I’m a 30 year old virgin. With lots of questions about sex. Help?

I grew up 100% believer.  About 2 years ago I started asking questions. I have now decided that there are many points where I totally disagree with the church, but I still see good in it…I haven’t completely figured out where I stand in terms of activity and so on…and I’m okay with that.

The biggest issue I have right now pertains to sex.  I’ve never had sex. I have a boyfriend who is fantastic, and we’re in love. He never pushes me–totally respects my boundaries. I want to have sex with him. But I have a gnawing sense of guilt over this issue.

Does sin exist? If so, who decides what sin is–who defines evil? Who can tell me if I’m right or wrong? Is it God, is it me? If I do give it all away–am I going to hell? Does sharing love with someone you care about make you evil?

Beyond the idea of sin, there is the question of what is healthy and unhealthy for a relationship…Is this best for our future happiness? Or is it healthier to wait?  In my perfect Mormon family sex was never talked about. I wasn’t even allowed to go to sex ed. I had to learn about it from reading the encyclopedia. Now I’m having these questions…and don’t know where to find answers.

One day I’ll feel great about giving it all away, and the next day I’ll feel guilt over it. What gives? Do you know?

Sincerely,

30-year-old-virgin

Dear 30-year-old virgin:

Yes, in fact, I do know exactly where you are coming from.  I’ve been there.  On that very brink.  And the morning after that fateful night, I was lucky enough to have a scheduled breakfast date with a Mormon friend—a nice out Mormon gay man named Bill.  We sat there at a little café on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, and his first words to me:  “Oh, honey—how wonderful!”

To tell the truth, it took me more than a few years to fully share his sense of delight in the whole sex business. Because especially for those of us who grow up with a strongly black-or-white worldview on sex, sex is a very tricky subject, and the sense of conflict and confusion you’re feeling is very normal.  In fact, lots of women reading this column right now are nodding along.

I’m aware that there are orthodox, law-abiding readers of this blog who will say that your sense of conflict is the Spirit whispering to you that you SHOULD NOT EVEN BE THINKING ABOUT HAVING SEX.

Allow me to take a different approach.  First thing I want you to do is let go of the idea that having sex will ruin you in any sort of permanent way. In our LDS world, there are a lot of catastrophic sex narratives:  sex the great dark power!  sex the inevitable!  sex the ruiner of worlds!  There’s even a popular narrative circulating in the burbs of Salt Lake City right now that Facebook usage leads directly to illicit sex.  As in, I was logging in with my email and password, and next thing I knew, I was naked with someone I’m not married to!

The idea that sex has overwhelming power that can ruin you is an old, powerful idea a lot of us Mormons pick up, the result of one too many “Standards” nights we attend as teens and those unspeakably horrible object lessons wherein the teacher passes around the chocolate donut or the cupcake or the rose and has every girl in the circle finger the donut or cupcake or rose and then holds up a pristine cupcake or donut or rose and suggests that no one in their right mind would want to take home the mangled donut or cupcake or rose because it has been unspeakably ruined.

Horrifying.

Remember, you, my dear, are not a donut or cupcake or rose.  You are not a thing. Notice that in your query you twice described having sex as “giving it all away.”  Please reflect on the deeper attitudes and beliefs that unfortunate little euphemism entails.  And please hear me when I tell you that just as you are not a donut or cupcake or rose, sex is not an “it.”  And it is certainly not an “all.”

Sex is a human experience.  Especially for a 30 year old woman in what sounds like a fairly healthy, committed relationship, sex is something you can talk about, deliberate, and choose or not choose.  How you choose will have consequences.  Every choice has consequences.  But whatever you choose, you will still be you, and God will still be God, and you will still be loved.  You will not be ruined.

You raise some big-time theological questions about the nature of sin and sexuality.  It’s clear that your whole religious worldview is morphing right now, that you’re trying to move away from a worldview based on heavy-duty guilt and fear towards a new adult orientation to faith and to Mormonism in particular.  In this regard, let me say that it’s my experience that guilt is never the best reason for doing something or not doing something.  In fact, my own experience is that a choice to abstain from something is most meaningful as an expression of commitment, desire, or faith.  Choose whatever you choose for a positive reason—abstinence because you want to demonstrate a greater level of commitment to your religion and enjoy the spiritual benefits that come with devotion, or waiting because you want a little more time to think about it or enjoy your autonomy, or sex because you want sex and a closer physical relationship with your boyfriend–not because you feel guilty or afraid.

