Back in the day, one didn’t discuss one’s virginity. It was a private matter and questioning another’s purity was considered impertinent.
Cut to the modern day, and most 16-year-olds are desperate to be ‘rid of it’; their predicament in purity not dissimilar to a bout of smallpox. So you can imagine that when I confess to my faithless friends that, at 34, I’m saving myself for marriage, I receive a few raised eyebrows.
I have previously explored bedroom antics, however. I had three sexual relationships in my 20s. *Crash. Bang. Cutlery everywhere.*
‘But why? You’ve done it before? Your cherry was monumentally lost at 23. Surely there’s no point now?’ they ask.
‘Would that same justification work for Aileen Wuornos becoming a serial killer? I mean, when you’ve done it once…?’ I respond.
For me, it took a few heartbreaks, my body’s hideous reaction to the contraceptive pill and lashings of fear that the boyfriend could still leave me the morning after before I began to learn why God wanted us to save it for marriage.
Back to my youth
I was an only child growing up, raised by two very loving Baptist ministers who dressed me in used curtains. My parents didn’t care for the latest trends. Everything they needed was in God, relationship and community.
The words ‘sin’ and ‘mortification of the flesh’ were never used in my household, contrary to what my school friends might have assumed. Sex was a beautiful, sanctified union within marriage, and to keep it beautiful you didn’t share it with anyone until the words ‘I do’ were uttered through your veil. My parents taught me what they knew and I adored them. But I was growing up within a very different culture, where serving my sexual desires was an expectation.
I was a laughing stock at school for my virginity, but I put that down to being individual. I didn’t find any amusement in the sexual laboratory that occurred among my peers between the ages of 15 and 18. I refused to buckle to the pressure of people who were making sex look as desirable as swallowing a glass of water from the Thames. So, at 16, sex wasn’t for me.
"I loved God, but what about all the sexual feelings I was encountering?"
Two different worlds
Meanwhile, the Church was becoming more prudish in its approach to sexuality. Nothing was said from the pulpit on the topic that was bandied around the classroom like the latest footy score. I lived in bipolar environments: a loving church that wouldn’t share the dirt; and a decadent teenage angst, a group with no idea who they were but who were always up for a laugh, no matter at whose expense.
It was hush-hush and swept under the carpet if anyone ‘made a mistake’ within my church environment. Shame mounted. There was no listening heart to run to; instead there was a fear of rejection and a loss of respect. I loved God, but what about all the sexual feelings I was encountering? My purity became an expression of perfectionism and the fear of making mistakes grew. I hadn’t asked the important question: ‘Why doesn’t God want us to have sexual pleasure with people before we marry? He invented the orgasm, didn’t he?’ Instead, I kept my inquisitive thoughts to myself.
As long as my father was the central male influence in my life – pouring value into me like oxygen – I had no problem with rejection from men who wouldn’t wait until marriage for sex. It was the greatest ‘man test’ of the ’90s. But the more women who were happy to have sex outside of commitment, the more options I lost. And the more women who placed their bodies into the ‘accessible’ bracket, the more we competed with each other.
When I shared my stance on sex, there were usually two responses from men. The first would be a suggestion of a summer wedding, with no need for a long engagement…after two weeks of dating. The second was a look of horror, as if I were telling them I had committed credit card fraud with their billion-dollar Amex account. So I soon learnt to have the ‘sex talk’ on the first date. Better yet, I got friends to tell them in advance so I didn’t have to waste an evening.
"It was hush-hush and swept under the carpet if anyone made a mistake"
The arrival of the naughties
The decade commencing in 2000, ironically named the naughties, was when I lost my virginity, aged 23. A concoction of tragedy and a sense of isolation in my ‘no sex’ approach wore me down. My father died very suddenly, and not long afterwards four other beloveds followed suit. I began to lose hope in God.
So I engaged in the audacity of self-gratification, thinking: ‘If God isn’t protecting me from all this death, I’ll rid myself of faith altogether.’
I naively concluded that my faith was second-hand and picked up angry atheism. I spent a couple of years battling against the idea of God’s existence and, amid all this, I satiated my sexual desires, heightened by a need for male affirmation to fulfil my need for a father figure.
I had nothing to hold out for, no God to be true to and no remaining identity of my own as a daughter. The question, ‘Whose am I?’ was a perpetual battle. I sought to be known within the physicality of sex. While the whole affair was fun in some ways, it had a painful long-term effect that left me hung out to dry; still unknown, still misunderstood.
Sex did make me feel connected, for a moment. It made me feel part of the 21st century, for a moment. But it made me stay in the wrong relationships for too long. It introduced me to greater fear of abandonment and, therefore, co-dependency. It didn’t make a man love me any more than he did when I was a virgin.
Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity Kris Vallotton and Jason Vallotton (Regal Books)
Boundaries in Dating: Making Dating Work Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Zondervan)
Love & War: Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed of John and Stasi Eldredge (Hodder & Stoughton)
I returned to faith around the age of 27, but my belt of purity was still a little loose. A mistake or three turned into a justification of why it would be ok to have sex before marriage: ‘They didn’t have contraceptive pills in those days’ or ‘Biblical women married at 14’. I had no conviction; I had too many ‘walls’ to be convicted. Too much pride, too much arrogance.
