Kisses My Religion Stole
In perusing the pages of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s most recent addition to the Best Sex Writing franchise, I found an essay on how atheists “do it better. Research has consistently found that though religion doesn’t stop folks from engaging in the same kind of damning shenanigans the less holier-than-they enjoy, there is one difference: they feel more guilt and shame and overall report enjoying their sexuality (solo or stud-filled) less than their atheist counterparts.
When I think back on my childhood, it was filled with shame-ridden, terror-filled experiences of what I thought of as “moral failure but what others would call “masturbation. I remember waiting as long as I possibly could – until my knees seemed to be literally shaking from desire “ to masturbate. I tried to get it over with as quickly as possible. Each time I thought I might be struck my lightning or that my self-abuse might render me unable to pee ever again or “ worst of all “ that everyone would see the footage of me on the big screen in the sky that we Pentecostals have been taught will be broadcast in the most epic Oliver Stonesque film during the Apocalypse (aka Second Coming). No, really. I was taught that when God decided that he was ready, that he would descend upon the earth. The believers (I should say the Christians¦ more importantly, the Protestants, and only the Protestants) would be taken and the non-believers would be left to suffer something like one hundred years of sodomy. Somewhere in between the first part and the sodomy there’d be this screening of every single human being’s life on the biggest screen you could ever imagine such that everyone in the whole world could see it at the same time and on it would flash images of me masturbating in the bathtub, imagining I was The Little Mermaid and Prince Eric was playing with my asshole.
I knew that this was my destiny and I tried to stop myself. I really did. But it never worked out. I always found myself back at square one, hoping God might forgive me, crying all alone after having done something completely natural but which I was convinced made me a worthy candidate for Hell.
Much of my childhood was spent flirting with boys. I loved boys. Until recently I had repressed those flirtatious memories made from about the age of six to maybe fourteen. All I remembered were the rejections, feeling ugly, feeling wrong. All of a sudden I remembered how audacious I had been with my neighbor across the street, Mark. He was the younger brother of my best friend Amanda. Amanda was notoriously slutty and was the first girl I ever did topless sunbathing with! Mark was beautiful with pretty big eyes and light brown hair. In the backseat of my mom’s Chevy Nova, on the way to feed the ducks at the park, we sat next to each other and I brushed his hair out of his face as he blushed. I put my 8 year old arm around him and told him he was cute. That summer we sat in the paddling pool in my grandparents’ backyard alone and he asked me to be his girlfriend. I desperately wanted to be his girlfriend, but I cut him off before he could finish his question. No! No! We could never do that! I told him vehemently. He never asked again. And I stopped flirting with him after that. I never got to kiss Mark.
After Mark moved away there was Sam when I was in middle school and the beginning of high school. Sam’s dad was never home and he would watch me through his window, sometimes for hours. I knew he spent a lot of time in front of that window because whenever I came out, he somehow miraculously would come out too. That was the summer I wore cutoff denim shorts. The summer I did Richard Simmon’s Sweating to the Oldies every day. Sometimes my mom would take me to the grocery store up the street in her car and Sam would run the half-mile just to “casually stroll by the car. I left him rice krispy treats tightly wrapped in plastic with a sticker on top in his mail box. I never kissed Sam.
I hid those memories from myself for reasons I don’t entirely understand. I loved Mark and I loved Sam, but the first man I kissed was a 40 year old man named David who had bad breath and mild narcolepsy, a man I’d met on an anonymous phone chatline when I was 17, a man I didn’t love and who was mean to me because I didn’t know how to make coffee correctly. I hadn’t thought to ask him for a picture, and when he showed up at my hotel room (I was away from home with a youth symphony and had feigned illness while my friends went to Disneyland) and I looked in through the peep hole I was so horrified by him that I nearly threw up. Seventeen proved to be the year that was a bit like those old days in the bathtub. I tried so hard not to give in until finally I was desperate for release, and I tried to get it over with quickly.
For such a long time I repressed Sam and Mark, presuming that I’d kissed (and ultimately dated) David because of my fat-girl induced self-esteem issues. And I can’t say it wasn’t in part those issues, but I realize now that I was ashamed of my desire for the boys across the street. I thought I would be able to save myself until marriage, offer the one thing I could: a pure, unkissed, untouched girl. Just like I’d been taught in church, at home.
Leaving my religion was one of the most wonderful, amazing experiences of my life. My fiancÃ©, Sam (a different Sam), an atheist and a religious studies scholar finds my Sunday School teacher past really sexy and he helped me get rid of those final vestiges of my religiosity by walking me through the sheer ridiculousness of all the imaginary people and the imaginary shame I’d been taught to believe in. I’ll never get my first kiss back, but sometimes when I’m fucking or cumming I remember the little girl in the bathtub and I remind her that Jesus isn’t watching.