sexuality

Episode 17. Sacred Cliturgy: Less Shame, More Delight

April 26, 2021

Episode 6. This is My Body: A Body Scan Meditation

Episode 18. Freeing Women from “Biblical Womanhood” with Beth Allison Barr

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I'm Morgan Strehlow - writer and host of the Sanctuary Woman podcast.

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Very good.

Naked.

Not ashamed.

We do not know much about Eve, but we do know this much of the first woman created by God and in the image of God. I have never been able to identify with this very good woman, Eve in Eden, naked and not ashamed. Until recently, I never believed that I was supposed to. I never believed that it was possible.

One spring evening a few years ago, I sat on a friend’s back porch with three women from my church. We sat quietly, circled up in rocking chairs, drinking wine as the sun set over the Boston Mountains.

“Sex is hard,” I finally said. I had been married to my husband for four years. We had been silently suffering in our marriage trying to navigate sex and intimacy, and I was desperate to talk to another woman about it.

“It’s hard for me too,” my friend said.

“Girl, same,” said another.

“So it’s not just me?” another friend asked.

We didn’t all come to talk about sex. Or maybe we did, we just didn’t know it yet. These were women I had come to trust fiercely. As embarrassing as it was to admit the struggles and shame I was experiencing sexually within the context of an otherwise healthy marriage, I quickly realized that I was far from alone in my suffering.

What started out as weekly discipleship turned into candid conversations about our bodies, our pasts, and our marriages. There was great variation among each of our experiences, our struggles, our baggage and our perceptions of sex and sexuality. Despite all of our differences, though, there was one commonality all four of us shared: shame. Little did we know that we were on our way to silencing that very shame with spoken words, with community, and with empathy. Oh, and a lot more conversations just like that one.

About four or five years prior to those back porch gatherings I was a newly married 23 year old who penned the following words as an anonymous contribution to a popular blog at the time: It was a part of a blog series called Want Women Want From The Church, and my piece was titled What Women Want: To Have (and Enjoy) Sex. Here is how that article ended:

What do I, a woman, want from you, the church?

I want the church to be gentle with the hearts and minds of the young girls and recognize that many of these same young girls will soon be young, married women.

I want the church to stop equating virginity with purity and purity with worthiness so that girls, like me, aren’t put on a purity pedestal to perform and prove our worthiness of love. 

I want the church to stop taking the easy, lazy way out by teaching a fear-based, shame-based view of sexuality and to stop shying away from a healthy and honest conversation about sex and sexuality.

I want the church to give me, and those like me, a chance to be vulnerable and honest without judgment, without shame. I want the church to be quick to listen and seek to understand rather than quick to correct. 

Finally, I want the church to stop reducing me to a failed wife because it was the church who failed me.

This piece drew a lot of readers and a lot of conversation in the comments. As it turned out, I was far from alone in my experience and in my feelings.

That anonymous blog post would be the only place I would share about what was going on to anyone outside of my marriage…pretty much until that day on the porch.

I must have been feeling especially brave that day.

I must have been unusually trusting of those women.

The four of us eventually started reading a book together, a book called Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Negoski. Yes, you heard that right. A couple of church girls got together to read and discuss a science based book, not a Bible-based book, about women’s sexuality together. I could tell you how life-changing that book and those conversations were for me as I started to slowly release the shame imprisoned inside my body, or I could tell you that nine months later I gave birth to my son.

As it turned out, normalizing talking about sex with trusted community, learning about sex with other women and feeling less alone about my experiences, actually made me want to have sex more. Not that I didn’t want to have sex before, but I didn’t know how to want it – like really want it. Learning about sex and talking about sex and reading about sexuality actually helped my libido. And – well – it helped make sex less difficult and anxiety-producing for me.

This was the first of many candid conversations I would eventually have with other women who grew up in the Christian faith who have suffered through shame-filled sexuality in some way or another about the dysfunctional ways our churches, our families and our culture have unintentionally left us with a narrow and distorted understanding of our sexual selves. Some of them were still faithful Christians, but many of them had abandoned the faith altogether. And that doesn’t surprise me one bit, as that too could have easily been my story. Quite frankly, a religion and a people who emphasize more fear and shame than they do love and grace is not one I would want to be a part of either.

