Within the first 15 minutes of Yes, God, Yes, I wanted to shut down the computer. I was so angry I could have punched something. I was overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions flooding my senses quickly.
Don’t worry. I’m going to explain why in a moment.
Originally a short film in 2017, this full-length version follows teenager Alice (played by Natalia Dyer of Stranger Things) as she discovers her sexuality through the internet and masturbation in the setting of Catholic school circa early 2000’s (side note – the AOL dial-in sound brings back a flood of nostalgia). Simultaneously, there is a vicious rumor circulating about a sexual incident between her and a fellow student that conflates her perception of herself and private actions. She is innocent of the rumor but because it coincides with her growing awakening, her guilt deepens. Teachers and fellow students encourage her to attend a “life-changing” church camp (based on their belief in the truth of the rumor), where she is promised purity and forgiveness. Throughout her four days at camp, she learns what was unsurprising to me – that things aren’t always as they seem. Role model counselor Nina (played by Alisha Boe) is sneaking off with a fellow youth for the very actions being condemned, more than one student is using the office computer for cyber sex and pornography, and even Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) is harboring his own “damning” secrets.
Now to my intro, why was I so bothered from the onset of this movie? No, it wasn’t the masturbation. And no, it wasn’t the topic of teenagers actively engaging in their sexuality. It was how, in my opinion, the church as a whole struggles to discuss sexuality in a way that fosters any other emotion other than fear and guilt – especially for young women – and, from the beginning, this film was addressing that for me. It made me sick and angry because it was accurate from the onset.
It is absolutely no secret at all that humans are sexual beings – how else would our species continue? Even with the advancements of modern medicine, sex is still the primary means through which we procreate. And that’s the premise Alice is given for sex – marriage and children. Any type of sexual of behavior that is A: outside of marriage and B: can’t result in children is a mortal sin that will be met with eternal damnation.
But I mean, really? To say that is the only reason sex is good is to completely dismiss the sensory experience of sex. Why would it be associated with the term “ecstasy” if it was only for procreation? Why would teenagers and adults alike be so preoccupied with experiencing that sensation if it served no other purpose? And if we really believed it was meant to be that restrictive, why would we condemn it and explain it to children and teenagers in a way that scares them as opposed to a way that informs them?
The human body is incredible. It’s miraculous. So, to vilify a feeling inherent to our very species makes me question what it is we actually believe about sex. Now I can go into a theological and historical timeline that pinpoints when some Christian traditions began to associate sex with original sin (spoiler alert – it wasn’t/isn’t), but there are entire college and seminary classes on the subject, so I’ll skip that part. And I’m not going to promote complete sexual abandonment and encourage teenagers to go out and explore their every urge. But what I AM going to promote is open, honest conversation. Our kids are going to get the information somewhere. And no matter how many youth retreats they attend or chastity rings they wear, they are going to hear more than what the church tells them. And if this movie offers any insight, it’s that they’re more than likely doing more as well.
If we want our kids growing up in ways that teach them to respect their bodies and those of others, then we need to do a better job of introducing them to those very bodies. Vilification and fear are not helpful tactics. As Alice discovered more of herself, she also discovered the truth that guilt can pull us into a false belief that we are totally alone in our experiences and struggles. Using guilt to dissuade teenagers from having sex is to trap ourselves in a belief that our bodies are something to be afraid of as opposed to celebrated with healthy and honoring expressions of our sexuality.
I didn’t agree with every element of this film but I completely appreciated what it was going for. It’s an accurate portrayal of the internal anguish so many Christian youth experience in isolation and fear, and it has reminded me once again that the topic of sex shouldn’t be clouded in condemnation. Our youth deserve better.
Our bodies deserve better.
Yes, God, Yes is available on PVOD now.