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?
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.
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.
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