We discuss John Harvey Kellogg, early Seventh-day Adventist attitudes towards sex, more modern attitudes, and our own experiences with sex education growing up in the church. Ami asks her friends: When did you learn what sex was?
Links mentioned in this episode:
- Inclusive sex education resources
- Erica Smith, M.Ed. - Sex Educator
- The Dark History of Graham Crackers
- Plain Facts for Old and Young by J.H. Kellogg
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Credits: Abby and Ami, creators of the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast • Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
[00:00:16] Just a quick content warning: this episode covers mature topics and mentions abuse.
[00:00:23] Ami: What age did you learn what sex was?
[00:00:26] Guest 3: I was in the third grade and I was at lunch, and my best friend in third grade told me all about sex, except that she called it humping.
[00:00:36] Group: [Laughing]
[00:00:37] Guest 1: I don't rightly recall. It wasn't exactly something that was hidden from me, like I remember watching like The Beastmaster and stuff when I was a kid and like there are nude scenes in there.
[00:00:48] Guest 2: I wanna say like I was in fourth or fifth grade. My mom was super excited because she felt like, 'I'm gonna share this with my daughter and it's going to be this beautiful experience about explaining how babies are made and how sex is.'
[00:01:04] Guest 5: I guess the specifics, the ins and outs, if you will, I learned from Penthouse Letters that I found in the woods.
Coming Up: Sex and the Adventist Church
[00:01:15] Santiago: Welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago and today we're going to talk about an important topic. It's one that the SDA church and most religions are pretty obsessed with: we're talking about sex.
[00:01:31] For any parents or other folks who are interested, there are links in the show notes to inclusive sex education resources for kids, teens, and adults.
[00:01:42] Before I forget, make sure to follow the show by subscribing on YouTube or your favorite podcast app. Links to this and more are also in the show notes.
John Harvey Kellogg
[00:01:50] Santiago: Okay so later in this episode, you'll hear Abby mention that many of Ellen White and the SDA church's attitudes toward sex came from a man named John Harvey Kellogg. So learning about Kellogg gives us some very important context for the way the Adventist church viewed sex, and how this history still plays out in some of their views today.
[00:02:14] If you didn't already know, Kellogg was a Seventh-day Adventist and yes, he helped invent Kellogg's Corn Flakes. He was born on February 26, 1852 in the U.S. state of Michigan. And his parents actually knew Ellen and James White and helped convince the Whites to move to Battle Creek, Michigan where Kellogg would eventually manage the Battle Creek Sanitarium until he died in 1943.
[00:02:44] And I want you to keep this in mind as we go along. 1943 was only 80 years ago. And while that might sound like a long time, in reality, that's just about one lifetime. My grandma was born before then and she's still alive.
[00:03:00] At age 12, Kellogg started working for James and Ellen White. He started out running errands for them, and by 16, he was doing proofreading and editorial work for the Review and Herald, which is an Adventist publishing company.
[00:03:16] He got very close to the Whites, even living with them for months at a time, and essentially became their protege. Reflecting on this years later, Ellen White actually said that James White had been more of a father to Kellogg than to his own sons. Kellogg really bought into the Adventist health message and became a committed vegetarian, and also became a doctor with support from Ellen and James White.
[00:03:42] About a year after graduating from medical school, Kellogg became the superintendent of a health institution established by the SDA church which he later renamed as the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Over time, Kellogg became a sort of celebrity doctor. His patients included several U.S. presidents, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Amelia Earhart, inventor Thomas Edison, and car magnate Henry Ford.
[00:04:13] But Kellogg held many harmful and extreme views. He was the co-founder of the Race Betterment Foundation, an organization that promoted eugenics and racial segregation, and he believed that immigrants and nonwhites would supposedly damage the nation's gene pool.
[00:04:32] He also performed genital mutilation without painkillers to prevent masturbation because he believed that masturbating was not only sinful but also caused epilepsy, uterine cancer, insanity, and much more.
[00:04:50] Because of his wild beliefs about masturbation, it was his mission to get people to stop at all costs. He had a bunch of unscientific recommendations, like sticking to a bland, unstimulating diet and avoiding soft beds and pillows. Quoting Kellogg, "Soft beds and pillows must be carefully avoided. The floor, with a single folded blanket beneath the sleeper, would be preferable."
[00:05:21] Concerning food, Kellogg said "Tea and coffee have led thousands to perdition in this way. Candies, spices, cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and all strong essences powerfully excite the genital organs and lead to the same result."
[00:05:42] He also wrote that quote, "Flesh, condiments, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, and all stimulants have a powerful influence directly upon the reproductive organs. They increase the local supply of blood and through nervous sympathy with the brain, the passions are aroused."
Sylvester Graham's Influence
[00:06:04] Santiago: Kellogg wasn't the first or only one spreading these wild ideas. He was actually inspired by another extremist named Sylvester Graham who was born 50 years earlier. Graham was an evangelical preacher and played a role in the temperance movement of the 1830s. He had similarly extreme and unscientific views on sex and masturbating, claiming that masturbation or "self-pollution" as some called it, could lead to insanity.
[00:06:37] Like Kellogg, Graham was also a vegetarian and was very much against spices, insisting that eating a bland diet was really important. He believed this so much that he developed his own process for making whole wheat flour, which eventually led to the Graham cracker.
[00:06:56] But Graham crackers back then were nothing like the sweet Graham crackers we have today and use for s'mores. He would be rolling in his grave if he knew what they became, because his original flour was intentionally dull and bland.
[00:07:10] And the whole story about Sylvester Graham is actually pretty wild. So if you want to know more about this, the Dark History podcast has a great episode which I've linked in the show notes.
[00:07:21] While Kellogg's Corn Flakes were not explicitly advertised as helping people control their sexual urges, this was arguably one of John Harvey Kellogg's motivating factors behind much of his work. Kellogg was inspired by Graham and others with extreme puritanical ideas. And there are many claims that Graham crackers were in fact originally intended to discourage masturbation.
Understanding the Obsession
[00:07:48] Santiago: Now you might be wondering, 'Why all of this obsession with sex and masturbation?'
[00:07:54] First off, sexual restriction is a concept that's culturally universal. As we discussed in episode three, human beliefs about big moralizing gods evolved over time as our societies grew and got more and more complex.
[00:08:11] The Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, have historically promoted and tried to enforce a patriarchal and heteronormative standard for human sexuality. We'll talk more about patriarchal systems in the future, but for now I want to share a definition by the late feminist historian, Carol P Crist.
[00:08:34] Quote: "Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimizes violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people."
[00:09:12] Now if you're a guy or you have never really identified with feminism in general, you may find this definition to be pretty harsh, but bear with me for a second. Because if you've read the Bible, you can easily recognize these themes in Christianity. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 literally provide instructions for how to treat women captured in war.
