My most intimate moment with a man happened to me on top of an active volcano.
That sounds amazing, but trust me, this is actually a pretty embarrassing story. On a scale of zero to cringe, this was about...a million. And I know that many of you out there are rooting for me, but don't get too excited; there was no sex.
Because 1AM summertime twilight over a slimy steam room in a hut attached to a pit toilet on top of a glacier that covers a volcano is neither the time nor the place for sex. For me, anyway, and no judgment if this sounds like your perfect romantic evening. It just...wasn't doing it for me. Not then, anyway.
Over the past several months, I have had many Icelandic culture lessons. And now, I just kind of feel like those several months were essentially preparing me for this moment, a moment of close-quarters showering and steam bathing and standing, not once but twice, bare-ass naked in the snow with some guy. Naked as the days we were born, which were approximately twenty years apart, so. Perhaps another reason this wasn't working for me, but not necessarily so. Sorry, mom.
But anyway, there we were, because I had agreed to accompany him to the sauna thinking, apparently stupidly, that we were, like, just going to go to the sauna and not have some weird forced existential experience. I don't blame the guy. He wanted me to feel it, really feel the cold and the sunlight and the tranquility on the mountain. The sunset layers were dreamy, and this was one of our first clear nights up there so we could see all the way up to the north. He wanted to show me that this was the place from whence my data came, and this is what was necessary for me to understand.
If you have known me for five seconds, then you probably know that I am intensely spiritual. Standing naked on a glacier, with icy air washing over my bare skin, basking in the golds and pinks of the remaining light and the deep lavenders of the shadows, is exactly the sort of thing I am super into. I can praise the good Lord for that. I can hold space for myself there. I can reflect and rejoice in such a circumstance.
But, like...not then. Not when I had absolutely no idea what was going on, or what he was talking about half the time, or what drunken sagely wisdom he was attempting to pass down to me in a surprisingly fatherly way. I wasn't open to actively participating in the conversation because I wasn't particularly comfortable. Not uncomfortable, mostly curious as to where this was going, but not comfortable either. Not familiar with this uncharted territory. I don't love being dragged outside, naked, without explanation. I don't like showering with somebody in a cramped cubicle when it seems rather extremely unnecessary. I don't have deep conversations with tipsy people if I am not equally as tipsy. And as public nudity is still an incredibly new thing for me, I wasn't sure what the game was. Were we, or were we not..?
Nudity is not sexual here. It isn't. I would score zero points with an Icelander for trying to sexualize a trip to the sauna. So I just pretty much figured that any weird sexual tension was probably coming from me, since I hail from the Land of the Shamed and Home of the Constantly Sexualized, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure. So, I later consulted another Nordic person, and when she was just about as unclear as I was, I figured that my insecurities were probably well-founded. I mean, of course they are, but I do find it interesting to live in a culture that actively frowns upon sexualizing non-sexual experiences. I was curious, and not unsafe; I was fine. Very confused, but fine. Although, I guess Icelanders usually do respect your space while you're showering after the sauna, but all's well that ends.
I am as God made me, but I am also a product of my environment. I come from a culture where assumed virginity is packaged neatly with singleness, and presented as some sort of virtue wrapped up within the glimmer of purity culture; a gift to be shared under a legally binding contract between a man and a woman. But as myself and my peers grow irritated with gender roles dividing everything from toys to acceptable behavior to children's clothing, I've begun to dig deeper. I've started to notice holes in purity culture, and have pretty much decided that purity culture, at its root, is exactly the same thing as rape culture.
Allow me to explain.
Nope, it's too much. Allow me to summarize.
Purity culture assigns your self worth to your ability to control your body. Rape culture makes it okay for somebody else to control your body.
Purity culture reminds you that you are inherently dirty. Rape culture delights in telling you that you are inherently dirty.
Purity culture reminds you that you are damaged and worthless without this virtue. Rape culture reminds you that you deserve to be damaged because you are worthless.
Purity culture pretends to hold men and women equally responsible for their behavior, but demands submission from women at the end of the day. Rape culture unabashedly blames survivors; most of whom are women.
Purity culture ignores any power of decision. Rape culture takes the decision away.
Purity culture holds sex as the highest achievement. Rape culture uses sex as the ultimate power.
Purity culture raises victims and protects perpetrators. Rape culture shames victims and praises perpetrators.
Purity culture values silence over justice. Rape culture depends on valuing silence over justice.
Purity culture leads to rape culture.
I cannot say this enough. Purity culture leads, directly leads, to rape culture. The way we have raised our children (we being a collective) makes them submissive, vulnerable; the ways by which we refuse to take responsibility for this baffles me. Every time we make an excuse for somebody's inexcusable behavior, we show our kids that their safety is not a priority. Every time we say that "boys will be boys," we hold our boys to sickeningly low expectations. Every time we cover abuse with the blood of Christ, we wash our hands with the blood of our kids. Every. Time.
I can't be a part of this. This ship has pretty much sailed, but I guess I'll just say for the record that I am officially done with purity culture. I have not lost my moral compass; this is my moral compass. Purity culture is a twisted and perverse version of rape culture, and it is a dangerous thing to teach. Now, I am certainly not saying that choosing to wait until marriage is a bad choice; arguably it likely saves a lot of heartbreak and loss, it demonstrates a command of priorities, and it is ultimately selfless. It's a beautiful thing to share with one person. But the way we frame sex absolutely makes those who have made a different decision, or those who have had that decision taken from them, feel subhuman. I'm done with it, completely done.
The undercurrents of shame and trauma in my life have essentially set the stage for a lack of sexual intimacy in my life, but I am not here in the spirit of pointing fingers. It's just how I turned out; more or less sexually independent. I'm not satisfied with it, but I'm not...well. I guess I'm a little heartbroken about it, but I am looking forward to growing and becoming better at being two rather than just being one all the time.
But, being here is the healthiest thing I've ever done. My Icelandic therapist gets upset with me when I tell her that I'm afraid of being behind, that I haven't grown enough...because there is no behind, there is no enough. I feel these insecurities because I have the preposterous idea that everybody else has figured it out, and I haven't. In reality, everybody is fumbling through this. And in Iceland where it is okay to make mistakes and figure things out your own way, it is okay to be sexual, it is okay to not be sexual, and it is okay to find yourself completely nude, standing on a glacier with your mentor, without any boundaries being crossed.
Things get less shameful when we stop making them so shameful.
Huh. Who would've thought?