Thursday, December 27, 2012


The Best Things Christian Women Told Me About Sex This Year

Sex and evangelical American religion have a lot in common: Both are weird and personal; both inspire prescriptive, reductive public dialogue; and both are used as conduits for ecstasy, punishment, comfort, self-satisfaction, and pain that can turn into pleasure. When I was a teenager going to music festivals for the first time, I’d watch crowds of people throwing their hands up and feel like I was back in the mega-church where I grew up, a congregation in the tens of thousands that boasted a decent house band and a massive worship center I called the Repentagon. Recently, I disturbed myself by realizing that the name I’ve said more than any other during sex is probably “Jesus.”

Because we rarely see sex and religion intersecting in non-troubling ways, and because it’s unfortunate that “virgin” is a social punch line in a country where Plan B isn't available over the counter, I called up a half-dozen Christian women this year and talked to them about sex.

“He pursued us, and now we belong to Him.”

There’s something Byronic about the way that some churches present the idea of God to young Christians, particularly women. A divine creator romancing fallen humanity through a display of sacrificial devotion far more intense and visceral than anything you’d find in a rom-com — once desired like this, how can we not live in obedient submission? “We are Christ's bride,” one woman told me, fairly breathlessly. “He came and pursued us to be with him, and now we belong to Him, and I think that's really beautiful.”

One woman I interviewed talked about a Bible study she’d gone to in high school: "It was called Sacred Romance. God was the Great Romancer. I was in the middle of a breakup and I just kept telling myself, 'Don’t ever forget that He loves you more than your ex-boyfriend ever did.’"

As for me, I remember a girls-only Bible study session at a middle school church retreat, during which a chirpy blonde woman with glossy pink lips put wedding veils on all our heads, turned on Moulin Rouge, and fast-forwarded to the “Roxanne” scene, the slow grimy drag of that tango. “Remember this feeling,” she told us. “This is what you have to look forward to on your wedding day.” 

“There had been fondling, you know, I’m human.”

It was hard to find someone who’d actually waited until marriage to lose her virginity. I only talked to one woman who did it by the book; to alleviate wedding-night pressure, she and her husband had waited not just until after the wedding but until the morning after. She told me, "I felt so liberated by the fact that I'd never had sex before, not even oral sex. There had been fondling, you know, I’m human. But I felt so protected in that moment, with all expectations stripped away. It was so freeing, so exhilarating."

In many of the stories that felt more familiar, there was still a religious component; one woman had lost her virginity at 14, to a boy she’d met as her mom was dying. “We were just young kids trying to process this thing,” she said. “We cried together almost every day. We were going to church together. We were spiritually close, and it felt right to be physically close. So we started to have sex, a lot of it, all the time.”

Another woman had simply compartmentalized the anti-sex parts of Christianity and decided to trust her instincts: “I have my body image issues — I don't like sitting in my swimsuit next to someone skinny, stuff like that — but with a guy, naked, I feel really comfortable. I’ve always just known what to do.”

For most of these women, their physical convictions were just as important as their spiritual convictions; if the two came into alignment, all the better. One woman, mentally flirting with the idea of sex, experienced clarity one night in Vegas.

"I met this hot cop,” she told me, “like an actual cop who was hot, not a Chippendale. We started making out in the casino — really going at it, it was amazing — and he persuaded me to come up to his room, where we fell onto his bed. He pulled up my dress and got naked all of a sudden and asked, ‘Can I put it in?’ I was totally horrified. I said absolutely not. Then he just sort of put it on top of me. I pretended I heard my phone ringing and basically ran away.”

“It’s a rule to protect you.”

I asked these women the same question over and over. Why is sex before marriage considered wrong? Essentially, everyone answered the same way: “I believe in the Bible, and the Bible says so.” Most added, “But I’m not going to judge anyone who does it.” Most, of course, were also doing it.

It has more to do with your identity as a Christian,” one woman said. “How you see yourself, how you want to feel, how you want to be treated. This is hard for me to articulate, but I think that any sin that we commit comes from an internal issue that we have with ourselves — something we’re born with, like pride or greed. With sex, it could maybe be a problem with self-control, or wanting to receive a certain type of attention or feel a certain way.”

“I think it’s a rule to protect you,” another woman said. “To keep you from opening yourself up emotionally to the wrong people, to heartbreak and hurt.”

I remember when I came home from school in fourth grade wearing my very first purity ring. I waved my hand in the air proudly. “Oh Lord,” said my mom, who is an evangelical Christian. “Take it off, take it off now.”

I was never acting out of an urge that was pure."

Guilt, bargaining, and confusion all played at least minor roles in each woman's story. One talked about a high school boyfriend, saying, "I believed that God wanted the two of us to be together, but that we'd cursed our relationship forever because we'd had sex. There was an inner voice just screaming at me about what I’d done, much louder than the voices that told me not to lie and cheat and steal. I would read books and identify with characters who were prostitutes, that’s how low I felt."

