On Being Boyish Or Girlish

Someone tell my daughter she’s too brave…

Brave, strong, energetic, fierce. What do you picture when you read those words? Rather, who do you picture? I dare say the person in your mind’s eye is a male.

Why?

Likely you have many reasons. Fairy tales, action movies, perhaps you even read the book “Wild At Heart”. We assume men naturally have these characteristics. And that these are positive traits. Men that lack them seem like less of men.

But girls that have them? Do they become less girly? No, quite the contrary: they are well recieved.

We actually value these traditional “male” traits more than traditional “female” traits like humility, quietness, meekness, and delicateness. Characteristics that can be considered “weak” are looked down upon in our “only the strong survive” culture.

We have so over-emphasized self-reliance that any trait that seems dependant on another person, like empathy or compassion, has become a flaw. Femininity, or rather what we have chosen to define as femininity, is weak. To be feminine is to be demure and vain.

Therefore, we are more than willing to accept a “boyish” girl. She is strong and self-reliant. She will not be a burden on our individualistic society. She will contribute to it by being in the workforce and producing independent, strong children (who she will give to the State to educate and raise, but I digress).

We can accept girls who don’t exhibit those traits. After all, they are girls. We can’t expect all but the most exceptional of them to act strong and independent. Girls who aren’t “boyish” are okay. They make good wives to the more “manly” (read: brutish) men out there.

What about boys who don’t exhibit those traits? What about ones who actually exhibit those feminine traits?

We have gotten to the point where it is just assumed they are probably gay. We have actually gone back in history and labeled many historical figures as such. Men who expressed deep love for other men and wrote passionate letters to them (not sexual, just passionate) must have been homosexual. I’ve even read theories that Jesus and John were a couple.

Apparently straight men are incapable of anything other than brutish vulgarity and everything they think, say, or do is basically sexual. If he is brutish and aggressive the man is straight, if he is gentle and passionate (yet restrained) he must be gay. Or at best asexual.

And gay, like feminine, is weak.

Why can girls be “boyish” but boys can’t be “girlish”? Because we are phobic of “weakness”, that’s why.

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Boyish and Girlish

Oh look, a butterfly, so girly!

My wife sent me a link last week knowing that I would just have to comment. I have written at least three posts about the subject after all. I didn’t ask this exact question though: Why is it that girls can be “boyish” but boys can’t be “girlish”?

Perhaps that is the wrong question. The more pertinent question is: How do we define what is “boyish” or “girlish”?

The article in question discussed several points like clothing preferences (colors and sparkles) and personality traits like compassionate or caring vs agressive and aloof.

To the first: preferences like these are almost completely cultural. What one culture considers feminine may very well be masculine in another culture. Pink and blue are not inherently gendered. A flashy man is not a less masculine man. There just happens to have been a movement towards dull drab colors on men in our culture over the past 120 years or so. If your son likes rainbows and flash he is not less of a boy for it, he just likes something less boring than the current culture would like him to.

To the second: what makes character traits feminine or masculine? Sure, there are definite hormonal and physical differences between males and females that result in slightly different personalities, but these are hardly universal. And they aren’t even that big of differences when we really look at them. My sons are definitely different from my daughters, but the differences are so subtle I couldn’t tell you if it was gender or simply their personalities.

Why this cultural push to make gentleness and compassion a strictly “female” trait? Why assume that a gentle man is effeminate? Why assume a woman who is strong and courageous is “acting like a man”?

Personally I think we are a culture much too obsessed with sexuality and gender. Since when are people narrowly defined by who they want to have sex with? Since when does gender dictate every character trait and personality quirk?

It’s gotten to the point where people even worry about their sexuality in church. Someone was complaining that worship songs in their church sounded “gay” because they call God “beautiful” or express a sentiment of wanting to be with Jesus. While I could agree that the theology of these types of songs is usually lacking and they are usually set to fru fru tunes it is ignorant just to lay them out as “gay”. Are those sentiments incorrect? Was it “gay” when Jesus washed His disciples feet or when we are told to greet one another with a holy kiss? What is it about expressing love in a gentle fashion that is “gay” or even “unmanly”?

Back to the first question though: Why is it that girls can be “boyish” but boys can’t be “girlish”? For that answer you’ll have to wait for next week.

Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Birth Control, A Dangerous Combination

From “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler

From my previous posts you have learned that I don’t oppose all forms of birth control, but that I urge caution about hormonal birth control.

I have two reasons for this: the first is the fact that hormonal birth control can be an abortificant. The second is much more personal, hormonal birth control can really create havoc on your body and mind.

