This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of M. who waited till marriage to have sex. According to this 2006 study, 5% of Americans wait till marriage to have sex. This interview is not a condemnation of waiting till marriage, it's simply one woman's experience. Please keep your comments respectful. Polite, articulate criticism is welcome; incendiary rubbish is not and will be deleted.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is M, I'm 29 and I live in Northern California. I am a teacher, a writer and a yogi. I like reading, being outside and social media.
Growing up, how did you feel about sex?
I was raised in a very religious home. Most of my sex education consisted of "Nice girls don't have sex until they're married." Anything I learned about contraception was at school. I developed very early and therefore thought about sex a lot from a young age, even though it was forbidden. Honestly, I think being told that it was wrong did two things: first, it made it much more attractive (I read "Forever..." by Judy Blume under the covers a lot!) and secondly, it made me feel very guilty that I had sexual desires. I thought I was alone in my desire for sex. Now that I teach teenagers, I definitely understand that I was not in the minority! I actually wish that we were more up front with girls about healthy sexual desire, masturbation and safe sex - the conversation seems to stop at birth control or "don't have sex."
Why did you decide to wait until you were married?
I truly believed in my religious upbringing when it came to sex. I actually left the church when I was 20 years old, before I got married. I'd stopped attending and was wrestling with my faith, but not having sex was one tenet I held to. I thought that it was the "right" thing to do, and so, I waited. I didn't even think about it very much---I just did what I was taught.
Was it hard wait? Did it affect your dating life?
It was difficult for me. There were many moments when I would say, "Screw it, I don't want to wait anymore!" but my boyfriend really, really felt convicted not to have sex, and ultimately, I did, too. After we were married, it became obvious that my boyfriend wasn't straight, and it was clear that it had been easier for him to wait simply because he wasn't really into ladies. The fact that I was so sexual and he wasn't was a huge source of guilt and shame for me --- I seriously thought there was something wrong with me for having a lot of sexual desire. When you combine that with some body insecurities, I definitely had a hard time feeling positive about sex and my body after my husband and I divorced. I still struggle with it today, even in a relationship that is very healthy!
Did you wait till you were married to engage in all sexual activities? Or was it 'just' sexual intercourse that you 'saved'?
I did everything but have sex, both with the guy I married and my first boyfriend before him. I think that is a huge flaw in the pro-abstinence movement: no one discusses the "rest." I can remember admitting to a Bible study group that my boyfriend had touched my boobs and they FREAKED OUT. I couldn't bear to tell them the rest of the things we'd done. Oddly enough, two of those girls ended up pregnant outside of wedlock. No judgment there, but obviously, I was not the only one getting busy! No one talks about what's "okay" and not, and no one discusses sexual activity. Again, I think that for many religious girls, admitting that you are doing anything sexual is a huge source of shame.
As for rationale, I don't know that I had any other than I liked sexual things, but sex was wrong in my eyes. I felt insanely guilty for engaging in any sexual activity, but I did it anyways, somehow convincing myself that it was fine as long as I didn't do the "big one." My high school journals are filled with prayers for forgiveness for my sexual interactions with my boyfriend. I honestly wish I could go back to that version of myself and tell her she was normal.
How long did you date your boyfriend before you got married? Did he wait till marriage as well?
We dated off and on for seven years, and were together seriously for four years before getting married. My boyfriend had sex with a previous partner, but believed that he was a born-again virgin after going through some serious prayer and counseling. From the minute we started dating, he insisted that we not have sex, and because I was actively involved at church, I agreed and we never really discussed it (save for a few weak moments) again after deciding to wait.
Do you think that sex played into your decision to get married?
Yes and no. I think that in the religion I was raised in, getting married was just what you did after you dated. Having sex was definitely something I was excited about but I also wanted to be a wife and start my life. I think I was less excited about having sex and more excited not to feel so guilty all the time for wanting it.
This is actually one of my biggest issues with religions that condemn sex before marriage. I think it's incredibly odd to tell couples that they shouldn't have sex or engage in any sort of sexual activity and then flip a switch where it's all okay. Most relationships I've been involved in have included a slow progression of "fooling around" before having sex, and it is so weird to expect that couples go from zero to 60 in one night. Finally, I get really sad that so many girls grow up like I did, thinking that there's something inherently wrong with sexual desire when in reality, it's deeply normal to want to have sex.
When it finally happened, did it live up to your expectations?
UGH. No. NO. My first time was literally something out of a horrible romantic comedy. We were both very concerned about everything going "right." A big thing at Christian bridal showers is giving a serious amount of lingerie. My maid of honor gave me a very special white teddy for my wedding night, and I chose to wear that. We stayed at a super cheesy bed and breakfast with a huge bathtub. There were rose petals and soft lights and the whole works.
The wedding night itself was pressure-filled. I was so exhausted after one of the most emotional days of my life. I lived at home until I got married (I was 21) and so not only was I overwhelmed with the joy of seeing people I loved and all of that, I was also dealing with the fact that I was moving out of my parents house, something that was tremendously sad for me (I am VERY close to my family).
Anyways, when we got to the bed and breakfast, my then-husband had made a plan. He would shower, and then while I showered, he would get himself "excited" and then we would Have The Sex. Instead, while he was in the shower, I found a card my parents had left for me in my suitcase telling me how much they loved me and how sad they were that I was moving out, so when he got out of the shower, I was hysterically sobbing.
There was no sex. I tried, but neither of us was into it (me, because I was sad, and him, because he didn't really like girls, but I didn't know that yet). I added that to the list of things to feel terrible about: who couldn't go through with sex on their wedding night?! ME.
Finally, we consummated our marriage the next morning in the bathtub. It was okay. Sex with anyone is usually a bit awkward the first time, if we're being honest, but this was pretty bad. We had sex a few more times on our honeymoon, and I never had an orgasm. I also cried a lot because my husband wasn't into it. It was awful.
Do you ever wish that you hadn't waited?
I think that if we hadn't waited, I would have figured out that my husband wasn't into girls. He just never seemed to care about pleasing me, had a difficult time getting and staying "interested" and we had zero chemistry. I wish we'd figured that out earlier because I think we wouldn't have gotten married. While we did engage in other activities before marriage, they were very guy-centered (a lot of oral sex for him) and he was into that.
Still, I don't regret it. I think that my experience taught me a lot. It's oversimplified to put it this way, but the experience I had led me to every good thing in my life today, so while I wish I had made a different choice in waiting because it ended in a failed marriage that might have been prevented, I am very grateful for where I am today.
What advice would you give to those thinking about waiting till marriage?
I understand that abstinence is urged in many religious circumstances, but if I could give advice, I would say NOT to wait. I think that having sex is not just about the act of sex: you get to know someone when you are intimate with them. Having sex usually means you can do things like travel together and spend overnights together, and I think those things help a relationship grow. When my marriage failed, I ultimately felt like I had "missed" a huge part of getting to know my husband because we literally had not gotten to know one another beyond casual dating.
Also, I think that chemistry is a vital part of any relationship. I firmly believe that you can really love someone, yet not want to have sex with them, or not have good sex with them. That makes all the difference in an intimate relationship.
While I don't want to discourage people from following their religious beliefs, I am a fan of saying "Chastity got me screwed." And that's how I feel. I think it's a hugely important thing to figure out before you've committed your life to someone.
Did any of you wait till marriage? How do you feel about that decision?
original image (without text on top) from rosemarie brown, for sale here.