I tried to pray my sexuality away

File this one under TMI. It’s super intimate and not something I yell at strangers, but it’s just us here so I’ll let you in on a secret:

My faith gave me issues.

As a developing adolescent I routinely heard sexual expression outside of marriage was anathema. Masturbation was an affront to my Creator; only within marriage were my sexual feelings legitimate.

So I prayed. I asked the Source of all living things to kill this part of me, to castrate me in the pursuit of holiness. I created an internal liturgy and recited it for years: remove this from me. Temptation was strong, but I believed God was stronger and could bring me to marriage spotless, untouched. Then marriage would solve all of my problems and, more importantly, validate this deeply meaningful portion of my personhood.

Spoiler: this didn’t work. It didn’t work in the realities of my adolescent life and it didn’t help in my marriage. The pressure to have another person or relationship validate your sexual existence isn’t fair to anyone involved.

Sexual ethics are developmental ethics. The faith of my childhood played around with deep-seated psychology and provided simplistic answers to serious problems facing us as young humans. It applied ancient concepts of personhood, property rights, and sexual norms through the lense of eighteenth century Puritanism directly to the development of mid-to-late adolescents. And it did this strictly.

Unsubbing from the code could get you uninvited to youth group or kicked out of college.

Maybe you heard this too and maybe you’re questioning the health of this paradigm for yourself, your peers, and your students; at least one listener of our podcast was forced to navigate this topic when her church asked her to sign a celibacy contract. If you’re looking for conversation on the subject, the recent Irenicast episode talks a bit about the return of the podcast, then features Mona’s extended consideration of abstinence starting at 15:11.

As for me, I no longer think about praying the sexuality away. I revel in the fact that we are part of this big, thriving planet – an unbroken chain of reduplicated DNA dearly loved by the Ground of our being.

I have a faith-informed code of sexual ethics, but forcing abstinence on adolescents isn’t part of it.

For more on why:

Continuity, Abstinence, Transition – We Kissed Hiatus Goodbye – 101

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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