The following is a guest post by our new friend Matt Barber, who’s worked on shows like Chuck and The O.C. as well as several music videos and many other projects. He’s currently working on a fascinating new film that looks at evangelicalism’s teachings about sexuality. After you read his post, make sure you check out the film’s website and find out how you can make help turn this film into a reality.
As a young Christian I was taught to preserve my virginity, avoid masturbation, and flee lust at all costs—for me, sexual purity equaled salvation; yet, I couldn’t bear the idea of going through life devoid of the experience of sexual pleasure.
Like most teenagers, adulthood (and marriage) seemed like an eternity away. It felt so distant that my evangelical soul was certain our Lord and Savior would whisk me away to heaven before I was able to even begin courting a female. And so, with burning tension, my 13 year-old self sat down on the brick flowerbed in front of his house, turned his eyes to heaven and earnestly prayed, “Jesus, don’t let me die before I’ve had sex!”
As the days and weeks progressed towards the inevitable end of my sexless life, purity before marriage was constantly reinforced: I was warned of the slippery slope of “make out” sessions, I sat through testimonies of women who had allowed themselves to get pregnant before marriage and I read books highlighting the threat that premarital fornication posed to my immortal soul. At the same time, sex was being elevated higher and higher on my pantheon of human experiences—reinforced by the culture, my friends and even my church. I recall one sermon where my pastor pulled an article from a newspaper and read the headline, “Studies show married couples tend to have better sex,” or something to that effect. The narrative being constructed was sex is dirty before marriage—however, after you say “I do” it’s an amazing, transformative experience. The flood gates open, sparks fly and the burning in your soul is quenched. That is what I believed.
I escaped singlehood relatively unscathed having only stumbled my way to second base (I fled any opportunity to go further.) Right before my 22ND birthday, when I thought my life as a celibate monk was surely sealed, I met a beautiful woman that rocked me to my core; I had met my soulmate. We dated for about 6 months, at which point I brought up marriage. She was hesitant to rush in—and she wanted nothing more than to spend her life with me. She made me promise that I would wait to propose until after our one-year anniversary. I complied by asking for her hand on the 366th day of our courtship. Once her surprise and amusement subsided, she said “Yes!” and we were engaged. My 13 year-old self leapt for joy. Soon, I was going to be having sex. Real, live, sex.
Imagine the surprise on my wedding night—after I had finally obtained the prize I had obsessed over—when I realized I felt like the same person.
“Where were the fireworks?”
“Why didn’t anything click inside me?”
“When does the ‘two become one flesh’ feeling happen?”
“Why, Jesus, didn’t I feel complete?”
Don’t get me wrong, many aspects of my wedding experience were great—but the reality of twenty-three years of false expectations hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m still married to the same woman. We’ve had our ups and downs, built a wonderful home together, and the sex has gotten much better (for your information, it takes practice). But I couldn’t forget the feeling that I was misled in some way.
A few years ago, I told my story to some friends who had also grown up in the Evangelical Church. They, in turn, told me their stories. I was struck by how similar the sexual message from our churches were, how closely our expectations lined up and how we prayed the exact same prayer as teenagers.
Exactly. The. Same. Prayer.
I thought I had been the only one. So, I started talking to more of my fellow Christians and many had similar experiences and prayed some form of that prayer. I listened to person after person tell me stories I had never heard in church. These experiences weren’t being shared because they didn’t feel safe talking about it in that setting. I realized something wasn’t right.
Adding to all this is the never ceasing, vitriolic sexual debate that our society is trapped in: the hows, whens, and whys people are allowed to have sex, use birth control, and get married. And the church is always at the center. I felt I needed to enter the fray, to add my voice to the debate, and to say “things have got to change.” But I’m not a politician. I’m not a pastor. I’m a filmmaker. I’ve worked in television for years as an editor and a director (most recently on NBC’s Chuck). My greatest talent is telling stories.
And so, I’ve embarked on a documentary project to examine what is going on; to analyze the disconnect between what is taught and what is practiced in the church. The title of my film is, you guessed it, Jesus, Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex. Along with my producers Chris Pack and Brittany Machado, we are entering this delicate conversation in the best way we know how—with an ear to all sides. In the tradition of Ira Glass’ This American Life, Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth, and Jimmy Carter’s Camp David peace accords we want to hear from everyone: single, married, gay, straight, divorced, chaste, and promiscuous. We want to hear the pains, the joys, the frustrations, the hopes, and the fears. And we want to provide a safe forum in which to do so.
We believe it’s of the utmost importance to talk about these things, not in a black-and-white, dogmatic way—but openly, honestly, and lovingly. It’s not our goal to judge, but to reflect back what is really going on in the lives of laity; hopefully, we’ll help to steer the discussion in our Churches, our political debates, and our daily lives in a healthy direction.
Please check out our Kickstarter video below and then visit our website for more information and to see some clips of interviews we’ve already conducted.