As you prepare to make your choice, you should get as much factual information as possible.  If you don’t have friends you can talk straight about sex with, I’d suggest you check out a good women’s health guide like the classic Our Bodies, Ourselves.  Get a copy.  Lots of utterly necessary information about physical and emotional sexual health related matters. It’s better than the encyclopedia.  Promise.

And a final, frank sisterly note.   Especially for women, sex often gets better with time, practice, and trust.   Ten years into a happy marriage, I understand what my friend Bill was so chipper about.  Had I known, I might even have waited.

Okay, readers—now it’s your turn. And I trust you’ll have something to say.

Send you query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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15 Comments

Filed under faith transition, Women

15 responses to “I’m a 30 year old virgin. With lots of questions about sex. Help?

  1. First off, congrats on being in love. Second, may I be the first to say that there isn’t anything wrong with being a 30 year-old virgin, or a virgin of any age? I think it’s great that you’re trying to come to terms with your own sexuality. It’s important. You should own it and determine what exactly sex means to you. Joanna’s book recommendation is excellent. Much of the rhetoric given to teenagers in their mutual classes is finely-honed fearmongering, but I am personally grateful for it. Abstaining from sex for as long as I did really and truly saved me from a lot of heartbreak and contributed greatly to my health in other areas of my life. However, it is rhetoric aimed for a group that is less self-aware, so it may not be so applicable for you now in the “sex is scary, I’m bad for thinking about it” kind of way.

    The guilt you rightly allude to is a real thing and it’s something that should be taken seriously. Pretending isn’t going to help you come to any answers here: you hail from an LDS tradition that places sex high on the morality scale and it isn’t readily apparent that the church’s sexual standards are going to change in the next millennia or so. How would going against those standards affect your spiritual life, which is, despite what others may say, just as important as your sex life? These are questions only you can answer.

    Despite their position, church leadership isn’t (or shouldn’t be) designed to take your spiritual life out of your hands. So take it up! Best of luck to you.

  2. There is more than one discussion going on here, or at least there should be.

    There is a sex discussion and then a theological one.
    At times we all confuse the two. I have sat through many a Sunday school lesson about why we should marry in the temple in order to have a happier marriage or stave off divorce, how abstaining from caffeine will make me more healthy and in tune with the spirit, and how watching rated R movies will fill my head with evil… maybe, but than again maybe not.
    Sex outside of marriage may be great for your relationship and personal journey… maybe not. Those are all questions and issues you may decide on and learn for yourself.

    As far as doctrine, or what the formal church teaches as the word of God, not so much your choice.

    You asked who decides what is sin? Assuming that was not rhetorical, God does.
    If you do not believe God deems premarital sex as a sin, than you are essentially deciding you do not believe the church is true. Sounds harsh, and it is not my intention to be some hard lined authoritarian, but if one is intellectually honest they must come to terms with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints being rooted in the idea that we have direct and continued revelation from God to the prophet or President of the organized church. This Prophet, and many scriptures, say sex outside of wedlock is in fact sin.

    Now, many people married outside the temple have wonderful happy marriages, many people drink large amounts of Coke and still run marathons, and many R rated movies are very uplifting… so maybe the point isn’t purely temporal.

    The real reason to get married in the temple is so your marriage can be eternal and you can qualify for the Celestial Kingdom.

    Ditto for all those other rules.
    Label me a guilt monger but all other things aside, God said abstain, and he is the one who decides what happens through the eternities.

    • mark england

      It is entirely possible to believe the church is ‘true” and also believe that our leaders stay things that are completely wrong and not the mind of
      God. It used to be common to preach that it was better to be dead than give up your virtue. Whatever prophets or leaders who taught that were completely wrong headed and the church has even taken those quotes out of the current manuals. Just because the church is “true” doesn’t give our leaders the right to be wrong or us the obligation to follow everything they say, nor does it give them carte blanche to decide what is sin. If you know history then you would know cultural standards of sin change.

      • Are you implying that there is some question as to whether God defines fornication as sin?

      • mark england

        what i am questioning is people who sometimes simplistically confuse Gods definition of sin with their own. Our leaders are called of God, but it doesn’t mean they always get it right. It is our responsibility to know the difference. To say fornication is a sin in the eyes of God is a very big generalization and assumes we know how God feels about every situation. it is the same as saying “killing is a sin”. What about war, self defense, nephi cutting off the head of laban? Sin is not black and white unless it is someone else sinning.