[00:09:42] It gives permission to men to take them as wives and have sex with them. There's no mention of consent anywhere in that passage. Even to this day, some Christians reject the concept of consent and believe that if you're married, it's not possible to rape your spouse. Before the 1970s, spousal rape was actually legal in the entire United States.
[00:10:09] But of course we know from experience that religions don't just try to control women's sexuality, they try to control everyone's sexuality, and that's definitely true within the Adventist church.
[00:10:21] Another piece of helpful context to understand this comes from the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control. BITE stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control and this model was created to help describe the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people.
[00:10:45] And when you read the first three points of behavior control methods, they are 1) Regulate an individual's physical reality, 2) Dictate where how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates, and 3) When, how, and with whom the member has sex.
[00:11:10] In a bit, we're going to cover how people like Graham, Kellogg, and Ellen White tried to control when, how, and with whom people had sex and the ridiculous justifications they gave for that. Besides considering it sinful, Graham, Kellogg, and Ellen White also believed that too many orgasms would literally shorten your lifespan and could even kill you.
[00:11:37] So with all that context, it's easier to understand why Ellen White would make wild comparisons about people who masturbate, saying they quote "are just as surely self-murderers as though they pointed a pistol to their own breast, and destroyed their life instantly."
[00:11:58] You'll hear Abby talk more about this later, but I couldn't help but share a little bit more about what Graham and Kellogg believed. Graham falsely claimed that the loss of an ounce of semen was equivalent to the loss of several ounces of blood. He also instructed married couples to have sex only to have kids, and that they should limit sex to no more than once a month.
[00:12:24] Kellogg, quoting another doctor, wrote: "I hold as certain that after 50 years of age, a man of sense ought to renounce the pleasures of love. Each time that he allows himself this gratification is a pellet of earth thrown upon his coffin."
[00:12:46] As far as we know, these guys actually practiced what they preached. It's widely believed that Kellogg never had sex with his wife during their 40 year marriage, and he and his wife actually slept in separate bedrooms and adopted all eight of their children. And while there's no authoritative evidence of this, some people believe that Kellogg may have been asexual. In other words, he had little to no sexual feelings or desires.
[00:13:14] And I want to be clear, his wild views and desire to control other people's sexuality have nothing to do with being asexual. I'd actually argue that Kellogg was more of a sadist than anything else. Because even if he thought he was helping people live longer lives, he went as far as to perform male circumcision without painkillers to intentionally inflict pain.
[00:13:41] And he also performed female genital mutilation, pouring carbonic acid on the clitoris. He also recommended completely removing the clitoris as a last resort. If you're curious to learn more about Kellogg's wild beliefs, he wrote a book called Plain Facts for Old and Young which is linked in the show notes and you can read for free online.
[00:14:05] Santiago: Now, when you look at current Adventist and Evangelical Christian views on sex and masturbation, it's possible to see how they trace back to the incredibly dark, twisted, and unscientific beliefs held by men like Graham and Kellogg. But of course, like everything else, these beliefs have evolved over time.
[00:14:28] So to ensure I'm accurately representing the official views of the SDA church, I went on their website again. Quoting from their page on sexual behavior: "Sexual practices which are contrary to God's expressed will are adultery and premarital sex, as well as obsessive sexual behavior. Sexual abuse of spouses, sexual abuse of children, incest, homosexual practices (gay and lesbian), and bestiality are among the obvious perversions of God's original plan." End quote.
[00:15:07] Now, here we have a blatantly homophobic statement, comparing non-heterosexual sex to sexual abuse, incest, and bestiality. This is an official statement of the SDA church that was approved and voted on by the General Conference Executive Committee in 1987 under the leadership of General Conference president Neal Wilson. And even though it's 2023, this attitude hasn't really changed under the leadership of his son, Ted Wilson. Hooray for nepotism, I guess.
[00:15:46] But as I've mentioned before, Adventism is not a monolith. You'll find that modern Adventists have many different beliefs about sexuality and topics like sexual orientation. Some individual churches in Europe have even partnered with SDA Kinship, a community by and for LGBTQ+ people who are current or former Seventh-day Adventists, as well as for their families.
[00:16:13] But sadly, this seems to be the exception, not the rule. Years ago when I was in middle school or just entering high school, I remember the pastor's kid at my old church telling me that it is biblically moral and justifiable to kill gay people, even if it isn't legal. I was shocked when I heard that and I'm ashamed to admit I completely forgot about that conversation until years later when I started deconstructing my faith.
[00:16:47] Now, I'm a straight cis man. I haven't had to deal with a fraction of the bullshit that women and LGBTQ+ people have had to deal with. And I'm also ashamed to admit that in high school, I was opposed to gay marriage, even getting into Facebook comment arguments with more liberal Adventists. I'll talk a little bit more about that in a future episode.
[00:17:13] Before we play Abby and Ami's episode, I figured I'd share a bit of my own experience. I did learn about the differences between boys and girls at a very young age by literally playing doctor with the daughter of another Adventist who was babysitting me.
[00:17:29] I can vaguely remember us playing with her toy stethoscope and syringe, and just exploring each other. She was just slightly older than me, I think we were both around three or four and we were just curious kids.
[00:17:44] Of course, this wasn't anything bad. It was just completely normal behavior for two kids, but by then we knew enough about social norms that we hid what we were doing from her mom. So early on, we both had the idea that what we were doing wasn't exactly going to be okay with our parents and we needed to do it in secret.
[00:18:07] I don't remember exactly when I learned what sex was, but I do remember learning about masturbation at the Adventist school I attended either in elementary or middle school. I had been homeschooled before going there and I really gave off this naive vibe because I was a naive kid.
[00:18:27] So this guy in the grade above me explained what masturbation was and I'm pretty sure that he thought it would be hilarious to explain it to me because I was a naive kid. I remember that same day when I learned about it, I went home and tried it.
[00:18:45] And again from day one, this was something automatically tied to secrecy. I don't immediately remember associating a ton of shame with it, but the shame definitely came later and I'll talk more about that in the next episode.
[00:19:00] Again, the shame and aspects of purity culture that most straight guys are subjected to usually pales in comparison to what everyone else experiences. Even having little or no sexual desire at all can be seen as a problem in the church. I remember hearing people at church and also reading comments online about how humans were commanded by God to be fruitful and multiply.
[00:19:29] But it's entirely possible and valid to want to be single or to not have kids. While there's no way of knowing for sure, both Jesus and Paul actually seem to talk about asexuality in Matthew 19:12 and 1st Corinthians 7.
[00:19:49] Either way, I think something that many people who grew up Adventist or Christian have in common, is the general sense of secrecy or embarrassment around the topic of sex. My parents never openly spoke about it.
[00:20:05] In fact, whenever something even remotely sexual came on TV, my mom insisted on fast-forwarding it if possible, or just turning the TV off. I remember watching the movie Titanic with my dad, and my mom walked into the room right as the painting scene started playing, and she was not happy.
