The title of this post is a play off of I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, an abstinence book by a 20-year old Joshua Harris that captured Christian imaginations at the peak of the purity movement, an era of teen-abstinence in the mid-90’s that I call “The Glory Days of Gawd!”  Cue the flashback. 

It was 1994.  Twas a glorious time to be a Christian teen!  Promise Keepers packed stadiums.  Students prayed at flagpoles.  DC Talk broke into secular pop charts with Jesus Freak and it mattered.   If you had a tattoo with a cross or Jesus Fish, hell, you were the sexiest thing on earth.  Keep in mind, the 90’s were pre-Columbine.  School shootings did not exist.  Back then, the war at high school was for sexual purity and dating was Thunderdome.  

In the Bible belt, abstinence wasn’t a new concept.  Kissing dating good-bye sure as hell was! If dating was a minefield of temptation, skipping it was chivalrous. It brought sexy back in a Justin Timberlake kind of way. The fedora guy on the cover of IKDGB could be any of us, and that was as sapio-sexy as Fifty Shades.  As a teenage guy, this appealed to me.  I wasn’t tall enough for basketball.  Not the case for purity.  Abstinence would be my thing!  Being confident, attractive, and celibate?  Oh, man.  I’m a triple threat!  

In an ironic way, purity culture made the socially-awkward feel like knights and princesses.  Take me for instance.  I didn’t grow up with sisters.   To me, women were mysterious, like mystical unicorns in a moonlit pond.  I was awkward around them.  I kept looking at their horn.  

Thanks to purity culture, I traded self-consciousness for self-righteousness.  I found my confidence in judging attractive, tempting women. My struggle would be their fault.  I judged the “perverse” behind my pompous pulpit of purity. This tactic worked so well, it morphed into a fear of attractive women in my adult years.

As a self-proclaimed B+ type of teen, I only felt safe around girls my league.  Zoom to Nate, 16, in the backseat of mom’s car with the youth minister’s daughter.  She was my league.

When I had sex for the first time, alchemy happened!  It was amazing and irreversible.  I blossomed with my sexual equal.  We devoured each other again, and again, and again.  How could we focus on French class when we were learning the sacred language of Kings and Queens?  During school lunches, we’d park at a church across the street until 12:56pm -- just enough time to make 5th period with the aroma of heaven on our lips and fingers.  It.  Was.  Fantastic.

Then the guilt came.  Each orgasm was followed by eschatological shame.  I confessed before church.  I called my passionate romance an addiction.   Every time we had sex, we felt like we were cheating on our spouses, spouses who didn’t exist.   We cried many times, devastated.  The night I became a man was remembered as the night I failed God.  We were only teenagers.  Purity branded us fornicators.  In Christ name, amen.

Twenty-five years later, this guilt confounds me.  Why did I feel guilty?  Why do I still use the words “lost my virginity” if I gained my manhood?  I have friends whose first-time experience involved rape or molestation.  They lost their virginity, not me. 

In purity culture, all sexual sins are equal.  Thinking lustful thoughts is as bad as adultery. Adultery is as bad as murder if you consider the story of King David. I call this all-sins-are-equal manipulation sin-snowballing. Lust begets adultery which begets murder. Get it? Here’s another example. At one point, my girlfriend was late two months.  We didn’t use protection. (We felt condoms caused temptation.  Go figure.)  I sin-snowballed blaming myself for the miscarriage.  “Maybe I prayed the baby away.   Maybe.  I am a triple threat. Fornicator-adulterer-murderer.”  Whatever it took to keep my penis in my pants. 

Despite breaking-up many times out of penitence, it took separate colleges to keep our hands off each other. She went to one university.  I went to another.  She slept with guy.  I found out and became celibate.   Heartbroken at 19, I penned a letter to my future wife vowing to be abstinent until marriage. I loved Jesus, but I believe the real reason I chose abstinence was to avoid hurt.  

Shortly after, I came across the book I Kissed Dating Good-Bye.  Dropping dating for courtship felt like sanctuary. Yes! Sign me up! Purity became the shield to protect my heart, but it would also stunt my growth for the next 20 years. 

