“My family and I are looking for sex.”
This line from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, spoken by Chevy Chase’s character, Clark Griswold, capitalizes on humor found in the German word sechs, or six. It is what popped into my head when I saw the Red Tent theme for February.
The more I pondered, the more I realized that we all are looking for sex, and that sex is finding us, ready or not. In European Vacation, the most sexualized of the Vacation movies, Clark records an indecent home movie of his wife that goes viral in Europe. Teenage daughter, Audrey, longs for and misses her boyfriend, Jack, pining for him over a bratwurst on a dinner plate. Son, Russ, frolics with a young maid who exposes her breasts to him while his dad is dancing on stage at Oktoberfest. This is not a movie review or recommendation, just an observation.
Sex is all around us. What do we do with it?
Sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier to grow up in an environment that didn’t stigmatize sex.
Reality reminds me that it would not have been easier, just a different kind of hard. In my conservative Christian home, a good Christian family, sex was something that happened ~ I am the firstborn of seven children ~ but was never discussed. It was something you didn’t do until you were married, unless you wanted to be married in God’s eyes.
When my sexuality began to emerge and curiosity evolve, I developed a deep sense of shame surrounding me and my being. Just by being. “She’s at the looking up words in the dictionary stage,” I heard, as I tried to learn what words pertaining to sexuality meant.
There was not a safe engagement over what I was looking for or assurance that it was okay to be curious and looking. “It all starts with rubbing elbows!” I heard, in reference to the news that someone was pregnant, and I quickly tucked my arms closer to my side.
“What starts? How do elbows factor into the equation? What if I bump into and rub elbows with someone I don’t like?”
When I learned that the hot dog goes into the bun from another fifth grader while dressing out for PE, it all made sense. Of course. I had changed the diapers of three younger brothers and seen a baby boy’s anatomy. I knew my own anatomy. I am never having children!
When I learned how babies emerged from their mother’s bodies, that settled it. I am NEVER having children.
I gave birth to eight children.
There was strict oversight concerning books that I was allowed to read. A voracious reader, I devoured words, but it was clear I was to read classic literature, solid theology, biographies, or autobiographies only. My stack from the library was looked over and checked through. This created a sense of fear, anxiety and confusion over what was acceptable and unacceptable reading material, so that when faced with a mildly racy passage in a questionably acceptable book, I didn’t know what to do with it. Scandalously titillating to my eleven year old mind, I took my confusion to a friend who proceeded to pull out a Harlequin romance novel and introduce me to something really racy.
This gave me more to ponder.
More to be confused about. More curiousity. More shame.
Without the freedom to process my confusion, I locked information in my heart where it began to sprout and grow. Seemingly benign situations, thoughts, and events took on much deeper meaning, feeling, significance, and shame. Navigating my sexuality on my own with not much more than a “Don’t do it, young person!” to hold to was not much help. I became shame. Everything about me felt awkward, was awkward. I felt painfully alone. Until the noticing started.
Suddenly I was seen by others. Noticed by males. Namely a particular male who became my partner in crime as we navigated the waters of our budding and confusing sexuality together.
This began a journey in self discovery, of putting into practice those things I had only heard or read about, of finally understanding the big deal that was sex. I describe that season as the feeling of having a noose around my neck before a particular moment that kicked the chair out from under me, leaving me hanging, dangling, dying, desperate.
That is how sex found me. Formed me. In desperation.
I am still living with the fallout surrounding my search for sex. Of its relentless quest for me. The shame that rocks my core and the insecurities that plague me are deeply rooted in the corner of my being, labeled sexuality. I am grateful for those who have come alongside in my searching for answers hidden in story, including my partner in crime.
With the help of wise and kind counselors, we are learning to unpack our crampacked steamer trunks, for we are each other’s baggage. We are learning to name the wounds and the broken places and to find healing and restoration in our story as it continues to be written. The desperation is no longer a passive running from but an active pursuit of sex ~ for healing, for understanding, for connection, for growth. It is scary, it is sacred, it is sweet.
And we are still looking.
Julie McClay lives in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley with her high school sweetheart (and husband of 24 years) and 5 of their 8 children. She is learning that while it can be painful to face the past honestly while living in the moment and looking towards the future, it can be healing and lead to eh the hope of a brighter future. She digs through these thoughts and feelings here.