After the Purity Ball, occupy your body

Last week I got in this letter:

Dear John,

I have a simple-minded question for you. It’s about abstinence from premarital sex. How does this work? No, not the “How do I resist temptation and remain pure?” part. Let’s say that your purity is completely assured. You have quenched your sexual thoughts and desires, and you have not done any sexual experimentation. You are saving your first kiss for marriage. Then, the day of your wedding, you go home to bed with your new husband, and … suddenly and automatically everything works?

I ask because for most of my adolescent and adult life I have been living the Purity Ball dream. I suppressed most of my sexual urges. No dating, no fantasizing, no touching. I was more or less asexual, and almost completely clueless. Then I fell in love with a fine young man, and we fully intend to marry each other once our life circumstances settle down. The young man and I started doing the things that young couples tend to do, like holding hands, or an arm around the shoulders or waist, and…I could not handle it. The feelings I had were either so overwhelming and powerful I had to stop, or I felt completely and totally numb.

I have needed ongoing therapy to get over this, but it is clear that for the present, even if the young man and I did get married, the two of us would not be able to have a sex life. The act of marriage would not be able to overcome the years of sexual dysfunction that I have imposed on myself. The young man, God bless him, loves me and wants to marry me anyway, even if this never changes, and even if that means we can never have biological children together.

I feel betrayed, because I did everything I was told with regard to abstinence, and it led me to a place where I wasn’t able to cope with sex at all and feel so broken. Is this how abstinence is supposed to work? I can’t think of anyone I could ask other than you, John, who would listen to me and take me seriously and give me an honest answer. Bless you for just reading this and getting this far.

Dear Young Woman:

Thanks for writing; I appreciate your trust.

The whole Christian purity, “I’m saving myself for daddy” thing is insane. I won’t even go into the 1.6 million reasons why, but if you trust me at all, trust this: It’s as insane a thing as any culture, anywhere, has ever produced.

And it’s left you not knowing if (so to speak) you’re coming or going.

Here’s the truth of the dynamic with which you’re now involved: Your body has a consciousness at least as rich, complex, and immediate as the consciousness that comes out of your mind. Your misfortune is that you’ve severed yourself from that consciousness. That doesn’t mean that your body’s consciousness has ceased to exist; it just means that you’ve learned to ignore the vast amount of information it’s constantly producing. You did that because you learned that’s what God wants you to do. You learned that being a good girl for God and (I presume) for daddy means ignoring and ultimately mentally overriding your body’s consciousness. So that’s what you did.

You succeeded in making your mind the dictator of your body.

And now the time has come for your body to rebel against that oppressive regime.

Well, if you’re a dictator, and the body of people you rule over rises up against you, what do you do? Hopefully, you talk to the people. You find out what they want. You listen to their complaints. You learn of their needs, and then go about satisfactorily meeting them.

It’s time for your body to be listened to, is all. Your body now wants its rights to be recognized, acknowledged, legitimized. You just have to start tuning into what your body is now so desperately trying to communicate to you. So do that. Start, finally, taking advantage of the vast, fabulous, buzzy-good resource that is your body’s consciousness.

Wave good-bye to daddy’s role in your sexuality. The lights of your Purity Ball have now been turned off. Time to ditch that paradigm of experiencing yourself. It’s not like it’s going to start working for you. You’re not a little girl anymore. Daddy’s not going to be the man the woman in you needs. (And, please, consider the possibility that the person you really want in your bed is more of the mommy than daddy variety. Do yourself the favor of just considering the idea that you’re a lesbian. Millions of people are, so don’t trip about it. Just see if you are. Think about it. You’ll know.)

You need to start accessing your body’s wondrous, genius of a consciousness. You’ve been talking to your body for so long: issuing it decrees, repressing its freedoms, denying its right to freedom of expression. Now it’s time too, well …

Occupy your body!

Now it’s time to turn off your mind, and hear what your body has to say.

Prepare for one seriously engaging speech. Just sit back, and let the consciousness of your body take over. Before long you’ll find yourself wanting to take a long, hot bath by candlelight. You’ll want to stretch; a little yoga would be just the thing here. You’ll want to take long walks outside; you’ll want sun on your skin. You’ll want to have a glass of wine, and some delicious food. You’ll want to dance.

Do those things. Do all of them, and more.

At some point in this process (which you must allow to take as long as it must; remember: you’re following now, not leading) invite your boyfriend over. Share with him what you’re going through. See how he feels about it all. (And see also how you feel about him. Your letter tells me that a good deal of your problem might be that you’re simply not sexually attracted to your boyfriend. To be perfectly honest with you, the very first thought I had upon reading your letter was, “Oh, she’s a lesbian. And he’s gay.” Who but a gay man would be okay marrying a woman he can’t have sex with? And tons of Christian marriages are between a man and woman who don’t yet realize they’re gay. It’s so classic. So no offense [if you felt any.] I’m just saying that was my first thought.)

You can do this.  You can become the happily sexual person God made all of us to be. You just need to reestablish your relationship with half of what God gave you—what’s yours, and no one else’s. Not daddy’s. Not mommy’s. Yours.

It’s your body. Let it do for you what it’s so long been waiting to. Trust that God made you whole, and that your body has wisdom your mind can’t begin to conceive. Access that wisdom. It’s yours.

[UPDATE:  A commenter below said that it sounds as if I’m against maintaining one’s virginity until marriage. So, to be clear on that: I have serious issues with the whole “purity”/ “My heart belongs to daddy” phenomenon—with the Purity Balls and Purity Vows and all that. I think that stuff is so tweaked I can barely believe it’s legal. But I have no problem whatsoever with anyone, for whatever reasons they deem worthy, waiting until they are married to have sex.]

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • A

    Wow. Thank you. I’m a Christian gay woman finally starting to hear what my body wants to say after 10 years of marriage to a man I love with all my heart. I can’t wish I read this 10 years ago, the ride has been crazy but God led, but I’m so glad someone is saying it now. Yeah. The Purity Ball is a haunted house.

  • This hits very close to home, as someone who’s married-life sexuality has been deeply hurt and affected by my adolescence of religious purity. Thanks for posting this.

  • John,

    Thank you for this post. I grew up in a similar situation as the writer of this letter, and it took me a long time before I came to grips with the fact that having sex before marriage would not damn me to hell. (I spent the first 10 years of my life in a Southern Baptist church). I was hoping you could take a moment and dispel some myths as to where this whole ‘no sex before marriage’ thing came from, and tell us why – in a scriptural sense – it’s OK with God to engage in sex before marriage. I’m not asking this because I think it’s wrong – I’m asking because if I was asked, I wouldn’t last two seconds in a debate and would have no idea how to defend my stance. All I know about this topic is what I was fed as a young kid and teen in a Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma.

    Just for the record, I’m transgender (female to male) and at this moment in my life, couldn’t imagine committing my entire life to someone without knowing if my potential mate and I have, uhm, that kinda chemistry.

    Thanks for all you do, John. I just recently found this blog and am now a regular reader. I’m also a humanitarian and cause-driven photographer, and I would really like to talk to you about an advocacy project in the near future, if you’re interested. My website is linked via this comment.


  • I have always enjoyed your blog very much, John, and I think you have some very valid points here, but I hope your dialog with this young woman is much lengthier and ongoing than what I just read in this post. My concern is that, if she has been raised in a home and church that has encouraged her to even suppress sexual thoughts or self-exploration, has not even been kissed before, you can bet she has been taught that being lesbian would mean certain alienation from God. I would hate to think that the suggestion that she may be lesbian would make her even more distressed! While I think it is a valid consideration, don’t you think that suggestion this early in the conversation might send her into a panic? Anyway, I’m sure I’m seeing the “Reader’s Digest” version of the conversation you are having with her, but I did try to put myself in her place as I read your response and thought that might be a bit terrifying for someone who has been held so tightly in check all her life. Your suggestions to get in touch with her body are excellent, and I’m not saying the subject of sexual orientation may not be valid, but maybe just scary for her as an initial response.

  • Caitlin

    One thing it may help to remember is that “abstinence” is a life choice promoted by people who eventually did become sexual in their lives (by marrying and having children). It is distinctly cruel if they never passed on the knowledge and experience they have gained. Sex, the acts themselves, are a Godly gift that help us bond to each other and develop depths of love for one another. It is ok to be excited, terrified and overwhelmed – this is actually pretty normal and really part of the thrill that makes our sexuality such an important force. What I believe is the secret agenda of abstinence-as-political-movement is to divorce people from the feeling that they own and direct their own lives, which makes you more easy to manipulate and control. God intends us to have happy, joyous, fulfilling lives where we are free from oppression – no other Biblical message is more abundantly clear to me than this.

  • Susan

    Wow, I had to comment on this one. I read your blog a lot, haven’t commented yet, but had to this time. I am a licensed therepeutic social worker. I spent many years studying and honing my craft. Your blog entry had me right up until the last three paragraphs. I especially loved the paragraph encouraging her to turn off the intelectual part of her and try to tune into her physical side.

    But John, you don’t have any where near enaough pertinent information to start diagnosing her as a closeted gay person, nor – to my knowledge – do you ahve any training or background to make such an assessment. And if you were trained, you’d know you have no business making such an assessment based on one brief letter. There are a multitude of possible reasons for her to be so shut down about her sexuality, sexual orientation only being one. She could also be severely depressed, she could also have a tumor causing her hormone levels to be off, she could also be a victim of sexual abuse, she could also be dating a young man she just isn’t attracted to , and there are hundreds of other possiblities. A trained therapist would tell you that the realizations of what the issues are for her in particular, need to be brought out from HER, not pressed on her by a well-meaning but untrained person.

    Clearly LGBT issues are something very important to you, and I don’t doubt that you genuinely mean this young woman well, but I will make a deal with you. Since I am not a very adept writer – especially when it comes to humor – and I have little interest in blogging, I will refrain from writing a semi-humorous blog on issues of sexuality and faith if you will stop practicing amateur psychotherapy with people you’ve never even met in person, and announcing to troubled writers that they are probably gay after reading one brief letter from them. Refer them for more counseling (with a qualified trained professional), and if her current counselor is not helping her make any headway with the issue encourage her to find another one, and to throw in a good physical exam with a qualified physician as well, while she’s at it.

  • vj

    Hmmm. As much as I think you have given some good advice to this young woman (starting slow, getting in touch with what her body wants, etc), and I certainly don’t want to dictate someone else’s life choices – I would just like to chime in that (a) it is *possible* to remain a virgin until marriage and (b) doing so can have many positive benefits. I realize that others will have a different perspective, but since this has been my personal experience, perhaps I could offer some insights?

    – sex is not something that you automatically know how to do, or something that you learn to do all at once; once you are married, you learn *together* about what makes each body tick (a big plus of a honeymoon immediately after the wedding is that you have time alone together, to kick-start this lifelong process); in this particular case, the LW may find that once she embarks on this, her inhibitions/anxiety/’dysfunction’ will disappear as part of this process, or she/they may benefit from appropriate counseling [she may find the book ‘Intimate Issues’ by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus (available from Amazon) helpful]; a close friend of mine, molested as a child, was similarly fearful that she and her husband would never have children because she couldn’t bear his touch; however, with a combination of prayer, patience and counseling they have, together, overcome that, and are still very happily married – 25 years and 3 kids later.

    – keeping sex for marriage can bring with it a host of benefits, including reduced exposure to STDs; many years ago I ready a [secular] study that concluded that, on a biochemical level, when you have sex with someone you are simultaneously exposed to all their previous sexual partners; there is also, of course, the reduced likelihood of an awkward pregnancy…

    – sex has physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions; reserving sex for committed relationships/marriage is a way of protecting oneself (and one’s partner) from the baggage that can come from having multiple partners (even via serial monogamy); my own decision to wait for marriage had virtually nothing to do with religion/faith [and it absolutely nothing to do with either of my parents!] – I read so many ‘agony aunt’ letters from (mostly) women complaining about boyfriends who said variations of “if you love me, you’ll sleep with me”, only to get their hearts broken, that it made MUCH more sense to me, personally, to wait until we were ‘official’ before allowing myself to be so vulnerable…

    – it’s pretty cool (to me, personally) that neither my husband nor I have had other sexual partners; no comparisons, no lingering ‘maybe she/he was better than me’ issues; we have had our ups and downs (duh – married almost 20 years), but on the whole we have an open, mutually satisfying sex-life; I know it’s not the liberal or trendy position, but I do believe that sex is God’s wedding gift to a couple, and that waiting was worth it for us.

    Lastly, I think it may be a bit too early to jump to the conclusion that either of these people is gay. It’s possible, I suppose, but also possible that they are just so accustomed to not expressing themselves sexually and so committed to the idea of waiting until marriage that they are ‘worried’ about starting something they wouldn’t be able to stop? And I do think it’s rather sweet that the LW’s boyfriend wants to marry her even if she thinks they won’t be able to have sex – love and marriage are about more than sex, after all (although he probably is hoping that things will eventually work out in this department!)…

  • I didn’t “diagnose” her as a gay person. I simply suggested that she consider that she might be one. Not the same thing at all. (And I didn’t “press” on her any opinion at all. She asked for my input. I gave it. Simple.)

  • Diana A.

    My mom was a virgin when she married at age 28 (this was back in the early 50’s.) When her doctor gave her the premarital exam, he told her “All your life, you’ve been saying ‘No, no, no!’ Now it’s time for you to start saying ‘Yes, yes, yes!'”

  • I didn’t jump to the conclusion that she or her boyfriend are gay. I simply suggested that she consider the possibility that she or her boyfriend MIGHT be gay. (And I also didn’t suggest that she couldn’t remain a virgin until she got married, or that there was anything wrong with doing that. I didn’t talk about that at all.)

  • anne

    I think this issue is, once again, an issue of BALANCE. I’d hoped we’ve learned by now that “all or nothing” thinking can be so damaging. Believing that ALL sexual expression is sinful is damaging as is having NO control over your sexual urges. If I always “listen to my body” I’d be jumping every cute guy I met! We need some middle ground on this, people. Yes, sex is a lovely thing we have been blessed with and, just like everylovely thing we’ve been blessed with, our human nature has a way of perverting it. I believe we can have healthy, Godly, physical relatioinships with people we are not yet married to but we need to use the Wisdom of the Spirit and follow God’s heart for us. If we are MINDFUL and wise, and apply the Fuits of the Spirit (which include Self Control) and invite God into every aspect of our lives – including SEX, we can’t go wrong.

  • Suzan

    Listening is not the same acting on.

  • The OP

    Thanks so much, John and all the commentors so far. I think that developing my sensuality is going to be hard, though…

    To address some more of the specific points that have been raised:

    I might be a lesbian, and he might be gay. I am sure that I am not completely straight. I have had fleeting crushes on women, but I have also had crushes on guys, and the crushes on guys (including my current boyfriend) have felt more powerful and more lasting. I’m sure that I’m attracted to my boyfriend. I am equally sure that my boyfriend is straight. He gets that subtle (or not so subtle) but unmistakeable look of “whoa” on his face when he sees boobs. Also, he was raised in a very liberal family and community and didn’t grow up with any kind of stigma around gay people.

