Who Controls My Body? The Struggle to Reconcile Spirituality, Sexuality
When I was in high school, I used to have a recurring dream that it was the night before the apocalypse and I was somewhere with a guy I liked. We weren’t married, so the dream always came back to a debate over how to spend my last night alive. Would I obey God and die a virgin or would I give in and finally have sex, albeit in sin?
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I don’t tend to think of myself as someone who is all that angry, but when I get the most upset, it is almost always because of some circumstance or person that’s kept me from getting my way. And as those dreams portended, following God has frequently meant not getting my way when it comes to sex.
When I was in my 20s and would get mad about being chaste, it always hinged on this notion that I was missing out on a lot of great sex. But the older I get, the more I see that as a lie. In every situation where I could have had sex, it would have been with a man I later got over. And if you had sat me down and asked about other parts of my life, I probably wouldn’t have been as eager to share them with him.
But that’s what sex with someone I’ve not committed to sharing my life with is. If I wouldn’t give him access to my bank account or power of attorney, maybe not even my journals or my house plants, why would I share my body with him? Should that be the least guarded part of my life?
So more and more, when I hit those restless times of the month, when I almost need to put Tabasco on my hands the way my parents did when they were breaking us of thumb-sucking, I have to remind myself that I’m longing for something that isn’t real; it’s a fantasy. What I want is to share my body with a man who’s completely committed to me, but that is not a relationship I have right now. The world where I could have instant, completely gratifying sex that leaves me without any hurt or negative consequences doesn’t exist.
Coming to grips with reality is one thing that’s helped me submit my body to God. But that’s not enough. In Philippians, when Paul talks about Jesus enduring the cross, he doesn’t say Jesus did that just out of firm resolve or something but that by fixing his eyes on the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross.
I honestly don’t know how I’ve made it 33 years like this. It is certainly not for lack of wanting sex or trying to make myself available. But somehow, between God’s sometimes-firm resistance to me getting my foolish way, and the hope that God's provision will be best, a fragile chastity has endured.
One thing that has kept me on this course is a very early experience of God’s intervention in my love life not to thwart something, but to bring about a deep desire of mine, which I was certain I’d doomed. Through all the doubts and rages in the 14 years since then, the memory has remained: me out of control, God in control produced the most joyous moment in my life. You can’t forget a thing like that.
And in the years since then, God’s varied kindnesses have only accumulated. Time after time God’s shown a very intimate knowledge of both my needs and the desires of my heart. I still don’t know whether God’s plan for my future will involve marriage, but a God who’s been this good in so many relatively small things would not overlook a thing so big as my sexuality or fail to be just as gracious and loving in that, too.
And lately, I’m even starting to get hints of why I might have been single so long. As far as I was concerned, I should have gotten married pretty much as soon as I finished college, but that didn’t happen. So I was single and I was single and then suddenly, in my mid-20s, I had this opportunity to write a memoir about my reluctant chastity. Well, OK, maybe there was a reason for my delayed marriage after all. But once the book came out, it seemed like there was no good reason to stay single any longer.
That was four years ago. For much of the time since, I’ve been frustrated that God was seemingly letting my fertility burn — and for no apparent good reason. But then last fall, I got an idea to organize a day to pray for the men who pay for sex: that they would turn from their ways and become the men they’re capable of being. It initially seemed like just a small project, but I’ve realized that Pray for the Johns Day might be something important … and I don’t think I could have done it if I had been married. So now that’s two things I’ve had the chance to do, which it seems I needed to be single in order to do.
I still hope that God has a marriage in my future, and that I could even become a mother, but reconciling spirituality and sexuality continues to mean that I often don’t get my own way. That can be really hard, even after all these years. But sometimes, when I remember what’s happened other times when I was out of control, God in control, it even makes me a little excited to see what God might have in store for my body and soul.
Anna Broadway is a writer and editor living near San Francisco. The author of Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity, she is a regular contributor to the Her.meneutics blog and has also written for Books and Culture, Patheos, RejectApathy, Radiant and Beliefnet.