Shortly before we were married, my wife went to her gynecologist for a routine check and pre-wedding screening (not like she needed it but whatever). While there, the doctor told her she should start taking birth control a couple of months before the wedding. “You don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby.” she told her. Being young and naive my soon to be wife acquiesced and started taking what the doctor prescribed.

The side effects began her first week on the pill. At first it was a near constant nausea which kept her in bed most of the time. Next, a nearly insatiable libido disappeared. Then came the depression and anxiety. She reported these to the doctor and was assured they weren’t side-effects, she was probably just nervous about the wedding.

Reluctantly, the doctor switched her pills for the patch. Her nausea abated slightly, but the rest of the symptoms remained in full force.

By the time the wedding came, she had very little interest in sex. There were a few nights on the honeymoon where she cried for hours because she couldn’t understand what was happening to her. She didn’t want me anymore. What sort of switch happened that would cause her to suddenly stop her interest in me?

Upon our return, my new wife reported these problems to the doctor only to be told that she was probably just regretting her decision to get married so young. “Depression is not a side effect of birth control.” Nonetheless, her doctor agreed to change the medication again, this time to the Nuva Ring.

While the ring was better for nausea, the depression worsened dramatically. There were nights I would wake up next to a sweating, rocking, tearful woman. Sex was nearly impossible. She contemplated suicide.

All the while, the doctor insisted it was in her head.

I don’t remember exactly what clicked in my mind, but one morning I told her to quit the birth control. While the side-effects weren’t spelled out on the packaging, it was too suspicious to me that they would coincide with her first dosages. She quit taking them, much to her doctor’s chagrin.

Within a month her mood was vastly better. Her nausea disappeared. There were still incredible mental and emotional scars that made sex difficult, but her appetite for it returned in force. Two months after quitting (three months after the wedding), she was pregnant.

After our first daughter was born we ignorantly decided to try the BC again. Breastfeeding was a hellish nightmare (thanks to a lack of lactation consultants) and parenting did not seem like something we wanted to do more of at that point.

Side effects came right back full force. She was told “oh, those aren’t side effects” yet again.

Funny how they disappeared shortly after she stopped taking the pill for the second time.

The labels did vaguely mention that you could have suicidal thoughts as a side-effect. But it was listed as an almost unheard of side effect. Our only guess is that women who do not suffer from Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) rarely have those side effects. Or that doctors simply don’t care.

She was never screened for PMDD, we didn’t know she had it until almost ten years later. But the diagnosis made everything make sense. Any fluctuation in hormones brings about emotional and mental changes in her. Birth control, pregnancy, and breastfeeding each had their own effects, whether nausea or severe depression or decreased libido. Like clockwork she gets severe depression about ten days before her period and starts feeling better immediately upon menstruation. Then she is healthy for a week or so after, before plunging back down again.

Most doctors don’t even know what PMDD is, it’s just not on their radar. They are convinced that BC simply doesn’t have any emotional side effects. They barely listened to her about the nausea.

It’s almost like they have an agenda to push. Hence the “you don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby” comment.

Needless to say, hormonal birth control is definitely not for us. Since this happened to us we have talked to dozens of women who had similar experiences, even ones without PMDD.

If you decide to use it and you experience similar side effects, don’t let the doctor tell you that you are crazy or that you should just switch until you find one that works. Get your hormones checked and talk to a doctor about the possibility of PMDD. It took a general practitioner about ten minutes to make the diagnosis and prescribe medication and other therapies. Now she is healthier emotionally than she has ever been.

It’s not worth living in misery when there are other ways to go about preventing pregnancy.

Killing the Seed: How Hormonal Birth Control Violates the Sixth Commandment

avacoado

In my previous post I talked about how I don’t believe sperm by itself is a “seed” and therefore I don’t believe that birth control methods which block sperm are immoral in and of themselves. Today I’d like to talk about how a fertilized egg is a seed.

If we continue the analogy of conception being like sowing seeds in a garden, the fertilized egg is what is “planted” in the uterus. The fertilized egg (zygote), unlike a sperm, has a very real potential of growing into an adult.

Most “pro-choice” people will argue that life does not begin until some magic moment such as the first breath or even later. But logic concludes that two living cells do not come together to form a non-living blob of tissue. The sperm is alive, the egg is alive, therefore the fertilized egg is alive as well. Not only is it alive, it contains its own unique strand of DNA. It is not identical to its mother or its father. Nor is it a mutation like cancer. Thus the zygote is a living person and under the requirements of the Sixth commandment, should be protected as such.

Unlike sperm, the fertilized egg is not just a potential life, it is a life. And without the next step of implantation that life will end. Blocking the zygote from implantation ends that life.

