When I was in college, I was involved in a Campus Ministry. During the summer of 1992, I attended what was called a “Summer Project”. These projects were located all over the US and designed to help Christian college students grow in their faith. The Project I attended was located in Ocean City, NJ. There were approximately 100 students that travel from all over the country to be part of the Project. We all lived in a three story house, about 2 blocks from the beach. Floors were divided by gender, each floor having its own community bathroom. Needless to say, shower to person ratio was not the greatest. To help this, there were 3 outside enclosed showers that people could use. This is where the weirdness began. When the girls went down to the extra showers they typically threw on a bathrobe and grabbed their toilet caddy. To get to the showers, they had to walk through the common area of the house. Partway through the summer, the girls were asked (by leadership) to wear regular clothes down to the showers, not a bathrobe. Apparently, seeing a girl in a bathrobe was causing some of the guys to “stumble”. I guess knowing that the girl was naked under her bathrobe was too much for them. I was afraid to point out that no matter what we were wearing, we are ALWAYS naked underneath. Who knows what the ramifications might have been for that. But wanting to love our “brothers” the girls complied ( I might add that we then banned them from being shirtless in the common area, as retaliation).That same summer, the staff member that was mentoring me had a ‘delicate’ conversation with me about my bra. Apparently, you could see part of my bra when I wore a sundress. And as you can guess, it could have been a stumbling block to the guys. Did I mention that my bra was a sports bra? You know the kind… made of cotton, white in color, unsexy as hell. Needless to say, I was so embarrassed and confused. I mean, hadn’t I seen women were these things running….with no shirt…just the bra. If the conversation wasn’t bad enough, my mentor wanted to take me bra shopping. Yup, that’s right, wanted to take my 21 year old ass out bra shopping. Although it was framed in the context of a “fun girls’ time”, it didn’t feel very fun to me. My incompetence as a young woman seemed clear to me; I was unable to pick out appropriate under garments for myself. It really sucked. But wanting to “love my brothers” and have my mentors’ approval, I went.
Many of my friends from UNH attended these Summer projects as well. When we all gathered for the fall semester, we were able to compare notes. I found out that the Project I was on, was not the only one that had to deal with this issue over the summer. Apparently, girls on other projects were asked to refrain from eating bananas and lollipops in front of the guys. I guess it made them think of oral sex.
Throughout college we got a lot of this kind of crap. We were told how guys were much more ‘visual’ and how hard it was for them to see girls in two piece bathing suits. That as young women, we need to help the young men by dressing modestly. Really, if we could be as asexual as possible, it would be greatly appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, I get how hard it is for guys. They are faced with an impossible task. They are told to never think of sex, to see women as their ‘sisters in Christ’ and that masturbation was wrong. So, they were pretty much screwed (or not in this case).
What bothers me so, is that there is a responsibility put on women that never should be. There seems to be a lack of boundaries. A confusion of who is responsible for what. Each one of us is responsible for our thoughts and actions. Conversely, no one is responsible for another person’s thoughts or actions. It is not only unrealistic but unhealthy to put that responsibility on someone else. If I am eating a banana and a guy is imagining that I am performing oral sex on him, that is 100% his problem… not mine. And it should never be put on me.
It can have a real negative impact on a woman. That she is constantly doing things that are causing someone else to sin. It can make her self conscious about her own body. That there is something wrong with her sexuality. It makes her want to cover up that part of her, that God given part. I think it can have a negative impact on men as well. I think they feel dirty and ashamed. Powerless over their own sex drive. That they are at the mercy of someone else’s actions.
I wonder if part of the problem is that our sexuality is often repressed. This is especially true in the Christian subculture. It is pushed down, buried and not allowed to be seen or acknowledged until the words, “I Do” are uttered. Now, sex and sexuality are different to me. Sex is an expression of our sexuality, not sexuality itself. Sexuality on the other hand is something that is a part of us from the day we are born until the day we die. A person may never have sex but that does not mean they are devoid of sexuality. I will be the first one to say that I am all for people waiting until they are married but I am so NOT for the repression of a person’s sexuality. It is so damaging and can make for a very difficult and confusing sex life.
I want to see sexuality differently. I want my Christian community to see it differently. I want them to teach that there is no shame in our sexuality. That it is normal to think about sex ALL the time (especially for teens and young adults). That masturbation is not wrong. I want men to stop blaming women for their lack of control. I want women to not feel responsible for what a man thinks. I want men and women to take responsibly for their own thoughts and actions and to know that they are not powerless when it comes to their sexuality. I want to teach these things to my sons. I want them to grow up without shame. I want them to have a healthy view of themselves. I want them to fully embrace every part of who God has made them to be.