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.
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.]