It was during the latest round of former classmate and celebrity wedding announcements that my friends and I noticed the number of soon-to-be brides announcing that they were waiting until their wedding night to have sex. Whether they were virgins or dedicated to celibacy, they wanted it to be known that they were sending a message about their faith through abstention. They were Christians, godly women who would wait until they were with their husbands to share in the joys of sex. I told my friends that when my turn came around I would release a statement saying that it is my Christian duty to have all the sex with my fiancé before our wedding night. My friends laughed me off and blamed it on the alcohol. Granted, I was a little tipsy at the time, but when it comes to marrying my sexuality and spirituality, I have never been more clear.
I grew up in the Black Missionary Baptist Church of the South. When it came to sex, I was taught that it was solely for marriage and, ultimately, for procreation between husband and wife. As the child of unwed parents, I was also a part of the generation growing up in the church who witnessed the shift in ministry geared specifically to our single mothers. The numbers of Black women left broken by toxic relationships, raising children by themselves and turning to church for answers grew by leaps from previous generations. Pastors had the solution: keep your legs closed, wait on God and everything will be okay. Many women did just that. They declared “no more sheets,” became intentionally celibate and waited on God to send their husbands. With close to 50% of Black women having never married, the vast majority are still waiting. All the while, we grew up in homes with women who were trying to reconcile their devotion to God with their lack of intimacy. Some days were better than others, but every day it was clear many of them needed to be held.
Groomed to follow in our mothers’ footsteps and have an unwavering commitment to celibacy, many of us were taught that the most important way we could live out our Christianity was through our virginity. By refusing the flesh, we would be able to show the world how much we love God and then be rewarded with devoted husbands and beautiful children. As many of us leaned into that calling, waiting on God to reward us with husbands and families became increasingly frustrating as we watched women who we knew weren’t virgins get married before us. When one of my classmates celebrated her fifth wedding anniversary delivering twins (and I knew she wasn’t a virgin), I had all the questions for my good Lord. Why?! How?! And when was it my turn?!
Confronting the reality of my singleness, I was forced to face the truth. There is no church girl cheat code to happily ever after. Women with varied sexual experiences are single, married, separated, and divorced. God is not petty. God is not looking at some of us saying, “she had sex the other night. I need to push her husband back a few decades.” The moment I understood that my marital status (or lack thereof) had nothing to do with my prior sexual experiences, I was able to tell a truth the church would dare I not: I like sex. I was honestly tired of pretending like I didn’t. I tried to make myself feel bad after sex but I wasn’t upset at myself for having it. I was disappointed in myself because I was told that I should be disappointed in me. I couldn’t force myself into guilt. Instead of trying, I chose to explore how it was possible that I could lean into intimacy as an unmarried Christian woman and feel free. In the intimate space, I am able to be touched and remember that God never meant for us to do life alone. I am held and am reminded of the importance of human connectivity; we are responsible for each other’s care.
I believe Jesus when he said that he came to give us abundant life. Denying myself real pleasure and deep joy contradicts that. Believing that I am not supposed to experience the intimacy God designed my body for until I’m married devalues creation and is just ridiculous. What if I never get married? Should I not still experience physical pleasure and joy? There is something unholy about a God who would require that I maneuver through this anti-Black, anti-woman world without a soft place to land. When those places present themselves, I recognize them as the divine gifts they are and lean fully into them. When I removed the expectations others gave me and rested in the beauty of my own relationship with God, I understood that God saw me in the totality of who I am and never as a sexual being fighting to become a spiritual one. God created me to be all the things that I am at once: sensual, discerning, erotic, prayerful. I am all of these things. My moans reach as high as my prayers; both are sacred sounds.
I am Christian and I am deeply churched. My future will always include a commitment to the local church and pushing the church universal to be well. My hope is that the generations behind us can see more models of what it looks like to find synergy within themselves and live there. I don’t want them witnessing how we have been deformed due to a lack of intimacy and believe it is the hallmark of Black women’s Christianity. Whether they make engagement announcements or not, I want them to know that is possible to be fulfilled in all areas of their life. They don’t have to lack. They can choose the abundance that is already theirs.