    For the person who expressed concern that suggesting I might be a homosexual might be too much for me given my background. My parents are an unusual mix of very socially conservative and very socially liberal. They do not approve of premarital sex or living together before marriage, but very much support gay rights, and always have. There are some homophobes in my extended family, and my parents’ attitude towards them is “Good people, but woefully misinformed.” I actually think that my parents would have been way happier if I had come out as a lesbian and had started dating women, because “women are interested in reltionships, guys are only interested in sex.” Go figure.

    What kind of guy would be okay marrying a woman he couldn’t have sex with. At the risk of being TMI, it’s not that we can’t have sex in any form at all. We’ve gotten to the point where we have a nice sex life with oral sex and so on, but nothing beyond that works out. He wishes he could have vaginal intercourse with me at some point, but would be willing to give that up to be with me.

    I’m sure I’ll think of more to say later…

  • vj

    Yes, I realize that. Sorry, didn’t mean to imply otherwise 🙁 Got a bit long-winded, didn’t refer back to your actual words….

  • Marlene: I definitely understand, and appreciate, what you’re saying. But my “initial response” is literally the only response I have: I have one shot to say all I might, in as short a space as possible. That’s a very … specific sort of challenge.

    But more generally: if someone writes me, and asks for my advice, my most fundamental obligation is to be honest. It’s not my responsibility to try and determine how MUCH of my honesty to dole out. I’m not in a position to make that kind of calculation; and even trying to do is almost necessarily patronizing (though I know you didn’t mean it that way). My job—my only job, in these instances—is to be respectfully, and fully, honest. That’s … it. That’s what I do.

  • temporary anonymity for TMI

    again please don’t forget the people with low libido. that is a serious possibility, too… and would only exacerbate –and/or be exacerbated by– the religious brainwashing.

    i’m pretty sure i’m like 95% straight (or, let’s say, maybe not even a 1 on the Kinsey scale… possibility of being attracted to few women under very particular circumstances, much more male than female crushes, etc)…

    and my husband really turns me on.

    but by the time i had found him and was finally ready to commit my life to somebody, i was over 30 and had gotten my metaphorical knickers in such a twist that sex, and enjoying it, was basically science fiction to me.

    i had my first… what’s the term? external orgasms? just cuddling with him (which is something i would recommend as part of the exploring-physicality phase you mentioned, because it kind of proves *to you* that you can feel stuff… in general, and with this guy).

    but before i could enjoy actual sex, i had to get over a lot of OCD sort of feelings about my own body, bodies in general, etc… related to the stuff you mention here about repressing oneself. most of it comes back under any kind of anxiety situation, and have to re-learn the same things.

    6+ years into marriage, he is so patient and i have made a lot of progress, sometimes we have great fun, but still working at the whole thing of being able to relax.

  • temporary anonymity for TMI

    sorry, Original Letter Writer posted while i was posting, so now i see that some of this doesn’t apply…

    but might as well leave it (especially since i can’t delete it) for general purposes and another example.

  • Suzan

    I think the main point is that she seemed to be made to feel negatively about that aspect of her person through the mission of religion to remain a “pure” virgin until marriage. People should be able to choose on their own, with guidance from trusted experienced people, if necessary, about when and how to become overtly sexual, either with a partner or by yourself. It seems, along with remaining virgin, she wasn’t even allowed to think about or question her natural tendencies for fear of becoming “impure.” I don’t have any problem with people deciding to wait to have sex until they’re married. Nothing wrong with that for all the reasons stated above. I do take issue with any religion or orthodox philosophy that basically says you have to totally deny this aspect of your humanity in order to be loved by god or whomever. That’s controlling through fear and that’s wrong and has nothing to do with the love of god.

  • HJ

    You hit the nail on the head with this one I think. It feels a little deragatory with the daddy lines. Although, daddy being god I can see. Anyway, where this woman is is where I was too. I was convinced I was asexual. I knew I didn’t like guys, but I had no interest in women either. Except… I did. I just managed to shut down my body’s consciousness entirely. So much so, I still feel befuddled half the time. But I’ve had those experiences since, and they are incredible, and clear my mind so that I finally feel more part of the human race. I guess that’s a good thing.

    I hope this woman finds her way, whatever that way may be and wherever life may lead her!

  • temporary anonymity for TMI

    not to be rude, but did you (or are you planning to) try it a lot of times?

    it kind of takes a *while* to get used to, especially the older you are when you start… for probably obvious physical reasons…

    not sure if you mentioned your age, so i don’t know if you are over 30 or what.

  • It’s great to hear from you again, OP; thanks for writing. All great stuff. Your boyfriend sounds like a good guy. And it seems clear enough that you’re smart and centered enough to come through this all just fine.

    One of the things I do on this blog is paint in pretty broad strokes my answers to people’s requests for advice (as the form of the blog itself constrains me to do); I then count on my readers and commenters to fill in what I’ve said with all kinds finer points, and nuances, and different avenues of exploration, etc. And I think here, already, you’ll find that system is working: so many people have already offered such quality insights into your situation. I hope some of it is helpful.

    One thing I didn’t have a chance to express in my response to you (and I’ve written about this elsewhere on this blog, if you’d like me to scrounge up the links) is that you are (as I’m sure you know) sooooo not alone in the “sex makes me crazy” room. EVERYONE is in that room. Sex turns every single person in the world into a raging werewolf having a nervous breakdown. People like to act like they’re in control of their whole sex thing—but they’re not. That’s why so many try to control it: they know it’s the ONLY thing in their lives so much bigger than they are they could no sooner control it than they could stop themselves from making funny faces when they ARE having sex.

    You’re not alone, is all I’m saying. Your difficulty with sex might, right now, be a little closer to the surface than it’s later likely to be, but qualitatively, your response is no different than anyone else’s. We’re all in the “Holy cow! Sex is dominating the universe! HELP!” boat. Which rocks. And threatens to drown us. But doesn’t.

    That’s really the point: it doesn’t. And you’ll learn that a lot sooner, I think, then you might think.

    I’m so glad you wrote back! Keep in touch.

  • vj

    (But, to be honest, the general tone of you response to the letter seems to be against the idea of virginity until marriage – or have I completely misunderstood “the whole Christian purity … thing is insane” and “The lights of your Purity Ball have now been turned off. Time to ditch that paradigm of existence.”?)

  • Erin D.

    My hubz and I started getting it on right after we started dating. I was 19 and tired of being the only virgin I knew, and he was a real sweetie. We used protection and were in love. Why not? When my ultra-Catholic parents figured it out they did everything in their power to get us to break up. They told me he was “just using me for my body.” (I knew that was not true.) They said they would only keep paying my tuition if I transferred to another school. So I took out loans and got a job to stay in the same school. They refused to drive me back and forth from school so I called on friends for help. My mother told my husband, “Our family was happy before you came along.” They poisoned other family members against us so some of them did not attend our wedding 3 years later and even sent us letters about the sinful nature of our relationship. I could go on and on. It was UUUUUGLY for a long time. Did I mention we decided after a year of doing the deed to wait until we were married because we wanted it to be special later? And that we didn’t live together before marriage? And yet………….trashiest daughter ever, I guess.

    And now – 15 years later. Hubz and I are still happily married, 2 kids. I had to go through a big exercise of forgiveness with my parents, because not once did they ever apologize or express remorse for their behavior to either my husband or me. They were pretty distant even until the kids came along. Now they are sweet as pie to us because they know we are the gateway to their grandkids. We call our children “the great equalizers.” HA!

    What I’m trying to say is, this act between two consenting adults led to such insanity and ugliness and unChristianlike behavior from so many in my family. I still can’t believe it when I look back on it all. No way will I do that to my kids. You never know if the person whose character you are trashing will one day be the genetic half of your adorable grandkids, and BOY won’t that be awkward!!

  • Good advice John. I watched my neighbors daughters go through this. 2 are divorced and there husbands acused them of being frigid. Which is ironic considering the first two husbands were from the same church. The last daughter married from outside there faith tradition and has a wonderful husband and 3 beautiful children. Rigid morality of that sort creates a person who can not even enjoy even loving pleasure.

  • Erin D.

    Incidentally, I’d be curious if there are any MEN out there whose parents reacted in a similar way upon finding out they were sexually active. My younger brother did not get the same treatment at all, even though he lives with his girlfriend. I am just curious if it tends to always be the girls that are condemned.

  • Erin: MAN, how I love it when you comment. This is so … rich. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

  • Yeah, no, I’m ONLY talking, specifically, about the whole “My heart belongs to daddy” thing. But I’ll go back into the post and make that more clear. Thanks for that input.

  • Allie Bolen via Facebook

    These purity balls always creeped me out for some reason. They seem to hurt more than help. I’m so glad my dad was never like that, he was a realist!

  • Monique

    To the OP. Have you ever thought you might have Vagnismus? It’s a condition where your muscles involuntarily clamp down at the thought of anything entering. It’s mostly psychological/physilogical. You can google the condition..and get dialators to help you.

    1Cor7 States: It is better to marry than to burn, and to not deny each other sex except for a SHORT MUTUALLY agreed upon time for prayer and fasting. Your body is not yours alone, but his, his body isn’t his alone but yours. If you are a “Eunuch” you shouldn’t have married, and are going against what God ordains for marriage. Please PLEASE get counselling to get over the sexual abuse that you were submitted to as a kid (IMO EXTREME DONT DO THIS OR YOU WILL BURN, negative teaches = sexual abuse as well) is a wonderful Christian Community which ministry is, to help married couples enjoy sex to the fullest. Please go there and read the “Refused” section and understand the complete heartache this stuff causes…

  • In a small way, I understand what you’re going through.

    When my now-husband and I first started touching, EVERYTHING was absolutely overwhelming to me. And, like you, I waffled between being overwhelmed (usually highly aroused just from him holding my hand) to feeling absolutely nothing. We ended up having pre-marital sex…and getting kicked out of our extremely fundamentalist strict Christian university because of it. And because we’d both been raised to believe that we’d just committed this absolutely heinous crime, we struggled with things for the next year, and on into our marriage.

    People experience things differently. They grow differently. So what worked for me may not work for you. But I feel compelled to throw it out there anyway. Also keep in mind that I had the past trauma of a sexual assault to further complicate things, which doesn’t sound like that’s you.

    I found a website called The Marriage Bed. Reading through their articles and education was immensely helpful to my husband and me. We’d both grown up believing that masturbation was wrong. After discovering (for lack of a better term) that it wasn’t wrong and was in fact healthy and normal, that was a huge release for us both, since we were still committed to abstinence. It also helped me figure out what I liked and what I didn’t – it helped me discover my own body, which made our honeymoon so much less awkward. Also just becoming educated about sex was so helpful – it wasn’t taboo anymore like it had been for so long. The mystery of it was gone a little bit – not in a bad way, but in a “thank God I don’t have to go pray for a few hours and repent of thinking about this” sort of way.

    My husband also told me that if we could never have sex again, he’d still want to marry me. I asked him that to be sure that he didn’t just want my body. (I see now how screwed up that is.) But we both have a relatively happy and healthy sex life (I say relatively only because I still suffer PTSD from my sexual assault and that can be immensely damaging to our love life if I have a panic attack). What John says about the possibility of one or both of you being homosexual has merit, as well – and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It could be that you, like me, are just struggling with the ingrained belief that sex is wrong but marriage is good. Or it could be your body trying to tell you that you really don’t like men. Only you can know which is which. Homosexuality is not a choice – like John says, just thinking about it you’ll know.

    (hugs) to you on your difficult journey. If ever you’d like to talk, feel free to contact me (I have contact info up on my blog). Love to you.

  • Done. It’s not pretty–but I jammed in a thing distinguishing my feelings towards “Hands Off: I’m Engaged to Daddy!” and remaining virginal until marriage.

  • anne

    Wow, Erin. Your parents are fucked up!

  • The OP

    For vj, you know, I used to be totally on board with the idea of abstinence before marriage for all of the reasons you list. On the other hand, after some more experience, I’m not sure that they are all equally valid for me now.

    For the STD risk, my boyfriend and I got tested for STDs before we started messing around with each other, and both came up clean.

    I waited to start doing sexual things with him until I was sure that he was interested in me, the person, not just in sex. I also waited to do things until I was reasonably sure that, even if our relationship fell through in a horrible way, I wouldn’t regret the experience.

    I thought the previous sexual partners thing would bother me, but, as it turns out, he has had previous sexual partners, and I am totally cool with it. These were people he had a meaningful relationship with at the time. He’s stayed friends with some of them, I’ve met them, and I can see that he generally has good judgment in the people he has had intimate relationships with. He has never made me feel weird or inadequate by comparing me to them, which I think makes all the difference. His past experiences are part of what made him who he is, and I respect that.

    The one thing that gives me pause is the risk of accidental pregnancy. I have access to cheap and effective birth control, but I’m not in a position where I could go through a pregnancy, much less take on a baby, and I don’t want to put myself in a position where there’s any chance I would need to get an abortion. So…

  • Monique

    *waves to fellow TMBer!!!*

  • The OP

    For the record, my parents strongly disapprove of my male cousin who is in a long-term relationship with a woman, living as though they are married, but not actually married. On the other hand, they are pretty discreet people and have never told him this; his parents did that.

  • Yes! This, too. One of my best friends had/has Vaginismus – a combination of being sexually assaulted as a child/pre-teen and the extreme teaching she grew up with regarding sex. She and her husband weren’t able to have vaginal sex until this past month, and they’ve been married almost 3 years. It took a lot of therapy – emotional and physical.

    Also, what another commenter said about taking time to get used to intercourse…that’s very, very true.

  • The OP

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve got. Tampons and gynecological exams are also beyond me. Despite a lot of looking I haven’t been able to find any gynecologist/counselor who knows enough to treat me, though.

  • My wife was 40 (Yup, 40 year old Virgin-funny, huh?) when we got married and had a similar background. It just took a LOT of time and patience on the part of both of us to sort things out and look at what was real and what was BS. I would say now she is very well adjusted to sex, even more so than most 40+ women. I think sometimes she is trying to make up for lost time.

    The point is that it just takes patience, understanding and committment. If you have gone this far in your sexual relationship, it shows that you are neither fridgid nor an active lesbian, just unsure of what will eventually happen. Good luck and hang in there.

  • In my profession, I come across young women (and sometimes not-so-young women) who tell me of their sexual dysfunctions often. Some have no sexual desire whatsoever. Some have confusing thoughts and feelings. Some say they are simply not attracted to their spouses or partners. Others feel “dirty” even THINKING about sex, and are afraid of what their wedding night will be like. I maintain that I never read a darn word in the Bible denouncing masturbation. I never felt the word “pure” definitely meant “nonsexual.” Sex is perfectly natural, and as pure an act as can be- it is all the baggage that can make it impure. Cheating, knowingly spreading disease, rape… those things are impure. Having sex with a child is impure. It bothers me to no end that we have made Sodom and Gomorrah to be about gay sex, when it’s VERY OBVIOUSLY about RAPE. Sex is not dirty, even if it’s gay sex. It’s actually quite beautiful!