Shame for sexual decisions you made before marriage.
Shame for not knowing how to have sex because you had been so committed to waiting for marriage.
Shame for how your body is reacting (or not reacting) to sexual touch.
Shame for how your naked body looks.
Shame for the unwanted sexual touch in your past.
Shame for wanting sex too much.
Shame for not wanting sex at all.
Shame for who you are attracted to.
Shame for who you are no longer attracted to.

Social work researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, describes the power of talking about our shame:

“Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot tolerate having words wrapped around it. What it craves is secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you stay quiet, you stay in a lot of self-judgment.”

Shame cannot survive empathy, which is why we must not stay silent. It’s time we talk to one another. It’s time we listen to one another.

It’s time we have a better conversation about sex.

I’m not confident that I’m the one most qualified to start this conversation – in fact, I know I’m not – but I’m quite confident that I have been called to start this conversation. Because someone needs to. And I realize that it takes a certain kind of courage to become that sex girl in Christian circles.

Creating the resources and starting the conversations that I wish I had had prior marriage and as a newlywed is something that has been on my heart since my first year of marriage. But writing about sex and sexuality wasn’t my plan for my life, and it certainly didn’t fit into my ambitious career aspirations. Plus, I still had a lot to learn myself. I still do. But it’s been seven, almost eight, years, and God has rearranged my life, my career and all but pushed me into starting this conversation.

Here’s the deal – I’m not a sex therapist, a sexologist or a licensed professional in anything related to sex.

I’m not a theologian or a seminarian or a women’s pastor.

I got my master’s degree in sport management for crying out loud.

But what I am is a woman, a wife and a sexual being. I am a friend and I am a mother. I am a learner who is hopeful and who is consenting to learn in public. And I am inviting you to learn with me and join in on this journey toward a healthier and Very Good sexuality.  It’s not one we should go at alone.

Women: we were all created as sexual beings when we were made in God’s image, but not all of us have learned about and embraced the Very Goodness of our sexuality.

I want to help change that. Because I believe that God cares about our sexual wellness. Which means we should too.

What would change in your life if you were to truly believe that your sexuality was inherently very good?

What would change in your mind?
What would change in your body?
What would change when you look in the mirror?
What would change in your relationship with yourself?
What would change in your relationship with others?
What would change in your singleness?
What would change in your marriage?
What would change in your parenting?
What would change in your faith?
What would change in how you lived out your faith?
What would change in how you relate to God?

Did you know that God made us to delight in the bodies he has gifted us with and, yes, even experience pleasure in them?  Do you know how I know this? It’s because I know he designed our very good bodies with a clitoris. And do you know what the clitoris’s only known function is in a woman’s body? Pleasure. Yeah. It was made for *our* delight and pleasure.

I didn’t even know what a clitoris was until after I was married – and, if I’m being honest, it was probably a few years after I was married. I mean, no wonder sex hard. Am I right?

I sometimes feel silly about my sexual naivety as an adult, but then when I talk to other women I realize that I’m not the only one. Women in general, not just Christian women but especially Christian women, haven’t developed a very thorough knowledge of their own bodies. Not long ago I polled my Instagram followers and asked the question: Did someone else teach you about the clitoris or did you have to learn about it yourself? Only 13% of those women were taught about their clitoris, and 87% had to learn about it on their own.

I don’t know about you, but that feels like a major disservice to us women. And to say it was a disservice is putting it gently.

I have a sneaking suspicion that God did not intend for our clitoris to stay hidden from us when he created it.

I don’t really have an agenda here other than to use our clitoris as an object lesson to tell you about the the kindness of God. I mean – women’s ministries like their object lessons don’t they? Too bad we didn’t hear about this one at our church’s women’s retreat am I right?

Yeah, this is probably why no one will be hiring me to speak at their retreat. (But – shameless plug – I’ll do it.)

What does your sexuality teach you about God’s kindness?

What does your body teach you about God’s kindness?

What does your clitoris teach you about God’s kindness?

Genesis 1:31 says “And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

Even the woman.

I want you to experience less shame, and more delight. And I’d like to think that God would want that for you too. After all, God created the first woman, the mother of us all, without shame. God created the first woman, the mother of us all, very good.

Thanks be to God.

O God, Creator of Very Good things.
Creator of this Very Good body
Help me to bear your image with the kindness you created me with
Help me to bear your image without shame
So that I may delight in this Very Good gift you have given to me.

Help me to remember, O God, that
Your love for me is in every line
Your love for me is in every curve
Your love for me is in every organ 

Remind me of your love, O God, with every inch
Of this body, my body, that you have made Very Good. 

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