[00:20:28] While my parents did try to give me and my brother sex ed at home, it wasn't very helpful. And I'll talk more about this in the next episode. What I'll share for now is that I definitely did not have a formal sex education as part of my school experience. Everything I learned was directly from my parents and from people at my church, as I got older.
[00:20:55] I did some learning on the side, which we'll get into more in the next episode, but some of the things I distinctly remember being taught were that masturbation was wrong because God intended sex to be between a man and a woman and not by yourself, that that was basically short of the ideal standard.
[00:21:18] And I do remember one time attending a sex talk by someone who was an Adventist. And it was a bit awkward because there were parents and teenagers there and some of the parents were asking questions as well. You'll hear Abby and Ami talk about this idea of oral sex and whether or not it's okay within Adventism.
[00:21:43] And again, Adventism is not a monolith. Different Adventists will give you different answers on this. The talk that I attended was somewhat liberal, I guess you could say? Definitely only considered sex within the context of heterosexual marriage to be okay, but this person who was giving this talk answered a question from a parent.
[00:22:07] It was a dad who wanted to know if oral sex was okay and the person giving the talk, who was a woman, said that it was. And let me tell you to this day, I still remember seeing a big smile on that guy's face when she said that it was okay. It's almost like he won a bet with his wife or something.
[00:22:29] Anyway, I did want to share one final thought which I will also touch on more in a future episode, but I really wanted to mention it now, since we're on the topic of sex. You should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about whatever level of sexual experience you have.
[00:22:49] As I was leaving the church in my mid twenties, I was still a virgin and felt a bit embarrassed and anxious about that fact. And one thing I've come to learn over time is that the whole idea of virginity is a very heteronormative concept.
[00:23:06] This idea that you have to have penis-in-vagina sex in order to not be a virgin anymore is bullshit and it excludes people who have no interest in that whatsoever. No matter how much or how little experience we've had, that is not something that we should feel ashamed about.
[00:23:26] And if you're someone who is nervous about dating and putting yourself out there because you don't have much experience, I want to encourage you to move at your own pace but to also step outside of your comfort zone a little bit in a way that's safe and responsible, if you're able to.
[00:23:43] It's something that I really had to work on as a young adult after I left the church, but it was so worth it, and it definitely can get better with time. Again, this is just one perspective, so if you have any stories you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them and amplify them. You can see the show notes for instructions on how to share.
[00:24:06] On that note, let's go ahead and play Abby and Ami's episode.
Abby and Ami on Sex and Adventism
[00:24:15] Abby: Hello, this is Abby!
[00:24:17] Ami: And this is Ami.
[00:24:18] Abby: And so today it is May 19, and we are going to talk about sex.
[00:24:24] Ami: Yay! Oh wait, we're talking about sex in terms of Adventism.
[00:24:31] Abby and Ami: Boo!
[00:24:34] Ami: Or rather, ugh!
[00:24:35] Abby: This will not be our last episode about sex. We will probably cover the topic on multiple occasions.
[00:24:42] Ami: We should probably get some boys in here to talk about it. We should probably get some people of different sexual orientations in here to talk about it.
[00:24:51] Abby: Yes. Anybody who was raised Adventist probably has a number of hair raising stories on this topic.
[00:25:00] Ami: Probably!
[00:25:01] Abby: So we thought for our first episode, we would kind of give a broad overview of Adventist attitude towards sex, and then maybe a few personal stories.
[00:25:14] There's a very good article that I found years ago online that just walks through mostly John Harvey Kellogg's attitude towards sex, which strongly influenced Ellen White's writings. And it's actually difficult to understand her writings about it if you don't know his attitudes about it.
[00:25:30] So he was the physician that established a lot of the early Adventist health message and he did have a lot of good ideas about like exercise, and healthy diet, and like he was...
[00:25:40] Ami: Corn Flakes.
[00:25:42] Abby: This is the Corn Flakes man. This is breakfast cereal man. What you probably don't realize is that breakfast cereal was supposed to be a bland food that would help people not masturbate, true story.
[00:25:52] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]
[00:25:54] Ami: So much in my life has been meant to stop me from masturbating.
[00:26:00] Abby: So this is the thing that you need to understand about Adventists and sex. Early Adventists believed that orgasms depleted your vital energy and that too many orgasms would kill you. So if you don't understand this, it's very difficult to parse Ellen White's writings on the topic.
[00:26:18] She talks at length about, for instance, "marital excess." And I don't know about you, I don't know if Ami... like, I read a lot of Ellen White... As a kid, I encountered these passages and was very confused because no one in my church ever talked about marital excess.
[00:26:33] People talked about adultery, fornication, no one talked about marital excess. So this was a confusing topic and there were, there's passages in there about how wives should not inflame the lust of their husbands, and it's just very confusing unless you understand that she believed sincerely that too many orgasms will kill you.
[00:26:51] So this is also the genesis of her extensive writings about masturbation. But it's important to realize she wasn't just picking on single people masturbating, she was against orgasms on a broad, broad spectrum.
[00:27:06] Ami: You know, in some ways Ellen White and I are very different people.
[00:27:10] Abby: [Laughing] We'll hope that almost everyone is very different.
[00:27:16] I don't think it would be fair to say that she personally was against orgasms, there's some evidence that she enjoyed time with her husband. She just believed that you should really try hard to abstain because it's like too much sugar or, I don't know, too much booze. Of course, for Adventists any amount of booze is too much, but like, if you understand that, then you can understand the weird things that you read in Ellen White about sex.
[00:27:40] Adventist attitude towards sex is all informed by Ellen White. And even though they don't quote her, even though she isn't actively mentioned, you can see those attitudes seeping into Adventist educational systems, uh, Adventists you know, when they talk to their kids, and, and sex education like, that's kind of the underlying thing that was never disavowed by the church, even if it's not actively believed and taught.
[00:28:07] So John Harvey Kellogg also believed that you should do things like put acid on little girls' genitals if you find them masturbating 'cause that will make them stop, he made little penis cages for little boys... They believed that circumcision for little boys was desirable because it would hurt them and make them less likely to touch themselves. This is all like, part of our Adventist heritage.
[00:28:35] Ami: I think you're right that those things which are exceedingly fucked up... I don't remember anyone ever quoting Ellen White to me about sex. They quoted Ellen White to me about plenty of other things like riding my bike on the Sabbath, but they didn't ever, I don't remember anyone ever quoting Ellen White to me about sex. But it is that kind of, this is where we started and it does inform some attitudes.
[00:29:02] Some of that is so extreme that I know that there are people who are still Adventists who will listen and be like, 'That's not what Adventists believe about sex!'
[00:29:11] That is not what modern Adventists believe about sex, but this idea that sex is not necessarily bad in you know, moderation. You know, that like sex is okay, but you don't wanna get too into it, I think is still kind of the attitude.
[00:29:31] Abby: Yeah, I think if you asked a lot of Adventists whether they believed there was anything wrong that you could do as a married couple sexually, a lot of Adventists would hesitate.
[00:29:41] Ami: Probably, probably.