Another brought up middle-school masturbation: "I knew what I was doing, even though I didn’t know the word for it, and I knew it was sinful. I knew even then that I wasn’t taking care of my body in a holy way. I wasn’t acting out of an urge that was pure."

My friend Maya, after her assault: “I was furious at God. I couldn’t understand how I was the only one of our friends who made the decision to stay a virgin, and I loved the decision and defended it, and then He let this happen.”

Purity, this tightly conditioned idea, with so much more to give! In my own life, the times I've felt the purest have involved another trinity — sex, drugs, etc. — and the God that I came to know as a kid, that vague metaphysical presence, was always there in my bones to bless me.

“I have a huge sex drive – it’s how God made me.”

All the women I talked to readily admitted that the evangelical church doesn’t handle sexuality well. From the woman who’d waited until marriage: “It's a big institutional and doctrinal flaw, this idea that sex is bad, sex is wrong. When you're told that your whole life, how are you supposed to just flip that switch when you finally get around to doing it?"

I asked her how long it took to hit her stride with her husband, to feel comfortable having sex. “A while!” she said. “Two or three months, because he was studying for the bar nonstop and we could only really try on weekends. We laughed about it, like, thank goodness we didn’t have anyone else to compare this to.” She added, “But now it’s wonderful. And you know, sex is all over the Bible. God commands us to have communion with each other.”

They all told me that they hoped there would be a generational change in the church, a shifting of priorities. “It’s not our job to grade,” one woman said forcefully. “The emphasis we put on sin is out of proportion. That’s the biggest problem I have with the church.”

Another said, “We should change the conversation. It should be understood that sex is beautiful. It should be more about what you might want to protect yourself against, and how. It should be more about not doing things that could harm you.”

“If I’m truly a Christian, I should be able to understand what grace is. And feeling terrible is not grace,” said another woman, who’d described herself as having “a huge sex drive — it’s how God made me.”

She added, “I went to a bachelorette party where they were asking all the married girls for sex advice for the bride-to-be. I just sat there, listening to them talk about fussy lingerie and complicated games and weird sex menus, and I didn’t say anything, even though I wanted to be like, ‘Girl, just buy a vibrator.’ You know, I have a lot of friends that are waiting, or have waited, and it was great for them. But that’s just not how it’s going to be for me.”

Previously: Interviews With Virgins.

Jia Tolentino is a writer in Michigan. 

133 Comments / Post A Comment


Jia, this was so great, again. I grew up going to a church that sounds pretty similar in viewpoint to these. Cringing now, thinking of the stuff I internalized and the nonsense I used to spout soooo self-righteously! Also "Most, of course, were also doing it." OF COURSE. Everyone thinks they're supposed to wait, but I can EASILY believe it's hard to find someone who actually did.


That's what I continue to be sooo baffled about in our society as whole... We have all these "secret" things that everyone does but the overall social standard is that you aren't supposed to be doing them. Especially with sex.
I find this fascinating and would be really interested in what all the interviewers are teaching their children? Are they approaching the boys and girls differently? Are they being honest about not having waited? (not that I really would have ever asked my parents that... but both of them had a previous marriage going into their current one, so I can already answer that question for myself...)


never disappoints.@j


How many religions were molded by sexual hang-ups?
My wife wanted to wait until marriage. It was shitty and I hated it, but I love her.


@graffin That sounds very shitty. But I know she appreciates it.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@graffin I wonder if she thinks about you in a similar way, tolerating your sex requests, like, "Graffin really wanted to have sex before marriage. It was shitty and I hated it, but I love him."


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose There was a lot of weird conflict with that issue. As a Christian, she had issues with me not wanting to wait and having past experience. As an atheist, I had trouble with what I saw as a crazy religious belief.
We really tried hard to balance our views and be respectful of the other person.


If God ACTUALLY romanced someone, well then, I'd get it. I have read a lot about god sex and it sounds pretty great.


@Megano! Unless God's wife finds out, and you end up getting turned into a swan or a tree or something. That part doesn't sound great.


@SarahDances I would be OK with being a tree, less so a swan.


@Megano! Ha! I would choose swan for sure. Damn beautiful, and everyone fears you.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@iceberg That fear is real, and well deserved.


@Megano! When my boyfriend was a child, he didn't understand all the details of sex, but he knew it was how babies were made and that people said it was enjoyable. So he figured that since Mary was pregnant by God that she had sex with God and therefore was very lucky because she got to have the best sex of all time, since God had to be better than everyone at everything.

279th District Court

@Megano! Actually, lots of saints have described their visions in EXTREMELY sexual terms. I've been reading about Catherine of Siena, and it really starts to make your mind go to dirty places, how often they talk about ecstasy. You can make all the dirty jokes or have the theories about sublimated sexuality, I've read critiques like that, but I also felt it was a big indicator to the Church that sexuality didn't have to be this un-holy thing. In fact, it was a great mirror for relating to experiences of God, at least in the minds of some saints (most of whom were virgins).


