Growing up in a community with deep-rooted ideas on how, when, and with whom one should have sex left many of my earliest thoughts surrounding sex colored with confusion, fear, and anxiety. It’s little surprise as to why: it was no secret that those in my hometown with “abnormal” sexual appetites — basically anyone who pursued something other than the married, monogamous path — were seen as less than in the eyes of the properly pious. To this day, it’s shocking to see how quickly a reputation can sour if even a whisper of promiscuity or sexual experimentation finds a seat on the town’s gossip train. Once this news makes its way onto those tracks, there is no stopping it.
What’s worse is that these barbs are not restricted to those actively doing the deed — even one’s thoughts are meant to be unblemished by musing on anything other than the offspring produced by a fruitful marital bed. The tyrannical hold of the pro-celibate community on what’s deemed appropriate and their power to determine what repercussions one should face if they fall out of line was — and remains — terrifying. Though I now know my thoughts and urges were perfectly natural, the hardline imposed by the sexually averse inspired years of self-loathing and frustration.
However, despite the buildup of confusion and negativity I developed in response to the repressive norms surrounding me, they could not quell the little voice in my head that continued to ask why?
Why do these people get to determine what constitutes appropriate behavior between consenting adults?
Why do these people have such a problem with others expressing their emotional, romantic, and sexual feelings in a certain way?
Why are they so obsessed with how other people are living their lives — what harm is it causing them? They seemed to relish their suppression of others’ ability to be themselves; perhaps because that’s the only pleasure their dogma allows them to enjoy freely.
With each why, that little voice grew stronger and louder until the day finally came when its power pushed those rebellious words out of my mouth. It was incredibly freeing to voice these thoughts aloud and the first step toward rejecting the power of the anti-sex propaganda these groups had drowned me in for years. Once I started directing whys at these abstinence advocates, I experienced firsthand the scare tactics used to frighten those who question back into conformity.
According to these prudes, living anything but a married, monogamous lifestyle would lead me to ruin. No one would want me if I’m “all used up” and, should I choose to pursue my unapproved desires, I’d be sad and alone forever. Hop into bed with someone new and I’d become unworthy of respect and incapable of valuing myself in any sense. In a nutshell, all the positives I bring to the table — kindness, empathy, good humor, bad puns, etc. — would never be enough to overcome what they perceived to be a deviant sexual appetite. However, I had seen these appalling strategies deployed regularly throughout my life. I had seen how ineffective and damaging they were. Because of that, these dire warnings did not pack the intended punch, and without any force behind them, these people could no longer scare me into line or keep me from asking questions they had no good answers for.
I realized the only power they had over me was the power I gave them. Once reclaimed, the flaws in their reasoning and the true repugnance of their shaming and bullying tactics became obvious. It helped me understand that any group who shuns questions, growth, or innovation and uses fear as a method of control is not a community I want to be a part of. They can call me slut, jezebel, harlot, or whatever other term they’d like; it no longer matters to me. Upon realizing these are not people to respect or emulate, their power and influence over me evaporated.
I can say with absolute certainty that tuning their voices out — the hate, judgment, disdain — has made my life immeasurably more enjoyable. I can say with equal confidence my life was not better, fuller, or happier when I tried to live by their arbitrary standards of righteousness; it was a pale shadow of what my life has since become. A life brimming with questions, mistakes, adventures, education, passion, and joy beyond what the frightened, shame-filled person I used to be could have ever imagined. What more could a slut like me ask for?