The main reason for this is because I went to Catholic school for most of my life. We wore uniforms, went to mass once a week (and then went on Sunday), had confession and all that jazz. Much of what we learned was strict propriety, strict grammar, strict responsibility...strict everything. I'm programmed into writing in cursive (script), which some people find odd. Red pens were to be brought to math class. If you forgot, forget about recess. Test wasn't signed? Forget about recess. Or maybe consider your score deducted by 5 or 10 points. But I did get an excellent education, and I do believe there was a lot about the school that was great and important.
The problem is that kind of pressure doesn't go away once you're out in the real world, especially when a person like me is involved. I'm sure I would have always been anxious, but that upbringing inflamed it a bit, I think. Catholic guilt isn't a joke. I probably apologize a million times a day, I always think I'm doing something wrong and I hate disappointing people. Talking with many other people with this background, (Hi, Rainey :) PS, here is a link to Rainey's awesome blog http://raineyscribbles.tumblr.com/ go check it out or stay square), I know I'm not alone.
But another huge problem is what it does to our sexuality.
Each of us had our own Bible. As we had religion class once a day, the Bible was frequently used. It was also the go-to "keep them busy" method of our teachers. Whenever they had to step out of the classroom for a time, or if we were waiting for the last bell, they told us to take out our Bibles and read them. I was probably one of the few that did because it was literature and I gobbled it right up. Plus it was fascinating reading. I still think it is.
I could go on and on about how weird school was, or about the different stages of my faith, or my neuroses. But what I wish to talk about today is Catholic guilt and sexuality. Particularly female sexuality. And we all know the other stuff would be boring, so let's get to it.
It was a sad and awkward day when I officially acknowledged I was a perv.
Almost every day we finished class a little early, giving us time to read before we went home. I'm not sure how it started, but I stumbled upon the raunchier parts of the Bible. No, it wasn't anything as explicit as Literotica, and I certainly wasn't turned on, but I was curious. And alarmed.
Sex is fucking weird in the Bible.
I won't go into too much detail about most of the more explicit stories, but here is a link to Cracked about The Six Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (from the Bible) which is a super interesting read. You should check it out, even if it seems boring. It might surprise you.
This is interesting, too.
Anyway, I couldn't stop reading. I was peering into a mysterious section of the world that was carefully guarded by our teachers and parents. And it was awful! But read and read, I did, definitely thinking I was a pervert, yet also being immaturely giddy that I was reading something I probably wasn't supposed to. This likely coincided with my reading of The Flower in the Attic, by the way, so I was on sexual abnormality overload, but I digress.
The first sexually themed story I think I read (there's sex before it but it's not interesting) was about Jacob's marriage to Leah, and I want to talk about it a little. I'm trying to think of how old I was when I read it. I know I'd just begun understanding sex, so it's pretty sad I was using the Bible as a guidebook.
A little summary: Jacob digs Rachel but her father won't let him have her until he works for him for 7--yes, 7-- years. Once Jacob completes his task, they get married. The wedding night comes, he unveils his new bride...and SURPRISE! It's Rachel's decidedly less attractive sister, Leah (I'm gleaning the "less attractive" bit because Jacob acts like it is the worst thing that's ever happened since God said "Let there be light."). Poor Leah. Jacob loses his shit and confronts the girls' unapologetic dad, who's like, "Mmm, yeah, sorry, but Leah had to be married first because she's older. No backsies! I'll give you Rachel, too, but you have to work another 7 years." What a dick. Jacob does all he is asked and gets Rachel, too. Literal line from the book:
So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah... (Gen. 29:30)
Women as property. I've certainly never heard of that before....
Looking at this story, so much is bothersome. Women are property, playthings and vessels of punishment for men. That's nothing new, really. Think of Eve. Still, this story is particularly cruel to me. God takes one women's fertility away, and then guarantees the other will have plenty of children. And they are sisters. The women then turn around and thrust their female servants into having sex with their husband. The servants wouldn't have been able to say no, that's for sure.