    I sell Passion Parties and teach Sunday School. I’m very comfortable with this because God never said He wasn’t cool with self-pleasuring, or finding ways of enhancing the intimacy within our relationships. He never said, “thou shalt not masturbate or use a vibrator.” This isn’t a commercial for my business, it’s just explaining my position.

    When I come across someone who claims she feels dirty even THINKING about sex, I recommend she gets into massage with her significant other. The reason is, it requires touch, and bodily stimulation, but in a manner that CAN but does not HAVE to be sexual. However, as she succumbs to how amazing massage is, she will most likely begin to feel those sexual urges, as well- our bodies are designed to have those with a “good touch,” especially good touch from someone you love. Little by little, this usually gives way to a healthy sex life. It also helps that I also try to sell her flavored massage lotion or oil, but that’s beside the point.

    Self-exploration, massage, and allowing some fantasizing can really let you in on what your body wants, what your heart wants, and what you crave. If it’s not the opposite sex, then you’ve got some more on your plate than a low libido due to the purity movement, but at least you’ve got the ball rolling and can find the answers to your question- whether you knew you were asking them or not.

  • The OP

    No, I totally understand about not being able to cover everything in extreme detail. It is the universal scourge of writing– the more detail you go into, the longer you go on, and the harder it is to follow the main point. This is where I would normally start ranting about some of the academic papers I’ve had to read, but I should stop here.

    I still don’t think I understand all of the sex crazy-making, though. To me, what other consenting adults choose to do in private is just…none of my business.

  • One of my girlfriends in high school had vaginismus. But. Whole other story. But true.

  • Tracy Smith

    What really bugs me about all this “purity” business is that all the emphasis is directed solely toward GIRLS. You don’t see purity balls for boys with their mothers. It’s the old “boys will be boys” thing, along with the Madonna-whore complex. The implication is that it’s OK, or not nearly so bad, if boys have their itches scratched by the “wrong” type of girl, but the girl they want to marry better not! It’s assumed that females aren’t quite so …human…as males are, thus their needs aren’t all that strong or matter very much.

    And, is it just me, or does this “I’m saving myself for daddy” thing reek of pedophilia to anyone else. This is so very creepy to me, not at all conducive to any future healthy expression of one’s sexuality. And then there’s the heavy patriarchy, as it’s never mentioned that such abstinence might please one’s mother.

    Lastly, the word “purity” itself irks me. I have no trouble with the word “abstinence”, as that’s simply stating a fact without judgment, but “purity” implies that there’s something inherently wrong with sex and with women liking sex, in particular, and that those who engage in nonmarital sex are tainted and of lesser worth.

    Stepping off the soapbox now. Thanks for allowing me to vent.

  • word.

  • Monique

    You can order the dialators yourself off of the website (I’m so sure I’m totally butchering the spelling)

  • Julie

    I came from the opposite place. Grew up in Berkeley in the ’60s and a’70s when sleeping around was the thing to do. I headed down that rabbit hole and did pretty significant emotional, spiritual (thankfully not physical) damage to myself. At a point of deep despair wondering if I could actually be love-able, met my future husband who told me he did not intend to have sex with me unless and until we were married. This love without sex strings was a God-given gift to me. (Not that we weren’t sorely tempted numerous times – the discipline of not indulging was its own salve to me.) It took awhile to get over the sexual crap I carried with me into marriage. My college-aged daughter has made the choice herself to wait. She has not set aside her sexual feelings; she is quite in touch with them, but chooses not to take them to the limit with her boyfriend. I’m pretty confident that she’ll have a rockin’ sex life when she decides to move forward. My point is this: there are pressures from many quarters re: sex. Culturally, the pressure is to have sex indiscriminately and you are a weirdo if you are a virgin beyond the age of 16. In the conservative “Christian” groups, one must suppress all sexual urges or risk being branded any number of monikers that mark one as a sinner extraordinaire. My belief is that sex belongs in a committed relationship. For one thing, it cements bonds that are already there. Second, sex gets much better when you trust the person you are with, know him/her well and can build up a “sexual vocabulary” together. It means that when one of us is having some sort of difficulty with sex or it’s not great one time, we can look forward to the next and not worry about it. It’s a place to love, play, comfort, relax and enjoy each other. I can’t really imagine doing that with someone I don’t know well. Just my two cents worth.

  • mike moore

    Hey OP, my mind always goes to the practical … since you do indeed have a sex life, then maybe we need to throw out some sports analogies, and please don’t mistake my irreverence for disrespect of your life and its challenges. Anyway, to the analogies:

    Vaginal sex may be your equivalent of a high dive, and no beginner starts serious diving from the high dive. It takes time and patience and practice. It also means pushing limits, which you can do at your own pace and within the limits of your comfort.

    As a gay dude, my thoughts often go to baseball, specifically, is your guy swinging a bat so big that it’s scary to consider him making it to home base? If so, that’s where smaller “toy bats” might be helpful. Check on line. Some of them vibrate. Your guy sounds super cool, it could be very fun for both of you.

    Also referencing baseball, consider trying out for different positions … maybe you should be “on top” of the pitcher’s mound, rather than attempting to play catcher. Again, needs patience and practice … plan on throwing a lot of bad pitches until you work your way up to the major leagues.

    Whatever sport you two are playing, remember, it’s just the two of you … so make up your own rules, rules which make you both happy.

  • James

    Don’t get me wrong: Purity Balls scare the crap out of me. But, this former-Christian has a rather stupid (yet straightforward) question:

    Adultery is explicitly forbidden in the Old Testament (the 7th Commandment), and acts and thoughts of “sexual immorality” are explicitly forbidden in both the Old and New Testament (clarified by the Council of Jerusalem to include all acts of fornication). So, how can John’s advice to the reader be resolved with these simple, basic requirements of Christianity? It seems pretty clear to me, and they can’t both be right.

  • mike moore

    PS just saw post about Vagnismus … sounds like something to look into.

  • James: I didn’t tell her to have sex, or … anything like that.

  • Lot’s of good info here:

    Healthcare provider here. I would recommend finding a female gynecologist and a mainstream therapist (not specifically Christian) who has experience treating or specializes in vaginismus and sexual disorders. If you live in or near a large city there should be someone. Even family doctors should be knowledgeable – but gynecologists all the better. The web is great for searching. But you can also call each office and ask if a doctor there specializes in or has experience with treating this.

  • James

    I apologize. I read your post, then dove into the comments, and then got turned around as to who said what. Please delete my original comment, and I’ll refrain from posting more.

  • Iolanthe

    “does this “I’m saving myself for daddy” thing reek of pedophilia to anyone else?”

    Gee … do ya think? ;->

    I suspect that is where John was tactfully “going” when he said it was “so tweaked he’s surprised it’s legal”. It strikes me, absolutely, as a non-physical form of obsession with the sexuality of the daughter, and definitely treats the daughter as Property of the father.

    The one family I know of where the father *did* cross the line & have intercourse with his daughters, the father was always screaming at the girls, “Why would you let those little twerps touch you? You belong to ME! Every part of you is MINE!” (One of these girls was a close friend of mine. She broke down and confessed this to me and some other friends one night, 15 years after running away from home, when she tried to explain to us why she would not be attending her father’s funeral.)

    One hopes such incidents are rare, but it’s easy to see how this dynamic can create them.

  • vj — you covered almost all the points I was going to make

    I will add this: We live in a hypersexualized society, where sex appeal is used to sell all sorts of products, where any physical act of intimacy such as hand holding or a friendly hug runs the danger of being interpreted as a sexual overture, where people are lead to feel there’s something wrong with them if they are not obsessed with sex 24/7. Every individual needs to proceed at his/her own pace, and any pairing needs to proceed at the pace of the slowest moving partner (provided, of course, said partner is actually willing to proceed & not just looking for an excuse to avoid proceeding)

  • Why? It’s no problem.

  • Wow, John, you’re just getting the gay Christian thing settled down & now you open THIS can of worms! 😉

    Seriously, this letter touches on soooooooo many areas that need to be re-examined, not the least of which is the whole “purity” concept as a guilt-based norm imposed on young girls (but never young boys, go figure…) by parents (fathers in particular).

    The idea of a father being the possessor of his daughter’s sexual expression until such time as he sees fit to hand her over to an approved stud is…well…creepy.

    The idea of telling kids they don’t have to act on every impulse, that there are a number of positive upsides to waiting & being careful/choosy about one’s partner, that’s okay.

    But we really need to do it w/o lathering it in ick-sauce…

  • @James — adultery is an act of betrayal; you don’t have to actually engage in a physical act. (Jesus said just thinking about having sex with someone you’re not allowed to have sex with is adultery.)

    There’s nothing in the Decalogue (a.k.a. 10 Commandments) or Christ’s teachings that rule out relations between consenting adults. (We presume younger teens and children are not yet mature enough to give such consent.)

    Paul wrote Gentile Christians are not/never have been under jurisdiction of OT law. He did decry a number of behaviors (including profiteering — but ya never hear a sermon on that, do ya?), but he did not put an outright ban on all non-marital relations.

    Jesus & Paul both said/wrote that if one could become so enraptured by one’s relationship with God that sex paled in comparison, that was the best choice, but if one couldn’t it was better to marry than to burn with desire.

    So I guess the dividing point is how casual/selfish the relationship is.

  • Hmm… did I ask a dumb question? I was honestly hoping to hear your opinion/thoughts on my inquiry. Or maybe I’m just the new kid on the blog? (Get it? NKTOB! Ha! Don’t worry, I won’t quit my day job.)


  • She might want to consider the possiblity that she may actually be, naturally, asexual.

    We’re human beings, too. And I listen to my body all the time, it seems to be more in favor of food and sleep. Never been to a “Purity Ball” in my life (they scare me) and I come from a family who always thought I was weird for not being sexually active at the age I was “supposed” to be. I’m just that introverted. It *is* the way of some people.

    But I have a perverted sense of humor. That’s intact.

  • Every guy — straight or gay — thinks he has a bat; most of ’em just have putters…

  • hh

    My husband and I did the wait until marriage thing — we only knew each other around nine months when we got married, though. We had a little dysfunction for the first month, but got it worked out. Overall, I don’t think we were particularly damaged by it, but we got married in the early nineties, so maybe the teaching wasn’t quite as intense back then. I don’t regret doing things that way. We have a good marriage and a good sex life — I think he is the best thing ever, but I know to some degree on both counts we were very lucky. I know this because I’ve seen things work out badly for other people who followed the same teachings. Friends of mine have ended up with men who had little or no interest in sex with them. The marriages ultimately failed, partially because of that. Sometimes abstinence hides/masks issues that really should be brought to light before the relationship becomes ‘permanent.’ And it’s worse once children enter the picture.

    FWIW, though, all other things being good, it was helpful at least for me, to learn that in a long term relationship, you’re probably going to have some kind of sexual issues every now and then. Sometimes health conditions or medications or other life circumstances can cause problems. Having a bit of a challenge at the beginning can be a good learning experience and confidence builder — you learn that you and your partner can get through that kind of problem together and that those kinds of problems can be temporary and your sex life can come back as strong as it was or stronger. For us, at least, getting through those early difficulties built the trust I felt for my partner — I learned that he was patient even when frustrated, that he wouldn’t bolt at the first sign of trouble, I learned that when we tackle a problem together — even something that sensitive (ugh, now everything feels like it has a double meaning!) — we can overcome it.

    Oh, another FWIW: my husband was a nightwatchman at the conservative Bible college where we met. Whatever the church leadership may preach or teach, chances are fairly good that at some point, they had to be run out of a dark deserted building or parking lot where they were “studying” or “praying” with somebody they were dating (in the interest of honesty, we got caught once, too). Easy for them to preach this stuff *after* they are married and have their ‘get out of jail free’ card, so to speak.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for making me cry just upon waking, both of you.

    John is right about the occupying your body thing. It’s going to be slow, though. You have to learn it. And the best way to learn it is to let the one who made it show you. God invented sex. You have to ask yourself why. There are a multitude of answers, but it amounts to more than the propagation of the species. God loves sex and food and color and pleasure. He gave us a world full of good and perfect experiential love. Our God is a Sensate God.

    When I became a Christian, it was because after years of “purity,” I discovered that I had been raped and sexually abused as a kid. (So I wasn’t pure, I was just afraid, which, unfortunately, I’m afraid, is not righteousness in the eyes of God, it’s just fear.) What followed for me as I learned to follow Jesus was the opposite of traditional Christianity. For most ppl, following Jesus means to become more holy, and to become more holy seems to mean to obey the rules better. But if you are a rule-abider, then the Holy Spirit wants to shake you up. Our righteousness is filthy rags, and if you’ve been leaning on your own righteousness, God wants you to stop that.

    If you let him lead you, no matter who you are, he’ll surprise you. For me, following Jesus meant learning to listen to my body. He proceeded to show me many of the things that John mentions, which is one way I know that Mr. Shore and I appreciate the same Jesus. As I followed this Jesus, I was taken to extraordinary restaurants in the middle of nowhere that I had never heard of before. I started swimming. I started enjoying my body.

    When I am with a man and there are no zings and no warmth in my belly and I don’t feel like I neeeed to get next to him, it means I am not attracted. It doesn’t mean that I’m a lesbian (necessarily). And if you really love this man you are with, then you need to pray for those feelings. You should not force yourself. For me, men I am attracted to are super rare. I’ve only known four in my lifetime, but those four created such desire in me, it was nearly impossible to stop and say no. I imagine that for women who are more sexually active, they find more of those men, so again, it’s not our fault or our business whether we are being good little sons of God when we aren’t following him.

    God wants to teach you about his Spiritual attraction to you and about your attraction to him through your relationships to others, so while you’re busy learning how to live in your body, don’t ignore Jesus. He knows how this stuff works because he invented it. I’ll be praying for you and I hope you will pray for yourself that you’ll follow Jesus into healing, sweetness, hotness, and sensuality you’ve never thought was possible and that it will just keep getting better for the rest of your life. Pray for me the same, won’t you.

  • LDGC

    One thing I have not seen too much of, even after reading through the comments is that there is a possibility that the OP may just be exploding with sexual energy after so long repressing it. After a few months or a year of exploring her lovers body (whether before or after marriage) things will probably settle down and even out.

    I personally ended up marrying the first man I ever slept with and I remember how exciting it was when we first started to experiment. (our friends nick-named us “Spider Monkeys”)

    Also, I did not grow up in a touch free household and I have seen friends who did, it is harder for them to physically touch others without reacting in some way, either recoiling or accidentally stimulated. So if OP grew up without cuddles, hugs and overall good family touching, then having a boyfriend/fiancee she can man-handle can be a bit overwhelming at first.

    Overall, being in any relationship takes a lit of work, compromising and give and take. A romantic relationship goes beyond hugs and kisses of general affection (like between best friends, or a child and her mother) and so can very well be overwhelming the senses.

    OP should do as much as makes her comfortable, and as JS suggests above, get to know her body (as much as she is willing) and see how far she is comfortable to go at different points in her relationship. If her fiancee is willing to work with her and be patient, they could very well develop a healthy sexual relationship. But it will take time, work and counseling.

  • Alas, there is a pragmatic biological reason for emphasizing purity among females: They can get pregnant, he can’t.

    And now we’re finding out HPV causes more oral cancers than tobacco. There’s a valid health argument to be made for abstinence.