[00:29:45] Abby: If you even said, is there anything wrong you could do as a married couple without involving anything but your bodies, I think a lot of Adventists would still hesitate.
[00:29:54] Ami: I think so. I don't remember anyone ever talking to me about specific actions...
[00:30:01] Abby: Oh, I do.
[00:30:03] Ami: Well, I don't...
[00:30:04] Abby: No, I don't mean talking to you, I mean talking to me.
[00:30:07] Ami: But I can...
[00:30:08] Abby: 'Ami, don't you...'
[00:30:10] Ami: 'Ami, I had a serious talk with you about...'
[00:30:13] Abby: [Laughing]
[00:30:14] Ami: No, but I definitely, there was definitely an attitude that like, anal sex would be pretty wrong regardless of who was doing it, that that was definitely questionable behavior.
[00:30:26] Abby: Sodomy.
[00:30:27] Ami: Sodomy is definitely not, you know... Some of those things though, are not just Adventist attitudes, they're Protestant American attitudes, or they're, you know...
[00:30:38] Abby: It's true. And to be fair, Adventists were not the only people at the time when Kellogg was alive, who believed wackadoo things about sex. Like, he wasn't just making these things up, he was getting it to a degree from the literature of his generation.
[00:30:51] Ami: There's a lot of that going around at the time. I think that the attitudes about sex that I internalized as a kid were mostly positive, but like, positive with these sort of weird, like I said, like 'Sex is good, just don't get too crazy about it.' But I think my mom in particular was a lot more sex positive than a lot of people I knew at the time.
[00:31:20] I had no question that she and my dad had sex and that they enjoyed it and that it was something, you know, positive and good in their lives. And she was very vocal about the idea that this, that sex was good and was enjoyable within the right context, which for her of course, meant heterosexual marriage.
[00:31:41] Abby: But still, that's a valuable message, that's a really valuable message.
[00:31:45] Ami: I don't remember her ever talking about masturbating one way or another. I don't remember her going on and on about too many things beyond just, you know, 'It's a good idea to wait till you get married' and we just sort of pretended like gay people did not really exist.
[00:32:02] You know? That just didn't, that wasn't really part of the conversation. That was outside of the realm of possible options available to me.
[00:32:11] Abby: Yeah, uhhuh.
[00:32:13] Ami: But she did have... I remember a talk specifically that was about how 'Satan twists and turns bad all of these beautiful, wonderful gifts that God gives us.' And sex is one of those wonderful gifts that is supposed to be really good and really positive and wonderful, and Satan makes it bad by, you know, tempting you to, I don't know, have premarital sex and then have your life ruined by unwanted pregnancy or something.
[00:32:49] Abby: Yeah, I definitely got that, that message as well. My parents were, I mean, I, I knew that they had sex and I remember overhearing a conversation that I wasn't supposed to hear between my mother and a friend, during which she confessed in a whisper that she enjoyed sex with her husband, my mother, and, and that made me feel much better.
[00:33:12] Like I was probably four or five years old and I was relieved. I had been sort of, I don't know... Maybe I was six, I don't know, I was, I was fairly young, but I was glad to know this. Like so many kids talk about the, the icky response they feel when they, when they learn, you know, that their parents have sex. And I remember feeling quite relieved.
[00:33:31] At the same time, I remember the moment when I learned what sex actually was, and I was 12 and I know I was younger than 12 when I overheard this conversation, so I don't think I actually knew what it was exactly. It was, you know, it was what parents did to make babies and it was not something that was abhorrent to my mother. And so that, that was good, that was a good thing.
[00:33:56] Ami: That's kind of a funny thing that maybe encapsulates what I think of as sort of the overriding Adventist attitude towards sex, which is on the one hand, there's this like, relief and this good positive, you know, that like, 'Oh good, sex is enjoyable.' But on the other hand, you had to learn that by overhearing your mom embarrassed and whispering to her friend that sex is enjoyable.
[00:34:22] So like, sex is good, but not really good to talk about, not really good to let on that you like it...
[00:34:28] Abby: [Laughing] Yes.
[00:34:29] Ami: Um, only good in certain situations...
[00:34:32] Abby: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
[00:34:33] Ami: Only... I, I don't know. That's a weird... Do you hear, dear listener, the weird sort of push and pull that you've got there? Of like, 'It's good, but don't act like it's too good.'
[00:34:47] Abby: It's surrounded with contradictions and inconsistencies. So, um, now I remember another conversation with my mother when I was probably 14ish, maybe 15? And I had somehow gotten all the way to the ripe age of mid-teens without receiving the memo that oral sex was very wrong.
[00:35:09] [Laughing] And I, uh, I can't remember... My mother and I do not talk about sex very often at all, so I can't remember the context in which this came up. But I said something about the concept of oral sex in the context of marriage. And my mother just looks at me with this expression of absolute horror and said, 'We are not to behave like animals!'
[00:35:34] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]
[00:35:38] Abby: And I was, I was bowled over because I really had somehow gotten the idea... I knew that sex toys were probably wrong, kinky stuff was definitely wrong. But I had somehow gotten the idea that anything that you could do with your two bodies as married people would be acceptable. And, um, I was...
[00:35:58] Ami: 'You're debasing yourself.'
[00:35:59] Abby: I was so confused by this and confused enough that my embarrassment sort of dropped away and I sort of quizzed her on this because I was confused and fascinated and I kind of knew, I also knew that I didn't agree even though I had very little context to base this on. And, um, my mother just got more and more flustered trying to explain why it would be...
[00:36:24] Ami: Why it would be wrong or...
[00:36:26] Abby: it would be terribly wrong. She didn't use the word "sodomy," which might have cleared it up for me because at that time it's, I don't know when Florida's sodomy laws got repealed.
[00:36:36] Ami: Uh, it was extremely recently, like within the last 10 years.
[00:36:40] Abby: So at that time it was probably illegal to have oral sex. Um, a lot of people don't realize that sodomy laws just mean anything other than penis-in-vagina intercourse is illegal. It doesn't matter whether you're gay, straight, married, unmarried... Strict sodomy laws mean that anything that can't make a baby is illegal sexual activity.
[00:36:58] Ami: Georgia overturned their sodomy laws before Florida overturned theirs and I remember when Georgia did because of conversations that people were having about like, 'Oh, I'm making a trip to Atlanta!" You know, and uh, so that was probably like, when I was in college, maybe 12 years ago?
[00:37:19] And Florida's I think were overturned a little while after that. So yeah when you were 15, oral sex was certainly illegal in Florida.
[00:37:27] Abby: Was illegal in the state of Florida. And if my mother had said that, me being the... I tried to be a law abiding creature, but I was also a very logical person. And so nothing she was saying about 'We must not behave like animals' made any sense to me. Partially because I knew that animals mostly mated to have babies. And so mating for pleasure seemed to me like a very human thing, and so I was confused.
