I’m a former 4th generation Adventist, raised in an average Adventist home, and I always struggled with my sexuality. No, I’m not gay or even kinky. But for many years, my sexual feelings felt like a curse.
I was sitting on the sofa one day, frustrated and sad, trying to figure out why sex was so difficult for me, when it hit me like a rock. All these years I had blamed myself, thinking that I must have some serious hormonal issues, or that this is what I get for having sex before marriage. I never considered the idea that I had been conditioned by my religion to fear sex.
By the time I had this revelation, I had been in a serious, loving relationship for six years. We met at an Adventist boarding school, and when we became a couple we agreed that it was best to wait until marriage. But being normal teenagers with normal bodies, that goal proved to be harder than expected. I actually don’t remember the first time we had sex. The only thing I remember is crying, thinking, “What have I done!” Needless to say, this resulted in some serious self-loathing, and I begged God to take these filthy urges away from me.
I know I’m not alone in having such experiences. I’ve talked to several other born-and-raised Adventists who have similar stories to tell about their first encounters with sex.
How does Adventism manage to turn something that should be enjoyed into such a traumatic experience?
Well, the basics that we are taught from an early age are:
- Sex is only for married heterosexual couples.
- You need to keep yourself pure of thought.
- Masturbation is of the devil.
I can imagine a conversation between God and Jesus going something like this:
God: And then we will create man. He shall mature slower than all the animals and reach maturity after about twenty years.
Jesus (taking notes): Ok, and what about puberty?
God: Let’s say after about ten years.
God (all excited): Oh, and then I’m going to give them this law that says they can’t have sex, masturbate, or even think about sex until they get married!
Jesus: But that means ten years of agony…
God (still excited): It’s going to be a test! To see who really loves me! Those who fail can burn in hell.
Jesus: Isn’t that a bit harsh?
God: Alright, alright, I’ll kill you and let them beg for forgiveness if they fail. That should do it.
Jesus: Good idea... Wait what!?
Within the Adventist worldview, a “test” seems like the only reasonable explanation for this torture. Now mix this with Ellen White-born terrors like getting your thoughts and actions displayed in front of the whole world when Jesus returns, and you have a positively mortified child. No wonder we smother our sexuality to the point of becoming almost asexual. If you are not able to do that, the fear and shame can become unbearable.
The rock that hit me that day was the first to leave a substantial hole in my Adventist bubble—the bubble I had inhabited my whole life, the bubble that I didn’t realize was slowly suffocating me. Now that I’ve managed to break out of it, I’m angry beyond words that my teenage years, which should have been filled with fun, excitement and exploration, were instead filled with self-loathing and suppression.
And for what? It’s evident now that this torture was not “for my own good,” as I had been led to believe. Now that I’m free, however, I have started taking back my sexuality…although it feels a little like I’m trying to retrieve it from the clutches of Ellen White’s dead, giant-bible-lifting hands with a toothpick. But I believe recovery is possible, and best of all, it feels great!