    This is NOT an argument for letting guys off the hook in the sexual responsibility department; on the contrary, they can wreak more sexual havoc w/promiscuous unprotected sex than females can.

  • LVZ

    Mine did. I was raised by strict puritans. When I was a 19-year-old college sophomore, I was on the phone with my parents and mentioned I had a girlfriend. They went through the roof, telling me I was too young to have a girlfriend and should not have a girlfriend until I was married. “Going steady” was committing adultery! I half expected them to drive over to campus to strangle me.

    The irony: Far from convincing me I was doing something sinful, their condemnation made me start questioning their strict puritanism. Why? I knew perfectly well 19 was not “too young to have a girlfriend,” because when she was 19, my mother was already engaged to my father!

  • LDGC

    I also highly recommend not only thinking about what you feel is best for your body, but also how you feel about your religion.

    Think about the basics of your branch of Christianity and see how well it dovetails with your personal core beliefs. You might discover that you do not belong in the church of your father and need to get out there and find the right one that fits with you as an individual. There is nothing wrong with trying out different churches, you need to find the one whose message speaks to your soul and doesn’t direct you to harm your self with things like this self denial (abstinence of the spirit).

    Did not mean to offend or anything, just putting it out there.

  • Lori

    I recommend calling a gyno- insurance will usually cover the cost of dilators for medical reasons. I had what my gyno referred to as a “trampoline down there” and had to have a hymenotomy. I healed a little TOO well and had to use dilators for months (I never did make it to the big one. That one was just a bit too scary).

    I’m glad to know what this is called though. Even with multiple gyno exams and the hymenotomy before I got married, I still have to concentrate very hard at first almost every time to keep from closing up. And going in for a PAP? Oy. I knew this wasn’t that uncommon, but I always referred to it as being “a clencher”. 🙂

  • LSS

    wait, a Purity Ball is a real thing??? is there a plural of that (for guys)?

    sorry, i guess i have a perverted sense of humour, too.

  • LSS

    “The idea of a father being the possessor of his daughter’s sexual expression until such time as he sees fit to hand her over to an approved stud is…well…creepy.”

    yet another thing i didn’t even realise was out there.

    my mother was always the enforcer of “morals” in our family…

  • mike moore

    old joke: why are women bad at math? because they’re always being told 6=8.

  • LSS

    ew, wtf?! i still have trouble understanding that this is a real christian thing. (please use your loosest definition of “real” and “christian”)

    i mean obviously the abuse situation wasn’t christian. but the other thing … just … ew.

    glad i was raised in a counterculture corner of christianity, as dysfunctional as it was.

  • Tracy Smith

    Uh, Buzz, reliable birth control has existed for several decades now, there’s no longer any defensible reason to emphasize abstinence (note that I didn’t use the word “purity”) more among females than males.

    If people believe in abstinence, then they need to avoid hypocrisy and believe in it equally for both males and females. After all, the girls wouldn’t be engaging in so much non-marital sex if there weren’t the guys there willing to do it, too. It works both ways.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and all that.

  • Beth

    Thank you @Mariah for helping me not feel insane or way off base about the whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing. I absolutely think it’s about rape. It’s pretty obvious to me after reading it.

    As far as the OP’s problem. I feel (to reiterate what many here are saying) that she should really take the time to explore her sexuality alone. Gay or straight, I feel it’s essential for healthy sexual development. Once you own your sexuality you can worry about bringing someone else into it.

  • Iolanthe

    Google it. Yes. Yes it is. Girls have like a “prom” where their Dad dances with them, and gives them a ring or pin, and they pledge Purity to their Daddy and to God.

    Some people think it’s sweet.

    I, OTOH, nearly vomited when I read that.

  • LSS

    i’m just gonna take your word for it and thank you for saving me the horror.

  • Diana A.

    Yeah, vomit comes closer to my reaction when it comes to purity balls. Talk about encouraging emotional incest…eww!

  • Peet

    The basics of a healthy relationship:

    1. It is mutually public. You’re not sneaking around, you aren’t embarassed with who you’re with, you want other people to see what a lucky guy/gal you are.

    2. It is mutually exclusive. You’re not betraying the person you’re with. You’re devoted to one person.

    3. It is mutually committed. You aren’t using someone until you find someone you think is better. You haven’t put a time limit on the relationship. You’re together through good and bad times. You’ve got each others’ back, for good.

    That’s it. If your relationship falls within those parameters, as far as I’m concerned, you’re good to go, sex wise.

  • Oh, absolutely, Tracy; both males & females need to be given the same instructions & guidance.

    That being said, one mistake, one improperly applied birth control option, one spontaneous moment that goes further & faster than intended, and it ain’t Romeo who’s got the problem.

    It ain’t fair, but as the eminent philosopher J. Durante once observed, “Dem’s da conditions wot prevails.”

  • Erin D.

    This is amazing testimony.

  • Erin D.

    Wow, I cannot top that one! What I have always wondered is, what makes one person so sensible, even if they were raised by completely, well, eff-ed up people as Anne put so delicately (LOL!) I never bought into what I was taught as a kid. I always knew I was going to raise my kids much differently than how I was raised. Is it inate? How do some people just shrug off the past while others cling to it and try so hard to do what they have been told is right even if it doesn’t make any sense?

  • Erin D.

    For reals? I feel like a hack compared to all the intelligent people around here. But I’ll take it!!! 🙂

  • Yeah. You’re a hack. And Jacques Cousteau was pretty good with a snorkle.

  • Excellent job yet again, John. This purity movement is, I believe, ultimately destructive to people just as the woman said. I was also among the abstinence crusaders in my youth; it went badly, to say the least. What’s bizarre is that so many conservative Christians bemoan the sex-obsessed culture we live in (and I can appreciate where they’re coming from sometimes) but then subscribe to a view of sex that fetishizes it to such an extent that it sometimes leaves people paralyzed when they do finally encounter it; then disappointed to learn that it’s just like anything else: it can rock, it can suck, and all points in between. OK, maybe I should I reword that: it can be good, bad, and all points in between. You get it.

    I realize you just made the comment as a possibility, but I wouldn’t think this means she is necessarily gay. I’ve known many straight people subjected to this purity gospel (Jesus died for your purity! Really? Seems like he was anything if not ambivalent toward purity codes re: eating with outcasts, lepers, etc.), and they often have much the same experiences as she did. It’s a normal response after that sort of conditioning, I think.

  • Mindy

    Not only is the “purity movement” overblown and ridiculous, it is all about, in my way of thinking, control. So daddies can control their daughters just a wee bit longer. And so often, it backfires. I have a family member who did the whole purity thing for her father and it, apparently, worked out just fine. She’s now married to a lovely young man and they are expecting their first child. But she’s a special kid, compliance is her nature.

    What I find bothersome about it is not that young people remain virginal til marriage, if that is THEIR choice, but that one of the offshoots of it is that young men and women don’t get to know their own bodies. That’s what’s so great about your post, John – you encourage her to do just that. Get to know yourself. See what feels good and what doesn’t. In every sensual way. Getting to know your body is about far more than “just” sex, and seeing as how it is the only body you’ll ever have, knowing it intimately makes a lot more sense than ignoring it or continually telling it to shut up and go away!

    Well done, yet again.

  • Mindy

    Wow, Stephanie. THAT is amazing. Beautifully insightful.

  • W

    Just an observation: I’m not sure when vaginal intercourse became less intimate than oral sex, but it’s definitely switched. How one can consider one’s self a virgin while having a vigorous sex life via oral sex is kind of beyond me. And BTW, I think both are perfectly fine regardless of marital status. Only maturity, and mutual consent matter.

  • Yeah, I mean, as you say: I certainly didn’t suggest that she was necessarily, or even probably, gay. (Great comment, as always, Don!)

  • Nicole

    Rhys, John is very good about replying, but he may just not have gotten to his website yet today since posting the blog. You might want to email him if he ends up missing your comment.

  • Nicole

    I really appreciate your perspective, TAF-TMI. I’m an over 40 virgin and have a great life that I really enjoy. I’ve often wondered if I just have a low libido, though I am perfectly capable of taking care of my own needs when they do make themselves known. I am very attracted to handsome men and have loved the stage kisses I’ve gotten as an actress. So, I know everything’s working. Just don’t feel the desire to go out and make it happen with someone for the sake of experiencing sex. I guess I’m waiting for a relationship to happen organically and if it doesn’t, well, life is still beautiful.

    So when/if I meet a man that I want to spend my life with, it’s comforting to know that our sex life will most likely have to be a work in progress and that other people have been there, and that it’s okay.

  • Rhys: no, you asked a good question. It’s just a tough one to address here, in the comments fields. My quick answer to why I don’t think God automatically sends to hell anyone who has sex before their union has been recognized as legally binding by the government that oversees the sovereign state of which they are both citizens is because … I don’t think God’s a lawyer or politician, basically.

    I looked at your website. You’re a good photographer. And it’s an art form of which I’m a bit of a long-time dedicated student, actually. Good work!

  • Mindy

    I think the key is CHOOSING for yourself. Your daughter has done that, your husband did that. I grew up more like you – once I left for college, I gave myself away, repeatedly. Which was a symptom of not understanding that sex and love are very different entities. While sex is an expression of love, it ISN’T love. I didn’t get that for a long time, and had no idea that a man could possibly ever love me without me givin’ him some. So I totally get your point, but choosing to wait and having daddy choose for you are two very different ways to arrive at the same place. And I just don’t think a father should have any direct say in his daughter’s sex life. He can teach her well, he can encourage, etc. But he can’t decide for her. That’s just wrong.

  • Mindy

    Bingo, Diane. Nothing like teaching a girl she must depend on a man for all important, PRIVATE decisions in her life. Dad decides this for her, essentially putting her “on hold,” til he passes her on to another guy. Wrong.

  • Mindy

    Bwaahahahaa! I just spit soda on the computer at work. Perfect. Thanks for that, Shore.

    Erin, John is right. Totally.

  • Scott Equality Bell via Facebook

    John, if you’re the Christian Dan Savage, I’d consider that high praise indeed!

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Wow, John … did you quote the entire letter?

    The letter, or at least the portion you quoted, doesn’t say anything about whether its author participated in the “purity ball” phenomenon. Chastity is a long-established Christian ideal; the daddy/daughter “purity” movement that you find so distasteful is just a very recent subcultural development that tries to construct new ways of upholding that ideal.

    Among several of the problems in your response is that you seized upon what sounds like a sincere request for help and used it as an opportunity to attack a subculture that may not even have anything to do with what this young woman is concerned about. You got a general question about chastity and instead of answering it, you teed off against purity balls.

    No wonder your readers conclude, rightly or wrongly, that you’re opposed to chastity in general. And if they didn’t conclude it from this post, then they might well conclude it after reading your post about your high school teacher. In fact, after reading both posts I’m a bit puzzled as to why anyone would come to you for advice on abstinence.

  • Brilliant!!

  • “I’m having a ball!” said the Queen, “If I had two, I would be King!”

  • LSS

    SWL (snorting with laughter)

  • I loved your answer, John. I read it and didn’t think about her being lesbian. She needs to find out. Occupy. Yes. And there are ‘safe’ ways to figure it out. Kudos.

  • temporary anonymity for TMI

    plus, you sound like you probably don’t have all the anxiety/etc. related complexes i have, so you should have easier progress when/if you do find the right guy.

  • LVZ

    Well, in my case, it was easy to see through my parents’ insistence that having a girlfriend was committing adultery. You’re never going to convince anyone of anything by telling them “do as I say, not as I do.”

    Not everything was that obvious. My parents also taught me that the sun rises in the east, to look both ways before crossing the street, and that all women are afraid of sexuality. I believed them because, well, they’re my parents. Imagine my shock when I discovered the things they’d drummed into my head weren’t always true, or true even a majority of the time.

  • Debbie

    I am writing under a different name then I have used every other time. My heart reaches out to this young woman because I was her. I saved myself for marriage. I bought the whole purity thing. The churches I attended weren’t satisfied with just asking me to not have sex. No, they didn’t want me to date, kiss, hold hands, hug, dance, NOTHING. You see, because one day God was going to show me to a man and tell him that I was the bride for him. He would then ask to court me and we would begin a pure courtship process.

    He did and we did. We were never alone. Our first kiss was at the wedding altar. My honeymoon was a very difficult experience. I literally had to disassociate myself from the sexual act. My body was there, but I wasn’t present in any sense of the word. I went through the motions to satisfy the whole consumation of the body thing. I knew that sex was my godly Christian duty. I knew I needed to have sex to have children and I did want to have children.

    Over time, I got better at the sex thing. It gradually became easier for me and I didn’t have to disassociate myself to do it. I have never really enjoyed sex and I have only had an orgasim when masturbating. We are divorced now (lots of reasons other than sex). I am single and back to being A sexual. And I don’t care. I have no desire to ever have sex with a man again.

    John brings up an interesting point. Because I think I might like to be with a woman. I am most comfortable with them. And my deepest thoughts always involve women. But, that is a can of worms I can’t open. My fundamentalist programming is too deep. I would rather be alone.

    God bless you in whatever you decide.

  • Eeek those purity balls and rituals are freakish!
    Well done John you tackled a tricky topic with wisdom, honesty and heart.
    Thanks for being real 🙂

  • That’s a great question. What needs to get touched & by what for something to be considered “sex”?

    I know in the porn world the dividing line between “soft core” and “hard core” is whether anything other than clothing actually comes in contact anybody’s plumbing, if you know what I mean & I think you do…

  • Jesus’ mom was a virgin, too

  • I think this is a great response. But! John, Young Woman, and all readers – please remember that Gay and Straight aren’t the only options.

    I have many friends who are asexual. They simply aren’t attracted to people sexually. Romantically? Heck yes! Do they cuddle and hold hands and sleep in the same bed as their spouse? YEP. But they simply aren’t interested in sex.

    And that is okay. It really is. So, remember, please remember that one NEVER has to limit their options to ‘Straight’ and ‘Gay/Lesbian’. Trust yourself, trust your gut, do all things with consent and love and a gentle spirit.

  • Life’s a mystery, Ralph the Wonder Llama.

  • The OP

    To which I say, 😛

  • Thank you, Mindy. Very much. As always!

  • Christy

    What was that catchy little phrase again…….oh, right. Oh, snappeth.

  • The OP

    You know, I actually always wondered where the dividing line between “sex” and “non-sex” were. I mean, there’s a huge range of experiences between a crush and hand-holding and kissing and full-blown love with sex to crack the plaster. And are we to judge based on acts, or the feelings one experiences? If I mentally check out during coerced sex, does that mean I’m still abstinent, or not? What if I’m having some mind-blowing feelings while just kissing? The more I thought about it the more I found the concept of virginity and abstinence poorly defined and hard to assess.

  • The OP

    “In fact, after reading both posts I’m a bit puzzled as to why anyone would come to you for advice on abstinence.”

    You know, John actually wasn’t the first Christian person I went to, but he was the first person who actually took me seriously. By “actually took it seriously,” I mean not delete my question outright.

