Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Conversation With Kate On Modesty & Lust

I've been writing and tweeting and Tumblr'ing a bit about modesty and how we dress as women, and I'm taking some pretty awesome heat for it! I've been really disheartened about it but today I realized that this is a really huge, on-going conversation that must always be present, and not simply a "let's find what is Right with a capital R." I had an amazing chat with a girl I will call Kate, and she is letting me publish it on my blog!

So, for all of you who have been confused by or disagreed with my tweets or posts about modesty, maybe give this a skim through and see if it clarifies a little bit for you. Much love to all, and please, let me just say again that I am trying to figure this out as best as I can, just like we all are. Thank you for the graciousness that you have shown me. <3

Kate: I know we have somewhat different views on modesty and I'm really just trying to understand where you based some of your views from. I do agree that a woman can not be responsible for a man's sin, however, aren't we not supposed to be stumbling blocks?

Me: Okay, so what's super important to remember is that there are NO "rules" in all of this, regarding modesty & how we dress. So, what you wear can never "be a sin." That's nowhere in the Bible. There is no Biblical outline for types of clothing or square inches of skin that is right or wrong. That being said, how we dress is all subjective & our own responsibility, as it reflects our heart and our motives. It's really this whole "what are the rules" that people get hung up on. If you tell someone there are no rules, then we get really uncomfortable and realize that we aren't really "being righteous" or "sinning" by what we wear, and we can't judge anyone else for it either. And it's a natural human response. Trying to play a game without rules is really unnerving at first. Rules are way safer than just walking in freedom and love. Make sense so far?

Kate: Yes, I completely understand that.

Me: K. So if I say, "Dude its not a sin to eat cheesecake!" I'm not telling you to eat cheesecake for all 3 meals every day of the week. I'm just saying cheesecake isn't inherently sinful. But if you've been told your WHOLE life to never eat cheesecake because "its a sin!!" then you'll really freak out. And then you might think that my saying "cheesecake isn't a sin" means = eat cheesecake all the time for all occasions! It's a human nature fear-response to suddenly being told there is no black and white. We become personally responsible, and we lose our ability to judge others. So yeah, that can be scary.

Honestly, this is just straight up common sense. And common sense is what Paul was talking about in the Bible when he talks about not causing others to stumble. But unfortunately, we try to make everything in the Bible some sort of rule or command - which is WHY Jesus came - to say, "Hey. I'm fulfilling all the laws and commands by simply paying for all of your sins and giving you a new command: to love one another." So, a Christian man (Paul) encouraging his friends to not be a stumbling block to one another, has turned into = "if you are involved somehow in someone's sin then you are also responsible and this is a sin therefore NEVER DO ANYTHING that might POSSIBLY resemble sin because it's selfish!" And that's a consequence of choosing religion over Jesus. We turn principles and love into rules and commands. And we start trying to figure out if we're guilty by association, too.

For example, lots of people use the alcoholic/beer analogy to talk about not being a stumbling block. If you're going to a friend's house who really struggles with drinking, you're not gonna show up with a six pack. Now, even if you do, and that friend gets drunk, it's not your fault 'technically' because everyone is 'technically' responsible for all their actions. But still, out of love, and since you know this person, it'd just be dumb to spend the night drinking in front of him. But we take that analogy and spin it to "we should never take a drink anywhere because someone might see us and stumble." Which is just flat out ridiculous. So, as a result we have all these Christians having a beer with dinner behind closed doors terrified that someone else in their church will find out they drink and then "Stumble" as a result, or that they'll get called out for doing something somewhere that could possible cause someone to stumble.

The exact same goes for how we treat modesty in the church. And this is a wildly dangerous metaphor - because a woman's body is nothing like a beer. So, we start saying that the human body in and of itself leads to sexual sin, instead of correlating LUST with sexual sin. And we start saying things like "don't wear a v-neck because it will make your brother stumble!" when in reality what we shouldn't be doing is handing him a subscription of Playboy. And I don't see girls in church doing that, so we're pretty okay I think.

Kate: Yeah, I totally get that. I get that ultimately you're responsible for yourself. But at the same time, using that same analogy, men as a whole struggle with physical things such as lust... so wouldn't it not be in their best interest for the Christian sisters to wear things that would cause them to stumble?

