Paula Abdul is a sex-crazed hussy. A Siren-voiced she-devil.
That, at least, was the lesson I took away as a 12-year-old at a faith-based basketball camp hosted by Focus on the Family. The promise of basketball lessons appeared to be a pretext for instilling into us “good Christian values.” It was my first exposure to the church’s obsession with rule-based sexuality, and with time it grew to be a source of shame that I carried for years. The decision Tino and I made to save sex for marriage gave me the space I needed to unwind these old messages and develop a sexual ethic based on relationship, not rules.
But back to Paula. At this faith-based basketball camp, we practiced free-throws and zone defense by day, and by night we learned about everything we were doing to piss off God. One of our most egregious crimes, a speaker told us one night, was listening to popular music. He singled out one song as particularly odious: Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract.”
Maybe I took offense to this because Forever Your Girl was the first album I ever purchased (I’m gay, BTW). Maybe I took offense because the assertion was so patently dumb. The speaker wanted us to burn our singles of “Opposites Attract” because of one line: I make the bed, while he steals the covers.
“Look!” he said. “They’re having sex and they aren’t married! That’s against the Bible. This song is corrupting you!” It’s worthwhile noting that the speaker didn’t seem bothered by the unfair gender norms that compelled Paula to make the bed while her boyfriend overslept. And he didn’t even seem concerned that, in the video, Paula was dating an ANIMATED RAPPING CAT. He only had one thought he wanted to drive into our little prepubescent minds: Sex before marriage is bad. So very bad.
It’s such a simplistic idea. So simple, in fact, that when you’re young it’s easy to derive a more basic untruth from it: Sex is bad. It’s a message many Christians develop growing up. Conservative pastors demonize sex before marriage as something akin to murder. Christian households often fail to talk about sex in healthy ways, if at all. Churches paint a strong dividing line between “holy sex” and “sinful sex,” when the reality is far more nuanced. It’s no wonder sex and the issues surrounding it are the very reasons so many people leave the church.
Now, layer in the complexity of same-sex attractions, and you’ll see why it was easy to sum up my adolescent sexual identity in one word: shameful. My time in reparative therapy only fortified that construct by asserting that I was a sexually and psychologically damaged person. They told me I could be healed if I tried hard enough.
So when I started dating Tino, it was an easy decision for us to hold off on sex, as much as we wanted to (I mean, just look at that beefcake). First, we’ve held off for all of the thoughtful reasons Tino outlined in his post earlier this week. Second, I needed to cut out all of the background noise built up over a lifetime of guilt around sex. I needed to separate my shame of sex from my shame of same-sex dating. I could only truly see how I felt about our relationship when sex was removed from the equation. It helped me to parse and separate my feelings into two very important questions: Is it sex I’m ashamed of? Or is it the same-sex relationship?
By choosing to hold off on sex, I’ve been able to discern my feelings and beliefs around same-sex relationship free of shame. It has helped me to understand that I don’t feel shame about my relationship with Tino; rather, I feel joy, connection, and immense love. That was a huge breakthrough moment for me, and one that I wouldn’t have had if we were having sex. And while I may have had shame if we were having sex early on, I can see now that I don’t have shame about sex itself either.
Tino said in his last post that sex speaks, and I agree. Furthermore, I’d add this: It’s not only what sex says but how loudly it says it. Sex isn’t just any form of communication. Intercourse is akin to shouting, or TYPING IN ALL CAPS. Sex is so powerful, it overshadows everything around it. It’s like trying to see the stars through a fireworks show. Sex draws all the focus to itself, making it difficult to hear the other soft, subtle ways in which we are communicating with each other.
Holding off on sex has not detracted from our relationship; rather, it has clarified it. We’re now well acquainted with the myriad pieces that make a relationship grow and last. Sex will be the glue that seals them all together into something cohesive and permanent. Sex is the ultimate bonding tool, but there needs to be some kind of substance to bond together.
Ironically, the sexual ethic I’ve developed as an adult is very similar to the one espoused by the camp speaker who told me not to listen to Paula Abdul. The difference is, I’m making decisions based on my love for Tino and for the health of our relationship, not on a set of rules some youth leader stuffed down my throat.
Besides, whether or not Tino makes the bed or steals the covers is a moot point: We plan to have separate beds. But more on that another day...