@Megano! Hot. Plus like, he made it, so he definitely knows how it all works. *waggles eyebrows

279th District Court

Actually, I hadn't heard that joke before. Thanks! I can't believe the collection of dirty minds assembled in that class didn't hit that one.


and me reading The Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton....

Passion Fruit

Jia, your Interviews with Virgins have been AWESOME and have sparked some incredible conversations on the Hairpin. Thanks to you and all your interviewees!


@Passion Fruit Oh tank u tank u (Lawrence welk voice and for real thank you)


@Passion Fruit I agree. and @j-i-a I hope to see more in the new year!


Okay, this is totally great. But also, this: "I met this hot cop,” she told me, “like an actual cop who was hot, not a Chippendale."

"What? Oh no! It's the cops! Oh! And a construction worker." + "THESE ARE JUST STRIPPERS! LOOK HOW HOT THEY ARE!"

fondue with cheddar

@yeah-elle "They're not going to strip, are they?"
"I told them not to, but I can't promise that their instincts won't kick in."


@yeah-elle Hahaha "Perhaps I should call the 'hot cops' and tell them to come up with something more, nautically themed. Hot sailors, or hot seame-"

fondue with cheddar

@j-i-a I like "hot sailors".


@fondue with cheddar "Me too!"



"You mean you can wear stripper clothes when you're not stripping?"


"You tell me."


I imagine that by 2100 Arrested Development will be like the Bible: a series of 1-3 line references deployed at apropos moments.

fondue with cheddar

@stuffisthings I think it already is!

fondue with cheddar

"It should be more about not doing things that could harm you.”

And also about not doing things that could harm others!


It's so strange to me to read some of this because I know that it's out there (saying sex was a sin and shaming women), but I grew up in a very Christian, very conservative area and a pretty conservative, but practical, household and I don't remember hearing this stuff. My parents very much wanted us to wait until marriage to have sex, but went to great lengths to make sure we knew that sex was a good thing, not a bad thing. My father even made each of us listen to a book on tape by Dr. Dobson, and the only thing I remember about it was him saying that masturbation was perfectly normal and not a sin and to not be ashamed of doing it. That doesn't seem to gel with what I'm always hearing about him and that movement. Maybe I just filtered out all the stuff I didn't agree with and forgot it and only remember the good advice?


@Chrissimas I had the same experience. Conservative and religious family and school. But while they definitely beat into our heads "don't have sex until you're married," it was more along the lines of "it is SO awesome that it will be something special to share only with your spouse." Not "it's dirty and sinful to want it."


@KeLynn @Chrissimas I actually had the same experience too; and I think quite a few of these women did as well; however, the pressure that falls along those positive lines can still get weird, right, or at least induce its fair amount of guilt in people--and I always just find it interesting to see how sex-regulation is justified from any angle other than interpersonal. It's good that Dobson espouses reasonable views on masturbation, at least!


@KeLynn This has been a really interesting point in my Bible study, actually. We were all raised different ways, but they're very much in the "This is God's word and we need to listen to it seriously and live by it," and I'm more "Okay, this was inspired by God but written by man, and if we're making allowances when reading passages about slaves because 'Paul just couldn't imagine a world without slaves, that's how his world worked,' then Paul probably also couldn't conceive of a world where a woman wasn't property and forcing her to wait for marriage ensured no nasty fights over whose property her children were and we should make allowances for that, too." I think they find me a little challenging sometimes.


@packedsuitcase Good for you, and I'm glad you're willing to provide that perspective for them! Seriously, I grew up mainstream Christian but I feel like it took forever for me to hear someone talk about the cultural limitations of the Bible and then it was revelatory when I finally did. I hope your studymates can see that they're lucky to have you.


@SuperGogo Thanks. I think we're lucky to have really open dialogue, and it's very respectful. They point out perspectives I hadn't considered, either, which I really appreciate. I think I found a good group.

279th District Court

@packedsuitcase I am always the troublemaker in Bible study groups too. I don't mean to be!

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I get super weirded out by this whole phenomenon of evangelicals treating Jesus like he's their boyfriend. First of all, he's not your boyfriend. Secondly, if you're looking for someone to measure up to what the religion considers humanity's only perfect human, you're shit out of luck. Third, that's gross, stop it.

Jia, your interviews are always so great. I like that you get past the broad brushstrokes often painted over religion and get into the nuance and diversity of the people within it.

Also, I think it's good to teach girls and boys that sex is something that can overwhelm a person's emotions and that one should have some maturity before embarking. Just flat out teaching that all of it is evil until the magic words are said at the altar is not getting us anywhere.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
Jesus would make a terrible boyfriend anyway.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I don't know, it's a sloppy metaphor for sure, but it seems like a way of saying "don't make your feelings of meaning and importance and lovedness come from what boys want to touch your body." There's some power to that. It's one of the things religion offers, isn't it, a sense of significance and connectedness? And in the case of Christianity one that is personalized in the persona of Jesus.