  • Mindy Brown Carney via Facebook

    The key here is that you’ve provided a safe place to discuss and questions issues that many Christians don’t feel safe discussing anywhere else. That is quite an accomplishment, and doesn’t surprise me one bit.

  • A’isha

    The problem with this whole purity movement is it’s based on shaming of women. Men who fail aren’t chastised the way women are. In fact it’s kind of expected men will fail. But who are they failing with? This is so 1920s. Women who have sex before marriage are “tramps” or “whores” or “loose” or “sluts” or…. When men do it, well boys will be boys. So then we end up with women like the writer of this letter who are so totally confused about sex at all.

    Our sexuality and sexual feelings are given to us by God. Otherwise we wouldn’t have those feelings at all. And why would God give us those pleasure feelings associated with our genitals if he didn’t want us to feel good sexually?

    Honestly, my advice to the letter writer would be to start masturbating. Seriously. I’m not joking here. Get comfortable with yourself first. Really, it’s not a sin to masturbate. In fact, for those who take the Scriptures that seem to say don’t have sex outside of marriage, masturbation can be a way of living up to that standard. Honestly, I think whether people have “pre-marital” sex is something between that person and God and between the two consenting adults.

    So really, Letter Writer, go get a vibrator. Or stick with your own hands. Or the shower. Or whatever. Just figure out what a real orgasm and all the feelings leading up to it are all about. Then you’ll know if you actually like sex. If you still don’t feel sexually attracted to your guy then maybe you have the wrong guy. Or like John suggested, explore your sexuality. There’s a big wide sexual world out there waiting for you.

  • temporary anonymity for TMI


    if you can even say what you just said, i would at least consider deprogramming yourself.

    not like it’s my business or anything and not like i have a clue about sex or life or anything. just… it can be really really nice, if you find the right person.

  • Val P.

    I have never heard of “purity balls”. Saving yourself for daddy? That really (really) creeps me out! Teenage girls think and talk about boys constantly – holding hands and kissing is normal! To never kiss a guy until your wedding day – huh? I can’t imagine being told your whole life that sex is wrong and don’t even let a guy hold your hand – and then on your wedding day you’re supposed to learn “everything” from kissing to vaginal intercourse in one evening. That would seem more like rape than making love.

  • While, yes, purity balls and the focus on one’s father as the controller of the sexual relationship is weird and more than a little sick, I’m not sure that I see it in her letter. Maybe I’m missing something?

    Anyway …

    It might be worth mentioning that there are also many ways for a person to be familiar with his or her sexual feelings and thoughts without consummating a relationship. I was a virgin when married the first time, and abstained from sex between the end of that sexual relationship and my second marriage. It can be done, and it’s a very healthy thing.

    Having said that, it’s important to realize that you’re not going to go from avoiding all thoughts of sex to having Hollywood-style sex because of a couple of exchanged vows. There exist several books on the subject of preparation for marriage, and it’s a conversation that the couple should have, several times. There is a lot to be said for realistic expectations.

    Anyway … There are a great many perfectly-healthy ways to think about sexuality that don’t require abandoning notions of pre-marital abstinence. That is something very important to know.

  • Val P.

    Not only that – what if you find after you get married that you’re sexually incompatible. You wouldn’t buy a car without at least test driving it. But a young man or woman is supposed to marry someone without knowing them well enough to have at least seen them without their clothes on? Not to mention to see if they merchandise (on both sides) actually works?

    That’s just crazy talk.

  • Val P.

    Ken – I’m not suggesting that just because young people have genitals that they should rush out and use them. I have a 24 yr old son who is still a virgin. He has had girlfriends, but he never was comfortable being that intimate with them. I have no doubt though, that he is familiar with self expression of his sexuality.

    It sounds like this young woman was indoctrinated with the belief that sexual thoughts and acts are all bad – she doesn’t even know where the on switch is.

    That’s like sexual abuse in reverse.

  • ECS

    “The feelings I had were either so overwhelming and powerful I had to stop, or I felt completely and totally numb.” Unless those overwhelming feelings were revulsion the problem is not “wrong gender.” The problem is wrong conditioning.

    I had much numbing due to childhood trauma. Yes, I did have to learn to feel my body. Yes, I have had dialogues with my psyche. But none of that made me gay or was because I was gay. (Of course, given the source of my trauma was my MOTHER, attraction to women was never gonna happen. But still.)

    My niece is gay, two of my (female) cousins are gay. (None of them seems to have been abused. One of them seems to be the happiest of her siblings. Four all told.) So the gay thing just does not seem to fit with this lady’s situation at all. So I have to say that while I think much of your advice is spot on, some of it is YOUR agenda.

  • My guy taught me that line.

    A little example of pervy humor from two people not that interested in sex: Both being ex-graphic designers/artists/copywriters, we like to make fun of signage and packaging. A car-trip with us can be hilarious. Sometimes we come up with little stories, too.

    I remember once, coming home from a dental appointment, all numbed up, sitting in the car at a gas station looking up at the advertising of a convenience store across the street. It had a giant coffe-pot on top of it and this clear plastic dome with paint meant to represent swirling coffee-steam. The plastic was visible due to condensation and Bob mentioned it and said “It looks like…”

    Me: “A giant testicle, doesn’t it?”


    And then came the little stories about people going to the store “Meet me at the giant testicle!” Or how they should advertise their “tough, manly, ramped-up coffee” – “Coffee with Balls!”

  • Yeah, I’m on the oh, ick wagon.

  • Tracy Smith

    I’m fully in agreement with you, Val. I was well experienced by the time I got married and don’t regret a bit of it. I also did not have sex until I was eighteen, the summer after graduating from high school, which was the right time for me.

    I’m still interested in sex in my fifties, though I no longer have a partner. (I’m straight).

  • DR

    I’ve practiced abstinence too and had absolutely no issues at all with what he posted. He raises some extremely valid points on the *whys” women and men make this choice that have absolutely nothing to do with the freedom and peace of mind that can come with not having sex but let’s not fool ourselves, this is a HUGELY complex issue and a lot of our own emotional stuff gets intertwined. Many Christians can use abstinence as a way of hiding from those emotional issues. So he’s right to list those as a possibility, those of you who are taking these words as John making some kind of outright condemnation on purity or decisions about sex that are along the purity continuum are borderline creepy in your projection.

  • Gretchen

    I know what this girl is going through. I’m glad she’s doing therapy, but I’m sitting here knowing that in the way I was raised, we somehow saw sex as a sinful thing until marriage, instead of it being explained as a great thing in the right atmosphere. Had I heard “a great thing in the right atmosphere or time” I probably would not have gone through the same things as this young woman. Mind you, I had sex before marriage, got pregnant, and still on my wedding night, I locked myself in the bathroom for an hour, and my “wonderful” (now ex) husband, who was supposed to love and protect me, let everyone know about that night. I guess it sounds weird because I WASN’T a virgin, but I think it came down to knowing I made a mistake by giving vows and legally (and in front of God and friends) bound myself to the wrong man. I don’t look at this as lesbian/gay thing. I see it as you found a wonderful ideal man in every way, who you really don’t have a passion for.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    My own advice is simply that it takes time. If you put off physical intimacy until after the wedding, then obviously neither of you should expect full-on intercourse on your wedding night. It took me and my wife a few days to figure things out on our honeymoon. It might take you longer. But if you trust each other, you can get there.

    I don’t know you, but I am pretty sure of this: the feelings you experienced when your boyfriend touched you are not wrong, and John’s advice on getting more in touch with your body seems wise to me. I sure hope you’re incorrect in saying that the two of you can never have sex. In Christian theology, sexual intercourse is integral to marriage: it is what makes you “one flesh,” in Biblical phrase. The wedding ceremony formalizes your union, but it does not create your union. If you don’t have sex, you’re not married, whether you had a wedding or not. If you do have sex, you are one flesh, whether you had a wedding or not. That’s all that Christian chastity really means.

  • temporary anonymity for TMI

    crap, i can’t write any of the things i want to comment about this, because the family part of it is … not awful or abusive or anything, but just too bizarrely personal. like, more personal than the stuff about sex that i already said before. does ThruWay Christians have a women’s area???

  • yeah, cuz that’s what i said. read much?

  • Gretchen

    Re-reading this, I sound heartless at the end. This really goes deep, so please writer, if you’re reading this, I’m not taking it lightly, I’m just thinking that the road to hell is paved with good intentions by our loved ones, and all our ideals get really skewed when we are ready to step down a huge step.

  • A. That’s not even almost what I said, and B. Why would you try to really, really like a blog?

  • It’s common. People show up looking for a fight—and they just start swinging.

  • I think if a couple is capable of communicating honestly & openly with each other they can discuss what they see as part of their physical life together & come to terms w/o actually having to go on a test run, as it were. This presumes they are at least well informed on the subject.

  • Susan in NY

    Yes, yes, yes!!

  • Well, technically a wedding w/o sex merely means the marriage has not been consummated. It’s still legit in the eyes of God & man.

  • Diana A.

    You could create one if it doesn’t. I’m sure people would thank you for it.

  • Diana A.


  • Diana A.

    Loving this!

  • Ashton

    Regarding the waiting until marriage thing, Dan Savage had something good to say on the issue to a young woman who wrote in saying that’s what she wanted. He told her to examine her reasons for doing so and if she decided that’s what she really wanted then go ahead and do so. He then said that people don’t like it when other people brag about or flaunt all of the people that they have sex with and neither will they like it if someone goes on and on about not having sex until marriage. This made a lot of sense to me. Everyone needs to make their own choices on the issue. While we don’t have to be secretive, we don’t need to constantly subject our friends to the details.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    In the eyes of man, yes, if you sign the documents you are married, and entitled to whatever legal and societal benefits exist for married people, whether you’ve had sex or not. In the eyes of God, if the marriage has not been consummated, it can be annulled, which means it never happened.

  • Ashton

    Is it possible that some/most/all of your panic stems from the idea of an accidental pregnancy?

  • DR

    Such an important question.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    What if it were defined as anything that resulted in orgasm for one party or the other?

    [Gosh … by that definition I’ve had sex with three women, even though I never had vaginal intercourse until I was married. Ah well, confession is good for the soul, and so is anonymity, at the moment.]

  • Ashton

    Buzz, it’s not that you’re wrong about society, but growing up I always felt more sexualized by the Christian culture that I grew up in than I did by society and pop culture. The obsession with modesty and purity of thought and body made me feel uncomfortable with myself to the point of feeling disconnected from my body, my feelings, and my own mind. The Christianity surrounding me could hardly see the person past the body trapping me and yet it blamed Hollywood for the sexualization of young people. This version of Christianity couldn’t see 1) that teens are sexual due to nature and 2) the damage that they were doing by policing every thought, action, and item of clothing that we had.

    My point here is that yes society is oversexualized, but at the same time so are many conservative Christian groups, just in a different way.

  • The OP

    Could you point me to the article, if you can remember which one it is? I think the Stranger has his complete archives.

  • Don Whitt

    There you go, DR. Exactly. This is so complicated. It’s a spider web. The decision to be chaste or not has so much to do with so much. Reducing this to a religiously-related decision probably misses the point except with the most simple or single-minded folks.

    There is so much input these days re. sexuality. Most of it bad. Most of it cliche, pandering crap that has nothing to do with people and everything to do with selling something (or nothing).

    My only advice to the OP is to ignore everything but her own intuititions re. her sexuality. Don’t let anyone other than herself dictate who or what she is. That includes the religious noise. It’s irrelevant. Be true to thyself, OP.

  • vj

    Yeah, OP – I really, really, *really* wasn’t trying to suggest to you or to anyone else that anyone *should* wait until marriage, I was just speaking from my own experience that it’s possible…. It is, of course, an entirely personal decision – you definitely seem to be in the ‘informed consent’ camp, and I wish you and your partner well on your journey. Given what you have added to the conversation since John’s original response to your letter, I think his advice to you is spot on (and, I would still recommend you try a book such as ‘Intimate Issues’ for more detailed info and suggestions).

  • vj

    🙂 I think, though, coming from the other side of the planet, I might have missed what you were originally aiming at… Based on some of the other comments here, I’m beginning to think a ‘Purity Ball’ is an actual thing. I’ve not heard of this before – people actually do stuff like that?

    I thought ‘True Love Waits’ was a nice idea for those who choose it (although I am not a big fan of mass events and doing things because of peer pressure – decisions about sex, of all things, really should be personal and private! And studies have shown that teens who sign up and then change their minds are more likely to end up with STDs and/or unwanted pregnancies, due to not being appropriately educated about preventative measures etc, so in practice probably not a great thing), but I agree totally that ‘my heart belongs to daddy’ is just a bit creepy!

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    High praise for Dan Savage, anyway…

  • vj


  • vj

    Really lovely, Peet!

  • vj

    me too!

  • vj

    SWL, I mean… Not always sure where my replies are going to end up nesting…

  • vj

    Me too… ew!

  • Lee Marshall

    Rock on, John!

  • Lee Marshall

    Okay, I wanted to say something positive, so I did, but I don’t just want to be flippant about it (as in, yes I do want to be flippant, but

    I want to be more than that as well). I was abstinent – though not chaste — for a little over 5 years in my twenties. At the time, I made the choice to focus on my career. Later, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I had been sexually molested as a child, and that might have influenced my decision as well. Just another possibility to consider in a situation like this.

    Lee (aka evil)

  • Ashton

    Took me a little while to find it, but here it is. Also, I hope my previous comment didn’t sound like I was criticizing you for writing to John about this. Re-reading it now it looks like it could come across that way. If anyone read it that way, I only meant that it’s fine to talk about sex in certain contexts but unnecessary to do constantly.

  • mic

    So because a woman is struggling with sexual feelings for her partner, it is suggested she is gay !? What a predictably male assumption!


  • I think “in the eyes of the Church” might be a better way of putting it. God knows better than we do if we’re married or not.

  • The OP

    Thanks! Look forward to reading it. No worries, you didn’t do anything to offend me, and I have a pretty thick skin anyway, at least on the Internet 🙂

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    So God has some way of speaking to you that contradicts the truths he has revealed to his Church? How fascinating.

    There is a distinction between “one flesh” and “married.” Intercourse makes you one flesh, but there is a lot more to Christian marriage than intercourse. However, intercourse is an indispensable part of any marriage, I should think — whether the spouses are Christians or otherwise. Is it really controversial to say that a marriage wherein the two partners have never had sex is no marriage at all?

  • Au contraire, mic. Actually, this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. It may not be the only possibility, but it is certainly a possibility, and wish I’d had someone suggest that to me during that phase of my life and the time in which I was in a very similar situation. I was 21 and had just moved to NYC – I was so incredibly excited to start dating! But… nothing happened. I went on dates. A good lot of them. And there was just nothing. I remember calling my mom and asking her – “Why don’t I feel excited about this? What is wrong with me?” She had no idea that I was transgender (or about to come out as gay at the time) and even if she had an inkling, I don’t think it was something she was ready to embrace just yet.

    I wish that I’d had someone to say to me what John just said to the OP. Because I feel like I could have saved years of shame, self-loathing, and feeling like I’m not good enough and never going to be ‘normal.’

    So, no – this isn’t a predictably male assumption, but rather a call to introspection. (Of course, I can’t speak for John… these are just my personal observations and feelings).

