Monday, April 15, 2013

Pam Stenzel, slut-shaming, and setting rules

There is a recent article on Jezebel about the religious abstinence lecturer Pam Stenzel. I've mentioned her before in my posts about my personal history with the purity movement. I've seen her speak probably three to five times that I can remember. Usually it was at my public high school, but she also appeared at Christian youth conferences I attended. Jezebel points out her harmful tactics of slut-shaming and presenting wrong information about birth control.

I can attest to the accusations about slut-shaming. I don't remember what she said about birth control, but when I was a teen with the best intentions for staying pure, I didn't need to think about birth control. Stenzel always spoke/yelled very loudly into the microphone. She used a lot of humor and sarcasm. She ruthlessly mocked people's hypothetical reasons for having sex. I can still hear her say "But I loooooove him" in a high whiny voice.

And I loved it all. She was funny and engaging, and her rhetoric validated and reinforced everything I had already decided on for my life. I was going to refrain from sex until marriage. I hoped everyone who chose differently would regret it. That's why her slut-shaming didn't bother me. I was a slut-shamer, too.

Thinking about that makes me sad. The purity movement had the unintended effect of making me a meaner, more judgmental and spiteful person. The higher the standards I tried to live up to, the more people I would look down on.

I remember her saying something like, "You get married, and as soon as you say your 'I do's,' you can have at it," [cue the laughter] "but until you have that ring on your finger, keep your hands off each other!" She could list a million direct or indirect problems caused by sex that sounded terrifying to anyone. Everything depended on that ring, that ceremony, that legal marriage certificate. Then sex was A-okay. Why is it so easy for Christians to believe marriage alone fundamentally changes everything about sex? I've written about my frustration with this before.

I think it boils down to making decisions easier for us. Figuring out what's right and what's wrong on a case-by-case basis can be tiring. Making exceptions for people in unique situations is confusing. Many Christians find it easier to make a one-size-fits-all set of rules that prevent us from ever getting close to sin. Once you have those black and white boundaries, you don't have to think anymore. Just follow and obey, it's that simple.

I used to get exasperated that people couldn't follow simple rules. Now I get exasperated when people don't want to use their brains to ask "why."

6 comments:

  1. There's a saying: If you don't want to sin, you don't want to be redeemed.
    Doesn't mean you should take every chance to sin and sin manyfold. But it means to not focus of staying clean of sin, but rather focus on love (for others), like Jesus demanded. Taking the "safe" road bypassing all "sins" will make us leave the world and her problems, we won't be able to be her salt anymore...

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    1. I wish that message had been made clearer to me when I was growing up in the church. At bible college, I was taught nearly the opposite. They wanted to be "set apart" and holy above all else. And "love," to them, meant bringing more people into their holy, set apart world.

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  2. YES very good points on making you judgemental too.

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  3. Oh god... this lady came to my chapel when I was in college. Most miserable chapel session EVER.

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  4. I want to answer your question: What is it about marriage that Christians think makes everything okay about sex?

    When I was in my late teens/twenties, I was basically where you are philosophically with regards to sexuality. If sex was so bad/dirty, how was it going to suddenly become okay AFTER you are married? This made no sense to me and I thought it was illogical.

    To make a long story short, I discarded what I had been taught in my youth (shame-based also), and got involved in a sexual relationship. That was a mistake, but I learned by experience. Not the best way to learn, I think, at least in this case. But, still, I learned.

    So, to answer your question: What is it about marriage that makes sex okay??

    I don't know what "most" Christians think about it, but I am going to tell you what I think is objectively true.

    It is not because you have a "ring on your finger", or because you have a "piece of paper." It is not because sex is dirty and then goes through some kind of washing process and comes out clean.

    No, the answer is: Sex is meaningful. It has an inherent meaning. Whether you look at it psychologically or biologically or make the argument with religion or apart from religion, I think it can be clearly shown that sex has an inherent meaning and significance APART from any value that any one person or culture gives to it.

    I tell my health students in public high school when I am teaching about sexuality: I want you to be respectful about this topic because it deserves respect. This is the origin of you and of me. If sex is not treated with respect, human life will also not be treated with respect. The two go hand-in-hand.

    When is it okay to kill a human being? When I feel like it? When I am really really mad? Or only when I am really really really really really mad? How MUCH do I have to want to kill a human being before it become morally correct to kill that human being?

    The answer is no, never, because the value of the human being has nothing to do with how mad I am. How mad I am is completely irrelevant. How MUCH I want to do it is irrelevant. The human being's value is intrinsic; it has nothing to do with my opinion about him or her. Or does it?

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  5. Do we define sex? Do we make it what it is? We aren't the ones who came up with it. Whether you believe in creationism or evolution makes no difference whatsoever; the bottom line is that sex is something that we all encounter in life. It predates us and will outlive us and it did not come about because of our wanting or not wanting it. It has its own rules and its own nature which we did not give to it.

    And, biologically, socially, and psychologically, all those rules and conditions of sex have to do with forming a new family and the well-being of offspring. Period. They are a means to an end and not the end itself. To make sexual pleasure an end in itself is to make my own personal sexual feelings more important than the rights of my own offspring who are created by my actions, and the rights of my extended family and the rights of generations to come. Children have a right to be known and loved by their father and mother, and to belong to a family. Period. The evidence is long past overwhelming that what harms marriages harms families and what harms families harms children. Nobody bothers to argue this anymore.

    Previous generations understood that sex was to be at the service of the family. Sex does two things: it helps create a strong emotional bond between people and it makes babies. So what, exactly, is the rational reason for doing this where no family exists? Why create a strong emotional bond? Why have babies? To torture yourself or to torture your future children? Because it is obviously going nowhere. That is why I say it is a mistake. A SERIOUS mistake. Which I learned by experience, but not until AFTER the relationship ended and I was left with the emotional carnage.

    Some of us are too wounded (many MANY of us) to be trusted to talk to young people because we are still too much trying to sort out our own baggage from the free sex era. But leaving kids to the modern culture and letting the TV raise them is not the answer, either.

    Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sex before marriage is bad because it is the wrong use of it. If I use a hammer for playing the guitar, it is a misuse of the hammer. Use it properly and your problem is solved. This doesn't need to be so difficult. Problem is, people just want what they want when they want it, and they manage to justify everything they feel like having. Meanwhile, if someone does the same thing to them, they criticize and complain bitterly.

    If sex before marriage is not a problem, then why is adultery a problem? Is there a problem with it? the same arguments you use for sex before marriage can be used with sex AFTER marriage with someone who is not your spouse. Why should you care if your spouse has sex with someone else after/before they have it with you? After all, you are not all in the bed at the same time!!

    If you think about it, you see that all these arguments lead you to the same place. Logically, and rationally, they all have the same foundation. But having sex releases many hormones and alters brain chemistry in such a way that people no longer think clearly about it. That is a scientific reality.

    The same thing happens with drugs and alcohol. Talk to someone who is not addicted to drugs or alcohol, and they can clearly see that drunkenness or getting high is damaging to the individual and to his/her family commitments. But try to tell that to the drinker or the addict, and he or she is impossible to convince. They are really sure that they are doing everything fine. It is the same thing with people who are involved in immoral sex. You can't talk to them until, maybe, after they hit bottom.

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