Post below is 18+ only:
I have deconstructed out of a religion that messed me up in so many ways. One of the ways was in my sexuality and womanhood. I respect those who have a spiritual practice and believe in the divine, and I don't want to discount their beliefs in any way, but I do want people to be careful of what they are taught in religious communities. They can be deeply harmful. The points that I want to address in this blog post refer to the effect that fundamentalist Christianity had on me as a woman (in the past).
We were taught several things as Christian women. I'm going to list the ideas below in bold and deconstruct them:
1. A woman leaves her father and mother and joins or becomes one with her husband.
We were taught that we were under the authority of our parents until we got married. When we married our Christian man, then he became our authority. He was our support, the one we were to look to for guidance and the one who was to ultimately make all the decisions in the home. We became one with him and were now under his spiritual leadership and umbrella. The basic idea was that our lives would now become complete once we married our good Christian man. He became our "lord", our everything.
As "romantic" as this may seem, it breeds codependency big time. Instead of teaching young women to become financially independent and to develop their own sense of self and autonomy, we're basically taught that we need our parents to tell us what to do and straight after that, we need a man to tell us what to do and make decisions for us. He becomes our "lord", our everything, instead of us learning to find ourselves as well-rounded and happy adults.
So, basically you become dependent on this man and when he leaves you, you're pretty much in deep trouble.
It also creates an imbalance in the marriage, where it's no longer a partnership of equal, adult, mature human beings, but an authoritarian hierarchy where the man is in charge and the woman must listen.
2. A woman is to submit to her husband and respect him. That's her wifely duty and Christian duty to God. Even if she doesn't agree with him, she must submit with gentleness and reverence.
As "beautiful" and "godly" as this may sound, it's also deeply flawed and dangerous. Sure, it's good to respect your partner, but when that respect is required of you, it's very different and scary. Respect is rather a mutual thing that both partners should enjoy from each other - something that comes from friendship and partnership, not subservience.
What happened in my marriage is that, in order to be this good Christian wife, I lost myself in the relationship. I gave up many of my needs and wants to make him happy. Or if I did put my needs first I felt so guilty about it. At first, I felt really good about my "goodness". Well, let's say I felt really good about my behaviour throughout most of the marriage. I felt good about being sacrificially kind toward him. But in the end, it didn't get me anywhere. He left me anyway. And, once I'd begun to heal from the divorce, I realized how much of my own power I'd given away to make him happy. How I'd bent over backwards for him oftentimes, at the expense of just saying no and taking time for myself. Yes, I fully blame myself. I gave my power away. But my actions were directly related to how I'd been taught in my religion to act as a woman.
What this idea also pushes is that women end up accepting abuse in the name of submission and "reverence". Then the woman can't get out of the relationship because she's supposed to be this good wife, who loves unconditionally forever, no matter what.
3. Masturbation or self-pleasure is wrong and is a doorway to lust.
So, we were told we shouldn't pleasure ourselves because it leads to fantasy about other men and therefore lust, which ultimately will lead to adultery.
This is total codswallop.
On so many levels.
Firstly, not getting to know my own body, away from the relationship and even before the marriage, made it harder for me to navigate the sexual side of our relationship because I didn't know my likes and dislikes, at all. I was taught to be ashamed of my needs. I was a stranger to my own body.
Secondly, self-pleasure does not lead to lust. It enhances self-love and self-discovery. In fact, it actually reduces lust because your sexual needs are met.
Thirdly, it puts a strain on another person to meet all your sexual needs, which leads to...
4. As partners in a marriage, we must never say no to sex, unless it's to fast from food.
Yes, this is actually in the bible. The only time we were allowed to say no to our partners is if we were fasting from food or very ill. Or upon doctor's orders, like after having a baby.
And because we were told that men had higher sex drives than us and only felt loved by their wives if they were given sex, we basically felt that we couldn't say no - that it was the worst thing we could ever do to our husbands. (It also makes a man think that he must only get sex to find love, but I strongly believe men are much more well-rounded than that.)
I was told at a lady's group once that I'd better give my husband sex whenever he wanted it, else he would eventually have affairs and leave me for someone else.
So, you'd better give your husband sex. All the time. Whenever he wants. If you don't, it's your fault if he cheats on you. (I was even asked by some Christian ladies after my divorce if I'd made my husband happy in bed. They basically implied that it was my fault he cheated on me.)
This idea needs some serious deconstruction.
For one, no one else is responsible for our sexual fulfilment. We are the ones who are responsible for our own bodies and pleasure. It is just wrong to place this burden on another human being. If your partner is not meeting your sexual needs, yes, it would be wise to communicate this problem in a loving way, but if they can't oblige for some reason, a compromise needs to be reached. If your partner has a lower sex drive than you, then you should find your own way of meeting those needs without comprising the integrity of the relationship. Cue in the self-pleasure thing. (Yes, you won't die without sex. Many single people survive, or actually thrive for years without sex.)
Sex is supposed to be a gift. It's something we offer our partners because we love them. It's not something that they should demand or that we owe them. And women thrive on the pleasure just as much as men.
For two, not being able to say no puts a damper on the sex drive. It makes sex an obligation and a means to keep someone happy. That's not a great way to fuel passionate love. Sure, if the couple agree mutually to work on that side of their relationship, to improve frequency - wonderful. But as soon as it becomes one partner's duty to keep the relationship going by being some type of sex-slave, something is seriously out of balance.
Thirdly, this whole mindset is fear-based. It creates a dynamic of insecurity and possessiveness in the relationship which doesn't enhance love.
Importantly, it teaches us to put our partners needs above our own, constantly. This is very unhealthy for a person's well-being and a relationship. It will eventually lead to resentment or dis-empowerment.
I remember how I always felt like I couldn't go to sleep without my partner in case he wanted sex that night. When he used to stay up really late at one stage, it was exhausting. I could never just relax in bed at night. It was always my wifely duty to wait up for him, just in case. Eventually, it became too exhausting to live like this.
And lastly, it made us think that we had to go with whatever our partner wanted in bed. This is a scary thing and can lead to abusive situations where a woman accepts things that she doesn't enjoy. That doesn't enhance the relationship and leads to resentment. It also weakens the woman and makes her unable to express her needs and say no. It enables men to always dominate and encourages narcissism and abuse.
Patriarchy is often a subtle thing. Be careful if your religion teaches things that dis-empower women, wrapping it up in flowery spiritual language and self-sacrificial urgings which can appeal to people who have a yearning to be good and faithful to their faith. When women are dis-empowered, men suffer too. Relationships suffer and so do families and communities. Women and men are equal. Yes, we are different and we should embrace those differences, but in a relationship, we should be equal partners who love and respect each other - individuals who are entitled to say no and entitled to time out and space and being selfish sometimes.