By Emily Park
Illustrations by Katelyn Betz
Content Warning: Emotional abuse from religious sexism. Bible study text depicting shame included.
Thirteen-year-old me would be absolutely ashamed and horrified, I instantly thought while holding my broken phone case in my hands. Confusing, I know, so let me rewind a little bit.
As I sleepily rolled over to turn off my morning alarm a few Mondays ago, I picked up my phone and realized something was … off. Upon closer inspection, I saw the back of my phone case had completely fallen off leaving just the perimeter of the case on my phone.
The culprit? Last night’s sexual encounter. As my boyfriend and I were passionately grinding against one another, we realized about halfway through that my phone was underneath us.
A normal person probably would have laughed it off, thinking something along the lines of, “Well, if my favorite phone case has to go, that’s definitely the way to do it.” But not me.
My mind went to two places:
1) This is the Lord’s way of telling me I shouldn’t be having premarital sex, (this was after all a special-edition phone case that was only sold at the NYC Rockefeller Center Kate Spade store, so nearly irreplaceable)
2) 13-year-old me would be absolutely ashamed and horrified if she knew that 23-year-old me would one day break a phone case by having sex on it with her boyfriend.
It doesn’t take a shrink to figure out why I felt guilt instead of giggles that morning: I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church that spent years drilling into my head that my body was the possession of my future husband and for his hands only.
I’m not here to condemn Christianity or the belief in God. I still hold many of my Christian beliefs dear today. I love God. I believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I believe Christianity is about love and about teaching women and men to love themselves and respect others. But I also believe that the Christian church as a whole has failed a lot of women, and led to harmful stereotypes that can impact a woman for years to come.
Over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about 13-year-old me. She definitely planned to wait until marriage to have sexual relations of any kind. If I remember right, I even wanted a purity ring—a ring you wear as a reminder of your chastity vow—at some point. I didn’t think my body was mine to share when I chose to.
As an adult, the idea of a purity ring disgusts me. Is it still ok for a woman to decide that she wants to wait until she’s married to have sex? Absolutely. If it’s her choice because that’s what she wants and not what she’s been told to do. But it’s also okay for a woman to choose to share her body with someone else before she’s married, too.
Younger me viewed the purity ring as a simple and sweet promise. But adult-me realizes it’s much more than a promise; a purity ring conveys to young women that if they have sex before they’re married, they are no longer pure. They are dirty, and their future husbands will be disappointed. That’s what many churches teach young women to this day.
Growing up in church I went to Sunday School every Sunday morning. We would typically go through various Bible studies designed by Christian authors and purchased from Christian bookstores like Lifeway.
I can’t remember exactly what studies I personally did in my young pre-teen and teenage years, but here’s an example of the content that might be shared in a girl’s Sunday School classroom today, possibly even the one I left so many years ago.
True Love Waits. Authentic Love Girls Bible Study Book, by Amy-Jo Girardier:
Read 1 Peter 2:9-12.
“9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.”
- Underline the phrase in verse 9, “the One who called you out of darkness.”
- Then, write your phone number next to the word called. This is personal.
- Draw a tombstone next to the word darkness.”
… So as you dig into this journey of personal holiness, we will not be showing you how to manage your sin. You won’t find a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts.” What you will find is a Christ-centered approach to surrendering your life—your desires, your dreams, your timeline, your plans, your relationships, your sexuality, your purity—to Christ. When you admit your need for Him, your filter changes.
The fight for purity all of a sudden is not just you alone trying to will yourself not to think certain things or look at certain images, or even determining how close to sex you will get, but it becomes a hunger for something entirely different. The hunger of your heart changes from satisfying selfish desires to seeking a relationship with the One who knows you better than you know yourself.
This is where this gets real. Darkness is not just nighttime here. This means that God called His people out of death and into life with Him. He has called. Have you answered?
