Your naked soul
I came across a quote the other day that I can't stop thinking about. It was attributed to Charlie Chaplin, but after some digging around on the internet, I don't actually think he said it. It doesn't matter, though, because the sentiment was outstanding. It was, "Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul."
Sadly, I don't think the sentiment is as obvious as it ought to be, particularly for women and young girls. When I was a teenager, I was afraid of sex, even though my parents educated me and encouraged me to talk about it with them and never once made me think of sex as something that was wrong. They taught me it was something I should take seriously, but not feel ashamed of. I'm really thankful for that, and I think it set me up for (mostly) healthy decision making. But I can't pretend that it was just good moral judgment that got me to adulthood without sex - it was fear. I thought if I did it too soon something bad would happen to me - I'd be shamed at school, I'd get HIV, or worst of all in my mind, I'd get pregnant. Yes, I was more afraid of pregnancy than HIV. I know. But it's true, and I know I'm not alone in that.
There's so much emotional baggage that comes with having a physical relationship with another person, and it's hard to understand what that's like until you dive in. And what I didn't know then, what I couldn't know, was that once you start having sex, it's kind of hard not to have it. I don't think it matters if you have one partner in your life or fifty partners, once you're sexually active, I feel like the loveliness of courtship, for lack of a better word, goes out the window. I was talking recently with a friend about abstinence, and when we first started the conversation, I thought, "Wow, this is really strange for an adult to consider." I think I raised the issue that choosing not to be sexually active as an adult might make dating difficult and create barriers with significant others who might feel unloved or rejected without sex. My friend responded to that with a remark that struck a major chord with me: "Sarah, do you really think there's no other way to show someone that you love them than to have sex? What about cuddling? What about kissing? What about talking?"
Yes, what about talking, indeed?
It kind of made my stomach drop, to realize that I, too, had unwittingly come to believe, at least on some level, that sex is the ultimate demonstration of love, particularly for adults. That if we love one another, we have sex. Once I stopped and really considered that thought, I realized how sad and untrue it is. Maybe we will eventually have sex, but is sex the only way to show someone we love them? No. It's not. If it is, then I think we're doing something wrong.
And let's be honest - is there any sexually active person out there who hasn't actually felt worse at one point or another after having sex than they did before? Thinking that the sex would make them feel more loved, closer to their partner, and then feeling a crushing despair when it didn't work? No, sex does not equal love. Having sex with someone doesn't prove to me that I am loved. That proof comes from loyalty, reliability, care, kindness, support, encouragement, confidence, and more than almost anything else, time. Love comes and is known with time.
It got me thinking, what would it be like if people had less sex? Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a super-conservative religious type, I'm certainly not anti-sexuality, and I absolutely understand that kids these days are partaking at younger and younger ages (shudder). I'm not naive to how much sex filters into everything we buy, read, watch, consume, etcetera. And I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to have sex now and then just for the sake of having sex. But what would it be like if more people held off on sex in their relationships? Not forever, not even until marriage, but what if dating still meant you dated for several months or however long you deemed appropriate before you took the plunge, so to speak? I'm not suggesting that zero adults engage in thoughtful together-time before jumping in the sack, but with the increase of internet dating and so-called "hook-up apps" like Tinder, it's pretty obvious that it's easier than ever to find someone to have random sex with. It's much harder to find someone to fall in love with.
Which brings me back to that quote. In my opinion, it's the perfect "Should I have sex with this person?" checkpoint. Should you have sex with this person? Well, which are they in love with - your naked body, or your naked soul? Without getting too TMI on you all, I would venture to guess that a lot of people I used to date were not in love with my naked soul. In their defense, it may or may not have been their fault. I didn't always bare my truths to everyone I ever dated. But I will confess that sometimes I gave more to a relationship physically than I did emotionally. And when I think about that quote, that feels backwards. I don't really like to have regrets in my life, I think they're kind of a waste of energy. But it's definitely something to think about, even though I'm not single. I might be a mother someday. And I feel like it's an amazing lesson to share with my children, should there ever be any. Regardless of gender, it's on point. Does this person love your body or your soul?
The answer should be both.
We live in a culture that has desensitized and devalued sex to the point where we remove our clothes more easily than we remove our emotional armor. Some people fall in love once in their lifetime, some people fall in love over and over. It's not about how many people you've loved, it's about how you loved, and how you let yourself be loved. When you love, are you brave enough to bare your innermost secrets and not just your skin? It's something to think about, isn't it?
If I ever have younger people in my life who come to me with any kind of a relationship issue or question, this is something I am going to keep in my back pocket, because I think it's important. When is the right time to have sex? Who is the right person to trust with my body? There may never be a way to define "right" and there's certainly never a guarantee that everything will work out. But if you save it for the people who love you the most, all of you, the broken bits and the beautiful ones...well, wouldn't that be an amazing thing?