[00:37:52] Ami: By the time you and I were of an age to be learning about all of this stuff, we'd moved away from the idea that sex is purely for procreation. But there was still kind of that, you know, that is still kind of the base of the attitude. That anything that is too pleasurable is suspect, you know, like, and that's kind of a, that's a very puritanical view that not only Adventists have, but that a lot of...
[00:38:18] Like why is masturbating wrong? Well, because you're not supposed to be able to just have fun whenever you want to.
[00:38:25] Abby: Can't make a baby.
[00:38:25] Ami: You know, just because you feel like it and you're bored.
[00:38:29] Abby: Pleasure is suspect.
[00:38:30] Ami: Pleasure is suspect. Why is oral sex wrong? Well, because that is, you know, pleasurable and there's no, there's no consequence in some ways...
[00:38:42] Abby: Which means female orgasms in general...
[00:38:45] Ami: Female orgasms in general are suspect.
[00:38:47] Abby: Yeah, because you don't have to have that to make a baby.
[00:38:50] Ami: Men have to, ladies don't.
[00:38:53] Abby: One of my friends in college once made the comment that, yeah, 'In Adventist land, men have orgasms, women have babies.'
[00:39:01] Ami: I don't think that's just in Adventist land, but I do think that that is, uh...
[00:39:06] Abby: An attitude.
[00:39:06] Ami: An attitude, which is kind of a shame. There's also that idea that like...
[00:39:11] Abby: It's so awful.
[00:39:13] Ami: 'Boys masturbate and that's just sort of a fact of life. It's wrong and you shouldn't do it' and, you know, whatever, but, you know, 'But that's just a thing that happens and can't really be avoided.' But girls masturbating is like, 'What!?'
[00:39:26] Abby: So yeah, so I was, I was a little kid who masturbated. I was, um, very, very young when I figured out how my body worked. I don't remember figuring out how it worked, I remember knowing how it worked from a very young age. I did not connect it with sex at all, I thought it was a superpower that I had. I was very disappointed when I learned that it was not a superpower, but something that made Jesus cry.
[00:39:46] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]
[00:39:48] Abby: And you know, about age six or so, my guilt and fear with my body began when I, when I finally figured out that this, this neat thing my body did was this other hideous thing that I had heard mentioned before, but these two things were the same.
[00:40:06] I remember when I was probably also in my teens, maybe early twenties, I couldn't talk to anybody about this. Like, if you were a boy, you could talk to people about this because that was a problem you were supposed to have, but as a girl, you weren't.
[00:40:17] And I remember going to the ABC and finding this book that was supposed to be... It was supposed to help boys get a handle on their masturbation issues. Which in retrospect, I didn't have issues, I had a completely normal teenage female libido, but whatever. So I wanted assistance with this and I got this book and was reading it and I was just so disappointed because there was nothing useful in it. Absolutely nothing useful.
[00:40:42] There was a lot of like, really nebulous, non-specific... I wanted specifics. Basically, I believed that I was not supposed to be a sexual person until I got married, and I wanted some sort of assistance in turning off my sexuality until I, you know...
[00:40:54] Ami: You wanted the like, home remedy for stopping your kid from sucking their thumb.
[00:40:59] Abby: Exactly, that's what I wanted. And it was just completely useless. It had dumb advice like, "don't be alone, don't..." I can't even remember all the advice like it, it was just... Mostly, it was pep talk after pep talk and then like really ridiculous, you know, "make sure you keep your hands outside the sheets when you sleep at night" or just like, ridiculous, useless, utterly useless.
[00:41:23] And I remember being very disappointed, um because I had, uh, gone out on a limb to, to buy it you know? It was already difficult to find a point when I can buy this book when nobody would see me. And then like it was completely...
[00:41:35] Ami: Oh, probably if somebody had seen you with this book, they would've thought you were reading it out of some fascination with boys and their genitals and that would've been really...
[00:41:45] Abby: [Laughing] Even more embarrassing.
[00:41:47] Ami: Totally inappropriate. I remember, since we're on the topic of masturbating, I didn't figure out masturbating until I was much older. I think everybody just sort of has a different, well, a different level of sex drive and also a different...
[00:42:02] Abby: Maybe lucky, 'cause the guilt and fear that's associated with that in the Adventist church is just an endless cycle.
[00:42:07] Ami: I do have memories of some very kind of non-specific, like, 'Oh, when I do this thing, it feels good,' but nothing that, not any like, purposeful, like 'I have this goal' of orgasm in mind or something, until I was a lot older.
[00:42:22] But I remember a guy that I went out with, I was gonna say dated, but I was an Adventist kid, so we didn't really date, um, that's a whole other topic!
[00:42:34] Abby: I've never heard that distinction before, but...
[00:42:36] Ami: But you know, right?
[00:42:37] Abby: Uhhuh.
[00:42:38] Ami: Like wait, you don't go on a date, you like, get pre-engaged almost. I mean, you're like, uh, you hold hands with somebody in chapel and then you are boyfriend and girlfriend.
[00:42:50] Abby: [Laughing]
[00:42:51] Ami: This kid was my boyfriend and he confessed to me very, like almost tearfully, like it was a big deal to him, that he confessed to me that he masturbated. And you know, I mean...
[00:43:05] Abby: And that's the way I felt about it. If I had confessed that to you, it would've been the same sort of traumatic...
[00:43:09] Ami: He was, I mean, incredibly embarrassed. And I'm sure that this was a really difficult and painful thing for him to tell another person, much less somebody that he you know, liked and was...
[00:43:22] Abby: Hoped to get his penis in someday.
[00:43:24] Ami: Yeah, definitely, you know, wanted to feel my boobs.
[00:43:28] Abby: [Laughing]
[00:43:30] Ami: He was so embarrassed and it was clearly this great source of shame and I mean, it was a... Looking back on it, this is one of my few genuine regrets in life, and I mean this sincerely, I'm not poking fun. My response was just one of utter bafflement, and I was like, 'Why? Why, why would you do that? I don't, this is obviously a problem...'
[00:43:54] And I mean, I don't remember how the conversation progressed, but it was just like, 'Oh no.' Like, 'What, what are we gonna do about this? Why would you do this thing? I guess you have this great cross to bear and challenge in your life.'
[00:44:08] And I regret that so deeply. I wish that he had said 'I masturbate' and that I had laughed and said, 'Dude, of course you do, you're like a 16 year old boy. Like this is, just, please enjoy.' And you know, anyway, I sincerely wish that I had had the life experience.
[00:44:31] If I could like transport back into my younger self for like 15 minutes, that's where I would go. He'd be like, 'I masturbate' and I would be like, 'Let me explain to you why that is not a problem, and hopefully fix you for the future.' Like, let's get you a jumpstart on a healthy attitude toward sex that you probably, you know, had to work to get as an adult, I know I did.
[00:44:55] Abby: Hindsight is 2020.
[00:44:56] Ami: Like I said, I know that we're laughing about this, it's a silly thing that I feel, you know... I'm not telling this story to poke fun at this person.
