If there is anybody I admire, it’s people who escaped from abusive fundamentalist communities and are trying to rebuild their lives and find their own way outside of the oppressive environments where they grew up. One of such brave and brilliant bloggers has started a project that will help people escaping from fundamentalist backgrounds to share how their sexuality developed in a repressive environment.
As I read through the questions, however, I felt like sharing my own answers to them. I have deleted the word “Church” because, as my readers will remember, I grew up in a completely atheist society.
- How familiar and comfortable were you in your own body? Did beliefs about purity, modesty, abstinence, etc. affect your attitude toward your body? Did those beliefs either reinforce or conflict with the messages you received from society in general? – I remember that all the endless talk about purity, modesty and abstinence made me extremely angry. From a very early age, I experienced veritable rage whenever somebody started brainwashing me about these issues. And that happened a lot.
- How did your parents
and/or churchrespond to your questions (if any)? How did they (and you) understand and react to puberty? – I knew that questions about sexuality or anything even remotely connected to it would not be welcome, so I never asked. I always felt that most of the adults who surrounded me would be very traumatized by such a discussion and I wanted to spare their feelings. My puberty was something that they pretended not to notice as soon as possible. It was treated like something deeply embarrassing.
- What kind of sex education did you receive, if any? How did your parents/
churchtalk about sex and sex education? How did your parents model their beliefs about sexuality? – No education, no discussion, nothing. All I heard was the idea that women found such nasty things to be disgusting. But they often had to give in to the sexual demands of nasty, vile men. because that was the only way to preserve the family, of course.
- How was your approach to the Bible shaped by beliefs about sexuality, and vice versa? (Did you, for instance, read Song of Solomon?) What Bible verses were most important to your understanding of sexuality? – Obviously, there was no wide-spread practice of reading the Bible. It was quite dangerous to be caught with such a text. I read it once when I was eight, I think. It was during a visit to my one of my father’s friends. I didn’t get to Song of Solomon on that occasion.
- What books or other materials did your parents and/
or churchuse to teach you about sexuality? Were you given books about marriage and courtship, for instance? – No books or materials.
- When and how did you first hear about LGBTQ identities? How old were you, and how much did you understand? How did the messages you heard make you feel? – I grew up in a society where gay men were put into prison for practicing their sexuality and everybody pretended that gay women did not exist. I heard adults make a few jokes that I wasn’t equip to understand.
- What were you taught about LGBTQ issues? Looking back, what sound bites did you hear the most, and what did you think about them? Did you ever hear the term “homophobia,” and if so, what did it mean to you? – One bit of information I heard ad nauseam was some tired old story about gay men forcing little boys to have sex in public bathrooms. Of course, the fact that every other woman in the country was a victim of heterosexual rape was never mentioned.
I’m putting this under the fold because the post is getting too long and some people might find it boring.
Romantic Relationships (if applicable)
- What were you taught to expect in a romantic relationship and/or marriage? How have you found reality to match or differ from your expectations? – I was taught to expect to be saddled with a man who would cause me endless problems, would make my life extremely difficult, would cheat all the time, would make me spend all my life cooking, cleaning and making money for him, and would either refuse sex or would insist on having a lot of sex whenever I really didn’t feel like it. I got this image from the talks between older women (my aunts, my mother’s female friends, colleagues, neighbors.) I found the reality to be very different. In all fairness, N. also finds that the expectations about marriage he was led to have as a little boy and then as a teenager were as nasty.
- Did your beliefs about sexuality change after marriage or beginning a relationship? If applicable, did break-ups and/or divorce impact your beliefs? – My knowledge about female sexuality was ridiculously non-existent during the entirety of my first marriage. I was a very unhappy person at that time. Only after I got divorced and set out to explore my sexuality, did the things change for me. How easy do you think it is to break the kind of conditioning I have been describing here?
- How did your
fundamentalistupbringing or training impact your own sexual identity and/or experience of sex? – It took me a while to realize that sexual attraction was in no way linked to whether you liked somebody as a person or enjoyed their company. I am convinced that this is the most important thing any heterosexual woman can learn on the way to discovering her sexuality. “A great guy I adore” does NOT automatically translate into “a passable sexual partner FOR ME.”
- How do you think about relationships and sexuality now, and what prompted changes (if any) in your views? – Life has taught me that a romantic relationship which is not based, first and foremost, on an all-abiding sexual passion will make me and my partner deeply miserable.
- When did you start to question what you were told about sexuality? What prompted you to rethink your beliefs? – I always knew that everything I was taught about sexuality was a load of bunk. The problem is that knowing it and removing the subconscious barriers to the happy practice of one’s sexuality that such upbringing creates are not the same thing. The latter requires a whole hell of very hard work.
- How did your friends, family
or churchrespond to your questioning? Did you talk to people or keep your doubts secret? – I never talked to anybody about it because I did not know anybody who was healthier than I was in this area of life. I, at least, knew that the whole philosophy of sexuality we all shared in our patriarchal society was deeply diseased. Others seemed to accept it at face value.
- What media (if any) did you read or watch that made you rethink your assumptions about sexuality? – Who needs the media when your own body is right there, clamoring that you’ve been cheated out of something both beautiful and necessary to you?
Life Outside the Bubble
- What strategies have you found for coping with friends or family who believe in purity, modesty, “traditional marriage,” etc.? – I roll my eyes and leave their company as soon as possible. I find it a waste of time to interact with such folks, although I can sincerely pity them at a distance.
- Where have you found support? (New friends online, at school, at work, etc.?) – Good sex partners!
- What (and how) do you plan to teach your children (if applicable) about sexuality? – I plan to answer all questions calmly and truthfully as soon as they get asked. I also plan to make all possible information about contraception available as soon as possible. The main message I will try to transmit will be, “The only reason to have sex is when YOU want to have it. The only acceptable partners are the ones YOU feel desire for as long as they freely consent. The rest is absolutely and completely up to you. And if anybody tries to judge you or guilt-trip you for that, you need to know that such people are stupid vile freakazoids.”
- What, if anything, would you tell your younger self about sexuality
and life outside fundamentalism? – It gets better. Since you are a woman, it will be getting better for decades to come.