There's about a thousand years of literary tradition there. The flip side is repression of sexuality in other contexts, sure, but the Church at least used to offer a scope for sensuality and beauty and, well, romantic fixation that's historically been missing from daily life. Now we get it from mass media (I mean, is it healthier to get obsessed with boinking Justin Bieber, or Chris Brown?) but why shouldn't religion continue competing in that game?

Um, I'm an agnostic Jew who is pro-sex. I just think religion has a reasonably good argument for the downside of indiscriminate sexing. It can be a way of losing yourself (as can getting so obsessed with unobtainable sex that you get married, I am not saying they have it all figured out or anything).

Miss Maszkerádi

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose As weird as it usually comes out in American Evangelical circles, the Christ-as-lover metaphor is actually super old and has inspired some tremendous music/poetry in Ye Olde Days. Hildegarde von Bingen has some startlingly innuendo-filled passages in her mystical poems. In Catholic circles there's long been similar quasi-erotic ecstatic devotionals to the Virgin Mary - I've got this all on the brain right now because I've spent the entire week playing 17th century Bohemian Advent/Xmas music and those overheated Marian love poems turn up eeeeverywhere. "Maria, thou lofty field, draped in flowers, bring me the rose of heaven, thou bearing the sweetest fruit" and such. It can actually get quite exquisite -

Which just makes it all the more unfortunate to see the depths to which the literary tradition has fallen - "Jesus Is My Boyfriend", ugh. Banal, mundane, boring, it's 2 am here and I'm talking everyone's ears off about obscure musicology, good night.......


@Countess Maritza Crashaw. Bernini. Andrew Marvell. Nuff said.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose the only thing I remember from my (Lutheran) youth ministry sex ed stuff was that doin it with a girl would release bonding hormones in her brain, or something, and she would follow you around like an imprinted duckling from that point forward, which I guess was supposed to scare us boys. I was confused cuz I thought bonding was the ostensible point of sex, beyond the physical sensation / release. Plus by that point I was solidly into my "pining for female companionship" period by a year or two, so I thought it sounded ideal.

I didn't go to a true blue evangelical church, though. The Christian sex ed people who came to our school were more in that vein and they were far nuttier, conflating the latex allergy warning label on condoms to the lung disease warnings on cigarettes. I didn't have the nerve to speak up in class, but afterwards I confronted the lady and she seemed to have been reciting a script and actually pretty guilty / haunted about the message. We were one of those Midwestern schools that had a strangely robust "pregnancy crisis center" cottage industry and I think she was from that camp.

Thankfully, the school also invited Planned Parenthood to give their spiel (sadly I think they were kicked off the syllabus not long after I aged out) and the college-age women who came and spoke to us were basically the protags from Daria, making a lot of deadpan dick jokes while demonstrating proper condom usage on a banana ("I forgot to bring a penis with me today", etc). Needless to say I was smitten.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
This reminds me of the South Park where they formed a Christian rock band and all the songs were about how they were in love with Jesus:
"I wanna get down on my knees and start pleasing Jesus, I wanna feel his salvation all over my face."




@Countess Maritza But we love obscure musicology!


I would love to hear the rest of this story: "I remember when I came home from school in fourth grade wearing my very first purity ring. I waved my hand in the air proudly. “Oh Lord,” said my mom, who is an evangelical Christian. “Take it off, take it off now.”"

Your mother sounds amazing. It would be really interesting to read how older women are reacting to these new evangelical Christian ideas like "purity rings" which they didn't grow up with but see offered to their daughters. (Also: interesting and weird that this would happen at school without previous notification of parents...).

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@harebell In (private Catholic) high school, we had one student's father come in and tell us about his torrid sexual affairs before giving his life to Jesus, and then he pleaded with us to sign these cards pledging our virginity to the sacred marriage altar. Of course, we just traded them with each other so we'd have each others' V Cards.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

"...we had one student's father come in and tell us about his torrid sexual affairs before giving his life to Jesus, and then he pleaded with us to sign these cards pledging our virginity to the sacred marriage altar."

...because that's not the most fucked-up way EVER to learn about sex. Jesus! (heh, pun intended)

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@wee_ramekin Oh man, and that was just ONE of the many presentations. One year, we were sitting in the adjacent church, watching people on stage use marbles to represent AIDS and a giant, stuffed-animal snake to represent sperm, and told us if the snake can get through a condom, so can a marble. Or something like that. Then they stuck duct tape on us and told us to restick it to other people to show us how we lose our stickiness if we continue to have sex with many people. It was....uncomfortable.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
Lose your stickiness?! They might want to chose a different analogy in the future.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose That's hilarious, because that skeezy father could've basically been saint "da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo" augustine.

What is it with old dudes who are like, "Man I had a wild youth and sewed my seed and had so much FUN, but do not do what I did, ladies, keep your virginity at all costs." Ugh. Do they not understand how youth works??