[00:45:04] I sincerely wish that I had had better attitudes and better information to give this kid who, when I look back on it, of all the things you have to worry about in high school, what a stupid thing to have like eating you up inside that you feel like you're making this terrible mistake.
[00:45:20] You're making Jesus sad every time you do a perfectly natural and healthy thing. Masturbating, there's no downside to it.
[00:45:32] Abby: There really isn't.
[00:45:33] Ami: There's none.
[00:45:34] Abby: You can't get diseases...
[00:45:35] Ami: You can't get diseases, you can't get pregnant, you learn about your body and what you enjoy...
[00:45:40] Abby: It helps with stress.
[00:45:41] Ami: You're more likely to have positive relationships with partners later because you understand your body and you understand what is going to be pleasing to you.
[00:45:51] Abby: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
[00:45:52] Ami: I think what we're trying to say guys, is, touch it!
[00:45:56] Abby: [Laughing] Yeah all of the, the literature is unanimously positive, particularly for women, because women do sometimes have trouble. Like if you know how your body works, you can show a partner how it works. If you don't know how it works, it's kind of hard to show a partner how it works.
[00:46:13] Ami: Well, guys are fairly easy. There's pretty, you know, it pretty much works one way.
[00:46:20] Abby: Um...
[00:46:20] Ami: That's not entirely true.
[00:46:22] Abby: I've been with more guys than you, I'm gonna say that's not always true.
[00:46:26] Ami: There are plenty of women who have, you know, who orgasm in only particular ways. And so you should figure out what those ways are.
[00:46:36] Abby: That is the one downside to masturbating is if you, if you are extremely consistent in the way that you do it, you can have trouble getting off any other way. So, you know, vary your routine is the advice there.
[00:46:49] [Laughing] I was gonna say, uh, bringing it back to, uh, to Adventism, if you read the Adventist literature, you'll discover that masturbation causes cancer and blindness and epilepsy, and oh gosh, pretty much any disease known to man is caused by masturbating.
[00:47:11] And Mrs White, I believe, masturbated. Because unlike my unhelpful book from the ABC, she has quite a bit to say about girls masturbating, which I think is very interesting for a woman writing in the 1800s. So, um, you know, that was both solace and consternation to me as a young woman because she did have things to say about it, nobody else did.
[00:47:36] But you know, it was all negative and 'moral decay' and, um, just also patently ridiculous things. This was one of the issues that began to break my faith was, especially as a medical professional, there was no way I could talk myself into believing some of the things that she claimed were the results of masturbation.
[00:47:58] This, and some of the things she says about Black people were the first things that I read in there and was just like, in college, it was just like, I, this, this is, this is just beyond the pale. I can't...
[00:48:12] Ami: Yeah, a thread to start pulling on.
[00:48:14] Abby: This is a thread to start pulling on. I don't know, did that kind of stuff contribute at all to your faith unraveling or...
[00:48:21] Ami: Um, when I started to think more logically about homosexuality, that was definitely a thing to me that, um, 'Wait, why is this considered to be a sin? And why is this...'
[00:48:37] Abby: Ironically, Ellen White has very little to say about homosexuality, she was too busy telling straight people to stop having sex!
[00:48:44] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]
[00:48:47] Ami: So a little bit, I mean, I don't think that — sex wasn't a breaking point for me with, uh, with that. But you know, I also got married pretty young and, uh, you know, to another Adventist, who was soon to be another former Adventist, so I guess my experience was different from some people's.
[00:49:09] I think that if I had been a single adult longer, maybe my attitudes would've, I would've had a different experience because I would have, you know, had to figure some of these things out and how they fit in actual contemporary life.
[00:49:27] Abby: And I'm 37 and have never been married. So, you know, that was... One of the things that you're sort of taught growing up in the Adventist church is that you're saving yourself for marriage, and that eventually God will send you someone that you can have sex with.
[00:49:41] So if that doesn't happen, you're, you're, you're in this really awkward place where you're proud of your virginity, you're proud of it, you're proud of it, oh my god... This is a horrible burden and I'm so embarrassed by it, like, get this away from me. [Laughing] Um, we can talk about that another time, but...
[00:50:00] Most people in our parents' generation got married in their early twenties, I think. You did as well, most of the other people in our generation did not, however.
[00:50:10] Ami: Yeah, so definitely, my experience was a little bit, a little bit different. Like we said, it's hard to parse just American society's screwed up attitudes about sex from religious screwed up attitudes about sex, and then Adventism, to parse that out even further. And then to figure out like, well, what was, what did I learn from my Adventist upbringing versus what I learned from the larger culture or what I learned from my, like specific individuals' attitudes about sex.
[00:50:44] My mom's attitude is one that was extremely influential to me, but I don't think that her attitude was necessarily right in line with Adventist teaching, so that's a little bit hard. I have tried to sort of compare in some ways, like how I learned about sex to the way my daughter is learning about sex.
[00:51:04] Abby: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
[00:51:06] Ami: And she's definitely learning about it in a different way from me. I mean, I think that... I never feel like my parents were particularly secretive about it, but she is definitely able to ask questions that I was never comfortable to ask. There is an underlying squeamishness that she, I don't think is getting, you know?
[00:51:31] Abby: That's great.
[00:51:32] Ami: She was really delighted recently. I read a poem to one of my friends and the poem is talking about sex, is one of the things as this woman is talking about a man. And Alice overheard me reading the poem and when I stopped, she goes, 'She's talking about sex in that poem.'
[00:51:51] And I'm like, 'Yes, she is, in some parts of it she is.' And she goes, 'In a lot of it!' But she has this sort of delight, like she's caught a reference to something, you know? Like, she was so pleased with herself for understanding that this poem was about sex.
[00:52:09] And I was like, 'Well, you know, she's talking about someone that she loves, somebody that she knows very well. And you know, sex is one of the ways that we can love each other as humans.' And she's like, 'Yeah, it's one of the ways that we know about each other.'
[00:52:26] And I'm like, 'Okay, cool.' Like I'm, I'm comfortable with the attitude that she's learning, but it's not the same as...
[00:52:36] Abby: Yeah, that's awesome.
[00:52:37] Ami: ...as how I got it.
[00:52:37] Abby: When I was over at your house when Alice was younger, you know, sex comes up in the topics on Friday.
[00:52:43] Ami: Our friends talk about sex pretty openly.
[00:52:46] Abby: Yeah, and I never remember you being like, 'Oh, you need to censor yourself' when Alice was in the room.
[00:52:50] Ami: We never censored any... we don't get super graphic in front of the kid or something, but...
[00:52:56] Abby: They're not like filthy conversations or like nasty sexual references that are like...
[00:52:59] Ami: No, not like, gross sex jokes or something,
[00:53:02] Abby: Yeah, no, not like that at all, but matter of fact mentionings of sex, or often in the context of like talking about a novel or a movie or something.
[00:53:10] Ami: Yeah.