  3. Whatever you do, don’t take advice about your sexuality from men who invoke male authority. Such men know nothing of female sexuality and like it that way. They traffic in power and domination, not generosity and understanding, which are essential to the kind of sex you want to have. Ignore, for instance, every single word brohammas has written. He doesn’t have the slightest clue what’s going on with you, and he doesn’t want to exercise the empathy or imagination to figure it out.

    Talk to girlfriends who know you. Get advice on what sex was like for them when they first started having it, and what things when into ensuring that it was or wasn’t good.

    If you can find a gay man who is willing to talk to you candidly about male physiology, well, you’re bound to learn a lot that many straight men might not be willing/able to tell you without hitting on you.

    Some of the most compassionate counseling I have ever gotten was at Planned Parenthood. It’s their job to direct you to some of the information you’re seeking.

    • NateT

      Paint with a broad brush often?

      Anyhow . . .

      The questions asked in the letter clearly pertains to Mormon belief and premarital sex. The Mormon view on premarital sex is plain: it is a sin. Engaging in it will make certain aspects of the Mormon religion, like temple attendance and temple marriage, much, much more difficult.
      If the questioner wants to engage in premarital sex, it is her choice, but there will be consequences if she has aspirations to something more in her Mormon faith.

      If you want to make the case that the Mormon view is formed by evil men who ” traffic in power and domination, not generosity and understanding” then go ahead and do that explicitly.

  4. liz

    I really didn’t want to comment on this, but my stomach has been churning for two days, and now the comments are getting so polarized I just can’t keep my mouth shut. For what it’s worth:

    I certainly agree that sex before marriage won’t ruin you, but I knew some girls in high school who felt a little like that donut, and not because they had been exposed to any sort of Mormon guilt. I also agree with Joanna’s assessment that choices should be made based on belief and commitment, not fear or guilt. I think that was the most important thing she said, and it applies to life in general, not just sex. She didn’t address the theological questions about sin and evil, and I was a little surprised by those — I was raised in a very traditional Mormon way, and have never thought that sin and evil were synonymous. We are all sinners. Maybe it’s just semantics, but being a sinner doesn’t make you an evil person. I’m personally trying to sin less, and I do believe that pre-marital sex is a sin, so it’s not something I would have consciously chosen to do.

    But, for this person who is questioning her beliefs, perhaps that’s not entirely helpful. If I could offer a perspective, as someone who did wait until marriage (because no one has both perspectives), I would say that I am glad that my entire sexual experience has been with my husband. We have had a great time for 14 years figuring things out together, and are free from any past memories or baggage. For me, sex is about us, and only us, and I think it’s pretty great. I would wish this type of marital satisfaction for everyone, and would humbly suggest that it’s something to strive for.

    I hope the writer of this letter (and anyone else in a similar situation) will consider the whole of the response, and not stop at, “Well, Mormon Girl had premarital sex and she’s awesome, so it must be ok.” I’m not so concerned about the 30-year-old being so silly, but this is how a teenager’s mind sometimes works, and I’m sure there are teenagers reading this blog. The entire response is very thoughtful. Read it again!

    Good luck on your spiritual journey. For me, the gospel has brought peace and joy, and I wish the same for you.

  5. Good Luck!

    I don’t think the church plans for people to be in their late 20’s and early 30’s (and onward) without being married. Waiting until you are married to have sex is easier when you get married at 19. I think there is a historical context for this belief system–people used to (and many still do) get married very young. Nowadays, many women and men are marrying in their 30’s. It is a tall order to ask people to spend upwards of ten years of their adulthood celibate.

    There is nothing wrong with abstinence. I definitely think it is a personal decision which includes the degree to which you believe that premarital sex is a sin. If you think it is a sin–you will feel bad. If you don’t think it is a sin–you won’t feel bad. The guilt you will or will not feel is about your deeply held personal beliefs.

    I had sex before marriage. I did not experience any guilt. In retrospect, the only thing I ‘regret’ is that I was not honest with my partner about what sex meant to me. For me it symbolized a commitment and for him it symbolized a great connection between us. So I was very hurt when we broke up shortly thereafter. But do I regret it? No, I don’t. I had a lot to learn and it was definitely part of my learning process. And was I less valuable as a non-virgin? Not at all.

    If you are okay with having sex before you are married, I think the best thing to do is to be honest with yourself about what it means to you and communicate that to your partner. You are much older than I was when I made this decision, so it is possible that aside from church–you are simply ready to have a sex life. Plain and simple. Maybe you are just ready.

    I definitely agree with talking to some female friends about sex. I would have a nice conversation about what it is like to have sex for the first time. This might give you some perspective as well.

