Today’s Sex and the Church post comes from my newly-wedded friend Meredith. Mere and I went to Wheaton together. We were both on staff for the newspaper and took some of the same writing classes. It wasn’t until after Wheaton that I realized just how wildly talented she is. Meredith’s writing is witty, insightful, genuine, and often pee-your-pants funny. I’m so excited to add her voice to this series. I love this piece SO MUCH partly because I can relate to it so well, but also because it’s another story no one ever tells. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. For more from Meredith, be sure to check out her blog, Very Revealing and follow her on Twitter @MeredithBazzoli.
The CTA brown line became my converse confessional booth. Sometimes a truth wells up to the tip of my tongue and I know that in the next hour or so, I will unleash it on the innocent person sitting next to me. In this case, it was my friend Ann.
Taken out of the warm lap of evangelicalism, my pearl of great price got turned on its head. In the past, friends disclosed illicit missteps to youth pastors and close circles of friends; as an adult, I found that within my new communities I had the dirty secret.
My sin? Unlike my friends who “fell off the path” and let boys’ hands wander too far up their shirts, I carried the sin of inexperience, omission, naïveté.
- To those who thought me an experienced woman of the world, I want you to know that I lost my virginity just over a month ago. And not even on my wedding night; we watched “Too Cute: Pint Sized Edition” on Animal Planet.
- To those of you think I completed a task of great personal will power and moral strength, I must confess that, most of my life, remaining celibate was out of my hands. It would have been much harder to abstain from gluten, dairy, or television than saving sex for marriage.
I want to talk about virginity not as prize accomplished or a misguided evangelical pursuit, but as a mundane reality, not only for those who signed pledges and sealed themselves with purity rings, but also those who just ended up that way.
I grew up in an evangelical household during the “True Love Waits” movement. No one ever presented word-for-word biblical evidence to keep my legs closed, but sex sounded scary and magical—saving myself sounded romantic.
My parents gave me a ring on my 13th birthday. They ordered it from a Christian book distributor, and it quickly bent to the shape of my ring finger. I penned a diary to my future husband and listened to love songs from musicals before bedtime. When no teenage boys knocked down my door to have their way with me, “waiting” and “saving myself” occupied my thoughts and satisfied the unease of loneliness.
My middle school and high school years passed with little to no romantic activity, let alone sexual activity. At times I wondered if a Rumplestiltskin-esque character made a bargain with my parents to keep suitors away from my “gift” until the correct prince came to unshackle me from my obscurity and to claim his prize, a girl who mentors mused might just be “too intimidating for boys.”
Mostly, I suspected that I was an ugly, kurmugeony thing, too furry and sweaty to land myself a boyfriend, or even a date to a school event.
The summer before college, I began my first long-term relationship with a boy from my church youth group. We were longtime friends taking baby steps out of the friend zone.
Each physical mile-marker scared me, not as gateway drugs into sexual immorality but as feats of physics—two inexperienced bodies fumbling towards one another, learning to interlace fingers and willing lips to meet.
We were young and I remained pure from sheer inertia. We had few opportunities to push the envelope of our purity since I lived in a dorm room at a Christian college, and he lived with his parents. I figured that we would get married, and as we discussed timelines and dates, waiting seemed manageable.
During this time, I made my decision to remain a virgin, in part, due to my anxiety and fear. With little boy experience since an “I’ll show you mine-you show me yours” encounter with the backdoor neighbor, nakedness terrified me.
I loathed my swirling patches of body hair and the way my thighs brushed together; I worried my nipples weren’t the right size. I wore an ultra-modest, Lands-End bathing suit made for moms wanting to hide their baby bodies, complete with a mid-thigh length skirt and a control top.
I held on to my virginity long enough for my heart to get broken. The man I thought I wanted to marry walked away.
I imagined him having illicit romps with other girls, betraying what felt like our shared vow to stay virgins. He zoomed away with little explanation, and I suffocated in the dust, sure I’d missed my one chance at marriage and sex.