[00:53:11] Abby: I never, that was not a kind of conversation that my parents and their friends ever had in front of me.
[00:53:18] Ami: I can remember like, you know, when there was like a make out scene in a movie and kind of the awkward tension in the room or something,
[00:53:25] Abby: 'Close your...' It was incredibly... It was the most horrible thing.
[00:53:29] Ami: Or like a really, I don't know, a sexual joke or something that you knew that your parents wanted to laugh at it. Like looking back, they had to have thought it was funny.
[00:53:38] Abby: Awkward!
[00:53:39] Ami: Yeah.
[00:53:40] Abby: So awkward.
[00:53:41] Ami: 'Oh no, there's boobs in this movie.'
[00:53:45] Abby: 'What will we do?'
[00:53:46] Adventists are so uncomfortable with the concept of sex that there's not even a clear party line on it. I mean, my parents said... So, my parents felt pretty progressive because when they went to Southern, there was a professor there who bragged, in the theology department, who bragged that he had two children and he'd only ever had sex twice. That he and his wife never had sex except for procreation. They'd been successful, you know, at knocking these two guys, two kids out, you know...
[00:54:16] Ami: And they never had to deal with that unpleasantness again!
[00:54:19] Abby: Exactly, exactly, and I hope for her sake that she had no libido because what a horrible marriage. And my parents, you know, felt progressive since they felt like penis-in-vagina intercourse for pleasure in marriage was okay, like that seemed like a really progressive idea to them.
[00:54:36] There was apparently lots of discussions about whether sex on Sabbath was okay when they were at Southern and this was not something that I remember ever coming up. So like there has been forward motion, like there has been progress, but it's so slow and kind of depressing.
[00:54:54] Ami: We'll have to get Alex in here and we'll talk about the, uh, sex video that we were required to watch before we got married.
[00:55:02] Abby: [Laughing]
[00:55:03] Ami: That one's a gem, that's special.
[00:55:06] Abby: You think we could dig it up?
[00:55:09] Ami: Probably?
[00:55:09] Abby: On YouTube, maybe?
[00:55:10] Ami: Maybe, I will do some research and see if we can find it. I don't remember the names of any of the people involved. But one couple that we know that's a bit younger than us, when they got married, they were required to watch the same video and they got married like 10 years after we did.
[00:55:27] And this video had to have been made in like the late Seventies. So they're still, as recently as maybe, you know, five or six years ago, they were still passing around this same like 30 year old video. So if we could track that down, that would be pretty special. If anybody knows what I'm talking about.
[00:55:47] Abby: That would be fantastic.
[00:55:48] Ami: That'd be great.
[00:55:49] Abby: That would be fantastic.
[00:55:50] Ami: So send us your weird Adventist sex stories.
[00:55:54] Abby: Yes, we'll have a call-in number by now if you would like to call.
[00:55:58] Ami: We would, we would love to hear about, especially things I think like, uh, your Adventist sex education, would be great, 'cause I think that's definitely something we should talk about later.
[00:56:08] Abby: We'll have a whole episode about that.
[00:56:09] Ami: About sex education.
[00:56:12] Abby: We're trying very hard to keep this on topic as like, from an Adventist perspective, but we do realize that it's next to impossible to perfectly tweeze out Adventist attitudes from the attitudes of the baby boomers in general, and just like, kind of sex negative America in general.
[00:56:30] Adventists are particularly sex negative. Of all the cults that came into being at that point in time, they are... I mean, even the Mormons, who are, I feel weirder than we are, although that's, you know...
[00:56:44] Ami: That's a subjective...
[00:56:45] Abby: that's very subjective... Are not as blatantly sex negative as the Adventists, we're kind of special in that area. We will talk to you guys next week with more scintillating, horrifying stories.
[00:57:05] Ami: What age did you learn what sex was?
[00:57:08] Guest 1: I don't rightly recall. It wasn't exactly something that was hidden from me. Like, I remember watching like The Beastmaster and stuff when I was a kid and like there are nude scenes in there. Um, I saw Heavy Metal when I was nine with my dad.
[00:57:24] And so my parents were very kind of hippie in that, they're like, 'The human body's beautiful, you don't have to be ashamed of it.' You know, dad got Playboys and I could see them and stuff like that.
[00:57:36] I think when I really got the talk though, and it's so silly, and I already kind of knew what it was, but I was reading this vampire story and like, the protagonist found a way to kill vampire... Like, he had a vampire lover and he found a way to kill her through disease.
[00:57:55] So he contracted the disease and it passed through his semen and his blood, and my mom read this story and she's like, 'Josh, do you know what semen is?' And like, I totally lied 'cause I didn't want her to know that I did.
[00:58:06] I said 'No,' and then I get this very clinical explanation. 'Well, you know, when a man and a woman feel attracted to each other, the man's penis gets hard and he puts it in her vagina until he reaches climax...' And it is very clinical and I'm like, 'I don't want to hear this, this is really gross!'
[00:58:26] Ami: How old were you?
[00:58:27] Guest 1: I was like 11, maybe? I had a somewhat okay idea before that, although I do remember thinking like, yeah, sperm that was transferred through kissing, 'cause I saw Look Who's Talking and there's a scene there, like in the very early movie, where they kiss and then there's a jump cut to sperm going to the egg. And like I didn't have the wherewithal to put the, to fill in the missing pieces. So I'm like, 'Oh, they kiss and that's how it...'
[00:58:57] Ami: And then there's a baby.
[00:58:58] Guest 1: Mm-hmm. So I'd say definitely by 11, if not earlier.
[00:59:04] Ami: Similarly for me, I think I was probably about 10. And when they actually sat there in, you know, the fifth grade class and were like, 'This is the mechanics of intercourse, this is what it is,' it felt like some... I don't know that anyone had explained it to me like that before, but it felt like confirmation of something I knew already. Not like a brand new idea that was like, 'What!?'
[00:59:30] Guest 1: Yeah, that, that kind of sums up my experience too, except my parents were... My, my mom or dad, I can't remember who was telling me, and so it's really icky when it's your parents.
[00:59:44] Guest 2: I wanna say like I was in fourth or fifth grade, which I guess was like 9, 10, 11ish age. My mom was super excited because she felt like, 'I'm gonna share this with my daughter and it's going to be this beautiful experience about explaining how babies are made and how sex is.'
[01:00:04] I mean, the one thing I can absolutely thank my mom for was that sex is a beautiful thing and it's something that happens, and it doesn't have a whole lot of restriction to it. It wasn't like you had to get married or you had to do this. You just really had to love the person you were with. In her mind was a man, but you know, you really love the man that you're with and it's an expression of your love. And it didn't have constraints on, like I said, like on being married or being whatever.
[01:00:35] So she was very adamant about, you need to know who you are. And be comfortable with yourself to express that kind of love. So, I mean, I, I really could not ask for anything better.
