Recovery, Spirituality


41.purity I

It’s been a long time since I took time to face how dirty I feel. I figured that today would be as good a time as any, especially with how I’m feeling right now.

I talked little about the problem with purity after sexual abuse and trauma. My mind rejects most of the things I try to watch or read about it, so maybe writing about it will give me the insight I want (at least on the conscious level).

I’d say this is one of the hardest things for a victim/survivor of sexual abuse to understand. Society doesn’t really help, but some ways the topic is discussed from the pulpit, from our parents, or our teachers didn’t/doesn’t help either. I mentioned in one of my first posts about my abuse how I never got The Talk from my mother, and instead was fed a steady supply of rape stories (never mind the rape and abuse that was happening to me).

At this point of my life, I finally stopped blocking out what happens during sex, physically and psychologically, but I still know next to nothing about what it truly is at its heart and soul. While many of us consider purity/chastity to be the opposite of sexuality (whether consciously or subconsciously), I think it’s safe to say that it actually is that heart and soul.

Here’s what I learned from the Church so far: the priests, speakers, and teachers talk about how sexual touch is meant for marriage, calling sex itself the “marital embrace”. Its purpose, they say, is to deepen the bond between husband and wife, and to create children. Sounds pretty straightforward, I guess.

It actually sounds pretty romantic…but being very much a single person, this doesn’t really help me right now.

They say “wait until marriage” as if sexuality and those desires suddenly makes sense when the rings are exchanged, but what do we do before we’re married? What if marriage never happens, and we instead become a celibate religious, or consecrated virgin? We’re not asexual, nor should we be. I’m just as much a woman as the wife, the nun, and the consecrated virgin is, just as someone like my confessor, a priest, is just as much a man as the husband and the bachelor. We’re still sexual beings, and we still have that desire. So many teenagers either indulge in it, or despair of it (or both, like with me), the attitude continuing well into adulthood.

What do we do with our sexuality outside of marriage, when it’s something we literally carry with us everywhere, and both extremes of sexual indulgence and sexual repression are equally unhealthy options? In other words, what does purity look like for those who aren’t married (in the traditional sense)?

I was chatting with my friend who works in youth ministry at my parish, and she mentioned how they’re approaching the topic of purity to kids about 12 to 18. She shared how they start out talking about friendships while they’re still young, going into details like the (non-physical) differences between boys and girls, and building up to those deeper topics of sexuality, the consequences of its misuse, and waiting until marriage as they get older. I thought this a pretty good approach; it puts it in a good context, much better than what I grew up with. It introduces the idea of love being involved, even being at the core of touch, making it the “love language” Gary Chapman described in his The 5 Love Languages books.

I wonder if it’s enough though; children are being exposed to porn at younger and younger ages. I’d go as far to call out the porn industry of child sexual abuse for this and other reasons. It’s little wonder why they get addicted, and miss the deeper meaning they’ll start to long for deep down as they get older.

This opens up the issue with that other sexual stuff that doesn’t necessarily involve genital contact that many people consider “okay, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone”. I’d like to make an argument against that though; there are a lot of people out there who were traumatized from “just” one instance of “just” molestation, exposure to porn, or some other covert/emotional sexual abuse. They’d have the exact same symptoms as me and everyone else who had more happen to them. They’d have the nightmares, the hypervigilance, the self-images issues, the depression, the sexual dysfunction/addiction, etc. This is real. This happens. As we consider this, it’s not that outlandish to think that stuff isn’t as “okay” as we thought, right?

I can imagine some of you reading is feeling pretty upset about that argument. The broken part of me isn’t too happy about it either, because it forces me to face the scary unknown; “If that’s not what my body is for, then what is?” Those behaviors I still fall into are familiar, and therefore comforting, despite the shame and trauma that accompanies it.

Whether she was a teacher or not, that first abuser in kindergarten played that role to me when she taught me that my primary purpose is selfish pleasure. She taught me that it’s all a game, and the feelings of the other person doesn’t matter, just as my being a 5-year-old little girl didn’t matter to her. The others taught me more and worse lessons, but at the core of it all was that first lesson.

I have a hard time imagining people truly wanting that to be our main purpose in life. We’re called to be happy, but like sex, pleasure is the side effect of happiness, not happiness itself. Does this mean pleasure and comfort are bad things? Of course not; it’s just when we forget that it’s the not the main reason that it becomes a problem. It makes the other person (and for that matter, oneself) just something to use, and that mindset leaves very little room for love, something just about everyone in all of world history agrees is the most important thing.

On that note, when I’d look into these issues I have as a non-married adult, I’d come across these blogs and articles written by religious sisters/nuns or (Latin-rite) priests who would talk about what they do about their sexual desires while keeping true to their vows. I remember one comparing it to being faithful to one’s spouse; even in marriage, therefore, there’s a sort of celibacy or abstinence involved. This is supported by a man married to a sexual abuse victim/survivor, who offered solid advice for spouses of grown victims of sexual abuse (which actually is just solid advice on this topic, period).

