Shannon T.L. Kearns
Shannon T.L. Kearns
How Far Is Too Far
Shannon T.L. Kearns > How Far Is Too Far


Neither of us really know how to do this. We weren’t taught or trained. We mostly operate by instinct. So it’s no wonder that i have the same kinds of questions over and over again with formerly evangelical friends: when did you have sex? How do I know when I’m ready? Or when we’ve been together long enough?

See we were taught that marriage was between a man and a woman after they were married. Only after. We internalized that message and it has messed us up over and over again. Because the world? And people? Well, they are a lot more complicated than that simple equation.

So here’s what I learned about sex growing up: Don’t do it. At all. Don’t even kiss too hard. Definitely don’t touch each other intimately. But even if you do that, definitely don’t have sex until you are married. Some couples didn’t even kiss until their wedding day. I knew some couples who didn’t use tongue in their kissing until their wedding day because that was too intimate.

They taught us that asking where the line was probably meant we were already going too far. But all of these messages assumed some pretty big things: Only men and women were dating. And sex looked very specific; a coherent progression from kissing to “petting” to penis in vagina intercourse.

So even though queer sex was definitely outlawed as immoral, there were also some pretty big gaps in who was violating the stated sexual rules. Because did oral sex count as sex? And if you couldn’t have penis in vagina sex could you ever actually have sex at all? And what if by “petting” you were able to bring someone to orgasm? Was that sex? Even if no penises went into any vaginas? I mean, I guess if you went back to the standard line that asking about where the line was already meant you went too far you had your answers.

But anyway it makes sense that we, grown ass adult people, who are in charge of our own lives, would sit at a bar and ask the question of how soon is too soon? At what point is kissing allowed? When can you make out? When can you touch each other? Is sex before a defined relationship being slutty? What does it all mean?

What is missing in these conversations about timelines and limits are the acknowledgements of our adulthood. We are grown people. We know ourselves. We communicate with our partners. We ask for consent. We are able to consent. What should it matter when and where and how we do these things? If we are all grown ups, if we are consenting, if we are wanting to do what we are doing, what is the issue?

The issue is that purity culture is insidious. It stays with you long after you think you have left it behind. It stays with you even when you don’t believe in it anymore. I no longer believe that sex is only between a man and a woman in a marriage. I don’t believe that sex is only penis in vagina. I don’t believe that sex only means something without the bounds of a committed relationship. And yet. I still wonder sometimes if things are too soon. I wonder if I am abiding by the “right” timeline. Even though the timeline feels right to both of us. I still have these voices in my head that try to instill shame. Those voices aren’t mine. They aren’t what I actually believe. They are the vestiges of a culture and tradition I no longer belong to. But they are pernicuous.

How do we unlearn these messages? How do we break free, completely free, from these ideas that we don’t even believe in? How do we allow ourselves to be actual adults with real feelings and agency over our own lives?

We do it by having lots of conversations with other people about their journeys and experiences. We take it slow when we need to. We check in with ourselves over and over again about what makes the most sense to us, what feels right, what meets our needs. We make plans that align with our values. We have conversations with our partners about what they want and need. We try things. We reevaluate. We have more conversations. When the voices of doubt come up we don’t silence them, we simply acknowledge they are they, spend some time to see if there is any truth to them, and move on accordingly.

I’m no longer interested in conversations about how far is too far or how fast is too fast. I’m no longer interested in arbitrary rules that override individuality and invalidate queer sexuality. I am not longer interested in someone else dictating what is healthy or right for me. Instead I am interested in conversations about respect and consent and health. I am interested in conversations about values and connection and intimacy. I am interested in figuring out what works for my partner and me. I am interested in connection and communication and intimacy.

I am interested in wholeness.

Photo Credit: Geoff Livingston Flickr via Compfight cc