How My Open Marriage Helps Me Explore My Bisexuality and Heal From Purity Culture

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I didn’t think I’d have to actually come to terms with any part of my sexuality. When I was 14 years old, my parents read my LiveJournal post in which I said I was bisexual. Growing up in a conservative Christian environment, I’d heard of “gay” and “lesbian” and was told those “lifestyles” were bad, of course. But when some of my friends in my freshman year of high school confessed that they considered themselves bisexual, attracted to both men and women… things clicked in my brain. 

So that’s exactly why Mari, the tiny, Hot Topic-wearing bespectacled girl with hair cut perfectly close to her ears was on my mind all the time. I stared too long at her body, tried to look at the things she wrote and doodled in her black spiral notebooks, and delved far too deeply into her personal life. I’d felt that way before about boys I wanted to kiss. And so I wrote, in completely uncertain terms, on a public LiveJournal, circa 2002 or 2003… that I was bisexual. I never imagined my parents would read it, but they did. And my mom cried. It didn’t matter that I’d only ever kissed and dated boys… I knew at that moment whatever it meant to be a bisexual was bad. 

I tried to live in a world of purity culture with my mind and heart and body — including a pristine, perfect, untouched vagina — devoted to Jesus Christ and my future husband. “Purity culture” is the idea that Christians should remain “pure” and not “defile” themselves with premarital sex. They even had rings to wear on your marriage finger (I had a “True Love Waits” ring myself) as a reminder that you’re supposed to honor God by saving yourself for marriage. Purity culture demands strict modesty and no sexual desire, especially among women.

At age 16, I failed at this, and began having sex with my boyfriend. But that was it, and two years later, I met my now-husband after I had literally just graduated high school. And I “confessed” my premarital sins. He didn’t care, and we began having sex too. That is, until we got engaged only a year later at age 19. Shockingly young, but pretty common in the evangelical culture I lived in. Then we stopped having sex until we got married a year later. For sort of the “virgin effect” as it were. 

And I never pursued dating girls. I wanted to. I kissed a few. But I was scared. I didn’t want do anything more sinful than I already had by having premarital sex.

Two kids later and seven years later I found myself in a far more religiously progressive area of my life. My politics were different; my faith was different. I left my hometown. I happily supported LGBT rights and attended a UCC church, one of the most open and affirming Christian denominations out there. But my life was still extremely heteronormative. Bisexual or not, I was monogamous, and I’d chosen a person, and that person was a man.

Then I fell in love with another man. Yes, I was satisfied in my marriage. Yes, my husband is attentive, kind, perfect, and all the things a husband is supposed to be. I didn’t want to leave him. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. But for years I’d been fighting off attractions and feelings to multiple people to a point that I assumed I was broken, sinful, full of lust. It circled in my brain over and over again, the moments I had tried to remain “pure” clashing with all the moments I had failed and “sinned.” 

But I was tired of fighting it all. I didn’t want to cheat on my husband. I didn’t want to leave him. So I tried this weird thing that you don’t really know how to do until you completely embrace yourself for who you are: I was honest with him. It was scary, and I knew he might reject me, and it could ruin our marriage forever. But… it didn’t. And I thought maybe he felt that way too. As it turns out, he did.

Since then, I’ve been juggling my sexuality and my religion in ways I never thought I would. I finally let go of purity culture for good, of my own internalized biases. I’ve seen people in ways that I never thought I would be able to see them. When you devote your life to another person completely, to the idea of the nuclear family, you forget to form a community, to radically love other people the way that Jesus told us to love them. Within polyamory, I exposed myself not just to different kinds of sex, but different kinds of love that I wouldn’t have allowed myself to explore otherwise. 

I was so afraid that coming into my sexuality would mean that I was abandoning my walk with God. But in fact, it’s been the opposite. I’ve learned about the loss and pain that comes with taking on the burdens of not just one partner, but multiple. I learned to explore my own bisexuality and finally feel comfortable in my attractions to the same gender. In fact… I now happily date women. And I haven’t felt “worse” because of it. I haven’t felt less connected to God. I truly love my partners, and I truly want to be there for them. And that means expanding your idea of family outside your spouse and kids. It means having a community. It means dealing with the problems and joys of other people. It means bringing more people into your fold instead of excluding them.

Still, I always feel a little out of place everywhere I am. Am I too slutty for most Christians? Probably. Am I too Christian for most non-monogamous people in alternative lifestyles? Also probably yes. But in this identity, I’ve found a connection with myself that I never had before. I feel free. I feel the touch of God in my life and I feel the exposure to different kinds of love I never found possible. Shame has been replaced with peace… at least about this. Purity culture still has (and might always have) a place in my life, as if I should feel ashamed that I love multiple people, or people outside my marriage, or women in particular. But I can’t. God made them all in his image, and I get to be lucky enough to see them more intimately, as they are.

Of course my other relationships have had struggles. Some were good, some were bad. I learned so much about being a better person during the course of these intense relationships. But my marriage had struggles too. My family relationships had struggles. But fighting through those struggles and trying to become a better person for my partners has made me want to become a better Christian for God, too.

I don’t know if I have all the answers. Maybe other people are completely certain in their walks of faith. I never have been. I just know, finally, that this is who I am. And that God made me this way. And that I’ve finally reckoned with those parts of myself that God created inside of me.


 

Jennifer C. Martin is a writer and a mom of two boys who is currently living in Richmond, VA, where she attends St. John’s United Church of Christ. Originally from Cleveland, TN, she has a degree in Communications from charismatic Christian Lee University. She likes discussing polyamory,  progressive Christianity, politics, parenting, and journalism. In her limited free time, she enjoys baking, yoga, travel, and going on adventures. Follow her on Twitter @notreallyjcm.

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