  6. Carlos

    There is something good and noble about staring across the alter in the temple into the eyes of a woman who has kept herself as unspotted as she expects her husband to be. Put me down as in favor of following the Lord’s counsel to live the law of chastity to its fullest and be square with the high moral standard expected. You can excuse the behavior all you want, but the commandment still stands for us all.

  7. Eliza

    I have been where you are. There is nothing wrong with figuring out what it is you believe exactly. Sex is apart of human nature and everyone comes to a place in their life where their curiosity becomes more than curiosity. You need to figure out what it is that you believe you will get from becoming sexually active. What is the real motive? You are the only one that can tell yourself what it is.
    I can tell you what I learned from my own experience. For me personally I felt it was a natural step in the process of my relationship to become sexually active with my fiance. We loved each other enough to commit the rest of our lives to each other and our relationship was great. He was thoughtful and caring. We complimented each other well. We worked well together. What would it matter if we brought sex into the situation because we were already strong. This would only make us stronger…right? Wrong. From the moment I made that decision and the decision was acted out I felt a disconnect from myself and from my partner. We no longer respected each other. Our relationship started to change slowly and at first we didn’t notice. We still married and not even a year later he left me pregnant and alone. My marriage fell apart but even with that failure came a blessing. I have a beautiful daughter who is a blessing from God. So even out of the mist of darkness comes light.
    Of course there are many factors that contributed to the failure of our relationship but as I look back I have found the disconnect started when I made that decision to have premarital sex.
    So basically this is a big decision that only you can determine if it is appropriate or not but really think through it and all the consequences and blessings that may arise from it. Be prepared for whatever comes in your relationship. It is better to know where you stand and where your partner stands so you both know what to expect. Sex takes two and therefore make sure you both know what it is the pair of you are getting from sex. Not only talk to your female friends but talk to your partner as well. You may be surprised that you don’t see eye to eye or that you do. Better to know then not to know.
    As far as the doctrine goes. I believe the severity of the sin depends on where your level of commitment towards the church is. Temple recommend or not. You need to figure out how the doctrine fits into your life. No one can tell you how to apply it. That is why God gave us our free agency. Just know that with decisions come consequences and blessings. Its up to you to choose which one you want. You choose to feel guilty or not.

  8. Paul

    My wife is currently pregnant with our unplanned child, despite our best efforts to prevent the pregnancy. Sexual intercourse always has this risk, even if it can be made small.

    Our marriage is very satisfying, positive, and committed. We are affectionate and increasingly patient with our kids. The unexpected child will be part of a wonderful family.

    Creating a child outside of marriage is depriving a child of an optimal family life. To my mind, the sin of premarital sex is that people would take this risk with someone else’s life.

    Sex is intimacy, love, pleasure, lots of wonderful stuff, but it is also potentially the creation of life, so I think the standards of the church should be kept.

  9. EP

    Wish I had waited. Hope my daughter will.

  10. Anon

    Joanna does such a great job laying out some important advice about sex before marriage in a very sensitive and thoughtful way. I wish I had thought about sex that way.

    My wife and I were both virgins when we got married, and I regret it. Our situation is probably unique, but if I had been more experienced I would have understood myself better. I would have realized that I was gay. Now I feel trapped by my obedience, and I feel naive. I have a wife who doesn’t have the loving husband she needs, and I have two beautiful children who won’t have the positive example of parents romantically in love.

  11. Sara

    I was a 29 year old virgin, who finally “gave it away.” I loved sex. It was wonderful. It also allowed me to become me in a certain way. I had a lot of guilt over not being a virgin. I felt like all that time I had been waiting on God….being “good”…and I still didn’t have somebody I wanted to marry (or who wanted to marry me).

    But… I will say (that at least for me), it was rather hard to stop. Sex is a lot of fun. And for me, it was a lot of fun from the get-go. So, it lead to some sexual relationships that in hindsight, were amazingly stupid and risky. I ended up sleeping with 4 guys before I met my husband (who was a 32 year old virgin when we married). At that point, even though he knew about my past, I felt horribly guilty on some level–but on another level, I think that at least with my first partner, it was necessary to get over my feelings/questions of inadequacy of being such an “old” virgin.

    I honestly think that the advice for girls who are still virgins in their 20s and beyond should be to buy a vibrator. You can buy them these days on Amazon–so nobody is the wiser. Learn to give yourself pleasure….both with a vibrator and without…and you’ll be much better prepared for whenever the time truly is right for you.

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