On sex, 21 years of marriage, and happily ever after.
Today marks 21 years of marriage for Nick and me, and this might sound cliché for someone to say on their anniversary, but I think it was our best year of marriage yet. Before you tune out, let me assure you that the beginning of our 21st year was kind of a shitshow. But things turned around in the most beautiful way.
This past year was my favorite year of marriage because it’s the year I fell in love with me. That might sound arrogant, but it’s true. Nick has always loved me, and I have always loved Nick, and for the most part (because no marriage is always good), we’ve been each other’s biggest fans since the day we met.
But last year, around this time, I was deeply concerned. As I worked on deconstructing what was (for me) toxic religious belief around sexuality and my body, I was filled with confusion and at one of my lowest points. The isolation from the pandemic didn’t help. And it became the only time I can remember where Nick and I were beginning to discuss separation. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew that what we had going on wasn’t working for me. And that wasn’t because of Nick. It was because of me.
It wasn’t working for me because I became a woman who had autonomy and control over her whole body and self. And I did not like the way we had structured our entire lives and relationship together around religious beliefs we no longer shared. So many of the patterns in our marriage (and sexual relationship) were structured around patriarchy, misogyny, and denial of self. There was this weird, inverse relationship with pain and pleasure (because that’s how the moral majority has weaponized Christianity). We were taught from a very young age that we had nothing good inside of us. We were taught that even our most righteous acts were filthy rags. We were taught to consider it pure joy when we face trials. We were taught we were wicked, born in sin, our desires were evil, and nothing good existed in our hearts. We memorized verses like this:
· The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
· For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
· Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5)
· For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19)
· The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
· For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
I could keep going, but I think you get my point.
I could not love myself because I believed that I was born so wicked that God had to kill his son for me. My “sin” put Jesus on the cross. Pardon my language, but that is some fucked up shit to teach people. It’s a terrible way to live.
And then there are the systems of patriarchy in the church that denigrate women. And before you tell me that’s not what Christianity is about, this was my lived experience, and no one can argue with my own lived experience. You also cannot argue with accurate historical facts about what has been done by the larger Christian church and the ways that has caused incredibly disparate outcomes for women in pretty much every way. (I will discuss that in detail another day because I have a lot to say about it).
As I began to explore how to be a truly embodied, grown-ass woman, I was not sure I could move past the history upon which Nick and I had built our relationship. Literally, the reason we got married so young is because our college pastor told us we should get married quickly so we didn’t fall into sexual sin. (I have a WHOLE story about that for another time, as well). But just know, this was/IS a THING in evangelicalism.
As I surrendered to my body and deprogrammed my mind, I had so much uncertainty about what I wanted. I was so confused and afraid of my own sexuality. And so, about a year ago, I started sex therapy, and it was, quite literally from the first session, EXACTLY what I needed.
My therapist led me so gingerly through all the pain, confusion, trauma, desire, shame, anger, and sadness, and she helped me embrace who I am as a whole-ass, autonomous human being. She normalized women as sexual beings. She normalized desire as just that, desire. She helped me realize all desire doesn’t need to be categorized or labeled; it can just be. We can be attracted to people other than our spouse and that’s just a normal part of life—we don’t need to “bounce our eyes” and pretend it’s not happening; instead, we get to make decisions about what we do with desire. And that the desire I experience is, well, first and foremost, in service to me. I don’t belong to my husband. (Something else explicitly stated in the Bible—see 1 Corinthians 7:4). She helped me take my body back. She educated me about sex and helped me educate myself about sex in ways that I should have probably been taught three decades ago. Sex education in the Christian community, in my experience, is not a thing that happens, other than to say, “don’t do it” before you are married and then, “don’t ever say no to your husband” after you are married.
Through the course of a year, my therapist helped me prioritize myself and learn who I am. But then she also helped me OWN that and helped me to advocate for myself in my marriage. And honestly, this was not an easy process, and, in many ways, things in our marriage seemed worse before they got better.
But throughout this whole journey, Nick was there. He listened. He empathized. He was patient. He gave me the space I needed to heal. He even gave me permission to imagine a life without him. And it wasn’t that I needed his permission for me to think my own thoughts. Still, he allowed the space in our relationship for me to explore what I wanted and needed, and even though he was terrified, he wanted the best for me, even if that meant we needed to grow in separate directions. He continued to be the truly best human I have ever known because that’s who he is at the very core. He is good at a DNA level.
And after the pain and the hard, here’s the beautiful thing, I found the best person for me, and it wasn’t Nick. It was me. And, bonus, after it was me, it could also be Nick. For the first time, as a grown-ass woman in charge of my mind, and my body, and my sexuality, I could choose Nick. I wanted to choose Nick. And so, I did. But I could only do that because I chose myself first.
And even though it feels like it right now, I would never be so arrogant as to proclaim our relationship “happily ever after.” No one can make that kind of promise to someone else. We can aspire to that and work towards that, but we never know what will happen. And so maybe, “happily ever after” was never meant to be applied to our relationships with other people. Perhaps the best application is to our relationship with ourselves. And so that’s what I am going with.
Well, at least that’s my current theory.