I grew up in a purity movement that liked to rave about how great sex was. "Sex is beautiful." "God created sex." "God wants you to have great sex." We were taught that sex was important in marriage. I was given the impression that "anything goes" in the marriage bed, that there was no wrong way to please each other. Yet despite all these supposedly positive sex teachings, I still came out of it thinking that sex was wrong, sex was dirty and naughty, and that God would punish me for having it. That's because they teach all those things, too.
The purity movement views premarital sex and marital sex as two completely different things. One is really bad and one is really good. One will heap negative consequences on you, like a poor marriage, heartbreak, unwanted prenancy and STIs. One will bring blessings untold, like pleasure, intimacy, happiness, and beautiful children.
The problem is that sex is the same thing, whether it's had inside or outside of marriage.
Certainly there are factors that can make a sexual experience a positive one or negative one. But those factors do not divide neatly over a marital boundary. They have to do with a multitude of circumstances that can be found in or out of marriage. Things like consent, relationship, communication, health, mood, confidence, or experience.
So when young people are taught that sex is both horrible and amazing, what are they to do when they find out sex is just sex? How do we rationalize that sex is supposed to have two separate meanings without leaning one way or another?
For me, sex wasn't real. It was a concept, and I could give it duplicate meanings in my head, seamingly without problem. That is, until I had to apply it to reality. It was really easy to see it as dirty and wrong when unmarried people did it. Judging them was easy. But to view it as normal and good within a marriage was hard for me. Conceptually, I knew it was true. But realistically, I felt that married sex was having permission to do a naughty (but fun) thing. I never would have described it that way because I didn't realize I felt that way. But that's the way I and most of my Christian friends treated it when we spoke about married people. Married people were privileged. They had won at the game of life. They no longer had to live by the rules. Lucky.
Even to this day, I find remnants of my negative views on sex infiltrating my otherwise very positive views on sex. I have a hard time believing that most of the couples around me have frequent sex, or even have sex at all. Because I lived sexless for so long and didn't expect it to be a major part of my life (I thought I might be single forever), I tended to view others as the same way. Also, sex was this rare gift put up on a pedestal for so long. If it really was as amazing (within marriage) as I was taught, the married people I knew would be more changed if they were experiencing that, wouldn't they? But they seemed just as average as me.
Also, I sometimes feel a sense of rebellion and pride in regards to my current sex life, that I wish there was no cause to feel. Pride that I'm getting to enjoy sex before others who are waiting for purity reasons, and before my Christian friends and teachers think I should be allowed to. Pride that I've discovered the truth about healthy sex and relationships, pride that I know better. Rebellion in that I'm living out everything I was taught was bad--and am happier for it. Rebellion for breaking the rules I upheld for so long. It feels good to rebel against the people and teachings I feared being judged by. But this isn't normal, this isn't right. I would never have had a cause to feel these ways if I had not been taught that sex was wrong. If I had never been taught to judge people based on their sexual past or status.
While religious leaders who teach "sex is great within marriage" may be better than those who pretend sex doesn't exist, their teaching is still not good enough to lead people to healthy views on sex. Just because people believe sex can be good does not mean they are equipped to handle it. It doesn't mean that the negative teachings won't bleed over into the good.