Me: Okay so, as a generic statement, yeah I would agree with that. The problem is, what are you ACTUALLY saying when we say that? Let me say this: If I'm hanging out with guys from church at a church event, I'm probably not gonna wear the most revealing top in my closet, because that would just make me uncomfortable. It personally really annoys me when guys look at my boobs instead of my face. And for sure, if your neckline is revealing 75% of your breasts, a guy will look and see it and be drawn towards that. It's interesting to note that this is just "usually true" not universally true. Really revealing tops make me stare at women sometimes, primarily because I was raised in an environment where I never saw a woman wearing anything but turtlenecks. I understand completely the "not being able to look away" phenomenon that happens sometimes. So yeah, there is an element of novelty that causes staring. But it's really important to clarify that staring/a distraction is not equal to sin or lust. It's when we start mentally and emotionally interacting with something that isn't ours for the having, does it become a heart-problem. So, when I make the decision to not wear a deep v-neck to get coffee with a guy friend, it's because I'd just flat out rather not have my boobs be a distraction to the human being that I'm trying to hold a conversation with.

Kate: Haha, having 34A's, that's never really been a problem for me...but continue.

Me: I absolutely encourage everyone to just flat out have common sense when they choose what they're wearing. The problem is that we have a generation of people who WILDLY disagree on what "causes men to stumble." And then when we disagree, we judge women - and judge them hard - for having a different understanding of what causes men to stumble. And this, exactly, is the whole entire problem with "rules." I mean, my mom thinks me wearing skinny jeans causes men to stumble, for example. In highschool I was 5'7" 110lbs and my mom made me wear size 10 jeans to hide my butt and legs because they are "distracting to men." So obviously, you and I look at that and say, "Well your mom is just crazy, I can wear skinny jeans" - but for her, she GENUINELY believes I am sinning by thinking of myself before being considerate in front of other men (and women) and shamed me privately and publicly for, I felt, just existing. And THAT mindset/behavior is what I am trying to debunk. (It's important to note that because of my mom's intolerance of my body, I was convinced for years that all men saw in me was sex, so I didn't know how to treat them as genuine people with real personalities. This is why we as women need to be REALLY careful what we're teaching and how we're teaching modesty.)

Kate: I do believe a lot of it amounts to common sense and a lot of it is personal preference. My sister is Muslim, wears hijab by choice, but she's a huge advocate of men "lowering their gaze" which is a very common thing in Arab/Muslim culture which I haven't really found anything similar to in America or Christianity. But its based on the idea that men are ultimately responsible for themselves so even if a girl is walking around the mall in just her bikini, it's ultimately the guy's fault if he sins because he can "lower his gaze". So anyway, when I read some of the things you were saying regarding modesty I felt you were somewhat attacking people like my sister who do practice what some people would consider extreme forms of modesty. I totally get that's not the case now... but when I was reading some of the things you were saying, it felt that way.

Me: fascinating.

Kate: Then, about two weeks ago I reread everything and started to rethink my thoughts on "modesty" and sex and just everything in general. I've always been ostracized in my church for the most part because I have tattoos and piercings. It's not considered "modest". So it really got me thinking on how judgmental I am towards what girls wear.

Me: Well, I'm really sorry you felt that I was attacking that idea. :( I didn't mean to imply that at all. Personally, I really respect women who dress modestly because they themselves choose to. (There's a difference between a true personal conscious choice and a religiously instigated guilt-decision.) Look, if you value your body and really want to save your beautiful assets for one man, then PLEASE go and do so in peace. I can really admire that. Just know that because another woman is "flaunting what she's got" or showing more skin than what you are personally comfortable with, does not mean she's a slut or a terrible Christian or a participant in sexual sin. Half the world thinks I'm too modest and the other half thinks I'm scandalous. Modesty is entirely subjective, and this is what we keep forgetting.

And yep I've been realizing I'm super judgemental too. :\ I'm working on it. Ok, so here is an interesting question for you. Have you ever looked at a girl wearing something revealing (to any extent) and thought "dude she is suuuper sexy." And then moved along with your day?

Kate: No, unfortunately, I've been trained to look at her and think "what a whore" and feel really sad for her the rest of the day.

Me: Ah. Well there we have it. That's what I used to think too. :( And when it's that black and white, we can all agree that's 100% judgement and not love, which is the OPPOSITE of what we're asked to do by Jesus. And it's also seeing her outward appearance, and not for who she is.

Okay so now, lets hypothetically say you're at the stage where I'm at, where I see women sometimes and think "man shes really sexy" or "wow she's beautiful" or "wow, she has a great body" and then move along. Thought ends.

Kate: I think the word "sexy" is what I'm struggling with.

Me: So, there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful with me observing how attractive I think another human being is. Women do it. Men do it. We both do it towards same sex and opposite sex, despite all sexual orientation. It's strictly natural observation, without having ACTUAL sexual thoughts (IE. lust). I'm surprised to find how rare this is among people raised religiously, although it makes sense because we've been raised w/such fear of the human body and of sex.

Kate: I think that's where it gets murky for me. I never thought it was possible to see things like that and not think lustful thoughts.

