The morning after my 24th birthday, I woke up with a parched throat and fuzzy memories. I pieced together what happened between leaving the bar and hanging out at my best friend's house into the wee hours. I remembered the cute guy. Oh, did I remember him.
Flying high on free drinks and surrounded by a posse of those who love me, the friend of a friend caught my eye. Hours later, we ditched the movie playing in the basement. Innocent enough.
We kissed and then. And then. And then we almost.
And I had wanted it to happen. My body called the shots with a guy I barely knew. I hadn't had sex because I said no but because he did. After years of hearing about the one thing guys want and how women were the boundary enforcers, it turned out my self-control wasn't iron-clad. It turned out some guys were actually gentlemen.
The magnitude of what I'd almost done settled low in me, between a pounding headache and churning stomach. This wasn't the first close call but it was definitely the closest.
Just the day before I'd talked to my mom about how it was difficult at times to be a virgin but I was glad I kept my eye on the prize: a long-lasting marriage was more important than temporary pleasure. My parents had waited, I knew I would wait. It was simply how things were meant to be. We've always talked openly about sex. While my mom doesn't always understand my perspective as a single woman, she never hesitates to listen.
Yet less than 24 hours later I absolved myself with little care. It shocked me to my core. That we hadn't followed through mattered little.
I tried to rationalize it in the cold light of day but I couldn't. No matter the trend, I wanted to wait to have sex until I was married. Wracked with guilt, I asked God for forgiveness. And then I wondered how on earth I was going to stay abstinent for who knows how long.
Up to that point, I'd bided my time. I thought I was the kind of girl who could kiss without consequence. (Here was the fruit of ignoring that nagging feeling.) I thought I knew my limits. This was a reality check.
Nothing prepared for me this. Not signing a True Love Waits card at age 14, youth group sermons on modesty, discussions with my mom about waiting until marriage, or discussions with my friends who didn't care they hadn't waited.
I craved admiration and affirmation from the guys in my life. For so long I'd believed if I couldn't find a boyfriend, I could at least have fun, even though my heart was not made that way. My sexuality was defined around male attention received or desired. I listened to my insecurities instead of God. I started to see how off the mark this was.
I was ill equipped to piece together a theology which spoke to the matter of sex and singleness. I didn't agree with Joshua Harris or the emotional purists. Nor could I get on board with a more permissible sexual ethic, no matter how hard I tried. I know my heart too well. Where was the middle ground?
Instead of purity culture, I wish we'd been told, "This may be difficult at times. You won't be "ruined" if you don't wait- and especially not if the decision was taken away from you due to abuse or rape. Waiting won't guarantee amazing sex with your spouse but sex in the context of marriage is God's best and here's why. And by the way, you're more than this decision."
They told me True Love Waits and I am waiting but not because they said so. This season has taught me about what I need and how I've compromised. It's given me the space to develop a realistic view of marriage and healthier expectations of marital sex. Celibacy and chastity are about more than sex. It's about intimacy, realizing I do have self-control after all, and learning about my sexuality apart from sex. It's making the decision for myself, not anyone else, to reserve sex for marriage because I believe it's God's best for me.
I am not the poster child for virginity or even singleness. I am not a paragon of virtue. While celibacy has its place, it's not a spiritual gift. It's a discipline and like most disciplines, I look forward to seeing these efforts pay off some day. But if marriage isn't in my future, this will still be worth it. I'm more than my virginity, after all.
We're tempted to universalize individual experience. Are we beholden now to those who didn't wait, now consumed with regret? To those who say the celibate are repressed and sex isn't that big of a deal? To those who waited and judge those who didn't? Why does this conversation circle back to "how far is too far" without answering the cry of our hearts? Why do married people set the "rules" for singles' sex and sexuality in the first place?
What is the purpose in reserving sex for marriage? The Church has missed the mark in showing us a better way. Regardless of our sexual pasts, we enter relationships with hang ups and misplaced expectations. Some of us wait, many do not. And still I long to hear why.
I am a woman. Not being a wife or mother does not make me less of a woman. My sexuality is not defined by those roles. Nor am I defined by my virginity or my past. I am a unique blend of beauty, character, and imperfection. I am enough. I have tasted my power, I have chosen chastity, I have learned what lies behind these desires. There's nothing passive now in this decision to wait.
But this is just me. This is the path best suited for me. I did not always choose it. I understand why many go another way. I've often longed to do the same- no one ever said this would be easy. I don't know what this will look like in my next serious relationship. As with everything, we'll figure it out together.There is no condemnation here. Simply a plea. Stand beside me, encourage me. Challenge me but don't judge me. Even if you didn't make the same choice, even if you think you'd never make the same decision.
No matter what I have or haven't done, I am worthy of love. And so are you.
For the last year, I've known I needed to tell this story. For one, we need to hear more from those who are single and waiting. It hasn't been the right time until now. I'm grateful to the brave voices who have encouraged grace and freedom this past week. I expect I'll be sharing more in the coming weeks.