A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Let’s Hear It For Hot, Married, Older People Sex, and gave a shoutout to the Outlander novels. An anonymous reader sent me her story of how Outlander has helped undo some of the damage done by Christian purity culture and reclaim a healthier view of married sex.
I grew up in what is commonly known in evangelical circles as “purity culture” —a reaction to the free love movement of the 60’s and 70’s our parents grew up in.
Purity culture was focused on avoidance, and it was fueled by fear and shame—fear of the opposite sex (girls were too tempting and boys had no self-control), fear of your own body (my body is dangerous because it causes other people to sin, and it causes me to sin), fear of your natural physiological sexual feelings (because sex, or really any kind of arousal, was wrong, wrong, wrong and evil, evil, evil).
I got married in my early 20s, woefully uneducated about sex. Being a “good Christian girl,” I saved my first kiss for my fiancé, and I was a virgin when we got married. I had learned some stuff from my married friends, but even then, Christian women didn’t talk much about sex other than to say men needed it, and it was a wife’s job to give it to them joyfully, without reservation, so the husbands wouldn’t be tempted by other women in the workplace. Apparently, even after marriage, boys never grow out of not being able to control their bodies, and it will always be the women’s job to manage that for them.
I read all the Christian sex books I could get my hands on. I tried to prepare myself for sex based off the books’ advice. I was afraid of the pain I’d read about, so I just focused on doing all I could to make it not hurt. Sure, the books were full of “sex is good. Sex is from God, and you will love sex” propaganda, but I had been taught to fear sex my whole life. And I was still afraid of it on our wedding night.
You can’t instill fear into people for decades and then expect them to flip a switch on their wedding night when sex goes from something to be avoided at all costs to the only thing that will keep a man faithful.
Truth is, there is no switch. After this kind of conditioning, you have to completely deconstruct the motherboard and rewire the system.
In our many years of marriage, my husband and I have had some fantastic sex. But the vice-grip of shame and fear from decades of wrong beliefs are hard to break. For years I was very disconnected from and ashamed of my own body, and I was repulsed by the way our bodies were meant to function—especially together. I have often thought, I must be getting something wrong. There must be more to this than I am experiencing. I found an answer in the most unlikely of places.
A couple of years ago, I discovered the fantasy series Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I read the first book in a matter of days. I couldn’t put them down. Although it isn’t strictly considered a romance novel, it does have a central romantic story woven throughout the eight books in the series. I was never allowed to read racy novels growing up, so even though I’m married and nearly 40, the explicit sex scenes in the book took me by surprise, and I initially felt hesitant about reading them. But in the end, I fell in love with the epic love story of Jamie and Claire. And something unlocked inside of me.
There was something more to their sex—something different, deeper, and healthier. I am currently re-reading the series, and I feel like I’m getting my first real dose of healthy sex education. There are some sex ed lessons in Outlander I wish I had learned decades ago.
1. There is no shame in the human body. The human body—with all its forms and functions—is a good thing. It’s beautiful. The modern world is ashamed of women’s bodies whether it’s in the form of fat, stretch marks, cellulite, wrinkles, menstrual cycles, ovulation, or breast milk. We talk about these issues in hushed tones. We hide them with pads and special underwear. We spend ridiculous amounts of money trying to conceal and change how we are made. God forbid if we leak blood on our clothing during our periods (this was one of my greatest, most debilitating fears as a teenager), if breastmilk leaks onto a shirt, or if we talk about our period with men.
But I loved how matter of fact Claire and Jamie are about these things. A woman’s “courses” are a natural and normal part of life. Breastfeeding was not a novelty or something to be hidden or hushed. It was a beautiful part of giving life to another human being. Men’s anatomy and bodily functions were talked about as something normal, not something shameful. I found this extremely enlightening and refreshing.
“You can’t tell,” I said, at last. “It’s much too soon to be sure.”
He snorted briefly, and a tiny flicker of amusement lit his eyes.
“And me a farmer, too! Sassenach, ye havena been a day late in your courses, in all the time since ye first took me to your bed. Ye havena bled now in forty-six days.” (A scene between Jamie and Claire from Dragonfly in Amber)
“And what’s wrong wi’ the way ye smell?” he said heatedly. “At least ye smelt like a woman, not a damn flower garden. What d’ye think I am, a man or a bumblebee?”(Jamie from Dragonfly in Amber)
“To see the years touch ye gives me joy, Sassenach,”he whispered, “—for it means that ye live.”(Jamie from The Fiery Cross)
2. Sex is a normal part of a couple’s life together. I remember walking in on my parents having sex. It was awful. I was horrified and angry and embarrassed. But sex was a normal part of their routine, yet our family wasn’t able to openly talk about it with me. Therefore I received mixed messages: if sex is good and natural in marriage, why were they acting so awkward and ashamed?
In Outlander, there are beautiful glimpses of what it looks like to be “naked and unashamed.”There are passages where Jamie and Claire are intimate with one another while in the presence of others (their teenage nephew who sleeps in the same room in a small cabin, fellow soldiers when Jamie is out with his men, etc). Of course they wanted privacy, and others wanted to give it to them, but in the end, it was understood that sex was not only a normal and expected thing in married life, but also a good thing.