Me: RIGHT. Traditional Christianity has tied together the human body with lust, and ALL attractive people with sexual sin. I can look at a woman and acknowledge that shes really attractive or hot or sexy or WHATEVER word you want to call it, and move right along, and be totally fine. If anything, that's a positive thing for me to be able to do. But LUST is thinking about her body for the next 5 or 30 mins (or the rest of the day) and fantasizing about her, and thinking about fucking her, etc etc. THAT. is what the problem is.

So, once people understand WHAT lust actually is, it becomes much more understandable that the way a woman dresses is pretty much unrelated to how a man thinks of her, and how a man chooses to allow his thoughts to continue or end immediately.

Kate: I think that's what I really didn't understand. What I have ingrained in my head is that lust is that 1-2 second thought when you see a woman. It doesn't even have to be a full second. But seeing her and thinking she's sexy, you've already committed a sin.

Me: yeah :\ A lot of people think the exact same thing. And yeah, that is totally not true.

Kate: That's why I really struggle with the word sexy. Not so much anymore but in the beginning, I used to cringe at how freely you used it, ha.

Me: I mean just sit on that thought for awhile and think about how ridiculous it really is.

Kate: Oh I totally get it's ridiculous. Trust me, ha. I just don't have anyone that I can openly say it's ridiculous to. In my church women would say things like, "you're really pretty" and my natural thought would be to smile and say "thank you" but then I realized it wasn't a good thing, they weren't meaning it in a good way. I even had one of our leaders tell me that I'm going to struggle with my beauty because men aren't going to be able to "handle it". That pretty much devastated me and that was the last time I went to church. And I spent months after that thinking there was something wrong with me. I never wore makeup until a few week ago because I thought that would just make things worse/harder for men.

Me: oh myyyyyy goddddddd

Kate: I don't know how to de-program my brain basically.

Me: Yeah :\ Well, it takes time. Don't be afraid of trying. You don't have to be scared of anything. Give yourself time and the freedom to sit down and write down on a piece of paper what you believe, or what you used to. And write out why, and what you believe, and what you want to believe. Look, here's the deal. God made you. And he made you a woman. So he inherently made you beautiful. God doesn't make things a certain way without a purpose. So you know that you are beautiful for a very specific reason, and that it's a GOOD, good thing. Never feel like you have to hide your beauty because it's a "bad" thing.

And whenever you're unsure of what you believe, or what's right and wrong, just remove yourself from trying to figure it out and try to focus on getting to learn more of who God is. Because who God IS, helps us understand what he MEANS.

Kate: Ah, yes. Thank you.

Me: joy, love, worth, value, encouragement, freedom, life. Those things are from God, and of God. Shame, guilt, hiding, dark, secrets, fear. Those are not.

Monday, March 5, 2012

10 Things I've Learned About Sex In 6 Months Of Marriage

I decided this morning that I needed to blog about being married, since I still haven't talked about it much. And since getting married six months ago, I'm hearing a LOT from you sweet married women who are having a crisis in your sex life.

It's really bumming me out that the majority of us have no Christian married women to go to when they need to ask "am I alone in this? Am I crazy? How do I deal with ______ in the bedroom?" We need to stop waiting for the church to "take care of sex" for us, and we need to start talking about it amongst ourselves. WE are the church. If you are married, initiate an open conversation about sex with a married friend this week.

It's also really bumming me out that it seems hardly any couples having serious issues in the bedroom are getting marriage counseling. My husband and I started marriage counseling on a weekly basis 4 months into our marriage - and literally every aspect of our life (including our sex life) has improved 23481230 times in only 7 or 8 sessions. Marriage counseling is not for people who are abnormally screwed up, or as a last resort attempt to stop a divorce. Counseling is like taking your vitamins, or working out. Do it before you get sick. Please.

I understand that most of us "just marrieds" are broke, or pretty close to it. We still don't have a sofa, and we don't pay for cable (or have a tv), and we don't go see movies - but I'm indescribably grateful for a husband who views our relationship as more valuable than a sofa and a coffee table.

If you can't afford counseling, seek it out anyway. It isn't unreasonable to find a great marital therapist, and go to your church saying: "We really need marriage counseling because of _______ and we can only afford __% of it for the next month. Can you help us?" This is what church and community is for. And even if your church can't help, ask God - and act on faith. God loves when we prioritize our marriages. (Sidenote: By "getting counseling" you don't need to commit to attend every single week for the rest of your life. Go for a month, and then re-assess.)

Moving forward. These are ten things I've learned about sex in 6 months of being married:

1 - It isn't what you're doing or not doing - it's about how you and your spouse feel.