Without knowing Christ personally, there is no pursuit of holiness. There is no way you can be holy without God. Notice where the command comes in Scripture to abstain from fleshly desires. Is it before or after God called His people out of the darkness into magnificent light?
It’s after. Because it is through Christ and Christ alone that we are able to pursue holiness and fight our fleshly desires.
- Underline fleshly desires and draw a flame next to it.
- List some desires below that could be good. Could those desires become bad? If so, how?
Girls are taught from a young age that part of their worth comes from keeping their body pure, they’re taught that their body isn’t their own to give.
When I went to church camp at ages 11, 12, and 13—I don’t remember a ton of details about the experience, it was pretty much lots of Bible studies and field day activities—but I do remember that girls were forbidden from wearing two-piece swimsuits because they would be inappropriate to wear around the boys. Any child, yep pay attention that world, child, that brought a two-piece wouldn’t be allowed to participate in water or pool activities unless they “covered up” with a t-shirt.
It took me years to learn that my body is not a sin. That it’s okay to wear a bikini when going to the pool, or a crop top on a hot summer day. It’s my body, and I get to present it how I want.
It took me even longer to be comfortable with the idea of having sex with someone who’s not my husband. I mentioned earlier that 13-year-old me has been on my mind a lot. That’s because only a little over a month ago, I became sexually active for the first time.
Like my phone case, my idea of sexuality has come crumbling down around me. Unlike 13-year-old me, 23-year-old me believes that sex is a wonderful and intimate experience. I think it’s important to remember that as long as you’re being safe and it is you who made the choice to share your body with someone (and that someone is a person you can trust) then it doesn’t matter who you have sex with. Your body is yours to give, not your future husband’s to take —that’s what I am still trying to learn deep down.
But the message that my Southern Baptist Church pushed onto me—that my body was not mine to own—has left me still struggling with embracing my sexuality. Every now and then, I feel a twinge of guilt about having sex with my partner.
I can only orgasm after I’ve had a glass of wine or two, and I have no doubt that it’s because it takes a glass of wine to clear my head of any embedded shame or guilt that I’m doing something I’m not supposed to be doing. I’m not sure how long I’ll be dealing with the residual shame, but the minute the feeling comes into my head, I immediately try to replace it with the empowerment of deciding what I want to do with my body.
I’ll be honest with you, this wasn’t easy to write. I’ve been cringing thinking about one of my family members coming across this editorial. But I didn’t write this because I have an intense desire to share my sex life with the world. It’s almost the last thing I wanted to do, but I know that I am not the only woman who’s going through this.
In July, I downloaded TikTok. The video-sharing app and its creepy algorithm that looks into your soul within seconds of downloading has shown me videos of countless women sharing their experience of the intersection of their sexuality and religion. And every video I’ve come across has made me feel a little less alone, and a little more confident about embracing my sexuality.
While I’m still healing from the emotional trauma from the church I grew up in and working to find the balance between my Christianity and my sexuality, I want other women to know they aren’t alone. If sharing my story helps just one other woman feel seen, all of the cringe I experienced while writing this has been 100 percent worth it.
And yes—I did get a (semi) new phone case. I loved my old one so much that my boyfriend fused the old back onto a new case. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come—though now it stays on the nightstand whenever I have sex.
Emily Park is a Kansas City-based journalist, passionate about giving a voice to those who don’t always have one. From news to features to business-to-business reporting, she’s done it all. (Features are her favorite though.) In her free time you can find Emily playing games, reading, streaming, or hanging out with her furry babies, Sutton the dog and Salem the cat.
Katelyn Betz is an artist from Kansas City. She got her degree in Graphic Design from Missouri State University, and loves to paint, shoot photos, and make comics. A lot of her work is open to playing with a traditional feminine design style, in a world where feminine things aren’t taken seriously. Katelyn believes that all art has a place; even if it is “girly,” and that being “girly” in the art world is dope—even if a couple of old guys don’t think so.