Most birth control pills and the IUD work primarily through preventing ovulation or fertilization, but in the rare instance that these mechanisms fail they also have the effect of making the uterine walls inhospitable to implantation by the fertilized egg.

In recent times, politically charged “science” has called into question whether this is actually one of the mechanisms of hormonal birth control. We actually know very little about how the pill works, we know it prevents ovulation, we know it prevents sperm from reaching egg, and we know it thins the uterine lining or changes the chemical environment of the uterus. Given the third one it makes sense to err on the side of caution and assume that it also prevents implantation of the “seed”.

And even if we consider it a slim possibility that the egg will be released, then fertilized and then make it to the uterus, this slim possibility that one will be responsible for the death of another human being should be enough to persuade us to avoid these methods.

Many will argue that if we reach my conclusion we will also have to assume that natural miscarriages are sinful too. What makes the elective abortion different from the natural miscarriage?

This should be obvious, one is willful, the other is not. A woman who naturally miscarries cannot be help morally culpable for the death of her child, she was most likely not in control of the situation that led to the miscarriage.

Stay tuned next week for an analysis of side effects…

*I realized after I was almost done writing this that one could conclude that I am calling all users of hormonal birth control sinners. Please be assured that you are not a part of this category if you are abstaining from sex and taking birth control for reasons other than contraception.

A Few Explanations

Lest I be accused of misrepresentation, I do want to clarify a few things about Onanism.

Onanists do understand that Onan was deliberately disobeying God. They do not simply conclude that the spilling itself was the whole of Onan’s transgressions.

The implications of what they believe are quite staggering. While most don’t believe there are any reasons to prevent pregnancy, there are some who will allow it. However, because of their interpretation of these verses, they often assert the only moral way to prevent pregnancy is complete abstinence, even in marriage. I know a man who has gone twelve years without intercourse because he refused his wife’s request to have a vasectomy. He considers it his cross to bear. It’s almost like a badge of honor to him. I think it’s a shame. I think it is atrocious that he has allowed his wife to withhold from him (sin) for this long without approaching her as a brother in Christ or as a Godly husband concerned with his wife’s soul.

They also don’t go officially by the name “Onanist”, I just coined the term to describe those who hold to this particular application of the Onan story. So don’t go pointing a finger and yelling “Onanist!” at them. They probably wouldn’t understand anyway.

Don’t be this guy…

Every Sperm is Sacred: Onanism and Birth Control

Every Sperm is sacred
Every Sperm is Sacred… Wait, that’s the Catholics… Source

You may want to send your kids into the next room for the next couple of posts, I’m going to talk about sex. In particular about birth control. Is birth control a sin? Is it wise? Can it harm you?

Personally, we do not use hormonal birth control, but ours is less a conscience issue and more of a personal experience issue. I’ll discuss later in this series, but first I want to address a common objection to birth control often thrown around in Reformed circles: The story of Onan.

And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and He put him to death also.
Genesis 38:6-10

According to the Onanists, the mere spilling of a man’s semen outside of a woman’s body is a sinful thing. The birth control methods of coitus interruptus (stopping before orgasm), pulling out, or even vasectomy are ruled out as violating the principle found in the story of Onan.

Just reading the story of Onan is not enough to find these principles. One has to dig into commentaries and discussions written centuries ago.

Before one questions my Reformed credentials, old commentaries are helpful when studying the essentials of our faith. They are helpful for learning Godliness and how to live a Holy life. But, sometimes even the men of the past show their fallibility.

“….the third [murder], in that there is a seminal vital virtue, which perishes if the seed be spilled; and by doing this to hinder the begetting of a living child, is the first degree of murder that can be committed, and the next unto it is the marring of conception, when it is made…” -Westminster Annotations and Commentary on the Whole Bible (1657), Genesis 38:9.

“Most Hebrew and Christian commentators conclude [from the grammar] that the sin of Er was of the same type as the sin of Onan, which they call effeminacy. Augustine in book 22, Against Faust Chap. 84, concluded that this Er had sinned in this offense severely because that sin impedes conception and destroys the foetus in its own seed….” – Lutheran minister Johann Gerhard (1582-1637)

“The rabbis interpreted Onan’s transgression as birth control through coitus interruptus. In an illustrative euphemism, the Jewish commentator Rashi calls this “threshing within, winnowing without.””

Given the terminology used by the commentators I think it is safe to assume that the interpretation of past generations was based on a belief that the man’s sperm was a fully formed seed. In fact, the KJV translates verse 9 as:

And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

This seed was planted into a woman’s body, much like planting a vegetable seed in a garden. To spill the seed was murder as the spiller was denying the living seed the opportunity to sprout and grow.

