The Fear of Sex

When I was in high school, I did not fornicate with anybody - not even once.

While I'd like to attribute this fact to the deep respect I had for women and an innate understanding of the wisdom of postponing sexual expression with another human being until such time as I would be best equipped to handle the potential consequences, the truth is that I had very little respect for women - so focused was I on my own fear and self-loathing.

Many and many were the hours I spent scouring the missionary community where I lived in Peru, South America for such Sears Catalog Lingerie sections as I could find, or pouring through National Geographic magazines in search of the odd European beach-shot - using images of women for my own pleasure. I wasn't fornicating, no... but neither was I learning how to engage women as fellow human beings. Instead, I floated on a sub-current of fear through an anxiety-ridden life - a life of paradoxically self-obsessed self-repression.

The idea I had taken away from hundreds and perhaps thousands of earnest little Bible-sextalk-innuendos and speeches was that if I was good enough and well-behaved enough, then I would inevitably find myself rolling around in a glorious sex-pot at the end of the abstinence rainbow. If I wasn't, however, I would end up wasting away in some VD hospital, abandoned by everyone I'd ever loved and possibly even by Jesus - who would be off in one corner crying over the betrayal implied by my illicit makings of sexy sex-time.

The hand of fear pressed hard upon me.

Nonetheless, I impregnated no young women, contracted no embarrassing diseases, and broke no living, breathing girl's heart. These are, I think, good things. Teenage boys in our day and age are not equipped to be fathers, diseases are yucky, and girls ought - in an ideal world - to have their hearts remain strong and unbroken until they meet a man worthy of the gift of themselves (and vice-versa).

We don't live in an ideal world, though, so the question I gotta ask myself is if it was worth the fear it took to get me there? That is to say: is the cost of a life spent under the grinding weight of perpetual fear worth the payoff of avoiding a few costly mistakes?

This is no purely abstract or academic question. I am father to a small boy, and if he and I should live together up to the stage when he begins to feel the drive to copulate expansively, then I do not wish him to go around doing it before he is ready. I would love an ideal life for my son, so I would prefer him to abstain until he has developed the character and ability to handle what 'ere the makings of sexy-sextimes might bring his way.

But again: this is not an ideal world. 

The tentative, surface-level obedience I maintained to the strictures of a pre-fab moral structure did not protect me from the risks of sex. My marriage crashed and burned, a victim (or perhaps even in some ways a product) of my fear; leaving me an often-scared, womanless guy living in a shed in the woods.

The argument may be made that this is because I just did not obey the moral strictures I was handed well enough - that if I had, my life would be comin' up roses right now. To which I say: bollocks.

Oh, sure, I grant the principle easily enough; but principles are way too mathematical - too la-la land theoretical. This is the real world, and I do not believe that it is possible in the real world to be good enough or proper enough for guaranteed results. Suck back wheat grass smoothies and exercise all week long, and you still might get hit by a truck on Sunday morning. Besides, I have known a number of honest men in my life, and not one of them ever claimed to have always "played by the rules," sexually speaking. It's just not possible.

So, what do I do about my kid? 

Everything in life carries risks, and I am not interested in raising him to a life of fear-driven risk-avoidance. Should I take what seems like a convenient shortcut and use fear to try and get him to behave as I'd prefer? I don't think so. That smells too much, I think, of politics. It smells of shaking the devil's hand and hoping to later be able to claim I was only kidding.

Fear doesn't work that way. It is not an inert tool you can use for a little while and then cast off when it's no longer necessary. Fear is a creeping vine that sends out its nasty little tendrils into all areas of your life, shooting down life-sucking roots into the interstices of your soul. Fear does not respect the autonomy of your individual parts. It may keep you from the behavior you've been taught to fear the most, but in practice it multiplies fear, ad infinitum, until there is not a relationship or experience you can have that is not in some way infected by it.

I am not interested in building into my son a character and consciousness primarily defined by what he is afraid of. So I think, instead, I will avoid the sin-obsession of my childhood and focus instead on teaching him to love women in all their insanely-complex glory... to value and cherish what they mean to him as a man. I will speak frankly of sex to my son from an early age - mentioning its risks, yes, but only in passing. Instead, I will talk more about its wonder, mystery, beauty and joy. I will teach him that being a Real Man isn't about conquering women, but about learning to take pleasure in their company. I will teach him that a healthy, complete sexual relationship with a woman is about learning to enjoy her for all she has to offer.

Is this nuts? Will this keep him from fornicating with the first girl who shows him her bedroom eyes? I have no idea. And, frankly, I'm not going to worry about it. Life is messy, and I would rather love him as he authentically lives his life - mistakes and all - than try teach him the sort of moral pretension I was so fond of in my foolish youth. It's a big dark scary world out there, but hiding behind the walls of a flawed, impossible moral structure is no way to live.

To live is to love; and to love is to risk.


  1. thanks Josh. You wrote just wrote a post that so many raised in the church/religion can definitely identify with. I like your identifying the fear creeping into every area of your life. Strong read, thanks. CC

  2. You are most welcome. Glad you got something from my catharsis :)

  3. What's that line from The Forty Year Old Virgin again...

    "Your problem is you put the pussy on a pedestal."

    Sorry, couldn't resist. Not intended as a flippant dismissal of a great post. Just needed a chuckle out of one of the all-time funny movie lines.

  4. Vulgar, yes, and completely inappropriate. But funny, in part, for the truth it contains.

  5. Just listened today to a frank and open siminar, "Loveology" by name, from Solid Rock + a Jesus Church out of Beaverton, OR. It is in my opinion the way sex ought to be, and rarely has been, addressed by the church. Right now I am praying for you as a father, Josh. What an awesome, beautiful responsiblity - to parent. ljob


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