Remember the Steve Carell movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin?

I was a version of that guy.  

Remember the Steve Carell movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin?  I was a version of that guy.  In fact, a lot of my church friends were!  My faith-based frat-pack avoided bars, played board games, and went to Six Flags.  We never went to strip clubs nor did we pick-up women.  I remember feeling above all that.  We cock-blocked ourselves and were damn proud of it.  We closed those laid-less nights like heroes walking away from explosions in slow-motion.  I always sensed something missing from our bro-times, something that made men men.  If you ask me, it’s because we never pursued sex.  Ever.

How do Christian men attract women?  Beats me.  As a fundamentalist in my teens and early twenties, alcohol was sinful.  So was partnered-dancing.  Without bars or clubs, what’s left?  Church!  Move over, Saturday night. Here comes Sunday morning!  After service, I’d ask church girls out on group dates, mainly to Six Flags.  In those days, I wanted to be friends! Being friends enabled me to get to know women without the pressures of sex!   I flourished in the friend-zone! I was a casanova friending more women than Facebook! Until I met my wife, Boom.

That’s her nickname.  Boom.  Like Joshua Harris’ book, we jumped from friendship to courtship.  Boom.  (That’s for emphasis.)  We made it to our honeymoon without having sex.  Ba-boom!  Our first night together, all we did was sleep.  Ahhh.  It was sweet, sweet deliciousness; a magical evening in naked embrace, an eternal memory I will never forget.  The next day, everything changed.  We couldn’t have sex.  We were strangely averse to one another.  Thirteen years later, we would divorce due to a sexless marriage stunted by shame.  Boom.  (That’s Purity.)

I’ve often wondered why we stuck it out so long. Obviously, we loved each other, but there’s another part to it. In purity culture, we don’t say the D-word.  Divorce is unspeakable.  The idea is to be so committed to marriage that we exclude divorce from our vocabulary.  It’s a romantic thought, and it’s fucked-up.  

Without space to discuss divorce, my wife and I felt entrapped. We couldn’t be genuine. Authenticity became something to fear. Neither of us could show up in our fullness. Halfness was “holy”. Marriage became an echo chamber of guilt and expectation.  

Being in church leadership made it worse.  We were an example for a community before we knew how to be a couple in our privacy. When Bible versus and prayers didn’t work, we were given books -- so many damn books, books that made us feel more broken and more shamed.  In our darkest moments, we both pondered suicide to set the other free.  “Til death do us part.”  Can you believe that?  What happened in our brains that made suicide the lesser sin than the D-word?  By the time we separated, we were asexual, and I had PTSD with a clinical fear of sex.

Recently, my buddy and I had the privilege of interviewing Joshua Harris, now in his 40’s, for Touch Podcast: Conversations of Spirit and Body.  He was promoting a documentary called I Survived I Kissed Dating Good-Bye.  In it, he changed his position on dating. He shared remorse for leading many in a wrong direction.  As a former purity educator as well, I share his pain. Teachers of purity are victims too.  There is a genuine horror when we realize we’ve taught the wrong thing to countless teenagers.  It’s like watering a fern with a jar full of water monkeys. We were well-meaning, but destroyed a bagillion lives.

Sexuality is a tough subject for Christians.  It involves pleasure. Pleasure is handled with trepidation, as if talking about it could lead to sin. The church’s inability to discuss sexuality and pleasure is what keeps it from growing.  Pleasure is what unlocks our divine uniqueness!  Unless Christianity embraces pleasure, it hides its own unique voice from the world.  Until then, the Christ we preach is but a shadow of who He is.  By over-protecting itself, Christianity has created its own sub-culture, marketing only to itself, losing its divine uniqueness. 

I was trapped in this sub-culture until I gripped my pleasure.  (Pun intended).  I’ve since grown.  (Pun intended again).  Now I see!  Embracing sexuality without shame feels like becoming a believer all over again, and this didn’t cost my faith.  In fact, it made my faith more.  In the conscious community, there’s a word to describe this second coming-to-Jesus moment.  It’s called being Awake.