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I HATE the duct tape analogy. I understand the intended meaning behind it, but there's something terrible about suggesting that someone's expression of love via sex becomes less valued if they have had prior sexual partners. I'm so glad that analogy was not a part of my church experience when I was a teenager.


a chirpy blonde woman with glossy pink lips put wedding veils on all our heads, turned on Moulin Rouge, and fast-forwarded to the “Roxanne” scene, the slow grimy drag of that tango. “Remember this feeling,” she told us. “This is what you have to look forward to on your wedding day.”

If... if that's the case, I did my wedding day wrong.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Scandyhoovian If I'm remembering right, that scene was kind of creepy and rapey, right? Maybe the chirpy lady reeaaalllly into Ewan McGregor?


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Yeah I mean it's been a bit since I saw it but as I understood it you've got the tango people singing about reforming a hooker (so, uh, 'you were a hooker but now you married me so you're reformed'? gross) or you've got Ewan McGregor wailing about how jealous he is. Totally healthy!

you're a kitty!

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose wait there are people who AREN'T really into ewan mcgregor?!


@Scandyhoovian 1) One part is reforming a hooker but I think he actually kills her?
2) Whatsherface (the redhead) is about to be raped by Evil Lord Guy
3) Ewan McGregor wailing.

In my limited imaginings of any wedding I will have, it's never been like that scene. Ick. Poor lighting.


@Scandyhoovian Yeah. I mean, I love Moulin Rogue (and Ewan McGregor), but that isn't really a wedding song. The idea is that Christian's love for Satine is doomed and he was a fool to fall in love with a prostitute. And, I think, to conflate love with sex, because Satine might love him, but sex is her job. That whole "man falls in love with prostitute and gets jealous of her other clients" trope is one I've seen elsewhere.


@Scandyhoovian "First, there is desire. Then, suspicion! Jealousy, anger, betrayal! When love is for the highest bidder, there can be no trust. Without trust, there is no love! Jealousy--yes--jealousy will drive you maaaaaad!" Yeah, that sounds like something I want on my wedding day, yo.

(Sorry I'm getting to this weeks late.)
(mostly this just makes me want to watch Moulin Rouge now.)


My evangelical sister-in-law swears that having pre-marital sex with my brother damaged their marriage. But they seem very happily married, so this confuses me.

I am also a Christian but the much more laid-back sort. Let's view these things in their historical context! Women were property! Jesus just wanted us to stop acting like juiceboxes to each other. Can't we all just agree on that and get along?

My sister-in-law questions that I am actually Christian since I don't believe that every word of the Bible was "god-breathed." So...yeah.


@aproprose Ha! She needs to read a book that's not the fucking Bible.


@aproprose Then I guess I'm not either. We should have a party.


@packedsuitcase Ooo, I go to a liberal church that marches in the pride parade and I'm pretty sure my mom has started praying for my soul, can I come to the party too??


@SuperGogo Heck yes! Everybody's invited. Wine for everybody. (It's cool, guys, Jesus drank it, too!)


@packedsuitcase Oh man! I used to have such arguments with my Evangelical friend because he insisted that Jesus only drank grape juice, and it drove me totally bonkers. Bonkers.

ETA: And I am not even Christian, but historical Jesus-- from my atheist perspective, some dude (one of many at the time, actually) who claimed to be the son of God and savior of his people-- would've definitely drank some dang wine. And what does it mean to save your best grape juice for last?? Clearly still slightly bonkers.


@SuperGogo baha. yeah. my parents (with regards to my pride-loving church) say "at least she still goes." sometimes.


@aproprose Oh my goodness! What a perfect thread to happen upon. I *just* had a discussion with my Evangelical sister. I don't know what I am religiously, but I was saying that if anything, I could believe the Bible is God-inspired, but not that *every* single word is absolutely the word of God (because it was written by imperfect humans), and she said, "Well that's just a battle you'll have to have with yourself." And I was like, "It's not a battle..." Ah, heavy Christmastime conversations! Glad to know I'm not the only one having this talk! How does one reply?


i don't mean to nit-pick, but i'm pretty sure plan b is available over the counter in the united states


@j.a.b. Truth--sorry--I meant for teenagers but forgot to add that important qualification!


@j.a.b. Depends on the pharmacy! Some can deny to fill your prescription for religious reasons. And while this might be illegal, what are you going to do if it's the only pharmacy in town?

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@josefinastrummer Move?

(UGH edited to add that I realize that some women are unable to, and it's not something I should poke fun at.)


@j.a.b. Not if you're under 16. The FDA recommended its allowance to teens a little over a year ago but the HHS rejected the proposal. It came as quite a shock since so many liberals expected Secretary Sebelius to be their champion on the issue.


That is legal in some places. The "Conscience Clause."
But even if you're somewhere where that isn't in place they can just "forget" to reorder and keep it in stock. I know someone with a two year old who she loves dearly but wouldn't be here if the 3+ pharmacies she went to weren't out of Plan B.


@josefinastrummer being available over the counter means you don't need a prescription for a pharmacist to fill. there may be pharmacies that simply refuse to carry it, but that's a separate issue.