Another brief story I want to reference is in Genesis--the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Angels are sent by God to investigate Sodom (can't God see what's going on in Sodom on His own???) and they run into Lot, who brings them back to his house. What follows is so fucking weird.
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” (Gen. 19:4-5)
What the fuuuuuuck, right? How did they even know the angels were there? Do they have a look-out who lets them all know that fresh meat has just entered the city? But the worst part, to me, is what follows:
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." (Gen. 19:6-8)Apparently his daughters don't have protection under his roof. Later, as we know, the angels tear apart Sodom and Lot and his family are allowed to flee because they helped them. They are warned not to look back, but of course his wife takes a peek and promptly turns into a pillar of salt. Women and their curiosity (I'm looking at you, Eve).
By the way, after they leave, the daughters decide to have sex with Lot after getting him drunk. I guess he charmed them when he told those men they could do whatever they liked with them.
I was horrified reading this shit. This was what sex was like? And let me assure you, we weren't having any kind of sex-ed or anything like that during this time.
I read on. I found the story of Samson and Delilah. The tempting woman was yet again a bit of a bitch. Delilah uses sex to control Samson and is easily swayed into betraying his secrets. She finds out cutting his hair will take away his strength. Soldiers come once she's chopped it off. The story ends with him growing some hair back and rising up, furious. He destroys the temple, killing everyone before dying himself. Such a cheery story (and clearly cutting his hair off didn't permanently remove his "powers", unless I'm overlooking something).
Then I read about David and Bathsheba. David sees Bathsheba, the wife of his general or something, bathing on the roof. Why she was bathing on the roof where he could see, I don't know. Anyway, they have an affair and she gets knocked up. David panics and tells the husband to go to her so they'll have sex and the husband will think the baby is his own, but the husband is an upstanding guy and is like, "No, I won't indulge while my men are sleeping on the dirt." David freaks and sends the poor guy to the front of the battle lines to die. David takes Bathsheba as his wife, she gives birth to their kid and unfortunately the son dies later on (God's punishment).
Yeah, the Bible has guys acting like dicks, too, but women are often a source of evil temptation. They're used as bartering pieces. They are meant to serve and reproduce.
What I took from this was sex was dirty. It was unclean... which is actually an adjective used many times in the book while referring to sex. It could be sneaky, and it could lead to downfall. Its purpose was only to produce children, and was only to be had when married. Women who had sex before marriage were whores and they would be punished.
There are dozens of strange and horrible laws regarding sex (and rape) in the Bible, but I'm not going to talk any more about them. I'm going to talk about the conditioning we girls had in school.
Masturbation? Disgusting. Unclean. Desire? Disgusting. Unclean. Worse, we had to go to the priests and tell them about it.
We had our skirts measured so that they came to just the right, appropriate length. On days we were allowed to wear our own clothes, they had to be very, very conservative. Subliminal messages were delivered all the time to us that we had to be good girls or we would become filthy, ruined and unworthy. Desire was evil, thinking about sex was evil, touching ourselves was evil, actually wanting sex was evil, touching a boy was evil, etc. Boys weren't put under the that kind of pressure, but it was there. I remember "masturbation is a sin" being drilled in, and I think that mainly applied to the guys at that time. I also cringe thinking about all of the homosexual boys and girls who must've been completely confused. Some would internalize those messages--that they were sinful and sick--and have to battle those demons for the rest of their lives.
I have a memory of my best friend and I swearing we'd be virgins until we married. We couldn't understand how people had sex before marriage, and we were naive enough to believe that all the older people we knew were virgins or had been virgins up until marriage. Silly girls, no?
It wasn't shocking to me that a big group of girls became wildly sexually active in high school. Maybe they felt they had something to prove, or their hormones finally took over, or they just broke under the expectation they had to be perfect. Plus there is always a thrill in doing something "wrong". And I did go to an all-girl school.
There is a reason why many of the stricter religions have had sexual scandals. The pressure to be perfect, to deny our natural urges, is unbelievable.