The 6th commandment requires us to protect life. Even potential life should be protected. If we assume that a man’s emission is a fully formed seed it is reasonable to conclude that wasting this emission is in fact ending a potential life.

In order to answer the question “do spermicidal or barrier birth control methods violate the 6th commandment?” we have to answer this question: “is sperm in and of itself ‘potential life?’”

My answer to this is “no”.

Semen is not a seed, sperm is not a seed. Without an egg present there is no chance that the sperm will survive. Unless the sperm fertilizes an egg it will die. Yes, the sperm is a living cell, but it does not carry by itself the potential for new human life.

Unless a woman is ovulating there is no potential for that sperm to grow into a life as it will never contact an egg. It will simply swim around inside the woman for a few hours or days and eventually die.

If we had to ensure sperm survived sex (the logical conclusion of Onanists), we would limit sexual union to only the time in which a woman is ovulating. Any sex outside of that time of fertility would be denying that “seed” a real opportunity to grow into life. You would be robbing that sperm the opportunity to meet and fertilize an egg.

We are commanded to give our spouse their conjugal rights, surely our spouse wants this fulfillment outside of the ovulation period, are we therefore being commanded to commit murder every time we do it any other time?

God would not command us to violate His own commandments. He knew that eventually we would know the science behind ovulation and understand the cycle of fertility. He allowed us to discover these things. The logical conclusion of the Onanists would have us use this knowledge to limit intercourse to those fertile times, otherwise we are “wasting” our “seed” just as Onan did.

Whether or not you believe barrier methods of birth control are sinful or not is not an indication of your salvation. This is a matter of conscience and I don’t hold it against anyone if they come to the conclusion that they personally cannot use barriers, coitus interuptus, or vasectomies in good conscience.

But for the reasons above, I don’t consider them sinful.

Stick around for the next post when I discuss why I believe hormonal birth control is sinful.

Keeping Our Kids Off Porn

Not my method…

Last week,  I discussed the fact that porn is a drug and corrected some common misconceptions about it. This week I intend to give a couple of methods that I see as useful in preventing and fighting porn addiction.

I recommended last time that those who are hooked should stop right now, cold turkey. But while the behavior can be stopped immediately, I think it’s important to examine the root of this addiction and slavery to sexual sin. What makes so many men (and women) vulnerable?

Part of the allure is wiring. Illicit sex is a very enticing sin to many. We are wired with a strong need for intimacy and human touch, and sex is the strongest expression of both. We are often so needy of intimacy that we will settle for even the cheapest of imitations. 

Sex is such a strong desire in our lives, many have over-focused on it and made sexual sin out to be the worst possible sin one can commit. While scripture certainly tells us that sexual sin is especially heinous to the point where one sins against his own body, it is certainly not the unpardonable sin. We need to extend grace to those who have genuinely repented of sexual sins.

It is an understatement to say that we live in a sex-saturated culture. While some of the discussion about sex are healthy and much preferable to the prudishness of previous generations, much if not most of what’s floating around out there is anything but helpful. Most of the sexual discussions out there do not promote healthy sexuality.

What is the root of this porn obsessed culture?

Within the church a large part of it is the “modesty culture.” This sub – culture of Christianity has placed undo sexual meaning to the word “modest” and has created an entire generation of sons who can’t even look around at the mall. 

This group of people have so over obsessed with the sexual attractiveness of the female body that even breastfeeding is shameful and should be kept in bathrooms or in one’s own home. 

Both the church and the secular culture at large have bought into the Freudian lie that sex is the most basic motivator for all human behavior. Our sexuality and sexual appetites define us now. It has become the biggest definer of our self-worth and self-image. 

If everything is sexual, everything becomes Pornographic,  regardless of the content. Even showing affection to your children is sexualized now. 

In the sex-obsessed world we live in it may seem impossible to prevent and kill porn addiction. How do I recommend we do it? 

Short answer: we change our perspective of the human body and sex. Instead of adopting the culture’s pornographic view of the body and sex or the modern church’s prude view of the body and sex, we need to instead adopt a proper and Biblical view. 

The human body:

Much of what attracts young men to porn is the allure of the forbidden. Growing up many if not most Christian boys are constantly told that the allure of the female body is so strong that they have no choice but to lust when exposed to any part of it. 

I believe many young men get into porn as an innocent desire to see what has been hidden. They are told growing up that the sight of a bare breast (thigh, midriff, ankle, etc) will set them into wild fits of lust. They are told to avert their eyes every time a girl walks by in a bikini. This kind of indoctrination creates a curiosity in the young mind. Will the sight of female flesh really make them feel great? What’s under there that is so powerful it must be hidden at all times? 