The advice these nuns (and priests) would offer wasn’t too different: they’d talk about expressing one’s feminine love as a way to direct that sexual energy to drive friendships and emotional bonds. Physical/mental exercise is another common advice given, and of course, so is prayer and spiritual exercise. Not so much begging God for it to go away, no; we all know that doesn’t work, and just frustrates us more. My confessor would advise me instead to just talk to God about how I’m feeling, and ask Him to provide what it is I really want under this desire. Like before, there are things about this that might not be enough (the child abuse/same-sex abuse problem leaves little else to say), but it’s a little easier for me to grasp than the prepubescent lessons on purity are.

This is not too strange though, right? Single adults are, in a way, much like the religious in that they’re also called to a sort of celibacy, but unlike them, it’s (potentially) temporary. There aren’t any lifelong vows anchoring them to living chaste lives, and while most of the things about chastity are written for us single folk, it almost always puts it in the context of marriage, something not all of us are called for. The sexual act is reserved for marriage, sure, but I look at my consecrated single friend or my confessor, and don’t see the same struggles in them. They’re both very secure about themselves as a woman and as a man (one of the many reasons why I look up to both of them as much as I do). There are a lot of other examples out there, most notably being the religious sisters I’d work and play with while volunteering at those vocational summer camps for girls; to this day, I’ve never seen such fulfilled women in my life as the ones wearing those habits and veils.

In these and other examples of these sexually secure and holy people, I’d see again that message of love being at the heart of purity, and therefore sexuality.

…I’m kind of going on here, aren’t I? I’m not even sure if I got everything right, or if this even answers my question of “If selfish pleasure is not all my body is for, then what is?” See, if the answer is indeed love, what does this look like?

In the chapter on Physical Touch in his The 5 Love Languages: Singles Edition, Chapman says this in the topic of when one was abused:

The love language of physical touch never uses force but always seeks the appropriate time, place, and manner in which to express affirming touch. Physical touch is one of the fundamental languages of love, and it is well worth the time, energy, and effort it takes to learn to speak this language effectively.

That could be a clue; I heard the statistics of what happens when children are deprived of touch, being yet another reason why some turn to sexual stuff. I’d sometimes long for people in my chosen family to touch me, but as I talked about before in that first post on this topic, I’m often too afraid or ashamed to give or receive affectionate touch. Instead, I dodge and run from the unwanted touch and/or words that just grab at me.

How am I supposed to live in the world like this? I feel so crippled…and feeling this way often leads me back to that temptation, to the familiar sexual stuff.

Maybe that’s another clue; there are other things that are familiar in a good way, a way that doesn’t hurt or make me ashamed. Concentrating on those things help the fear lessen its grip, and/or turn to a happy sort of excitement. I like to swim and to create; that gives me something else to do. As a woman, a lot of my sexuality has to do with creation and nurturing of life, so to do and think on these things would probably express it in a safe way.

My confessor often would tell me to be creative, find a way to work through this stuff in that way that suits me the best. It’s not something he can tell me, obviously as we are two very different people (nevermind genders). In that same breath comes that repeated advice to build on my friendships, experience the human love and affection my abusers stole from me, what creeps would like to steal from me.

Speaking of which…the ring I’d been wearing as a temporary fake wedding band to ward off those creeps is actually a purity ring I got in high school. My father was so proud of me. I’d wear it proudly, and think about the man I was going to marry one day. If he exists, I have zero idea what sort of man he’d be. I have some ideas of who I’d like him to be, but not much.

Thinking about him in those moments doesn’t really help, sad to say. I’m not sure why. You’d think considering one’s future spouse would instantly inspire love and faithfulness. He doesn’t feel like a real person though; just about every (eligible) man out there has frightened me in how they close in. I’d make friends with them, it’d be fun…then they’re staring at me, constantly texting. Intimidated, I’d tell them that I’m not interested, and most of them break all contact with me when I do.

How could my future husband be a real man?

In a similar way, I have a number of religious images scattered around my home, but I don’t feel any more protected. When my uncle was abusing me in my bed, there were those religious images, silent and unmoving. They didn’t save me. Sometimes they even make me feel more fear and temptation, having this glimpse from the past of looking up at the crucifix over my bed before or during the abuse to escape his eyes only to find a seemingly lifeless and loveless face looking down at me.

This all just tears at my heart. It really, really does! How can I ever…ever know what something like purity means? How do I find it in these many times I’m by myself, if love is the answer? Self-love? What on earth is a healthy sort of self-love that doesn’t involve doing things that make me feel ashamed?

…I’ll sleep on it for now. It’s gotten very late already. Hopefully, I can find some answers in my dreams.

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