The guilt follows all of us around. That Catholic guilt everyone likes to joke about. It's tough to be a girl and think, "I want to have sex and there is nothing wrong with that." It's hard to accept we are sexual beings. It's bizarre to consider our sexuality as normal. Healthy. Those negative thoughts aren't only instilled in us by the Church, but also by society. We got double whammied.
Think of those stories I read, over and over again as a little girl with a plaid skirt and socks pulled up to my knees. I was that school girl fantasy personified in a weird way, but I was already taught to fear sex. I would be property. I would be absolutely nothing if my womb was always empty. I existed to serve men...but only my husband. He owned my virginity before he even knew me. If I so much as looked at a man too long, I was a slut. A prostitute. Whatever a man did to me, I probably deserved it.
There is something to be said about ceremony and tradition. It's still comforting to me when I find myself in a church. I carry around all the religious lessons I learned, and I acknowledge there are some beautiful things in the Bible. I understand that the Catholic Church isn't and shouldn't be boiled down to these stories and laws. I think it's wonderful that many people remain Catholics, and that some even go to church every Sunday. Faith like that is so impressive to me.
But there is still that voice inside my head whenever I perform "unclean" tasks, whenever I fantasize about a guy, when I wear a skirt that's certainly more on the short side. There's still baggage inside of me when it comes to sex. Writing about it helps, for sure, but I know lots of other girls who have that voice inside of them, too.
And I guess I'm a bit of a Cafeteria Catholic now. I wonder, and I hope, that if the Catholic Church shifted their teachings and practices on sex we could lessen some of the load of that "Catholic Guilt", that we could teach people early on that there is absolutely nothing wrong with sex or their bodies. We could show them their sexuality is their own. Sex can be enjoyable and wonderful. I also want girls (and men) to know that if they're raped, they didn't deserve it and that they aren't unclean. I want it known that women are more than their reproductive organs. That men and women, men and men, women and women, and apples and oranges can love each other.
Yes, the Bible was written in a different time. I don't think we should start ripping out Genesis or anything like that, but it's damaging to apply the principles of ancient times--that had crazy but specific laws which made sense because of the shit happening in their world at the time--to 2014. We need to start expanding and adapting to our world.
A side note I'll end this longwinded entry with...Jesus was really all about love. That's why when some assholes brought a woman before him accused of adultery, he said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (John 8:7)
I like to imagine him saying that with some sass, but that's just me.
The assholes leave and Jesus is like, "Well, they're not condemning you because they're mega sinners, too, so I'm definitely not going to condemn you. You're free to go, so leave your life of sin, mmmk?"
That's an exact quote. Go check out John 8:1-11. Ha.
I think this is a really awesome part of the Bible (I said I consider a lot of it beautiful). We should be emphasizing this, pointing out that even Jesus wasn't judging a woman for her sexuality. Love was all He cared about. And before people say, "BUT SHE WAS AN ADULTERER!"-- maybe she was, maybe she wasn't. Adultery was a broad term when applied to women then. Even now.
Perhaps my visions are too lofty, however; the Church still doesn't acknowledge that homosexuality is not a sin. Being on birth control is almost up there with murder. People who live together and want to get married have a tough time getting married in a church. And I can say that I was a bridesmaid in a wedding and was forced to go to Confession for the first time in a loooong time. The priest worked hard, digging around for any sexual sins (I was cheating a bit and giving general sins because I personally don't want some guy telling me what sins I've supposedly committed, nor do I think he should have the power to "absolve" me, but that's my own opinion). It was a weird experience.
It took me a long time to become comfortable with sex not equaling "bad". Like I said before, I'm still haunted by lessons and impressions given to me. I try to remind myself to say "fuck that" every time undeserved guilt creeps in. I'm learning to stifle my urge to apologize for everything.
Yeah, guilt is an important emotion that lets us know we've (supposedly) done something wrong...
But feelings aren't facts, especially when it comes to feeling guilty over your sexuality.
P.S. If my formatting is fucked up, forgive me. I tried fixing it several times until the text basically threw up, randomly mixing lines together that were previously separated by a bunch of paragraphs. No clue what I did. Maybe it's possessed.