  • Yeah, ‘cuz there are any number of people who want to get married who can’t have sex for any number of reasons. Doesn’t make it any less of a marriage.

    And, yeah, God speaks to me through this rare gift called common sense. God in omniscient/omnipresent; He is always in the Eternal Now, existing everywhere all the time simultaneously forever. There is no past/present/future to Him as we humans comprehend the terms. So that pretty much means He has a better knowledge of everything than even the most informed of humans.

  • RTWL: “In the eyes of God, if the marriage has not been consummated, it can be annulled, which means it never happened.”

    You say this like it is absolutely true. And, yet, this interpretation is not consistent throughout Christendom but a rather Catholic slant. Protestants would beg to differ.

  • textjunkie

    Absolutely. Step number one.

  • John, this post really resonated with me, so much so that I linked to it on my own blog. I am male, but I still know how this woman feels. I was taught growing up that sex outside of marriage was never, ever, ever, ever ok. I specifically remember watching television with my mother and having her express disapproval at a number of television characters having sex outside of marriage. I still to this day get comments from them if I mention couples that I am friends with who are living together out of wedlock. Basically growing up, I thought the word “adultery” meant any sex outside of the bounds of marriage.

    This affected the way I dated well into my 20’s. I realize that I was looking for the type of person my parents taught me I should be looking for rather than the person I really wanted. I was looking for the future mother of my children and now at this point in my life, I don’t think I even want to have children at all. I believe this thinking also has significantly reduced the number of dates I have had. I basically feel like I am just now coming to terms with all of this and I am now left with being 31 years old, but having the sexual and dating experience of a 19 year old and I don’t know what to do catch up to where I want to be. I definitely want to be in a relationship. I feel that I have repressed my sexuality and that it is unhealthy. I want someone to share my life with. I want companionship that I can’t find in just platonic friendship, but I now feel utterly ill equipped for the task of finding it.

  • “reluctantly came to the conclusion”??? I don’t know what that means.

  • Lori

    I wouldn’t presume to speak for Lee but that phrase certainly spoke to me. My father was emotionally and, although it was rare, physically abusive to me. For most of my life I’ve made excuses for him, and didn’t want to attach that label to him. I even avoided recollection of parts of events to eliminate parts that made the conclusion that he was abusive inevitable. It’s hard to accept that someone you love, and should be able to trust, betrayed you. I know I was reluctant to face up to that for most of my life. I couldn’t cite any particular studies for you, but it certainly seems like that’s a pretty common aspect of abusive relationships.

    On rereading this comment, I see even now that I’m making excuses for him. The physical abuse may have been a rare event, but that modification was really just more denial, I’m reluctant still — see what I mean?

  • Former: Wow. Yours his a very touching testimony. I really appreciate your honesty here, and the depth of your feelings. Thank you for sharing this. Very challenging stuff.

  • Thanks. I get it.

  • Mic: I said she should CONSIDER the possibility that she MIGHT be gay. And she did, in fact, in her answer here in the comments section, show her appreciation for that suggestion. Back off.

  • I wrote a comment up, but you already said the gist of it. Except that instead of “my friends are asexual”, it’s “I’m asexual, and the gay/straight dichotomy messed me up for years.” The idea that if you’re not gay you must be straight (or vice versa, but that was the form it took for me) is damaging even if you never act on it.

  • LSS

    example: fairly rare but i know it happens cos i know someone with this: there are physical and sensory disabilities that severely limit one’s capacity to bear being touched by other people at all … would some say that these folks don’t have the right to get married, if they love and want to spend their life with someone (who can also be OK with their physical limitations)?

  • This woman is certainly not alone! Her story is not uncommon at all. As a clinical sexologist, my wife (Becky Feder Knight) is very familiar with these stories, and she’s a great resource for anyone who needs help working through these emotions and psychological struggles – and helping to learn how to “occupy one’s body.” Her website is, and I hope you and others will refer people to her for help.

  • So what happens when a paraplegic gets married and cannot have sexual intercourse? Is he or she then just out of luck? I have to agree with buzz – marriage is so much more than sex. You even said so yourself right below.

    Additionally, I would have to say also that the definition of sex is fluid. My friend is a progressive sex educator and has had this discussion with me recently. Sex is really what you define it. For some, it might be intercourse. For others, it might be defined as any sexual act, including heavy petting, etc. etc.

  • Yup. I remember all the messages of saving yourself for marriage, etc., and all I could think was, “What, like it’s hard?” I have a habit of believing that if I go through something it must be common so all these “don’t have sex” messages were so strange to me.

    The purity stuff didn’t mess me up in regards to sex as much as it messed me up in regards to my own body. Messages that I would belong to my husband, and lose any and all say over I wanted were what terrified me. The idea of sex as possession is a really creepy overtone in a lot of these purity messages, and when you’re a survivor of sexual abuse…yeah. Nothing was ever more triggery than church.

    I still have to sit here on occasion and repeat in my head, “My body is mine, my body is mine” over and over again to try and dispel all those messages.

  • OP: I think this is a very interesting question you raise, and one that I hope to be able to examine at some point in my classes. (I’m a Sociology major). I actually just posted above and said that the definition of sex is fluid, and sex really is what you define it. Some people consider having sex to be heavy petting/fondling, etc. To them, that is sex. To others, the definition might be different.

    The idea of abstinence as something other than just physically abstaining from sex – the idea of emotional abstinence – is something I never thought of before. Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, I was taught that things were black and white, and that we shouldn’t ask questions.

    These concepts and ideas are so much more complex than black and white, right and wrong, etc. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  • anonfemale

    I was told that everything I needed to know about sex I could learn in the Bible. (to which I now say- which story- Lot and his daughters, Jacob and Leah…???!!!) I was not allowed to attend sex ed classes at school… so on and so forth… I went to Bible college. Met a boy. Started having sex before marriage at the age of 19. Got prego. Got married. (shortened version) Sex was not that great for me at first. I couldn’t figure out what all the excitement about sex was. Finally, I threw away all the “christian” advice that I had received and started reading all the dirty magazines I could find. I was going to figure out how sex could feel good for me and how I could enjoy it… Most important, I was going to figure out how to get an orgasm… Best advice from all the info I read: explore your body… get to know it… figure out where all the parts are that make you feel good… use your hand- YES MASTERBATE!!! For me it was the only way to show my boyfriend/husband where and how to turn me on… Step #2… sex toys and wild positions… Sorry if this is too graphic, but having grown up conservative Christian and then going to Bible college- people in my situation really don’t know how to have good sex and THAT is ruining many relationships… I’ve had too many talks with females who have been married for years and have never had an orgasm… again- sorry for the graphics! But there are couples who need to learn this stuff- for the sake of their relationships.

  • “Additionally, I would have to say also that the definition of sex is fluid.”

    TMI! TMI!

  • anonfemale

    I realize every situation is different and every story has it’s variations- perhaps my experience will help another in a similar situation… I appreciate those who have given out websites and other forms of advice on this topic- I’ve read some good stuff here.

  • charles

    wow- what a complicated situation….

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    (I’m still trying to figure out which Reply link to click in order to put responses where they make the most sense. Sorry if this appears out of place.)

    Unless I’m mistaken about the OP, both she and her young man are physically capable of having sex. For them to enter a marriage contract and never have intercourse would, I think, be somewhat less than what God intends for marriage to entail. Married people who are capable of having sex with each other, but choose never to do so, are missing out on something.

    We have not been talking, until now, about special cases for quadriplegics, et al. These don’t disprove the general point. Obviously these folks have the right to enter a marriage contract for mutual support and whatever intimacies they are capable of. And I’m forced to agree that in cases where God chooses to allow things to happen to us that render us incapable of having sex, God can also still choose to honor our marriage covenants.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Really? So let’s say my plumbing works, and my fiancee’s plumbing works, and we say the words, give the rings, eat the cake … and then on the wedding night she locks herself in the bathroom until I promise not to touch her … and that happens every night for a year, with no progress toward intimacy. You’re saying you know Protestants whose view of marriage is so out of whack that they’d insist that I stay married to her?

    I guess it’s possible … these ARE Protestants we’re talking about, after all.

  • Erin D.
  • Erin D.

    “Sexual abuse in reverse”……wow, what an amazing and yet chilling idea. I never thought of it that way.

  • Erin D.

    But don’t do what I did and get too reliant on a vibrator. Took a while to not need one anymore! I’ve heard that you should masturbate with your non-dominant hand so it doesn’t feel so “perfect.” That way when you’re with someone else, you won’t need “perfection” to get to the big O. Maybe that’s TMI, but I certainly wish I’d heard that advice about 10 years before I did!

  • Erin D.

    Ohhh, I’m guilty of that one. “Nope, we’re not having sex!” while doing everything up to.

  • I appreciate you sharing this story I struggle with sexuality, but for slightly different reasons. I’ve been caught between the demands of a Christian society, which expect me to be a good, chaste girl and never even acknowledge the existence of my sexual nature, and the expectations of men, who insist that I give in to any and all of their sexual advances. I’ve experienced male sexual aggression since I was 14, so now, at 23, I still don’t know how to be sexual on my own terms, to fully enjoy sexual contact, or even how to climax.

    It’s an extremely difficult cycle to break out of. So few people are willing or able to be involved with someone who borders on asexual, even if it’s only the result of trauma and repression. The struggle is as much being sexual with another person as it is being sexual with myself, and it’s so difficult and painful for me to learn to be comfortable when there’s still a constant expectation for sex. I hope the author of this letter is able to reach the sexuality that exists within herself and come to terms with it. She’s lucky to have such an understanding and patient partner, but it will still not be an easy thing to do.

  • Erin D.

    Well, there was that small matter of not being able to afford Catholic high school, so I went to a public high school and saw that there were (gasp) non-Catholics in the world. I still think my parents beat themselves up for not taking 2nd jobs to pay for that education that would have “saved” me. MAYBE. 😉

  • fellow woman raised in “sexual thoughts are wrong” camp…

    Go check out Dodson and Ross (dodsonandrossDOTcom). The younger woman was raised in conservative Christianity…homeschooled all the way through, even. Sometimes she talks about it and it is soooo fascinating, because I can so relate with her upbringing.

    That website have a LOT of very woman-friendly FRANK talk about sex, our bodies, sexuality. It’s…um….graphic…but incredibly helpful.

    My advice is just echoing many others, particularly in the realm of: start using your hand, start getting comfortable with your own body. Find your clitoris. Mess with it. Mess with it in a bunch of different ways. 😀

    …And just because nothing physically happens the first time doesn’t mean anything won’t happen the tenth time. Often, it’s getting our *minds* used to the idea and okay with it, and that then allows our bodies to wake up.

    (In which case, sometimes it helps to find an erotic story that turns you on, or a fantasy that works for you, which does the work of turning your MIND on, and then read or think of that story/fantasy while using your hand or a vibrator down below and see if your body doesn’t follow right along after the mind…).

    Most of all…have fun! Which is hard to do when we’ve been taught all our lives to *watch out* for our sinful bodies (groaning sigh)…but sex and our sexuality is FUN! It is super fun! It’s fun all by yourself and fun with a loved one. It’s just a whole lot of fun.

    And it’s a serious part of our biological make up….so anyone or any theological camp that works to get us to deny that part of ourselves IS going to produce people with problems—because sexuality is a very important part of the human being’s make up!

    I have had to make peace with the fact that the theological camp I was raised in is seriously messed up when it comes to sexuality. And I slowly had to get okay with the idea that masturbating was NOT a sin I had to pray and ask forgiveness for after the fact. And I slowly had to get okay with the idea that exploring my sexuality (including my orientation…in my case, bisexual…and getting okay with exploring THAT one took me awhile to get okay with, let me just say!) is a healthy thing to do.

    And that was all a process, because, probably like you, I was raised to believe that fire and brimstone was awaiting people who did such things. The fear of hell was so palpable for me and it affected everything I did for so long… but a fear-based life is no life worth living. 🙁

    Be patient with yourself and give yourself a lot of grace. You are on a wonderful journey, coming out of all that garbage….and it is going to be a lot of fun! 🙂

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    BTW, if you want to know whether quadriplegics can have sex, watch BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY.

  • I’m sorry, John, I love you (in a totally non-gay way, of course) but I don’t think you can claim the Dan Savage Crown until you’ve taken an evil-doer’s name and turned it into a noun that creates a vivd picture of a vulgar sexual act. (for those not following, google “Santorum) …. still dude, you’re getting close, and I’m cheering you on. xo

  • Thanks for your note, John. And thank you for your kind words – would love to see your work!


  • Sorry… I didn’t even think about the double entendre there. Of course, that comment was not intended to be vulgar. Apologies.


  • CJ

    Thank you for saying that! I really consider myself to be an asexual lesbian. I have been in a relationship for 20+ years and we haven’t had sex for a long time (for which I sometimes feel guilty) but I must admit I’m just not that into it. I rarely if ever think about sex and wonder more deeply that I’m screwed up because of it than because I’m gay. Harris, thanks for helping me feel a little bit less of a freak in this hyper sexual yet hyper repressed society.

  • I think physical intimacy is a prime ingridient for most marriages, but if — >IF< — a couple can be happy together w/o sex, it's literally none of our f*cking business.

  • Unless she told you (rhetorical) in advance AND YOU AGREED that there would be no sex, yeah, you’ve got a case: She agreed to marry you under false pretenses. Likewise if she finds out you’re not really a wealthy billionaire superhero but a stock boy who lives in his mom’s basement. Being dishonest in order to enter into a marriage is fraud and can, in certain circumstances, carry severe legal/criminal penalties.

  • Wasn’t it Dr. Ruth Westheimer who said the brain was the primary sex organ? (She also said, “Ask your partner: ‘Do you like my penis?'” which in that funny little yiddshe mama voice of hers is one of the funniest things you’ll ever hear.)

  • “I think, though, coming from the other side of the planet, I might have missed what you were originally aiming at… Based on some of the other comments here, I’m beginning to think a ‘Purity Ball’ is an actual thing. I’ve not heard of this before – people actually do stuff like that? ”

    Boy howdy.

    purity ball photos time,29307,1822906_1736958,00.html

    purity ball article time,9171,1823930,00.html

    purity ball article glamour

    purity ball NYT

    purity ball photos NYT

    generations of light

    Hollywood purity ball parody

    the virgin daughters doc

    your virginity is yours

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Agreed. But the question of what part of someone else’s relationship is our business and the question of what constitutes a Christian definition of marriage are entirely separate questions.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Ah, but you are confusing a legal definition of marriage with a Christian definition of marriage. They are not the same thing. Yes, I have grounds under the law, but would you say I also have grounds because the Christian covenant of marriage has not been fulfilled?

    If you were a marriage counselor, would you advise any couple with adequate physical equipment and ability to enter a sexless marriage with each other?

  • Lee

    This breaks my heart to read.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    It did make me chuckle, but I knew what you meant.

    With respect to marriage, I don’t think the Bible, with its emphasis on procreation, really contemplates any kind of sex other than vaginal. And yet, I can’t help agreeing that claiming to be a virgin while avoiding only vaginal sex is disingenuous. One ends up saying things like “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” Nobody really believed that was true, even if it was technically accurate.