“But you think he thinks I’m angry with him?”
“Oh, anyone could see that you are, Auntie,” he assured me earnestly.
“Ye dinna look at him or speak to him save for what ye must—and,” he said, clearing his throat delicately, “I havena seen ye go to his bed, anytime this month past.”
“Well, he hasn’t come to mine, either!” I said hotly, before reflecting that this was scarcely a suitable conversation to be having with a seventeen-year-old boy. Ian hunched his shoulders and gave me an owlish look. “Well, he’s his pride, hasn’t he?” “God knows he has,” I said, rubbing a hand over my face.
“I—look, Ian, thank you for saying something to me.” (A scene between Claire and Jamie’s nephew Ian in Drums of Autumn)
“His aunt and uncle lay on the other side of the smoored fire, close wrought together as to look like one log, sharing warmth…fHe heard a whisper, too low to make out the words but the intent behind them clear enough. He kept his breathing regular, a little louder than usual…lIt was hard to fool Uncle Jamie, but there are times when a man wants to be fooled.” (Young Ian’s observations in An Echo in the Bone)
3. Sex was a means to an end—the end being deep, soul connection. I have often perceived sex as a transaction, duty, or “par for the course” of marriage. But what if I started to view it as a means of soul connection, instead?
There is usually a scale in the back of my mind when my husband wants sex. Various thoughts will come crashing in: Has he treated me well? Do I feel like it? What else do we have to take care of? Often after a big fight, he would want to come back together. I never understood the appeal of “make-up sex.” I think I get it now. He is trying to reconnect. He needs to reconnect. I need to reconnect, too, but I right now I’m out of tune with my body and soul and can’t recognize this need. I’m working on it.
“Our lovemaking was always risk and promise—for if he held my life in his hands when he lay with me, I held his soul, and knew it.”(Claire from Fiery Cross)
“And you, my Sassenach? What were you born for? To be lady of a manor, or to sleep in the fields like a gypsy? To be a healer, or a don’s wife, or an outlaw’s lady?”
“I was born for you,” I said simply, and held out my arms to him.”(Claire from Outlander)
“But when I lay wi’iEmily—from the first time. I knew. Kent who I was again.” He looked up at her then, eyes dark and shadowed by loss. “My soul didna wander while I slept—when I slept wi’iher.” (Young Ian from A Bre
ath of Snow and Ashes)
4. Intimacy is even hotter than sex. The depth of intimacy that Jamie and Claire have is stunning. And it is more attractive (and hotter) than the steamiest of sex scenes. The sex comes from this place of intimacy, and the intimacy is strengthened by the bond of sex. I can’t help but believe that this is very much what God intended, what He desires for us when He created mankind to be “one flesh” together.
“To have ye with me again—to talk wi’ you—to know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughts—God, Sassenach,” he said, “the Lord knows I am lust-crazed as a lad, and I canna keep my hands from you—or anything else—” he added, wryly, “but I would count that all well lost, had I no more than the pleasure of havin’ ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart.” (Jamie in Voyager)
“I kissed his cheek, damp and salty. I could feel his heart beating against my ribs, and wanted nothing more than to stay there forever, not moving, not making love, just breathing the same air.”(Claire in Outlander)
“When the day shall come, that we do part …if my last words are not ‘I love you’–ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”(Jamie in The Fiery Cross)
5. Sex is redeeming and healing. According to purity culture, you have one shot at having a guaranteed good sex life: remain pure before marriage. If you followed the rules, you were told you would have a wonderful, successful marriage and sex life. If you messed up, you were “chewed up gum.” Who would want that? I can’t help but grieve for the many people sitting around me in my youth group and summer camps who walked away internally branded with the scarlet letter of shame for their past mistakes and choices.
What I love about Jamie and Claire’s overarching story is that they were not perfect. They made mistakes, big ones. They made wrong choices with devastating consequences. But, they fight to regain the connection and depth of their bond. They fight for each other and work to draw close. And sex is always one of the ways they redeem one another.
“D’ye ken that the only time I am without pain is in your bed, Sassenach? When I take ye, when I lie in your arms—my wounds are healed, then, my scars forgotten.(Jamie from The Fiery Cross)
“Come to bed, a nighean. Nothing hurts when ye love me.” (Jamie from An Echo in the Bone)
You are my courage, as I am your conscience,” he whispered. “You are my heart—and I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach” (Jamie from Drums of Autumn)
I am not delusional enough to think that everyone has or will have a “Jamie and Claire” love story. Yes, I know it is fictional. But through my love of all things Outlander, I have connected with fans from all over the world who have fallen for this epic story. I have read “my Jamie” stories from women in their 40s and 80s. There are other Jamie and Claire’s out there.
Although I would love to have my own “Jamie and Claire” story, I don’t get bogged down by the fact that I don’t. I’m still learning so much about myself, my husband, and the possibilities for marriage through this story. And the healing that has come, personally, through this unlikely sex re-education—this re-wiring—his invaluable to me.
So from now on when someone asks me for a “good book on marriage or sex” for a new bride-to-be, I won’t be sending them the latest Christian celebrity author’s book on the topic. I will be sending them Outlander, and a bottle of scotch.