By Devon Mac
The Black church anchors much of my childhood and adolescence. It was my first experience of nurture and care outside of my family. Where mint candies were sweet gifts of love from older ladies in stockings and knee-length skirts. Where I nervously sang my first solo in the children’s choir. Where I rocked white gloves and patent leather shoes on Easter. And as a teenager, where I fell into a range of crushes and formed life-long friendships. The church was also where I came to understand a love that was beyond what anyone on earth could ever give me. It is where my faith was formed. I also received my first formal education about sex in the church.
And the education I received was thorough. Our youth pastor couched the topic in his theological understanding: God created sex. Sex was wonderful. And sex was intended to be contained within the bounds of marriage. The latter principle is the essence of purity culture.
So yes, I was indoctrinated into purity culture and I bought whole-heartedly into its values. I was taught that God wanted us to experience the wonderful gifts that sex offers in ways that were not damaging or hurtful.
And so, when I married as a virgin, I was ready for that life.
Several years into my marriage, however, I found myself devastated, disillusioned, confused, and frustrated when I still was not able to talk about my married sex life without referencing a deep pain.
It takes the author of this particular blog post, I Saved My Virginity For My Husband And Ended Up With Bad Sex, to accurately pin-point my overall experience. She and I shared a common marital issue (though slightly varied), down to the sexual imprisonment we both felt.
It was in the reading of her story that I felt free enough to be angry as hell. And the first question I had was for the church that had become so formative in my understanding of life. And that question was why?
Why, in all my church’s courageous, bold, and truth-telling about sex, was the subject of sexual compatibility never mentioned?
In my all-encompassing rage, I was compelled to go straight to the Church for an answer. Because I grew up with friends who eventually went into ministry as pastors, ministers, and faith leaders, I didn’t have to look far.
Here’s what a few had to say (their answers have been edited for brevity):
Pastor, male, married, 40 years old, Sacramento, CA
I believe that on one hand compatibility is addressed but not in larger gatherings. This is usually because the church sees sex as permissible only in the marriage relationship as such those topics are reserved for marriage retreats and such.
On the other hand, it’s not discussed as much as needed, even in the marital gatherings, and this is due to the fact that sexual compatibility is not a high priority for highly religious people. Consequently, you get two people who never probe the deeper realities of marriage. It’s a mindset that as long as God said it, then everything else can be figured out.
Lastly, I think this topic is rarely discussed because of American culture in general and American church culture in particular. Both arenas are extremely uncomfortable with dealing with sexual truths, so sexuality is only discussed thru binary lenses. Should we or shouldn’t we, gay or straight, right or wrong. To delve into compatibility means discussing preferences and experiences and for a prudish society, that is simply too much. All in all, I believe it is discussed but as little as humanly possible.
Pastor, male, married, 37 years old, Chicago, IL
I should say that I have heard the subject of compatibility discussed from the pulpit. Pastors like James Ford, Jr. in Chicago and Ed Young in Houston are two that quickly come to mind. That said, I would agree that, again in my experience, I have heard more on the parameters of sex than the issue of compatibility.
Another pulpit assumption, that I know to be covered in our pre-marital counseling sessions, is that sexual gratification in marriage is an art to be learned and shared overtime between that couple. I remember in one of our pre-marital counseling sessions, the pastor encouraging me to ensure that my bride reached her most pleasurable climax every time we engaged. As a virgin, I had no idea how valuable that bit of advice would be. That would mean years of studying her, talking with her and following her clues. I don’t think it a fair expectation that the pastor or church would have imposed that information on us. It was something I needed to learn.
Pastor, female, single, 42 years old, Chicago, IL
As an unmarried, chaste woman pastor I will speak in theological terms.
Theologically speaking, the commitment of covenant is offered without condition. I preached a wedding sermon this weekend on mature love, a love that grows and matures over time through painful spaces of all types of incompatibility (John 15:9-17). The paradox of love is joy and pain living together. The greatest love we can ever offer is a love that lays itself down for another. A love that releases its desire to have its own way.
While the responses provided helped to offer some solace, the last pastoral response resonated the most to me personally. Mature love is indeed joy and pain living together and I did that for 15 years of my life. In that time, I grew to appreciate love outside of sex. I experienced love without sexual compatibility, which has incredible value when it comes to spending a lifetime with a person because there will be seasons in a marriage where sex just cannot happen. For this reason, I hold no grudges against the Church and place no blame. However, married couples who are capable and able-bodied should be able to enjoy compatible sex together. It saddens me that I got married without learning that it can be a deal-breaker should the couple, after giving their all, never come to an agreement.
Perhaps it was my fate to learn that lesson as a lived experience and not in the church. But moving forward, I believe that any church that is courageous enough to discuss sex, particularly purity culture, should be intentional about bringing balance to the discussion for the sake of preserving marriages.
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