Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.
-Song of Solomon 2:7
Sexuality, as designed by God and given to marriage, is an amazing wonder to behold. Uniting yourself, literally and figuratively, with a person who loves and accepts you, as you are, deeply compliments – and ultimately completes – the physical satisfaction of sexual enjoyment. As scientists learn more and more about our brain, neuroplasticity, and the feedback loop associated with sex-induced hormones, it becomes all the more obvious that God knew what He was doing when He provided a husband and wife with this powerful tool.
As two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen make water, so sexual stimulation will cause your brain to react. It’s chemistry.
But, it’s chemistry that we don’t often speak of and certainly not in neat, tidy packages on Sunday morning. Sex, and the desire for it, are still a dirty idea in many evangelical communities. Whole swaths of people who say they abide by the word of God oppose the inclusion of Song of Solomon – or almost more ridiculously, try to cover its overt references to a man and woman enjoying one another’s bodies with analogies of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. Cleary, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for his love is more delightful than wine. Song 1:1 must be a reference to the church’s singular passion for her Savior and nothing whatsoever to do with a wife’s ardor for her husband’s touch. This misplaced prudery wreaks havoc in our marriage beds. But far more sinister is its ability to undo a person whose brain was washed by oxytocin, endorphins, norepinephrine, and dopamine during nonconsensual, repeated, sexual contact.
Many people assume that sexual assault looks like the victim running for their life – desperately fighting off their attacker and blinded by hatred for their perpetrator. It is easy to see why this is the go-to model for all assault. While this form of abuse is deplorable, and it breaks my heart to acknowledge that it does happen, it presents a fairly neat picture of victim/perpetrator with clear lines between right and wrong. The church can stand safely on the side of the victim and support them through this trial without ever asking, or answering, awkward questions. But muddy the waters just a little bit and suddenly the gloves come off and definitions become far more grey.
- Was she drinking?
- Did he receive mixed signals?
- Are they already connected in a romantic relationship?
- Is the perpetrator a female?
- Was the contact enjoyable?
And worst of all…
- Did the victim intentionally (unconsciously or otherwise) trigger the abuser through their own actions?
It’s time to have an honest conversation about these questions and their regular habit of showing up within sexual assault scenarios. There is a public dialogue beginning to tackle the first four. There is rarely even a peep with regards to the last two. But it is the last two that so often affect the most defenseless of victims – children. These questions, and their logical answers, take us back to chemistry – a chemistry that preys upon a design that was good in the beginning but through sin may be turned into a masterful weapon against the vulnerable in our midst.
A child’s mind is not ready to awaken love. They do not have the resources or maturity to handle conflicting messages of feels good/is bad. This is why children willingly inhale gallons of candy without a single twinge of awareness that two hours from now they will undoubtably suffer the consequences. The immediate result of pleasure creates a chemical loop that draws them back for more. Unless parents and care-providers skillfully associate the painful consequences with the fleeting pleasure, the child will never fully grasp that just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. But what do we do when we don’t know that a child is consuming gallons of candy? How do we help them associate that tummy ache with their earlier experience? And what about children whose introduction to gorging on candy was coerced?
These are the realities faced by the millions of children dealing with hyper sexuality and sexual reactivity. Their brain became addicted to the chemical surge of opiate-like hormones outside of their consent and without the emotional maturity to ensure that the experience was done within a healthy, God-ordained context. And when their little worlds begin to come together again, the realization that they enjoyed something that was bad – even something that was sinful – causes the shame to magnify and threatens to swallow them whole.
As a church, we must fight this battle with them and for them.
Is it difficult to have a conversation about sexual arousal and orgasm with an eight year old? Absolutely! But it is high time we stop playing the prude who can’t abide the idea that a small boy’s penis is stimulated the same way a grown man’s is. My children need this conversation. They need to know that they are not dirty just because their body had a chemical and biological reaction. They need to know that, in the same way a wife long’s for her husband’s kiss, their desire to perpetuate the contact is inextricably wound up in hormones over which they have very little control.
And they need to know that they are loved right where they are – inappropriate desires and all.
Then – and only then – can we begin the truly deep work of healing. Only after we normalize their experience and help them see that what they felt, and even wanted, was not a prooftext of their unworthiness but a sure sign that their wondrously created bodies are working correctly, can we begin to help them see the ways God created those experiences to be had within a healthy context. Removing the perversion from sexual arousal within abuse requires us to actually address sex. All of it. We can’t cower from speaking about appropriate sexuality. We can no longer hide our face in the sand and hope that these victims will heal with a simple: I’ll pray for you.
If we are serious about healing sexual perversions, then we must go to the source of sexuality. We must, as the church, be Christ to the least of these and love them through the darkest of their terrors. Even the ones they sometimes wanted.