  • Lee

    My best friend is in his early 40s and still a virgin. An enormous part of that has to do w/ his religious upbringing and the expectations his parents have of him even at the age he is now. I see him date, he goes through short term relationship after short term relationship, and he gets frustrated when they end. By denying his sexuality he has effectively muted his emotional development as well. It’s very sad. I’ve tried to lovingly address this with him but it just ends in him exploding at me. I thought about sending him a link to this but it wouldn’t be received well. All of this stuff is so complicated and it doesn’t seem like it has to be.

  • Ashton

    I had the exact same experience with the word “adultery”. Based on how strongly people felt about not having sex before marriage and the fact that not committing adultery is one of the 10 commandments, I somehow ended up thinking that any sex with a person one isn’t married to was adultery. Luckily at 13 the older sister of a good friend of mine kindly explained to me otherwise. I then learned the lovely word “fornication:. I also wondered where the Biblical prohibition on premarital sex was, but no one seemed to be able to explain that one to me. I do remember a high school Bible teacher (I went to conservative religious schools) telling our class that having sex with someone when you aren’t married is one way of cheating on your future spouse. He, of course, didn’t back this up at all.

  • Ashton

    I have thought of it that way and have sometimes thought that controlling behavior that forces another not to have sex could be just as abusive as forcing someone to have sex against their will. I’m not trying to be flippant about rape, just suggesting that maybe we need to expand our definition of what sexual abuse is. Do others think that this could be true? I’d like to more deeply explore the idea of comparing forcing someone to have sex versus forcing someone to not have sex.

  • The OP

    My own feeling is that that would fall more under emotional abuse– denial of intimacy, denial of self.

  • Donald Rappe

    Dear probably catholic Wonder Llhama,

    There has never been a time when legal marriages were not accepted as the definition of marriage by Christians and Jews. Specifically the relationship between men and their wives and concubines, as structured under the laws or other norms of their society. It was specifically in terms of such normal definition that the commandment about adultery was given. A religious group which does not honor the normal definition off marriage may be regarded as a cult, no matter how large it is. Of course a religious group may define sacraments if it wishes, and it may define marriage to be a sacrament, but they cannot define marriage because the definitions of marriage in any society is prior to the definition such a “sacrament”

  • Donald Rappe

    Now you distinguish between truth and technical accuracy. The first meaning of sex in my old Merriam-Webster is activities that can lead to child birth. I will continue to think of those who use words according to their primary meanings as speaking the truth. (Not necessarily the whole truth.) I will agree there are millions of Americans so ignorant they would spend 40 million dollars to find out more specifics of the non-sexual activities that took place with that woman.

  • Donald Rappe

    Claiming to be a virgin when one has not had sex (it’s not necessary to say vaginal, there is no other kind) is the simple truth. To claim not to be a virgin when one has not had (vaginal) sex is a lie. If you said it under oath, and it had any consequences you could be found guilty of perjury. People who know English realize that besides sex there are other activities such as foreplay, masturbation and particularly, perversion. Many who don’t like the truth that they engage in perversions of sex, will go on to pervert the meaning of words in the English language. They will use perverted expressions such as oral sex, anal sex, self sex to avoid the notion that they engage in perversions. Eventually these perversions of the language become accepted as secondary meanings. Then there become secondary meanings of the word sex. All so people don’t have to think of themselves as perverts.

  • Donald Rappe

    The problem, I suppose, is learning that a certain amount of perversion is normal!

  • There is no other kind of sex than vaginal? Oh, dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Donald… you can’t seriously think that oral sex isn’t sex, right? Or do you think that people just don’t have oral sex? There are many ways to have sex. Sex is what you define it. Sex is not just simply a penis entering a vagina. No, no no no. Sorry.

  • Amen to that! P in V sex is ONE type of sex. There are many many other wonderful ways to have sex, never limit yourself!!

  • What the heck is going ON in this comment thread?! I swear, I leave you people alone for five minutes ….

  • So glad my words rang true to someone! I myself am genderqueer, and ooofta…. trying to explain that to some people is honestly a headache and a half.

    “What? You mean, there is more than just men and women?”



    So, yes, the binary system is damaging and erasing and wrong, and you, Brin, aren’t alone out there. Peace!

  • I see it more in terms of romantic orientation and sexual orientation. One, such as yourself, can be homoromantic and asexual. Or someone could be heterosexual and panromantic (sexually attracted to a different gender but romantically attracted [meaning flirting, courting, dating] all genders).

    I’m pan-sexual and pan-romantic all around, and I’m really glad that you don’t feel alone anymore. Click through my name to my blog, and send me a note or something if you’d like. You are awesome and never a freak. Peace!

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    I don’t know John all that well, but I’m hoping that this is the sort of line he would not cross.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Well, according to Tertullian in “On Modesty,” any sex outside of marriage is in fact adultery.

    I learned in another thread that I shouldn’t get too hung up on the specific WORDS in Scripture … it’s the MEANING that’s really important. Trying to define various words in a way that creates a certain type of nonmarital sex that’s OK for you to have … means you’re missing the point.

    There is no such thing as premarital sex, according to the Bible. Once you have sex with someone, you’re “one flesh” with him, or with her. Which means the two of you have just taken the most important step in becoming married, and the formalities are all that remain to be done.

  • The OP

    You know, my point was that I was brought up in the ways of abstinence, I followed it for a long time, and it has had a profound effect on my sexuality and my way of thinking. I never claimed to be a virgin *now,* and whether I would describe myself as a virgin depends on context.

  • The OP

    So, you mean that historical linguists have spent centuries trying to figure out how language change happens, and this was it all along? But, you specifically said “people who know English.” Does it work this way for other languages as well?

  • The OP

    Whoops, that was supposed to be a reply for the comments thread below.

  • Just Passing Through

    I’m not a regular reader of the site, but since you seem interested in the subject of how people define terms like “sex” and “virginity,” I thought I might recommend reading Hanne Blank’s “Virgin: The Untouched History.” It’s a really interesting academic look at social constructions of virginity and their implications. It really drives home the point that the more a person examines the concept, the less sure of what it is they become.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Well, Christians defined marriage as a sacrament well before our present American society arose, and since that society is so heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian thought, it seems natural that there’s a substantial amount of overlap between social & religious definitions of marriage.

    Whether that’s true in all times and places I’m not so sure. Sociologist Rodney Stark has argued, for example, that Paul’s teachings on marriage and the role of women (restrictive as they may seem to us today) actually offered women a significantly better deal than they got in 1st-century Roman society at large!

    But anyhow, the fact that Christian & social definitions of marriage do overlap doesn’t mean they are identical. Treating marriage as a sacrament can mean that the church imposes specific responsibilities and expectations upon married people which the state does not impose. These expectations carry no legal weight, of course, and are not enforceable by the state, but that doesn’t mean they don’t amount to a definition of marriage. They’re just different than the state’s definition. In general, you could say that some churches hold married people to a higher standard than the state does. Those standards, of course, are applicable to people within those churches and cannot be imposed upon people outside those churches against their will.

    I like being “probably Catholic” … of course, if I drop one of the L’s in Llama, I’d probably be Buddhist.

  • Donald Rappe

    Dear granddaughter in Christ,

    You are right to feel betrayed, because you have been betrayed. I suggest ignoring the question of why you were betrayed as much as possible. I don’t think that will help you climb out of the pit you have been thrown in. After you’re out is time enough to consider that. You can’t figure out how the abstinence (of the type you mean) is supposed to work. That’s because it doesn’t work; never has; never will. You don’t lose your virginity when a man (or woman) kisses you. My wife and I were virgins when we married. But that only means she wouldn’t let my willy in. I had read one useful book on the subject when I was an undergraduate (someone in the fraternity house loaned it to me) and I honestly think that information about how to touch a woman may have changed my life. I learned that all parts of a woman are sensitive, not just some, and to pay very careful attention to her reactions when I touched her. You mention feeling overwhelming and powerful feelings when touched. That’s normal. But going completely numb is a common psychological defense against rape. This may mean your idea that you have fallen in love with a fine young man is not accurate. It might be (unintentional) self deception. Your overwhelming feelings when you are touched lead me to believe you are not asexual and never have been. Strong feelings are the gift of God. I cannot tell from your letter whether you need to stop because of fear of the strength of your feelings or because you find the toucher revolting. Here there is all the difference in the world. I think you might want to touch as many people as you can and most importantly, don’t suppress your fantasies. God gave them to you for a reason. They are not a mistake God made, you need them. From them you will learn who you are. And if the young man revolts you, you do him no favor by keeping him on a string.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Heh! Even the Merriam-Webster definition is “fluid,” if you like. Making eye contact with an attractive person across a crowded room could lead (eventually) to childbirth! Does that make it “sex”?

  • Ashton

    In my case, “pre-marital sex” is completely wrong as I see myself as unlikely to ever get married.

  • Donald Rappe

    Dear Ralph,

    Guess it depends on what your definition of definition is huh? Do you suppose Christians also have their own definition of five dollars? If someone quotes a price for their car, will you be asking whether that’s i Christian dollars or regular?

  • Donald Rappe

    Sounds closer than assisted masturbation.

  • Donald Rappe

    Sorry John. I couldn’t help myself and began to enjoy the various forms of the word perverse. To be sure, I regard the apellation Pervert to be offensive and outdated. However, much as I may agree with Rhys about the fluidity of human erotic feelings, I get my back up a bit when I hear people or spitting animals say that words can mean whatever I or they want them to mean.

  • Donald Rappe

    Sorry OP, I think I got caught up in some wise ass argument when I intended to be serious.

  • Donald Rappe

    I think I can empathize with you. Although I have no idea what a purity ball is or the “daddy” thing. Daddy is what I called my father and what my children called me before they changed it to Dad. I was brought up in a Lutheran school where we were taught that dancing was a sin because it was not possible to get that close without having sinful ideas. I was 27 or 28 before I had a successful date. I prefer not to remember the 4 or 5 that consisted primarily of choking on my own tongue due to the strength of my feelings. Six months later I married that young woman and now, 48 years later, we are still trying each others patience. I just want to encourage you not to give up.

  • vj

    Thanks, buzz.

    Who on earth came up with this stuff?! No wonder non-Christians think Christians are weird…..

  • Words are not fixed. Better get over any excessive annoyance at their changing nature or fluidity, because change is about the only constant in linguistics. To quote the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of anything is only to quote common parlance today. Quoting it 10 years from now might produce a different result.

    For example, if you looked up “Judeo-Christian,” a 20th century, right-wing political term being bandied about in this thread, in any dictionary before 1899, you would not find it there, because no real concept of what that is (least of all how we use it today) existed then.

  • I agree. Words aren’t fixed. They are culturally and historically dependent. I’ve used this argument frequently when it comes to those who support a “plain reading of the text” and counter it with the example of a plain reading of MLK Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” 2,000 years from now without knowing anything about MLK, the 1960’s, or American history. I’ve also used Paris Hilton’s definition of “hot.”

  • AND…..I would argue, this would also necessarily apply to the Founder’s use of the word “God.”

    My Fundamentalist family reads the same letters and historical documents from early American history and any time Jefferson or later Lincoln or others use the word “God” they hear and read and think “God in the same way I define and understand God” and all the necessarily connected doctrine associated with that. This is the problem with a “plain reading” of anything. We are reading wearing our own biased glasses to interpret the meaning for how it seems to us, here and now, without having any knowledge of the intent of the writer in the context of the lenses the writer was wearing when it was written, both specifically to that particular document on that particular occasion and more globally to the writer themselves. It ignores the fact that speakers and writer shift the tone and word choice and angle of the content to fit the moment, the audience, and the purpose.

  • For the record, many institutions define rape as the unwanted insertion of any part of one person’s body or an object into any orifice of another person’s body. (A finger in an ear would more likely be considered assault in the proper context.)

  • Don, can you confirm for me here that the Greek or Hebrew word for virgin actually means something closer to “one unto herself?”

  • With respect to the Founders, yes, definitely. One only has to read Adams’ and Jefferson’s exchanges with respect to the Trinity:

    “Adams to Jefferson, 7/13/13: “I have never read Reasoning more absurd, Sophistry more gross, in proof of the Athanasian Creed …” and then Jefferson in response (8/22/13): “It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one …” Then Adams (9/14/13) in response: “The human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker … This revelation made it certain that two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one.”

  • DR

    If oral sex isn’t sex, then why do we call it “sex”?

    This argument is why Christian kids are having anal sex at rapid rates (and damaging themselves in the process). They are avoiding the vagina. But this whole conversation is why I’m so fascinated by Christianity as an observer (though I practice it as well). The neurotic ways we approach sex, the conversations we get drug into that ultimately have no meaning or draw no conclusions are what we spend so much of our time on. It’s an example – at least to me – why so many people consider Christianity and intellect mutually exclusive, because we debate what “sex” really is – is it anal? Is it oral? does it include a vagina? What about an object inserted into a vagina that’s not a penis? The point others make isn’t that we aren’t smart, it’s that we lose the smart in conversations we allow ourselves to have that are circular and hair-splitting.

  • DR

    Thanks for bringing this topic up, sex as an entire topic is so huge in Christianity and we have to start talking about it candidly. You’re a brave soul for facing it. I’ve found this article n the NYT to be so powerful (it was for me).

  • I cannot speak to Hebrew, but the Greek παρθένος just means “virgin” or “unmarried.” The act of having sex was a right of passage for young women, somewhat synonymous with getting married (incidentally, this is a huge issue with respect to the “virgin” — actually “young woman” — supposedly in Isaiah 7:14 that Christians thought referred to the virgin Mary, as you’re probably aware).

    But yes, when they did forgo marriage it was sort of an empowering thing (in our view), and a source of anxiety (to their men). Virgins were often associated with the huntress Diana (even male ones like Hippolytus, Actaeon, Narcissus), and so they spent their time hunting in the woods, a clear act of subversion of domestic hierarchy. And domestic here means “domesticated,” so virgins were considered “untamed,” that is, not subdued or subordinate the way they should be. They did thing like cinch up their garments to show their legs and let their hair run wild and free.

    So yes, the notion of virginity was very different in many ways then; and Christian women took this up in the early period, devoting themselves to God wholly, something which is considered dangerous and subversive (see the Acts of Thecla). I touch on this on my blog on an entry called “Christians and Marriage: From Disease to Divine Design”. The link is on my name. I feel weird putting links here to my own work (makes me feel like a spammer) but you can find it there easily enough.

    Thanks for asking!

  • DR

    That is fascinating and I’m looking forward to reading more. Thank you!

  • Thanks so much for both of these replies. They are very helpful.

  • I’m thinking of the Hebrew word Bethulia (בתוליה) from the book of Judith in which the (fictional) city of Bethulia (which translates “virgin” in the Hebrew or “one unto herself”) was besieged by Holofernes, and the chaste widow, Judith, saves her city (which was a stand alone city – unto itself) from the army of Nebuchadnezzar by using deception to kill their general, thus preventing the advancing army from reaching Jerusalem.

    This was explained to me by the classics professor I’ve mentioned to Don elsewhere from the Chautauqua Institution who has been to seminary, studied Hebrew, and has studied scripture from a literary and Jungian perspective. (If you’ve never heard of Judith it’s because her book didn’t make it into the Protestant version of scripture.)