Conviction isn’t about shame, it’s an invitation. And therefore it’s a chance to celebrate learning something about the God we hadn’t understood beforehand. On this occasion it looked like a father trying to tell his daughter that the bond of sex was made powerful for a reason. It is potent enough to hold people together and can also tear them apart.
‘You’re missing out on the whole point, sweetheart,’ God told me. ‘The joy of sex is to have no walls, no need for protection, because the man himself plans to protect you forever.’
It was the enemy that distorted my view of God’s most powerful weapon to keep intimacy alive, and it had become the most powerful weapon to ruin myself. Following that revelation I handed over the reins and my sex life, bringing myself back to self-value. I was helped by strong male leaders who loved their wives, were unafraid to gently confront and were willing to love me in my mess.
"The healthiest relationship decisions take place within purity"
Setting shame aside
Up to this point, I hadn’t had much education or understanding on purity. In previous years, no one had been honest with me until I began speaking up myself. It turned out that more than a few of us were in the same boat, leading sexual lifestyles outside the marriage covenant, yet still attending church. We had lost sight of the reason for purity a long time back. Church leaders were often embarrassed by our mistakes. Like guilty politicians, very few at that time were ‘available for comment’.
Somewhere between the heartache of break-ups and the power of an omniscient yet paternal love, God bought me back to an original design, based on his ideas; not my own and not those of the culture in which I live.
If shame was still my friend I wouldn’t be writing this article. I wouldn’t be sharing anything if I hadn’t been introduced to myself once more. I’ve made a decision to not allow anything to rob me of that original design. All that searching for false intimacy made me lose the best version of myself.
But oh, how beautiful grace has been; not punishing, but raising my heart up from the ashes where I once buried myself in the wrong form of desire. Grace has not only put right my own heart, but other women’s hearts as they hear the stories unfold in my journey. I might have finally forgiven myself, but God hadn’t forgotten that I might need some healing. So he brought men into my life who chose to value and honour me because I was finally honouring myself.
Today my boyfriend refuses to leave fingerprints on me unless I’m ‘all his one day’. Not out of fear, but out of honour. We have a supportive group of Christians in our lives who are aware of how high our sex drives are. We’ve talked openly with our church leaders about this stuff, so much so that within half an hour I could bump into four different leaders all asking how our purity plan is going.
‘What’s this obsession with our purity plan?’ I ask. ‘We know you. We know him. We love you. You’re like rabbits on heat, so we’re just looking out for you,’ they reply.
My pride is never so great that I won’t be accountable to others or begin to ignore my blind spots. Recently, my mentor even asked me: ‘So, are you guys kissing? Like, with tongues? What about hands? You talk about not having sex these days, but truly, where are your hands? And none of this, “We keep one foot on the floor at all times”. Those people clearly don’t know how to have sex standing up.’
These are the people I surround myself with today. Honest fathers who love me but want me to develop an emotional connection before a physical one and, greater still, to have the most intimate relationship with God possible.
Single Christians say…
According to a survey of 3,000 Christians, 94% of whom were single:
54% hadn’t been on a date in the last year and only 5% date often
57% would only marry a Christian; 42% might marry a non-Christian rather than stay single
51% believe that sex belongs only in marriage and are fine with this; 27% believe this but find it hard to accept and live by
14% thought it was ok to have sex before marriage, providing it took place within a loving, committed relationship
Managing sexual desire
To deny sexual desire is to deny part of God’s design, but how we manage it can only be constructed within the intimacy of a relationship with him. It cannot be suffocated; it must be openly examined.
My friends who have faced divorce have suffered this dichotomy the most. They have already waited for covenant, have been monumentally hurt in marriage and are still wired to be sexual beings. So what of it? I wouldn’t want us to give up on round two for marriage. Regardless of hurts, we must react with a foundation in self-love, not self-sabotage.
The healthiest relationship decisions take place within purity. Outside of it comes co-dependency, fear and a need to fix those hurts within the walls of sexual exploitation. The Church needs to be overtly confident in talking about sexuality and rejoice in it so that we find more breakthroughs in vulnerability, in honesty and in hope.
The power of daughterhood
Regardless of age, daughterhood has helped me access a greater wisdom and sureness of my own identity. I’ve never felt more fulfilled in relationships than I do today and, as like attracts like, the more I have loved myself through God’s eyes, the greater the love I have found in relationships with men.
All that time apart from God I had been searching for myself, when the creator had been trying to show me who I was all along. All it took was inspiration from some godly marriages, a little love in my mess and a sprinkling of honesty from those who had walked this road before me.
In the end, it had nothing to do with the beauty of sex and everything to do with the joy that purity brings. As Christian musician John-Paul Gentile wrote: ‘The “fight” for purity is merely taking your urges and emotions off the throne of your life and letting them serve you instead of you serving them…Purity costs you so much. But the highest costs communicate the highest worth.’
Carrie Lloyd’s new book, The Virgin Monologues: Navigating Sex, Singleness and Contentment (Authentic), launches in November.
Follow Carrie @CarrieGracey
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