I remember a lot of conversations about sex, growing up in church. We mostly went to non-denominational churches when I was old enough to be hearing about saying no to boys who asked me to compromise my purity, and I soaked it all in. I made it through high school and college without anyone asking me to take off my clothes.
No one tried to talk me into bed, or sex.
My relationship with church has been a tenuous one over the years. I’ve pressed in, looking for community, and I’ve spent many hours within church buildings feeling lonely and overlooked. In college, I started veering in a more mainline direction, hoping that the ages of people saying the same words from the Book of Common Prayer might ground me.
As I continued on this journey, I discovered that not everyone had the same sex talks; in fact, some churches didn’t talk much about sexuality at all, except to say that it was a good thing. I began to talk with pastors, to read commentaries and exegesis and to inspect my own beliefs about sex, especially as it related to women and value.
I can tell you that both sides, those who advocate waiting for marriage, and those who advocate for loving, exclusive sexual activity before marriage make a lot of sense, even biblically. I like to be right, and so this is hard for me.
I fell in love with a boy who had a similar background to mine. We talked a lot about sex and about theology of sex. We chose to be in a committed, loving relationship, and we chose to have sex.
I gave of myself with generosity and abandon.
Sometimes I had sex for the wrong reasons, selfishly, or because I felt I had to. Sometimes, sex brought us into closer communion, and some of the things that weren’t clicking between us clicked into place. On the whole, having sex as part of our relationship helped put some of the other pieces into focus, which is what I imagine it does in marriage.
It is hard to separate from the expectations of my youth group days. I hoped that this would be it; that this relationship would lead to marriage, as we had talked about long before we had sex. I hoped that this person would be my only sexual partner. As it happened, we did not marry, we broke up.
It was immediately tempting to believe all of the things that I had learned in youth group about girls who had sex with people they weren’t married to. I thought about the construction paper hearts glued together and then ripped apart, and the cups of water that everyone spit into. I wondered if anyone I dated in the future would be put off by my lack of virginity. I thought about everyone I knew who got married right after college, who had spent the greater part of the last decade having sex rather than talking about it, or avoiding it.
I have good friends, and I brought my confusion to them, and to God. These are people with whom I have shared my perfectionistic soul. In those sacred moments, I confessed that I wasn’t sure whether I had made the right choice, though I had searched and prayed and done my best at the time. They were all grace, and hope and love, even as I tried to lock it down so that I could make the “right” decision next time. One of them stopped me in her tracks with her words: “At what point would it have not hurt terribly?” I realized that point was long before sex. Even my hurt about our physically intimate relationship was about far more than the physical. It hurt because I had exposed who I truly was, and wound it around another person. It hurt because we had committed to each other with our words, our actions, and our bodies.
I want to get it all figured out before I date again.
I want to know what I think so that I can say no, or yes, and stick with it. But what I know for certain is that I will be gun-shy, not only physically, but also emotionally.
I can still see both sides, the side that tells me that a fixation on virginity and sex are part of patriarchy, that Song of Solomon offers a compelling case for premarital sex between committed partners. I can see the side that says sex is a privilege only for marriage - only within "formal" commitment. I think perhaps youth group sex ed would have been enough if only I had married quickly.
What I know is this: I am not ruined, and God does not love me less because I had sex with someone I didn’t marry.
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