@Danzig! true, but lots of laws arbitrarily don't apply to people under 16 (or 18 or 21)


@j.a.b. I was thinking of when you needed a script for it but it's the same thing if the pharmacist refuses to sell you something over the counter. You still aren't getting it.

And I'm Right on Top of that Rose, I hear you! I wouldn't want to live in a place that small and that smallminded but you are right that not everyone is so lucky. I was reading about Native American women who live on reservations and how hard it can be to get Plan B there. That's really sad and scary!


I love this because it's very hard to write about this kind of topic without being condescending ("Oh these poor, naive, unenlightened women!") and you totally nailed it. Edit: best accidental pun ever.

Also, for what it's worth, I saved my v-card for marriage and it was for deeply religious reasons :)


@Hobbes Yeah, I really love Jia's articles. Though I didn't know this before this article, I think it really helps that Jia was raised in an Evangelical household. As someone who wasn't, almost everything that these women are saying is completely outside of my experience; I think her knowledge of both the Evangelical and...non-Evangelical(?) world has brought a really deft touch to these interviews.


@Hobbes It's true. I'm afraid I would be unable to address these views with the understanding and diplomacy required. But I'm one of those asshole atheists who is like, "But WAIT. You ACTUALLY believe that? Wait, wait, wait, okay, how old do you think the earth is?"
I'm trying to expand my worldview a little bit--part of which involves reading articles like this. Jia does a good job of humanizing these women, and making them seem like sensitive, nuanced beings instead of just brainwashed dupes.


I thought this article was fascinating, but I'm concerned by the conflation of "Christian" and "Evangelical" Jia seems to use. I was raised Christian but never taught, in church, in Sunday school, or by my parents, that premarital sex was wrong. I was encouraged to wait until I was "ready" and to pray about it, etc, but the obsession with premarital sex that, at least from this outsider's POV, seems important to nearly every Evangelical denomination is hardly ubiquitous in American or global Christianity. I wonder if there are others who have had that experience, or if it is more uncommon than I had thought.


@gracie_afoot Oh, I don't mean at all to conflate Evangelical Christianity with the faith as a whole or with global Christianity or even American Christianity specifically. Terminologically I could definitely have been clearer, but I also don't want to cloud these stories with the disclaimers about generalization and religion that many people have been generous enough to assume come built-in. These are individuals, not representatives; I grew up right in the middle of this world with Christian parents and never felt weird about having sex whenever I wanted to, etc. For me, it's mostly that this particular, narrow, more-cultural-than-religious perspective on sex and religion is still the one that dominates political discourse in America (despite it being, as you note, difficult to find individuals that are so hard-lined in their personal life) and as such I find it the most interesting to interrogate. Will definitely keep your comment in mind if I start interviewing Christiam women again!


@gracie_afoot I think it's regional and denominational. Southern Baptists, for example... I would be surprised to see them failing to obsess about sex before marriage.


That's the crux of it for me -- what's happening on a personal level in comparison to what's being presented on an organizational one. Much like what someone said up-thread about the "secret" stuff everyone does but no one is allowed to acknowledge.
Nothing frustrates or confuses me more than this. It can be as small as farting or pooping in public or as large as religious teachings on sex. But for fuck sake, how hard should it really be for people to start acting in accordance with how they know things actually function?

Lily Rowan

@j-i-a If nothing else, I do think the most conservative Christians tend to think they are the only Christians -- I grew up in a very liberal church, and have definitely met people who don't think I'm truly Christian, because I'm not born again. (And I mean the most conservative -- not "most conservative Christians.")

Tameka (BloggerPoet)@twitter

Two of the most misunderstood and provocative topics ever. I loved how you drew parallels between sex and religion and it was interesting to hear different POV's from women as well as men (in the comment section). http://venusblogs.com/category/sex/


There’s something Byronic about the way that some churches present the idea of God to young Christians, particularly women. A divine creator romancing fallen humanity through a display of sacrificial devotion far more intense and visceral than anything you’d find in a rom-com — once desired like this, how can we not live in obedient submission? “We are Christ's bride,” one woman told me, fairly breathlessly. “He came and pursued us to be with him, and now we belong to Him, and I think that's really beautiful.”

Ancrene Wisse (a 13th-century guide for anchoresses) has a section in which it compares Jesus to an ideal love, and I find it immensely creepy. (Love Ancrene Wisse, though.)

'Christ, says St Paul, so loved his beloved people that he gave for them the price of himself.' Now pay good attention, my dear sisters, and learn why we should love him.

First, as a man who woos – like a king who loved a noble poor lady from a distant land. He sent his messengers ahead with sealed letters - these were the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament. In the end he came himself and brought the gospel as opened letters, written in his own blood, greetings to his beloved – a salutation of love in order to woo her and gain her love. There is a story about this, an example with a hidden meaning:

A lady was besieged all around with enemies, her land all laid waste, and herself made poor, within a castle made of earth. However, a mighty king loved her so extravagantly that he sent her his messengers in courtship, one after another, often many together; he sent her many fair and splendid gifts, reinforcements and provisions, and help from his noble army to protect her castle. She received all these things without thought, and was so hard-hearted that he was never able to come any closer to her love.