Naturally these boys will look for what is most accessible. Unfortunately,  most of what is readily available is highky sexual in nature. The media reinforces the teaching that men can only view women as sex objects by portraying them primarily as sex objects. And, just as prohibiting and limiting alcohol consumption until older and older ages leads many into binge drinking and unhealthy alcohol abuse, limiting healthy exposure to the normal human body leads to unhealthy binge consumption of unhealthily sexualized bodies. What started as a curiosity easily turns into an addiction. 

When you are constantly told “don’t look don’t look don’t look”  your mind is being trained to view women’s bodies (and women in general) as stumbling blocks, not as people. 

I knew guys in college who were proud of the fact that they stared at the sand or the sky every time they went to the beach. They avoided even the slightest sight of flesh. That is not something to be proud of. That’s actually a great sign that you need an adjusted mind. One should be able to see a nude woman (or any part of a woman) without flying into fits of sexual rage. 

We should not confuse attraction with lust. Attraction is normal, wild covetousness of women is not. Men who grow up being told that this is how they will react to the sight of women are in a sense conditioned into lust. Well-meaning “bounce your eyes” teachers tell them that even just one lingering glance is lust. If merely looking is lust, why not continue on to do the real thing?

Many of the “bounce your eyes” porn-fighters make avoiding the sight of the female body the cornerstone of their method. I recommend the opposite approach. I recommend seeing it more, specifically in an artistic, non-sexual setting. 

This serves two purposes. First, it removes much of the “forbidden fruit” aspect of the body that increases unhealthy interest in it. Second,  it trains the mind to view the body as on object of symmetry and beauty, not as a purely sexual object. If the non-sexualized nude body was a normalized sight in our culture this “body = sex” association would be much more difficult to plant in the minds of young men (and women). 

If you can train your mind to “not lust” by averting your eyes you are also training your mind to lust when your gaze lingers. A much better approach is to learn a proper perspective of the body not as a pornographic object but as an object made in the image of God and worthy of our respect and admiration. 

I found that when I started painting and drawing the human figure, much of the sexual aspects of the body faded into the background. It’s not that the body is not attractive, it just becomes attractive in a different way. When viewed as art, the body becomes lines, curves, and symmetry. The body becomes an object of great beauty, not an object of sexual appetite.

If you think that the body uncovered is sin in itself just stick around for my next CRAS post. 

Sex:

My last posts got called out for being “repressive” and “puritanical”. I hope I did not come across as prude to my mainly Christian audience. My intent is not to make sex taboo or make people think it is dirty and couples can’t have fun with it. Quite the contrary, I encourage married couples to experiment and try new things to keep their sex lives spicy. 

Key word there is “married”. That is the box I place sex into. I don’t think it is repressive or “puritanical” (not in the sense most use it anyway) to claim that truly healthy sex is found only within the bounds of committed heterosexual monogamy. Marriage is God’s gift to us and allows us the ability to channel our sexual appetites into a productive and beautiful place, rather than into degrading and harmful places. 

In my opinion,  one of the best ways to take the steam out of the pornographic culture we live in is to teach a healthy ethic of sex. This needs to be done early and often in our children’s lives. Start with basic biology well before puberty begins and slowly introduce them to the fact that sex feels good and has many positive and wonderful effects within a committed and monogamous relationship. 

We need to teach our kids, boys and girls, that attraction is a normal thing. As they grow, they are going to find themselves feeling inclined to look and linger at the bodies of others. We need to teach them that this is normal and healthy and that they shouldn’t be ashamed of it. They should not obsess over or feed these thoughts too much either as they can lead to lust.We shouldn’t be teaching them that this attraction is lust or that every time they notice another person they will lust. They can have these thoughts and feelings and not be mastered by them. 

We then need to teach them that marriage is the channel God intended us to put our sexual thoughts and desires into. Teach them that passionate marriages are a good and blessed thing, and that there is nothing shameful at all about sex within that boundary.

To fight porn’s temptation our children need to understand that sex is not a tool for self-gratification. Sex is a building block of intimacy with another person. It is one way we share ourselves with the one person we will (should) spend the bulk of our lives with. It is a powerful part of building intimacy and as such should be reserved for one person alone. 

There are many more things I could say, but I hope you get the idea. Perhaps one day I’ll get deeper into these discussions as I’m sure some of you will find tons of holes in this that I simply don’t have the ability to fill in so few words. 

But for now, I’ll leave it at this: if you want to keep your self or your kids off porn, work on changing your and/or your children’s understanding of the body and of sex.