Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse, and Christianity

This post originally appeared on Our Stories Untold and is re-printed here with permission. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

Our Stories UntoldNote from the editor: The author is remaining anonymous because, as the author stated to me: “I work with kids. I Google my employers, and I’m sure they Google me. I don’t want to invite the possibility of ever not getting a job, or losing one, because I talked about sex on the Internet once.” Unfortunately this is sadly true in today’s society, which is why I’ve allowed the author to remain anonymous.

Note from the author: This post is a little bit about a previous post on The Femonite and Our Stories Untold about Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight. Both have been abysmally reviewed and voraciously enjoyed…more about that via your favorite friend, Google. If you haven’t read either book, I think you’ll still digest this post just fine.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t talked to about sex. As a corollary; I was not talked to about sexual abuse, and it was years before I realized that I was abused by a childhood “friend.” It was longer still before I realized that abuse was ruining my relationships and self-esteem, and longer still before I realized that to get rid of recurring, unwanted touch in my life, I had to be able to articulate what felt comfortable, what crossed my personal boundaries, and what (gasp!) to ask from my partner.

I’m passionate about how we interpret what we read–including the personal stories here–because I carried my story inside for years, and for a variety of reasons. I’m a strong advocate for Reader Response criticism, for allowing readers to let the personal seep into their interpretations of what they read. Stories tempt us to be didactic–to use them to prove our own points, or to manipulate them into making sense with our worldview. Fun!

But when we approach real, personal stories of abuse and sexuality (which Fifty Shades of Grey, titillating though it may be, is not), I believe very strongly in giving the storyteller the final word. If we want for girls to be brave enough to break the silence, we need to lift them up as the ultimate authorities on their own bodies, their own narratives, and their own desires. Sure, sometimes what we need is an expert, or someone who’s been there. And sometimes, especially after years of being quiet, we need the world to stop asking how past abuse could have been prevented, stop telling us to ditch the loser, stop telling us what our stories mean, or how we can embrace healing. Trust me, victims of abuse consider these possibilities.

We need the world to listen.

Like Katie, I want a happy ending to stories about abuse. Well, actually, we want to stop abuse.Many of the women I know—many of them Christians, some of them Mennonites—have read Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight. Each of these women is intelligent, well-read, successful, and strong-willed. They are made of sturdier stuff than the women they devour in fiction.

But our best friends and mothers are STILL reading these books. Why?

1. We’re still reading these books because…: We can write it off as voyeurism. Look no further than the church’s official stance, prayerful consideration, or sometime assault on the place of GLBTQ individuals in our congregations and public or their right to sexual expression. As a collective, we somehow believe that what happens between you and your most intimate partners is a matter of public interest. We need to hold you against our own sexual orientation or—as is the case in question—our sexual tastes. Ruth Marston reminds us in her recent post how this began:

“For a couple of millennia abstinence and celibacy were upheld as the ideal models for Christian sexual practice.  Marriage was offered for those who must be depraved enough to be sexually active.  Those relationships outside of marriage were labeled fornication or adultery. This model however fails to provide adequate protection against sexual violence.”

I’ve heard numerous sermons describing the church’s stance on issues of sex and relationships as a means of protecting the church body from heartbreak, from disease, from abuse—any number of very real, very sex-specific consequences. I believe that a new model by which we will protect our congregations from sexual violence also requires that we not perpetrate sexual violence by ostracizing people who quest to experience intimacy that is meaningful to them.I believe that the church can be a community where women and men are supported in a search for an intimacy that is not one-size-fits-all, but we’ll not get there by tip-toe.

2.We’re still reading these books because…: We can see through the character’s predicament into our own. Perhaps, unlike Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey, you are not in a relationship in which your partner experiences arousal from causing you pain. You likely still know the challenges and rewards of balancing your own desires with the desires of other people.Our own experiences may not be quite so dramatic as in BDSM romance novels—but sometimes, they really are.

A BDSM collar.

As women grow, as we enter and fall out of relationships, we need candid conversations about the unmatched importance of knowing your own sexual boundaries and desires if we are going to be able to act well as agents in our intimate relationships. What’s more, we need to be presented with a portrait of sexuality—healthy sexuality—that goes beyond what the stories we’ve been told. Three of the places we get information on sex—the church, media, and porn—each with their own nuanced spin describe sex as something as something it is, but isn’t. Attractive? Magical? Easy? If the church doesn’t weigh in, someone else will. And when the leading information source on sex is pornography, we’re bound to feel inadequate in our experiences.

No couple’s sexual experiences will be completely static or completely fluid, completely without disappointments or completely made up of them. As our church members grow up, they need to hear a candor from our elders that this is to be expected, even celebrated.

For some people, kinky stuff is a viable, enjoyable, communicative, consensual—even ideal way of relating sexually.  And for others, it’s totally gross and creepy. But inherently unbiblical? I think not.

These books, and books like them invite readers into a world where they meet characters who encounter, explore, and, ultimately, survive situations that might resonate with them. We read to live.

…Stay tuned tomorrow for points 3-6 addressing why our best friends and mothers are STILL reading these books.



Filed under Sexual Violence

2 responses to “Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse, and Christianity

  1. Reblogged this on Leta Blake and commented:
    Hat tip to crackerjackheart for pointing this blog post out to me.

    I blog about these books quite a bit… strangely obsessed

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