Before my separation, I had a life without pleasure. I judged people living the life I wanted. I dissected their joy, defusing it before any of it got to me. I did this because I had Jesus. People should want what I have; not vice versa, right? The moment I admit to wanting more, I become a betrayer to the cross, right? To desire anything beyond Christ is to be unsatisfied with God’s grace, and that’s blasphemy of the holy spirit; the unforgiveable sin of Mark 3:22-30, right?! Hello, sin-snowballing, my old friend.

I made desire the other “D-word”, folks. Anything I desired, I deemed sin. My morality felt most comfortable in the non-desire zone. There, I had no uniqueness, no vibrancy, no fire. Everything was kept at a B+. I chose a life without pleasure. I was safe.

Living in pleasure demands more of me.  I have to wake-up. I have to show up. For once in my life, I have to be fucking honest with myself.  This forces me all-in, at risk of falling in love, at risk of getting hurt, at risk of being truly seen and judged every day. To be fully honest with myself, I have to resurrect what purity culture crucified – my sexual being. 

Reviving the sexual being is deeper than getting laid with Tinder. It is a spiritual journey. In shamanic terms, it’s known as a soul retrieval.  It’s going inward, befriending our darkest shame, and stepping out with her/him in the Light. It’s the scariest journey one can have. The only way I could go on this journey is behind a camera. When I shoot, I’m not afraid!

I borrowed my friend’s camera, and for the next two years I became a documentary filmmaker shooting my way out of shame. I explored my Baptist roots. I investigated the porn industry. I created erotic art. I crossed the ocean for mystic teachings. I found footage of a Kundalini Awakening and documented what I believe is transverberation (religious ecstasy) which was first recorded by Saint Teresa of Avila.

Like Saul becoming Paul on the road to Damascus, observing these phenomenon changed me!  I became a whirlwind of ecstatic energy. Imagine Pepe Le Pew and the Tasmanian Devil whisked into one. I reversed the problem, folks. I was getting too much sex now with the same inability to hold it! I got obsessed with the sex-positivity of my quest just like I was obsessed with the sex-negativity in purity culture, and again, I was skipping dating to avoid getting hurt.

This is why I am “fucking dating hello”. For a guy who misunderstood halfness as holiness in marriage, dating is a practice to be in my fullness. Dating is not a ritual exclusive to singles either. I can date my spouse or even myself! Our ability to hold infinite pleasure, whether by ourselves or in a relationship, is a path of consciousness. It is the discipline of gurus and Gandalfs! By finding infinite pleasure in things that are not sexual, I lowered my fears for pleasures that are sexual. This is the alchemic paradox that changed my life. Ironically, this transformation required a divine source of power that purity culture separated myself from — my Body.

My healing journey begins with my separation.   This.  Was.  Scary.  It risked everything.  For three years, Boom and I did this in private to avoid outside judgments of friends and family. It worked.  We evolved our individual selves.  We even had the private space to consider getting back together!  In the end, we happily chose divorce.  Yes, happily.  Where Boom and I are now is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.  Falling out of love takes as much work as falling in love, and the ending can be just as beautiful.

In purity culture, sexuality is hidden from the light.  In freedom, we celebrate it!  If purity is “either or”, freedom is “yes and”. In freedom, you can have pleasure and Christian.  You can be human and divine.  Purity trades holiness for sex.  Freedom claims both!  

The church’s inability to confront sexuality has suffocated Christianity.  It has estranged Christians from their spouses, their faith communities, and their own life-giving bodies.  Not any more.  Our sex is a unique gift to be blossomed into world.  Hidden in your pleasure is your divine power, your God-given uniqueness. In Christ name, amen!

It’s time for us all to come home to our sexual selves.  This is not as impossible as it sounds. The shame that separates us is a pain that unites us!  Trust in the grace you believe in.  It works!  When we gather and step fully in, we heal.  Love makes us new!  Faith becomes a wild discovery once again as it is intended to be. 

In Christianity, there’s a word to describe this dazzling, unscripted experience.  It’s called Revival.

Nathan Novero