In high school I knew I wanted to be a pastor. I lived for church. I yearned for church. It was the place I wanted to be at all times. I tried to “save” my friends. I was worried about my eternal salvation and of course, like any good Christian girl, I was worried about my virginity. I blushed at the thought of kissing a boy. I prayed for people who talked about blowjobs on the school bus. I was a good girl. I didn’t do those things.
In college I studied religion. I still wanted to be a pastor…maybe…sort of. I was still protecting my virginity, but with way less fierceness. Now I just felt embarrassed. I blushed when people talked about sex and blowjobs because I wanted to join in the conversation, but didn’t know how. I wanted to be a pastor, but how could I be a pastor when I also wanted to have sex? Being a Christian and having sex before marriage wasn’t an option, this I knew.
In high school a former Miss America came to talk to us about abstinence. She told us about her bad relationships, about the men who tried to force her to sleep with them. She told us about how she resisted, because she knew she was worth it. She told us about how sex, for the first time, with her husband, was wonderful.
In college no one forced me to try and sleep with them. No one forced me to do anything. I wanted to. But I was also afraid.
In high school a friend took me to her church’s youth group where the youth pastor let us know—in no uncertain terms—that if we had sex before marriage we were damaged goods. We were going to hell.
In college I tried hard to reconcile the God I was learning about with the God I knew in high school. The one who watched my virginity with a magnifying glass. They did not seem like the same being. I was learning about a radical God who loved everyone. I was learning about a God who was less interested in whom I was climbing into bed with and more interested in whose rights I was fighting to protect. More interested in the good I was doing, in the love I was showing, in the injustices I was speaking out against.
I grew up thinking that I had to guard myself, protect myself, because a wrathful God was watching over me. One who was ready to condemn me to hell for the first impure thought or the first move I made towards being sexually active. This way of thinking was damaging. Whoever taught this to me did not protect me but instead ruined my self-esteem and caused me to be afraid of my own body, afraid of my own sexuality.
It is funny now, because the place that pulled me from this shameful spiral about my body and my sexuality, was divinity school. I went to divinity school because despite everything I was taught about God I wanted to know more. I yearned for a God that wasn’t the wrathful, vengeful creature who would send me to hell. And I found her, in divinity school. She was there waiting for me to embrace myself. She taught me that my body is part of God. My body is divine because I am modeled after a divine being.
I did not have sex until I was twenty-three. In many ways I’m glad, because by that time I knew and understood my body and was content in my womanhood. If I had been sexually active sooner I don’t know if I would have been so confident. In fact, I am sure that I would have spiraled down into a deep depression, thinking that I had angered God. Thinking that God cared that much about who I was sleeping with. But I’m also sad that I waited so long. I’m sad that no one taught me sooner that our bodies are our own and we get to choose what we do with them. I did not choose abstinence only; it was forced upon on me by a culture that shamed me into believing that if I gave my body away to soon I would never be pure again. I would never be good again.
I call purity a myth because there is no such thing as a pure body or a virgin. We’ve created this myth in our culture to keep girls and women in line. I do not know any men who were given the same message growing up. I do not know any men who were told that if they had sex before marriage they would no longer be pure for their future wives. I do not know any men who were told they could pray back their virginity; they could get a second chance.
Instead of teaching me to pray for a pure body, I wish someone had taught me to ask questions of my sexual partners, to insist upon STD testing, to understand what birth control can do to my body, to understand that I had choices when it came to the kind of birth control that I wanted to use. These are the kind of things—especially the later—that I am still learning as I approach thirty. These are the kinds of things I’m still embarrassed that I don’t know enough about. These are the kinds of things I’m advocating for as I learn more. Girls should never be taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin. They should never be taught that God is wrathful and will not love them if they choose to become sexually active before marriage. Girls should be taught to love their bodies, to embrace their sexuality, and to see God as the creator and giver of both.
-Julia Nusbaum, Creator
Julia is the creator of HerStory Blog and currently lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She loves yoga, books, kittens, history, intersectional feminism, and telling your stories.