  • I’m not saying that sex doesn’t have a definition, and that it can just mean whatever someone wants it to mean. Sex does indeed have a definition. I’m saying that there are different kinds of sex and sexual activities that can fit into that definition, and that a person can decide whether or not, for them, that act fits into that definition.

    I have a friend that emotionally cannot have full-on intercourse, and for her, heavy petting is how she expresses herself sexually. (I realize this may be TMI, but I’m trying to make a point). For her, that is sex. And if in your mind, you are engaging in sex or sexual activities, then that is sex because you are identifying it as such and participating in it with that intention and those feelings.

    I get that we have to draw the line somewhere. I mean, like John said before – is picking up a french fry and eating sexual activity? Well… no. Certainly not by my standards. But I guess, is it possible that picking up a french fry for some person out there in the world would be arousing, and therefore could be sexual to them? Unlikely – very unlikely – but, still possible. There are a LOT of weird things out there in the world. I don’t even want to go into the weird, disgusting things that people find sexual. Just trying to illustrate my point.


  • And to further illustrate that point:

    According to my dictionary, sex is defined as “sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.” This is not saying that sex is only sexual intercourse, but rather sexual activity as a whole which sex includes sexual intercourse.

    Sexual, as defined by the same dictionary, means “relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals.”

    Those instincts are different for everyone. Different things arouse different people. People have unique sexual desires and fantasies, etc. Therefore, it can be said that sex, which includes sexual activity and full-on sexual intercourse, can be different for each person.

  • Thanks, JPT – I will definitely check it out!


  • The OP

    But dictionaries base their definitions on current and past usage of a word. And other dictionaries do not necessarily agree with yours. For instance, here is the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, considered the gold standard of dictionaries of English, and the best etymological dictionary in any language:

    “Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour, spec. sexual intercourse, copulation. to have sex (with) : to engage in sexual intercourse (with).Now the most common general sense. Sometimes, when denoting sexual activity other than conventional heterosexual intercourse, preceded by modifying adjective, as gay, oral, phone sex, etc.: see the first element.”

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Yes, the OED definition sounds a little more serious, and pretty much in line with contemporary use.

    Donald: have you ever read the opening notes to a dictionary? You might be surprised to learn that dictionary editors, pretty much across the board, consider it their job to DEscribe, not PREscribe, common uses of words. And those uses are changing and growing so quickly that any print dictionary is out of date by the time it hits the shelves. The older your Merriam-Webster is, the less help it’s going to be in sorting out language that happens in the here and now.

    A recent “hot topic” in the area of religion-and-politics was the question of whether Mormonism is a “cult,” which arose in discussions about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Check any Internet forum discussing that topic and you’ll find people creating a great deal of confusion by tossing around four or five different definitions of the term “cult,” all of which can be found in this or that dictionary.

    If you want to use a dictionary to decide who is and isn’t speaking the truth, that’s your prerogative, I guess … but no dictionary is intended for that purpose, and you might end up with some pretty strange conclusions.

  • Kes

    Well, if nothing else, you can learn the withdrawal method from Genesis 38 (the story of Onan.) You can also learn how to seduce your father-in-law! (Protip: Dress like a whore.)

  • DR

    There are amazing men out there – tons of them- who will find your story charming and very special. And hot. Don’t worry about your lack of e xperience, the right men find that alluring and will give you exactly what you want. Remember that for a lot of men, helping you orgasm is the ultimate sexual fulfillment for them, even beyond their own orgasm. Find those men. Trust me on this. 🙂

  • Oh, my, DR. I do believe you’ve given me the fantods.

  • Eve

    YES. To everything you just said. Yes.

  • Your definition of sex (that is is indeed fluid) is totally correct. The idea that one is a virgin until they engage in P in V intercourse is ridiculous. In that case, a lesbian with a healthy and active sex life would be considered a ‘virgin’ her whole life! Which, of course, is nonsense.

  • Another fun little fact: the Greek and Roman god of marriage: Hymen.

  • Those crazy anatomists.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Donald: I live in a state where gays don’t yet have a legal right to marry. Despite that, there are ministers and officiants who will perform religious “civil union” or “commitment” ceremonies for gay couples … I had the opportunity to attend one not long ago. Unfortunately, although these ceremonies can be beautiful and meaningful, they don’t confer the full legal rights of marriage upon the couple. Are you saying that ministers in my state should not be performing ceremonies like this, seeing as how they don’t meet the state’s definition of marriage?

  • DR

    What’ s a fantod? Is it the modern-day vapors? I think we need to bring back the vapors.

  • Tracy Smith

    I’ve always understood that sex can be defined as any activity that has the potential to lead to orgasm, which, of course, includes quite a bit more than penis inside the vagina sex.

  • Donald Rappe

    The definition of a word belongs to neither the state nor the church, but, to the language. It is not decided by an organization nor is it up for a vote. I’m sure you can apply this to your question and arrive at the correct answer.

  • Donald Rappe

    That’s real rough on the victims of rapists isn’t it?

  • Soulmentor

    What in God’s name is “perversion”. Mr Rappe lists it as if it is a separate category of sexual behavior.

    Words like perversion and normal and even SEX need to be defined if they are going to be entered into a discussion. Yes, even “sex”. Is holding hands sex? Is kissing sex? Is massage sex? When does touching become “sex”? Is masturbation perversion? Is spanking perversion? Is spanking even sex? I remember getting naked in the woods as a boy and frotting with the trees to get the feel of nature against my body. It was wondrous. It felt like touching a part of God. (I still like it at 67) Is it a perversion? Can something be perverted if done with an object, or is a behavior perverted only if done with another person?

    We all speak about things thoughtlessly and then wonder why we have such human communication problems, but everyone categorizes things differently in their own minds. How can anyone know what we are blathering on about without agreed upon definitions? Without definitions, it’s all a tower of babel.

    That’s not to say some things are not perversions. S&M, for example, can be fun or it can lead to some seriously harmful behaviors. For some, that is incomprehensibly welcome. The trick is to know when you are crossing the line and for me, anyway, that line is when you are starting to cause harm, physical or mental, to another person, whether consensual or not.

    You know where that line is if you are a genuinely caring, loving person. “Young Woman(‘s)” boyfriend, for instance, sensed where the line was and didn’t push beyond it……for the moment. That, and the relationship, wouldn’t have lasted very long unless he was indeed gay. In that case, a whole nother set of problems would develop.

    Oh, and btw, is a consensually accepted gay/str8, or gay/lez married relationship a “perversion”?

  • Diana A.

    According to a purity test I took a few years back, the proper conjugation is:

    I–am erotic.

    You–are kinky.

    They–are perverts.

    Seriously, I believe that whatever happens between two consenting adults is their business. Not my place to judge.

  • HAR!! Good one, Diana.

  • Lee Marshall

    Thanks, Lori. A therapist nudged me toward the conclusion that I had been molested as a small child in some way which I don’t really remember. Since I had no specific memory of molestation, I resisted the idea. When I brought up that I had my first vaginal and anal exam by age 5, however, the therapist told me that’s not normal, and is usually only done if sexual abuse is suspected. I asked my mom about it recently, and she remembers the exam, but not the reason for it (she has senile dementia). And no, it wasn’t the exam itself that created the trauma. However, I personally have problems believing in the recovered memory syndrome – where people are led to believe they were abused or victimized in Satanic rituals or anything like that with no other facts to support it – I am reluctant to discuss it. No disrespect to anyone who has recovered memories intended. Sorry, this is rather painful for me.

  • Ken

    Imho she needs to complete her therapy before contemplating getting married to anybody. If her beau can wait for her, great. But she needs to find herself before she contemplates committing to being another person’s life partner.

    Personally, I’m also bit shocked that this whole abstinence thing can leave a girl so out of touch with her own body that it denies her the opportunity for self-exploration / self-pleasuring, but then it always seemed a bit of a double standard in high school when it came to girls vs boys. As for that whole idea of sex is naughty / sex is good , there are plenty of Christian books that might help give her a healthier perspective (” A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy”, comes to mind).

    I pray that this woman someday reaches a point where she can softly quote May West to her chosen mate, saying with a sultry smile, “When I’m good, I’m good. But when I’m bad, I’m even better.” and then together be so happily naughty – it’s great!

  • Allie

    This is the best advice I’ve seen so far on this thread. I think the ding-a-ling crowd is well intentioned but fails to understand that girls don’t have a thing hanging out there to play with, so it’s entirely possible to grow up without ever experiencing an orgasm. I had a conversation not long ago with a 40-year-old married female friend who asked me in all seriousness how you tell if you’ve had an orgasm. She thinks she MIGHT have them, sometimes, with her husband, but she’s not sure. Well… a little gentle prying, turns out she has never had one. It’s not really something you fail to notice! So – recommendation – vibrator, dirty book, long afternoon alone. Repeat.

    Until she knows what sexual feelings are like, it’s premature to ask if she has them towards men, women, or this man in particular.

  • vinny

    “Who but a gay man would be okay marrying a woman he can’t have sex with? And tons of Christian marriages are between a man and woman who don’t yet realize they’re gay. It’s so classic.)”

    This is such an upsetting statement. This is everything that is wrong with the secular view of romance and sex; You are taking this man’s commitment and laughing at it, assuming that he is entirely driven by nothing but sexual desire. You are putting people below animals.

  • Allie

    So you’re cool with people marrying despite physical disabilities, but if people with mental disabilities which prevent them from having sex get married, it’s not okay?

    Some quads can have sex – my brother-in-law is a quad, and he has all kinds of freaky and painful nerve responses in various parts of his body which can make things difficult. But there are other types of physical disabilities. What about men who have had their penises blown off, which is becoming a common injury for our soldiers overseas? Are they still married?

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Speaking as a rape survivor, yes, I must admit it’s a bit of a bummer.

  • Ralph the Wonder Llama

    Donald, you seem a little stuck on the notion of a word having only one definition. You’ll admit only one definition of “sex.” You’ll admit only one definition of “marriage.” It’s an interesting personality quirk, I guess, but it does make conversation difficult.

    Have you ever met anyone who actually lives up to your ideal of using words only according to their primary definitions in your dictionary?

    Neither have I.

  • Allie

    However, to a medieval man interested in paternity, she would be as virgin as any potential husband could hope for, and her desire or lack of same for sex with a man would not be of interest to him. It’s only since the advent of fairly reliable birth control that virginity has been defined in ways other than not having penis-in-vagina sex, and even more recently that DNA testing has eliminated doubts about paternity. Intimacy defining sex is even more recent a concept than love defining marriage.

  • DR

    Following the merits of your own argument, were you still a virgin after being raped? Do you consider yourself “one flesh” with your rapist in the eyes of God?

  • A

    I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to swing at anyone. The article resonated with me. I appreciated it. I somehow must have misunderstood your intent as the author and read my own struggles into it. I meant to thank you for writing it and for your spirit of grace towards the girl who wrote to you. I’m going to go reread it, I missed something. I didn’t mean this comment to be disparaging towards you or the post in any way.

  • Lightning

    Spiritually, the evangelical message of purity seems to elevate abstinence to a level of salvation. Psychologically, the message teaches people to operantly condition themselves through self-punishment (calling your self sinful every time you experience sexual drives) to eliminate natural desires, yet parades the message as delayed gratification. From a sociological standpoint, it is wholly unfair to women who bear much of the burden and shame of such messages. And that’s because the message is heavily influenced by the practices of desert nomads whose virginal daughters aided business contracts and 18th century British aristocracy where a Victorian virginal bride dressed in white must have fetched the highest paying suitor…all while the Christian peasants were getting on fine with mutual consent, no bureaucratic registration, and little to no means for a fancy ceremony/party. As an aside, isn’t it interesting that for centuries, the behavior of regular Christian folk has been dictated not so much by God’s recorded words +the Holy Spirit, but rather by the power-hungry & often co-dependent relationship between clergy and aristocrats? Anyway, the purity-I-kissed-dating-goodbye-message is anachronistic. It sells its followers a message that you are too weak to recover from a break-up where sex was involved pre-maritally, but you can get over the emotional, financial, and sometimes physical trauma of a divorce that resulted from unmet fairy-tale expectations.

  • That Guy

    “This is such an upsetting statement. This is everything that is wrong with the secular view of romance and sex; You are taking this man’s commitment and laughing at it, assuming that he is entirely driven by nothing but sexual desire. You are putting people below animals.”

    Maybe not below animals, but on the same level as animals. I agree with you. People get too obsessed with the physical, that is what I find sad.

    “You just need to reestablish your relationship with half of what God gave you.”

    Half? Now I think that is a thing that should honestly be questioned. Is our body really half of us? A quick glance might point to that, but think about it more deeply. How can something which will fade away be half of what God gave us? The body is only mortal. The only, philosophically speaking, proper way to define ourselves is based on our conscious. We are souls linked to bodies, but still, we are not our bodies. Our bodies are more like God given property so when we start basing our behavior on the body rather than the soul we very quickly fall short. Also if we start ignoring the things we were entrusted to protect and be stewards of, from the Earth to our own bodies, we can quickly find ourselves to be falling short as well.

    Again back to the statement which I found to be one of the most fallacious, troubling, whatever you want to call it:

    “Who but a gay man would be okay marrying a woman he can’t have sex with?”

    This is elevating sexual desire to a level it surely shouldn’t be elevated to. Love someone for their soul, for they are their soul. If you love them for their body then you aren’t truly loving them, you are loving a physical possession.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think couple should appreciate one another’s bodies; but, (pun intended) fuck sexuality. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t say that with a fundy hatred towards sex, I mean fuck defining ourselves by sexuality. People, when they are talking about sexuality and relationships, often speak of it as if they were shopping for meat at the butchers. I find it deeply disturbing and dehumanizing.

    I only want to love someone for their soul, I want to love whatever body God gave them. I don’t care if they look like they are a mutant from the hills have eyes, I just want to love them. I want to love that soul Jesus died for, and I want to live for that soul.

    If you love someone, even in part, for what body they have that is a similar folly to loving someone, even in part, for any other physical possession of theirs.

    It would be nice if people would stop thinking things like “dat ass” and start thinking things like “dat soul.”

    I want true, radical, unconditional, transforming love. The kind that love someone for who they truly are, not what they have. That is all I’m saying.

    I’d love to elaborate more but I’m out of time. Thanks for reading.

  • Asexual erasure (sure there are people who marry with neither the desire for nor the intention to have sex with their partner), but still, BUT STILL,

    this is needed.

  • Allie

    Haven’t read the comments on this thread in a while. Jeez.

    People you love profoundly without having sex with them are called friends.

  • BarbaraR

    A quick Google search showed what I dreaded to see: these are still apparently popular.
    And it is still creepy as hell.

  • Melissa Gardner

    Sexual dysfunction is an unfortunate side effect of purity culture. It does not mean you’re a lesbian or your partner is gay. And not all men are over run by their sexual desires and will leave women for a lack of sex. Actually, most decent human beings who are in love will stay because you are more than a vagina to them.

    This woman wrote a response to your question; having gone through the same thing. And it’s not as narrow minded as the above post.