Giving it all away.


Photo: Dhilung Kirat, Flickr.

Apart from the questionable grammar, it was a sweet song to learn as an infant:

Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more. 

It’s a common sentiment to teach kids: be generous with your smiles, your hugs, your friendship. Other people will smile back. It’s good to learn to trust the right people and share yourself with them. You gain so much by giving. Good friendships and relationships are mutually beneficial.

In Christian language, we’re meant to value the same – and even to go further. Give of yourself even if you won’t get anything back. Smile at those who won’t smile back. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Lay down your life for your friends. Spend yourself on behalf of the hungry.

There’s no value more Christian than giving of yourself, right?

So here’s a question.

Why do we flip the narrative on it’s head entirely when we teach young people about sex and relationships?

In the Christian purity narrative, the worst thing you can do is to have shared yourself with anyone, except for the one elusive person who you will meet and marry and share your happily-ever-after with.

This isn’t just about sex, it gets extended to any kind of intimacy – none of it okay to share, because you’re giving part of yourself away. And it’s lost. Ruined, spoiled forever. In this version of Christian values, you don’t gain by giving. It’s not noble to share yourself. It spoils you.

There are some truly terrible images we feed young people to hammer this home.

You’re like a piece of paper, and when you have sex with someone you’re like two pieces of paper stuck together with glue. Unless you marry them, you get torn apart and spoil both pieces. 

You’re like a car, and every time you’re intimate with someone else, that’s like miles on your clock. No-one wants to drive a car that’s been too far already, so as the numbers go up, your value goes down. 

You’re like a pie. When you get married you want to give yourself as a whole, perfect pie to your partner. But every relationship you have before then is like giving away a piece of your pie to that person. No-one wants a half eaten pie. Keep your pie whole. 

You’re like a lump of one colour of plasticine, and when you have sex its like two colours being mixed up together. When you want to separate them out again, you can’t do it, little bits get left behind and both are spoiled. 

This idea is all-pervasive. If you date, kiss, have a relationship with, or even have sex with a person you don’t end up marrying, you have given part of yourself away. And that’s part of yourself that you’ll never be able to give to your spouse. You owed it to them and you gave it to someone else.

….What’s with that?

Of course relationships involve giving yourself, but they should involve receiving too. To be healthy, they’ve got to be mutual, respectful, giving both people space to grow and gain, and become more themselves not less. There are unhealthy relationships that only involve giving yourself away, becoming less yourself, losing your identity – and it’s really important that young people learn to recognise those and know they don’t have to put up with that, know they can walk away.

If all we say about pre-marital sex is that it’s bad because it’s pre-marital, we leave no space to talk about consent and respect. If we only talk about pre-marital relationships as bad because you lose a bit of yourself, there’s no space for talking about mutuality and healthy self-giving.

In all my past friendships, dates, flings and relationships, I’ve gained something. Each time, I’ve learned something about myself, or about another person, or about what it means to be human. Each person I’ve been involved with has given me some kind of affection, care, fun, excitement, inspiration, or even love.

And yes, I’ve given of myself too – that’s why I hope those people can look back on their involvement with me and say they gained those things from me. They learnt from me, they had fun, they experienced affection and care.

I’m not trying to paint a perfect picture. Of course there have mistakes and hurt too, both inflicted and received. No doubt there’ll be more to come. But I’d like to think there are ways to learn from those too. Isn’t that what living and growing up is all about?

Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more. 

I’m a different person because of every friendship I’ve ever had. And every relationship too. None of us are blank slates, unaffected by the people we allow into our lives – and thankfully so, surely that would be a sad existence?

How sad to look back on the beautiful, intelligent and warm people I’ve had the privilege of sharing a little of life with, whether fleetingly or for longer, as thieves, stealing part of me owed to another.

How unjust to lump them together with those who have genuinely taken from me without permission, who have used and hurt and damaged.

If I should ever settle down and marry, I’ll be a different person for my past relationships.

But there won’t be less of me to offer my spouse. I am not a ripped apart piece of paper, a used car, a half-eaten pie, a dirty lump of plasticine, a flower with it’s petals picked off or a chewed up piece of gum.

No, there’ll be more of me to offer my spouse. I’m a living, growing human being who loves and is loved, and for that I won’t be ashamed.

About Claire

@claireylegs Keen on Jesus. Keen on justice. Ministry assistant in the Great North East. Blogger. Find me in: coffee shop / church / pub / bed.
This entry was posted in Evangelicalism, Recent posts, Sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Giving it all away.

  1. Will says:

    Love this so much. I’ve had these thoughts too. heard and been horrified by the paper thing but not the others, which are also horrifying. One thing to add to the art of uncertainty about this though. I recently read Romans about bodies as living sacrifices. I guess this is an often abused passage to support some of the messages you call out above.
    Whats interesting though is that after there’s a bit about discerning the acceptable and perfect will of God. If we also apply this to sexual relationships, it should encourage us to keep letting God into this process. He can handle and fix all that we do and all that is gone before, but he also doesn’t want us to stop pursuing his perfect plan for us in this and all other areas of life.

  2. Will says:

    Also recommended book with some amazing thoughts on this.
    Real sex: the naked truth about chastity by Lauren F Winner
    It’s definitely a case for not having sex before marriage but you’re free to disagree. I’ve described the spirit of the book before as “an effort for liberal obedience”
    See what you think

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