Shortly the break up, I got my first gynecological exam. I dutifully answered the nurse’s questions about my sexual activity:
No, I’m not sexually active.
Yes, I’m sure.
Zero sexual partners.
Is there an option for less than one time?
Yes, I’m sure.
No, there is no possibility that I could be pregnant barring being raped in my sleep or receiving the second messiah.
No, I’m not a Mormon.
In my twenties, the prospects remained equally bleak. This time around I was in the places where people meet people, bars and theatres and the parties of mutual friends.
No one ever tried to bed me.
The closest I got was someone else thinking I was going to hook up with someone. One night at a bar, a male colleague started to interrogate me about my faith, picking obscure Old Testament passages to trap me into making broad admissions about my beliefs. As we talked about the Philistines, our friends continued to drink, and soon decided that we, being engrossed in conversation, were in the process of hooking up. Across the way I heard my friend utter, “I think he’s going to bang her.”
Um no, absolutely not.
One, Two, skip a few more eventless years…
And then, Drew.
We re-met in July of last year, we started dating last August, and we got married this September. Sexual purity was low on the list of reasons to marry sooner rather than later. However the ability to cohabitate did definitely weigh in. Mostly, we clicked, in the sort of nauseating cosmic way. We knew we wanted to spend all of life together, and we wanted to start soon.
At the end of the day, we had both committed to remain celibate until marriage. For good, bad, and negligible reasons, we came to our relationship as 25-year-old virgins, equally rejected by all possible dating scenes and goofy in love with each other.
Although the fire of our early relationship made me question whether I’d keep my teenage pledge, things got dark fast. And then darker still. My mental illness, my mother’s cancer, and the injury and trauma caused by a dog attack left us weak, and not much in the mood for hanky panky. On top of that, I spent the majority of our relationship on anti-depressants that entirely muted my sex drive.
We didn’t go without talking about these things, shutting away the physical and embodied parts of our relationship to rattle on the fringes of our consciousness. Our attraction for each other felt profound. I knew Drew desired me and I him, but we saw our sexual relationship as a journey, one we wanted to continue into our seventies; the choices we made day to day didn’t hold pressure or urgency. Many days, I just needed Drew to hold me. This intimacy cut through layers and layers of me, leaving me much more naked then I knew I could be, far past my furry belly button and possibly unattractive nipples.
I don’t want to totally underplay my commitment to stay a virgin. There are few things I’ve stuck with since the 7th grade. Since that time, I’ve fallen off the wagon on tens of diets and wellness plans, discarded a beginning of the school year ritual*, and changed my opinion on many vegetables. (*It involved candles.)
I made choices about my sexuality and took agency at pivotal moments in my life, sometimes for reason of virtue but often out of fear or inaction. Virginity happened for me, it worked out in my case. And I’m grateful. I could find no greater partner to navigate the hilarious, scary, wonderful adventure of bodies becoming one.
If there is any challenge in this piece, I’d ask people to revisit and expand their idea of virgins. I know some virgins my age, some younger, and even a few forty-year-old virgins.
Some make hard choices all the time, while others remain unwilling virgins forced by circumstance over any religious commitment. All our stories are different and very few involve pioneer dresses, homeschooler braids, or being Mormon. Well, I did wear a pioneer costume as a docent in a museum, but that’s another essay.
The brown line neared my stop, creating a timeline for the secret burning behind my lips. Ann may have been mid-sentence, or maybe she was silent, I was only listening to the anxiety cyclone twirling its way through my nervous system and back again.
“I’m a virgin!” I blurted out.
“Yeah, I know.”
Meredith Bazzoli is a comedian and writer living just outside Chicago. She spends her days as an instructional assistant on the west side of Chicago and her nights practicing and performing improv. She loves hosting and DIY projects and her tall, dark, and handsome husband Drew. Meredith loves hearing and recording other’s stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday.
Image Credits: L -Train by Alex D Stewart on Flickr, Drew and Meredith by T and C Photographie