It’s True Love Waits night.
Grotesque pictures snap by on the projector. Body parts mangled by disease. I bite the insides of my lips to keep from gagging.
This is what happens, they say. This is what sex before marriage brings. Disease or pregnancy. Or both.
I am wide-eyed, can’t look away though I desperately want to.
And then, when the horror picture show is turned off, the voices get quiet, serious. Because, they say, even if you are lucky and escape the physical punishments,
you will never have a healthy marriage with all those ghosts of partners past weighing on your conscience.
The good girl, the one who is so expert at following the rules, opens up wide and swallows that lie down whole.
The idea is pressed down into my soul: sex is dirty, shameful, and guilt-ridden.
I wear a thin gold band, a purity ring, on my finger to remind myself to never make the ultimate mistake.
The vows have been spoken, the hem of that white gown is green-tinged from dancing in the grass by the river. It’s tossed over a chair along with the gauzy veil.
My handsome groom, my beloved, lays sleeping beside me. I can see that thin gold band, now on a chain around his neck, gleam in the moonlight. He’s replaced it with a band of his own. Sleep comes easy for him tonight, but not for me.
I breathe shallow, not wanting to disturb him. Silent, hot tears stream down. In my mind, I know, I know, that this is good. It is natural and right.
But though the head argues, the skin only remembers shame, the heart: guilt.
I choke back the panic rising. It’s been a beautiful, but long day. I must simply be overwhelmed. It will pass.
But the months go by, and the shame is tattooed deep because it won’t let me go.
The husband, he can’t help but noticed how I shy away.
His gentle words are my undoing, “It’s like… It’s like you still feel bad about it, Em.” And this time I don’t hide the tears. Sometimes just naming something lessens its power over you. But there are still battles to be won, even when we know what we’re fighting.
It’s hard to erase such life-defining messages.
We are coming up on a decade of dating, seven years of marriage and he stills wears that band on a chain around his neck.
But slowly, slowly, slowly we are replacing the words
Guilt, Shame, Fear, and Filth
Love, Joy, Freedom, and Unity.
I know that sex is sacred, and that we should carefully guide our children. I know that there are consequences to taking it lightly, abusing it.
But the fact is, fear mongering and brainwashing were nearly the undoing of my marriage.
So why should the church use such fear tactics, such heavy handed guilt? When we could be preaching respect, responsibility, and joy?