My mother passed away 4 years ago, when I was 28, on the 5th of May 2011. She had bowel cancer for four years prior and it was not a huge shock when she died. Even though I had that preparatory grief for four years, I had no idea how much grieving there still was to do. For a year I could barely manage to do more than: eat, sleep, work (when I had to) and do one jigsaw puzzle after another, after another while watching episodes of Smallville or some other DVD. My Mum loved jigsaws and part of my grieving process was to spend time most days doing puzzles because it made me feel close to her.
I also remember crying on the way to work every Thursday for the first few months after her death, because Mum died on a Thursday. It slowly decreased to about once a month and after a year I felt that my grieving had significantly lessened.
But there was another aspect to my grieving process that I did not expect. There was a tremendous increase in my desire to have sex. To be close to someone physically and emotionally so that I wouldn’t be grieving on my own. My masturbation increased and I started to resent my virginity.
Up until that point, the most I’d done apart from masturbate, was to experience a small amount of petting and dry humping during make-out sessions. I had phone sex once or twice – and even those were things I did not engage in before the age of 27. But within that first twelve month period after Mum died, I let my guard down a lot further. I had this friend whom I knew was sexually active, who asked me one day if I was still a virgin, but I indicated that I was no longer sure I wanted to be one. He jumped on this opportunity and started coming to visit, probably with the goal to break me down over time and conquer my virginity.
So I let him into my life because I had just lost my mother, and my best friend, and the man I was dating, in the space of about 9-12 months. I felt rejected, lonely, horny, resentful toward myself for succumbing to my “religious obligation to maintain my virginity” and somewhat desperate. We started by making out and petting in the lounge room. Before long we moved to the bedroom, gave each other massages and started taking more clothes off. It took me a long time to touch his penis, but not long to move from that to giving him blow jobs.
A part of me wanted to have sex with him just because I wanted to experience sexual intimacy. I was getting really tired of waiting and had no guarantees that I would ever marry and experience sexual intimacy the way I really wanted to i.e. with a loving husband. So I had a conversation with my Dad when I was 29, just before he re-married (I was so jealous that he was about to have sex with a second person when I hadn’t had sex with anyone) and I told him that I was thinking about having sex. I asked him if he would forgive me if I had sex before marriage. My Dad said he would still love and forgive me if I did, and encouraged me to wait for a man that I loved who loved me.
That was a powerful conversation to have. I knew that if I had sex with the guy I was secretly doing sexual things with, it would not affect my relationship with my Dad: he would still love me. My Dad allowed me the freedom to be myself, make my own decisions and live out the consequences. And freedom has power. Even though I continued fooling around with my friend, and actually started fooling around with another friend as well, over time I became stronger in my resolve to wait for love. Not necessarily marriage, but love.
The temptation to have sex after my thirtieth birthday was high. I still resented never having had sex in my twenties, I probably blamed God for keeping me single all that time. But within three months of my birthday, I met my future husband on facebook. Not long after that I stopped fooling around with both of my friends … and started fooling around with my husband over skype and whenever we spent time together in person.
Not everyone has a story like this. Some Christians are very strong in their resolve not to have sex before marriage. My sister didn’t have sex until her wedding night – at the ripe old age of twenty-one. I secretly call any age between 18-24 “twenty-nothing” and used to make bitter remarks like “they got married when they were twenty-nothing and I had to wait until I was 32.”
I grew up in a Christian household where waiting for marriage was held up as the sexual ideal, only to find out that my parents had sex for the first time a week before they got married. Mum was 19 and Dad 23 – so they were both twenty-nothing! One of my brothers had three kids before he was married and the shunning he received from a lot of our church friends was awful!
On the one hand, I was much older than Mum, Dad, my sister and my eldest brother when I got married and had sex for the first time. But on the other hand, I doubt any of them have done sexual things with anyone other than their spouses like I have. We all have our own sexual journey.
I have read that statistically, most Western Christians are engaging in premarital sex. This has partly to do with the average age of marriage increasing, and probably a lot to do with Western culture. If we continue to hold up the ideal of waiting for marriage, without also upholding love, acceptance and freedom, then premarital sex will only increase, behind closed doors, in secret, with contraception so that people are less likely to get caught. But if we, the church, become more concerned about accepting each other’s sexuality, experiences, decisions, regrets, mistakes and lessons learned, than about upholding an ideal (that most people are failing), then we are much more likely to set people free from sexual bondage, to encourage healthier sexual decisions in the future generations and in our own.