What more do you want? In the end he came himself and showed her his beautiful face, the fairest of all men to look at. He spoke to her so sweetly with words so pleasant that they might bring the dead back to life, performed many marvels and did works of power before her eyes, showed her his power, told her about his kingdom and offered to make her queen of all that he owned. All this was of no use. Is not such disdain a strange thing?

For she was not worthy to be his handmaid. But through his graciousness love had so vanquished him that in the end he said, "Lady, you are beleaguered, and your enemies are so strong that you will not escape their hands by any means without my help; they will put you to a shameful death after all your misery. Because of my love for you, I want to take the battle upon myself and deliver you from those who seek your death. However, I know that among them I shall receive my death-wound, and I will do so with all my heart, to gain your heart. So now I beseech you, for the love which I have made known you to, that you will at least love me after this deed, when I am dead, if you will not when I am alive." The king did all this: he delivered her from all her enemies and was outrageously ill-treated himself, and eventually slain; by a miracle he rose from the dead to life. Was not this lady from the stock of a wicked race, if she did not love him after this above all things?

This king is Jesus, the Son of God, who in this way wooed our souls, which the devil had besieged; and, like a noble suitor, after many messengers and many acts of kindness he came himself to give proof of his love, and showed by his chivalry that he was worthy to be loved.

So, Jesus guilt-trips us into loving him. THANKS. I feel like Harriet Vane; having to be grateful to someone is not easy. I'm certainly not just going to fall in love with them out of obligation.

Miss Maszkerádi

@Verity you quote at length from weird medieval theological manuscripts. I like you. Let us be Hairpin friends and nerd out together :-)


@Verity I love that you compared that to Harriet and Peter's relationship. Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, and Gaudy Night: the best ever exploration of why gratitude is not a good basis for love.


@Countess Maritza Let's!

@darklingplain It really isn't. Oh, Sayers, you're the best.

(Argh, I know I put the things I was quoting in italics when I wrote the above comment! Just pretend they are.)

you're a kitty!

@Verity I am not kidding, this delights me so much. I ended up quoting your comment at length on my tumblr (with a cite/link) — is that okay?


@you're a kitty! That's absolutely fine! I feel internet-famous. (And thanks for formatting it properly so it's actually possible to tell what's me and what isn't; I fail at that.)

you're a kitty!

@Verity Great, thank you!


@you're a kitty! Your Tumblr is great, by the way!

you're a kitty!

@Verity Aw, thank you!

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Is it bad that, despite all of the hard work and research that Jia puts into these pieces, they kind of make me uncomfortable?


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

I'd say it's not bad!

I'm interested: what makes you uncomfortable about them?


@wee_ramekin yeah I'm interested as well


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)
I don't think it's bad to have an honest emotional reaction to something, even if it's not the one most people in this thread are having. I'm an atheist and they make me pretty uncomfortable for that reason, and my boyfriend was raised Evangelical and the beliefs about sexuality are among the ones he experienced as abusive. It's hard for me to read about beliefs I think aren't true, and that have hurt someone I love (as well as some of the people being interviewed), and that they want to justify or somehow make peace with that. So it's uncomfortable for me, personally, even as I find it interesting and really appreciate Jia's work and the interviewees' honesty.

Not saying that has anything to do with your feelings just, yeah, I do not think it's bad at all to feel uncomfortable.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@themmases I'm sort of uncomfortable about them for the opposite reason as you, themmases. Despite Jia's great writing, it still kind of feels like these articles are geared toward the kind of people who see something religion-based as "the establishment," or as something that they used to be but grew out of. It's almost as if they're trying to prove that sometimes virgins aren't weird, even though people who don't have sex are supposed to be weird, right? And church is lame and stuff? And sometimes I just can't get past that, maybe because I've had people think that about me - that just because I happen to practice a certain faith, that I'm different from them but not in a good way. And I know that the Hairpin isn't the kind of environment where we'd disrespect people on purpose, but this has kind of crept back into a few of these articles, and I wasn't sure what to think of that.


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) I can definitely see how someone would read them that way. As awesome as it is that so many of us here have a lot in common (and I have experienced the great feeling of getting "omg are you me", here and elsewhere online, in response to something I'd be scared even to share in real life), I definitely see topics where people seem to assume that others are going to agree, or make it pretty clear that they assume no one like me is reading. I'm still not totally sure how to deal with having my feelings hurt by those assumptions, or feeling like I'm bringing down the mood by voicing disagreement.

I feel like I constantly see the narrative that most people are kind of non-religious/nominally religious (but they feel guilty about that!) until they have kids/someone dies/they try to work on themselves and it suddenly all becomes relevant again. That leaves out people like both of us whose beliefs are already intentional.


