to be extremely sexy. In fact I’d say that it is far sexier than the male body. I have feared any feelings of arousal I’ve ever experienced when viewing a naked woman or a very attractive clothed woman. I have no desire to ever be with a woman sexually but I can certainly be stimulated by an attractive female. Admitting that does not make me gay or any other label one would want to slap on me. It simply means that I can admit that breasts are beautiful. Ask any gay man and he will still tell you that the female body is gorgeous. It’s art really. I’m tired of hiding that reality for fear of judgement.
Above all else christianity taught me fear and shame. I feared every misstep that I took. I feared and found shame in my humanity. I feared that God was shaking His head at that defiant and clearly christian challenged human named Amy. I feared hell. I feared failure. I feared sexuality. I feared pleasure. I feared “sin”. I feared God which ultimately made me a great christian.
Today I’m still breaking free from the christian bondage that formed so much of who I am today. And with each challenge I give myself I find immense freedom. Today I may still be a slightly damaged woman. A woman damaged by the grips of religious indoctrination but tomorrow I trust that a near liberated woman will emerge and will experience the true existence of being female. What an honor.