2 - Sex drives aren't identical. Up to 40% of the time, women have higher sex drives. If you want sex more than your husband, there's nothing wrong with you - and if your husband wants sex more often than you do, there's still nothing wrong with you. Be slow to jump to the conclusion that there's "something wrong" when sex drives don't match up. There's nothing wrong with us when we don't get hungry at the same time or don't naturally wake up or fall asleep at the same time, so why should sex be viewed any differently?

3 - Expectations are a bitch. I'm pretty sure it was Christine Hassler who coined the phrase "Expectation Hangover," but it's a real thing, y'all. Some of us expect sex to be perfect, to be terrible, to want sex all the time, to want it less than we do, etc. Let go of your expectations. Every human being is different, so every marriage is different. Pressure kills creativity, love, and fun - and you cannot have great sex without creativity, love, or fun. I've been noticing that our expectations not aligning with reality that are causing more pain and heartbreak in our marriages than our "problems" actually are.

4 - The first year isn't perfect. Unfortunately, I was told from a very early age that the first year of marriage is pure bliss. This is hilarious, but also responsible for a lot of my crying. Have you ever had a "perfect" year of life? I didn't think so. But hey, our imperfect years are the years we grow the most - and growing together with someone doesn't kill love - it strengthens it.

5 - Love is better than sex. I will admit that I've had sex on a pedestal my whole life. Maybe it comes from a conservative upbringing where sex is taboo, maybe from living in society that literally worships sex, or maybe both - I don't know. I also had sex before marriage, and sex seemed like the best part of my relationships, so it made sense to me to chase it with everything I had. But after 6 months with my husband, I've realized that our relationship - the affection, the best-friend-forever, the support, the encouragement, the always-comfortable-around-you - is infinitely more valuable to me than sex is. I never experienced this kind of love from any of my boyfriends, so sex > relationship. But now, the love I receive and give with Max far surpasses even the most awesome sex we have - which ironically makes sex even better. Hah.

6 - The way it is now isn't the way it's always going to be. Sex seems to hold more weight than most other things in our lives. If something goes wrong in the bedroom, it's so easy to feel like the world is ending - and that it will be like this forever. In this moment, ask yourself what you know of God. God is faithful to change, faithful to give hope, faithful to heal, and faithful to move us forward. Take a deep breath and choose to believe that whatever issue you're having with sex, God is totally capable of fixing it - and that it WILL change. Don't let yourself get sucked into panic and despair.

7 - Marriage counseling is more important than eating vegetables. I could write a book on why marriage counseling is so necessary, but please just take this one bulletpoint and run with it.

8 - Your daily life affects your sex life. Often we have "regular life" and then "sex!" They affect each other, and sometimes we forget. The other day I got a super achy, lonely feeling in my chest and my default thought was, "maybe it's because we haven't had sex in the last 48 hours." And then I started freaking out about sex. (Just being totally honest, you guys.) I checked myself, and realized I was just straight up feeling lonely as a result of not having any alone time to spend with Jesus. Sure, sometimes sex is what's on your mind and you want it and want it now - but if there are sad/negative feelings involved, you might just identify that sex has been a coping mechanism. Pay attention to how you feel.

9 - Don't compare your sex life to anyone else's. Everyone has a different sex life, depending on the two people within a relationship - and depending on what's going on their life. Don't ever judge another couple or the health of your own marriage because someone is having more or less sex. And don't freak out because you're having more or less sex than someone else. Use YOUR feelings to judge the health of your relationship, not someone else's.

10 - The bedroom is the last place in the world you should be trying to "impress" your spouse. I've been hearing that some of you men want to prove how awesome you are by getting her off multiple times, and from you women that you feel like you need to be dressing like a porn star to get your husband's attention or fulfilling all his fantasies. No. :( Sex is for giving, not for proving. For enjoying, not for working. For accepting, not for being insecure. TELL your spouse that they are enough, that they are sexy, that they are hot, that you love them no matter what. Man or woman, we all need to hear it.

11 - Never keep things to yourself. If you're upset, hurt, scared, afraid, or worried about something regarding sex - don't keep it from your spouse. I have been all of these things (and so has my husband) and simply getting the courage to tell one another what we are thinking and feeling has "fixed" a lot of our fears. Feeling ashamed, guilty or hurt and not communicating it to your spouse is never the way to go. Let your significant other love you.

Whoops, that's eleven.

The end!

And hey husband? I love you so much it's stupid. I love that we act like 5th graders sometimes, and I love that you take care of me too. I love that you always tell me I'm beautiful. That you've known from day one that you cared more about who I am, and who we could be together, than about having sex with me. I love that you've handled our budget, and that you've prioritized our relationship over everything else. I love that you care about how I feel, always. That you've never made me feel bad for my awesome emotional rollercoaster rides. I love that you recognize when we're low on quality time, and that you take me on adventures to fix it. Oh, and that you're super hot.

You are my favorite, still.