[01:00:48] Guest 3: I was in the third grade and I was at lunch, and my best friend in third grade was Michelle Davis and she one day told me all about sex, except that she called it humping.
[01:01:04] Group: [Laughing]
[01:01:06] Guest 3: And her facts were this: this is the truth according to Michelle Davis in the third grade. When men and women felt romantic feelings for each other, she specifically said 'A boy and a girl like each other,' she did not mention being married or anything... Uh, they climbed on top of each other and they took off their clothes, and they made a thrusting motion, which she did to the great delight of everybody in the lunchroom.
[01:01:37] Uh, and she sort of like showed us. It looked like the movement, to me, in Grease, during Greased Lightning where Danny Zuko is singing about what the car is gonna do to all the girls. It was that same movement, and that was humping. All you had to do, what was key here, as, as I understood it, was the movement of like this, like pelvic tilt, right?
[01:02:04] I didn't understand anything about penetration, I was very confused. But I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's how, how babies are, are born.' And so I went home and I was just so shell shocked. Like everybody else was like, 'Ooh, gross, that's awesome, whatever.' I was like, I am so shell shocked, I was like very nervous and scared, and I told my mother everything.
[01:02:26] And my mom heard me out and listened to me, and then she went and got a book that she had bought a couple years prior, just waiting for the moment that I would ask. The book was called How Babies are Made, and that was really terrifying because it was a book that explained sex, but all the illustration, illustrations inside the book were like, paper cutouts? Like stylized paper cutouts of how sex worked.
[01:02:57] So it started with plants, and then it went to chickens, and then it went to giraffes, mammals, and then it went to men and women. There was like these sort of construction paper, like cut out illustrations of like frontal view of like man and a woman with their clothes off.
[01:03:16] And then the representation of sex, that page just had the sheet in their bed were pulled up to their necks and they were like lying on top of each other, you could tell, and they were kissing. You could see the back of the man's head and the woman just had this look of like, just pure happiness on her face. Her eyes were closed and she was smiling so big and she just looked so like sleepily content and I was like, 'Humping.'
[01:03:41] I did not, because it did not... It explained penetration in words, but it didn't give me the visual... I think that for a long time, I didn't really understand what penetration was, but I also remember after I read the book, I just burst into tears and my mom was like, 'What is wrong?' And I'm like, 'This means you've seen dad naked.'
[01:04:02] And she was like, 'Well yeah, that's how you got here.' And I was like, 'But you always tell me that boys and girls should never see each other naked. And you've done that, like more than once, 'cause I have sisters!'
[01:04:15] And like, you know, and my mom was like, 'Well, yeah.' My mom was really gracious and wonderful, but she, she did like say it over and over again, like, 'This is special between two people that are married and I would hope that you would wait and I hope that this would happen like this for you.'
[01:04:35] And already, I was sort of getting this like idea... And also there in the lunchroom with Michelle Davis, I was getting this idea as a little girl that there was something, I couldn't put my finger on it, but like something inherently shameful about it, or liking it, so I was scared of it.
[01:04:53] And when my mom was like, 'Well yeah, me and dad have done this, and yeah, I see your dad naked,' I was like, 'But you've always told me that's wrong and now you're saying it's okay in this one sense.' And it felt like I had been lied to and it felt like I didn't know what was really real and it was very confusing.
[01:05:10] And so from that moment on, I was like very inquisitive and just, I was like, 'I'm going to get to the bottom of this,' and I talked about sex with my mom all the time.
[01:05:20] Guest 4: Oh, I don't remember ever not knowing about it. I remember, you know, movies, television. I do remember, uh, no, this is actually true and I've told this story, but I've been made fun of for this. I had pornography long before pubescence, you know what I mean? Like, before I was, uh, masturbating, I had porn and uh, I remember I figured it out my own.
[01:05:39] I'm like, 'Oh, that goes in that.' Like I remember that from watching porn. I'm like, 'Oh!' Cause when, like I had like soft core porn maybe, then I found some hardcore porn kind of a thing. Older brother, you know how it is. And I went, 'Oh, I get it now. You stick that thing in that thing.'
[01:05:55] But I hadn't really thought about it, if that makes sense.
[01:05:57] Ami: Yeah.
[01:05:58] Guest 4: Never had the talk, all that kind of stuff. I didn't know what sex education was outside of like, television, it was fun. Valentine's Day, I was 13 years old.
[01:06:07] Ami: [Laughing]
[01:06:07] Guest 4: It's a true story.
[01:06:09] Ami: It's very romantic!
[01:06:10] Guest 4: First time I masturbated was Valentine's Day.
[01:06:14] Ami: You're, you're such a romantic, John!
[01:06:15] Guest 4: It's been a lifelong romance, actually.
[01:06:18] Group: [Laughing]
[01:06:19] Guest 4: Love affair.
[01:06:20] Guest 5: I found a, uh, a Penthouse Letters...
[01:06:22] Guest 4: Nice.
[01:06:23] Guest 5: in the woods.
[01:06:24] Guest 4: That's good stuff.
[01:06:25] Guest 5: And it was, you know, I don't know... We had a house in a rural area and there was a bunch of woods and just sporadically houses, all dirt roads. And yeah, I just, I would go exploring every day and I found a Penthouse Letters and so, you know, Penthouse Letters is obviously letters and some pictures.
[01:06:48] But mostly, it was a lot of, just a lot of, uh, sex letters. Yeah, it was fantastic. I mean, I don't know, I don't remember specifically if that's when I learned about it, but I, I mean, that was my first experience with like the specifics, I guess.
[01:07:02] Guest 4: Yeah I remember like, trying to masturbate for some amount of time before I did.
[01:07:08] Guest 5: Oh, really?
[01:07:08] Guest 4: And not knowing how to do it. 'Cause I didn't know, like I said, that 'Oh, that goes in that,' like, that epiphany was a huge breakthrough for me in my life. You know, Playboy's not hardcore pornography so you don't see that in there. And I had like, you know, access at times in my life to satellite porn, which is always softcore with no penetration.
[01:07:27] Guest 5: Yeah, Skinemax.
[01:07:28] Guest 4: Like, but no, but even like, like a Top Hat. I dunno if you remember Top Hat. It was a... The old timey satellite porn channel from back in the Eighties.
[01:07:37] Ami: [Laughing] It sounds fancy.
[01:07:39] Guest 4: Oh yeah it was, it's called Top Hat. Basically all they did was play triple-X movies, but they would edit out all the scenes with penetration. So yeah, like not knowing that was a little bit of a setback, but when I figured that out, it was... But I figured out my, for myself is kind of, I guess the moral story.
[01:07:53] Guest 5: Yeah, I guess the specifics, the ins and outs, if you will, I learned from Penthouse Letters that I found in the woods.
[01:08:00] Guest 4: But boy did I learn... Once I learned, ooh, up and running!
[01:08:07] Group: [Chuckling]
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[01:08:08] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio (that's H E L L dot B I O) or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks to Abby and Ami for their original podcast audio, and thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!