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) I am sorry that you feel that way! I don't feel any disrespect at all toward anyone I interview. In this series (which I am moving out of its initial religious focus) I am just tryna represent perspectives that are not often seen. And as I said in this piece, I do view my church upbringing as something I personally moved out of, but I didn't mean that to seem like a universal perspective; it's just one story among all the others. That being said, I will readily admit that I have a problem with the intense political effects of American evangelical Christianity. But I view everyone I talk to for this project respectfully, like a peer, and I admire the hell out of people who do religion thoughtfully and lovingly, and I hope future pieces don't bring up feelings of disrespect for you!

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@j-i-a Thanks, Jia! I'm sorry if my misreading your work was, in itself, disrespectful. I figured that this perspective (or my perception of it) wasn't something that you'd write intentionally, and I really appreciate you writing to me about it.


I've loved this series so much! It makes me feel a lot better knowing that there are other Christian women with the same questions as me about sex and the church. Thank you Jia!!


@heyderpette :) ANYTIME GIRL


Thank the Lord for French Catholics, is all I'm saying. (EDIT: Um, because my girlfriend is one I mean.)


@stuffisthings Do French Catholics have a different approach to sex?


"...during which a chirpy blonde woman with glossy pink lips put wedding veils on all our heads, turned on Moulin Rouge, and fast-forwarded to the “Roxanne” scene, the slow grimy drag of that tango. “Remember this feeling,” she told us. “This is what you have to look forward to on your wedding day.”

That is probably the most fascinating thing I've read all month.


@Killerpants My reaction to that image is: ...the FUCK? Had that lady never seen Moulin Rouge? And also, did she end up molesting a bunch of people?


Once again, hp amazes and educates me with an incredibly well written article. And the comments, the comments, oh, how I love the comments!


While it was awkward as hell at the time, I think my ECLA church did it right. We were told that waiting until marriage was nice and admirable, but really unlikely. So in the meantime, here's how birth control works, the actual names for parts, and even mention of the female orgasm. Could have done without it being a weekend long retreat though. As I said, AWKWARD


@LacunaKale memo to self. ecla is v. cool. i wish my public school sex ed had been that good!

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I find this series really fascinating. As a cradle Catholic, I have always hated the virtue of purity (not least because my name means "pure") because I felt it was a virtue that was defined negatively. You cannot GAIN purity, you can only LOSE it.

Plus, everyone gets pretty ridiculous about teaching it. The worst I've experienced was when I was a graduate student. The undergrads had this tradition where in junior year, their dads would come to campus and they would have this big ceremony where they exchange rings and promise to be faithful to their fathers until they are married. It's like they set out to make the ceremony as much like marrying your father as possible. And the punchline: this wasn't some old tradition but a relatively new one formed in the 1970s in reaction to feminism.

My girlfriend of the time actually participated in it. I remember being totally shocked - and she looked thoroughly sheepish - when she told me. I just couldn't make it compute: you have had sex, you intend to continue having sex, you do not acknowledge your father's right to dictate your sex life, these people probably don't approve of our relationship on principle, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS RITUAL FOR THEM?

And since her dad probably knew most of this, why did it "mean a lot to him"?

Kate Larsen@facebook

I wish this article was called what Evangelical Christian women told me...
I have been a Christian all my life but I never felt guilty or ashamed about sex. I don't think it's wrong to connect to someone in a meaningful way.


Seriously? My boyfriend and I waited until we were married, and it was great! We're Christians, and we waited not because sex was dirty, but because we wanted to establish that God was at the center of our relationship. That statement, of course, would not make any sense if God is only seen as a concept as opposed to the actual, live, divine person that He is, who is involved in our day to day lives. For me and my husband, we know Him to be real, He's done so many miracles in our lives already it's just plain ridiculous to doubt Him. And I believe He's active in our lives because He honors our desire to honor Him. Have we been rewarded for our celibacy? Heck yeah! What started as fun and good, is now great and awesome, and it keeps getting better! God created sex for crying out loud - He meant for it to be awesome! You see, there's no baggage- no comparisons, no disappointments (other than we wished we could do it more often), no insecurities, because there's 100% trust we could be completely vulnerable to each other, and there's constant eagerness to please each other because nothing holds us back! That is how God meant for sex to be, people! AMAZING! ;-)


By the way, we were seven years boyfriend and girlfriend, and now almost seven years married. More in love than ever and looking forward to many more loving years. I swear to you, when it comes to love and relationship, it pays to follow and trust God! Just don't follow an 'idea' or a 'concept' of God, get to know the real Divine Fella! Believe me, when it comes to sex and all that, he knows what's best. ;-)


I am surprised how famous Marlene Dietrich became so famous around the world, not just in the forties but even now. My mother being raised in Mexico most of her life, grew up watching her movies and passed that on to me. I was surprised to know that her image was created throughout her career. She is a natural! Such a strong and beautiful woman. She is such an inspiration!
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