Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.
Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lilith” is a pseudonym.
I had the bare minimum sex education growing up—my mom gave me one brief, frank talk about sex, I read some Christian children and teen books on the subject, and I went to a teen dating class at my church that emphasized, of course, abstinence. In high school, I dated the pastor’s kid for a year, and he waited patiently until my 16th birthday to give me my first kiss (my mom’s mandate). My boyfriend and I only alluded to sex once the whole time we dated.
It wasn’t until college that I began to truly understand the mechanics of sex and sexual anatomy.
At age 18, a psychology textbook introduced me to the word clitoris, and I immediately proceeded to look for mine. At 21, I discovered I had been using tampons incorrectly for nine years (no wonder they were so uncomfortable and didn’t always work!). Shortly after, one of my male friends asked me if I had ever had an orgasm, to which I replied “I don’t know.” I was even more embarrassed when one of my male classmates commented abruptly over lunch, “You’re a virgin, aren’t you?” I finally started looking for answers to my sex questions through Google so I wouldn’t feel so ignorant.
Through these searches I realized that my notions of sex positions and the “motions” of sex – for lack of a better word – were utterly wrong.
At age 22, I started dating my future husband, Matt (HA note: name changed). Even though we were both Christians who valued abstinence, we talked about sex openly. Other guys had humiliated me by pointing out my ignorance, but Matt never made me feel stupid – perhaps because he was a virgin, too. As Christians, we were always told that having sex before marriage would ruin our sex lives once we got married. So, when Matt and I finally gave in to our sexual urges three years later, we felt immense guilt. Before this incident, we had already talked about getting married, but now we wanted to bump up the date so we wouldn’t be “sinning.” We confessed our sexual sins to our pastor and told him our idea of getting married soon, and he told us that was a viable option.
My parents, however, were resistant to the idea, because they wanted me to finish my master’s degree first.
I was confused and angry, because they seemed to be contradicting what they had always taught me: by telling me to postpone marriage, it was as if they were telling me that my education was more important than my morality. (To be fair to my parents, this is how I was feeling, and not necessarily what they believed.)
What I just described is an unfortunate dilemma that I imagine many young Christian adults and their parents face. Because of the demands of college, parents and their children rationalize that marriage should occur after college. At the same time, delaying marriage means delaying sex. Although many young Christian adults earnestly want to wait, their biological urges make it very difficult for them to do so. Our bodies are not designed to postpone sex until we are in our mid- to late-twenties.
Because of my parent’s wishes, Matt and I delayed our wedding until after graduation. In the meantime, we continued to have sex, though we no longer confessed this to our pastor nor our parents. Eventually, we lost feelings of guilt and began to question how ‘sinful’ our actions really were. Matt and I truly loved each other, and we were figuring out sex together. Months later, when we finally got married, our wedding night wasn’t any less special because we had already had sex. In fact, it was satisfying because we knew what we were doing. That same year, for many reasons, we left the church and are no longer Christians.
In closing, I was poorly informed about sex while growing up. This didn’t hurt me much when I was a teenager, because I was homeschooled and not around many other teens or “temptations” anyway. Once I started college, though, I was ridiculed for my ignorance and unknowingly put myself in risky situations. Early on, I should have been taught not only about sexual organs, STDs and contraceptives, but also about the risks of sexual predators and date rape – which, fortunately, I never experienced but could easily have.
I have conflicting feelings about the “True Love Waits” doctrine that homeschooled Christian teens are taught.
On one hand, I’m glad that it encouraged Matt and I to postpone sex for as long as we did – we were both mature enough to experience it safely and thoughtfully, and we couldn’t judge each other because neither of us had “done it” before. However, in some ways the abstinence doctrine did do some emotional damage: when Matt and I were expressing love to each other before we were married, our Christian consciences were telling us that we were doing something bad and harmful. Because of these convictions, we were really hard on ourselves and experienced a lot of unnecessary guilt – so much so that we broke up for a few months in order not to “sin.”
Ironically, the guilt and the breakup were actually more harmful to our relationship than the premarital sex was.