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I remember it like it was yesterday, being sat down by my orthodox Christian parents to have “the talk” alongside my older sister. I was only 12 at the time and my sister was 15. It was the most awkward experience of my life. I thought I was going to hear all I needed to know about sex, when in reality, it was only the biblical edition of “the talk,” which was my parents basically telling me not to do it at all. Abstinence was key and my parents drilled that into me by any means necessary, mainly with fear tactics. Premarital sex = sin. While I was told that I would get all types of warts and diseases if I engaged in it, the educational part of the lesson was left out.

From then on, I grew up fearing what would happen if I actually had sex. I didn’t want to get any diseases or piss off God and my family. I also didn’t want to end up pregnant either, and most importantly, I didn’t want to shame myself. I learned that sex was a gift from God to a married couple. I wasn’t married, so therefore I shouldn’t be doing it, right?

But when I got to high school, I couldn’t get away from sex. Through sex education, I was finally given the 4-1-1 on STDs and how to prevent pregnancy. I was curious about it all. All my parents did was scare me into not doing it, but I couldn’t stop or ignore the natural desires of my body. I had questions and I needed some answers. All my friends were doing it and suddenly sex was all they would talk about during our lunch periods. The odd girl out, of course, I had nothing to say. Only my imagination and subscriptions to magazines like Cosmopolitan and Seventeen kept me in the loop and from looking like a total square. I had suddenly become the know-it-all with no experience. The teacher and the student among my friends.

I read about sex. I wrote in my journal about fantasies. I watched those late night shows that would come on HBO and Showtime. I discovered the art of self-exploration, a taboo subject that many conservative churchgoers never touch on (no pun intended). I began to learn my body, scientifically. I was having sex with myself, so therefore I wasn’t going to get pregnant. I wasn’t going to get a STD and I wasn’t defying God. STDs and fear were enough to keep my virginity intact. Whenever my friends would ask, I felt good saying that I was waiting until I was married to have sex. It made me feel important and like I valued myself.

But that didn’t last too long. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I experienced sex for the first time. I felt guilty about my decision. I thought that God was frowning upon me, so I promised that I wouldn’t do it again. Still, I did have sex again. I was in a committed relationship and tried to justify my actions by telling myself that we were going to get married.

When things with this particular guy didn’t work out, that didn’t stop the sexual urges. I found myself having to re-evaluate my entire way of thinking when it came to sex. I didn’t have an excuse or a real reason that could explain anything, other than my body wanting and craving it. For quite some time, I was ashamed of my sexuality, as opposed to being open to embracing it. I was taught to feel this way.

When it comes to why people say that you shouldn’t have sex, there are religious reasons, a lack of commitment in a relationship, and old patriarchal claims that say that women don’t own their sexuality. But as someone who let myself feel ashamed, I would say that if you do have sex, let it be because it was a decision you made for yourself. Oftentimes women, especially women in the church, aren’t taught how to own our sexuality as a part of who we are. We’re taught that sex is for the sole pleasure of someone else, and when we pleasure someone (our husbands), we pleasure ourselves. We live in a society that still shames people because of premarital sex, but ironically, sex is everywhere. While pushing abstinence and sexual purity can be helpful, it can also be dangerous.

Sexual purity principles are really only pushed on women, but when a woman reaches a certain point and her body starts to respond in unfamiliar ways, there is a tendency for those curiosities to go unnoticed or ignored by the church that teaches her these principles. There are no answers and no encouragement for that stage in a young woman’s life.

I was taught to ignore such urges and continue life as a woman rejecting something that was so natural. So when I decided to no longer ignore those urges, I was bombarded with feelings of guilt and I couldn’t help but wonder, why does something that feels so good, make me feel so bad? I didn’t feel bad because I didn’t enjoy it, but rather, I felt bad because I was taught not to enjoy it outside of marriage.

Oftentimes the value of young women is heavily based on their level of sexual purity, which creates many false images of self. Many times those feelings of guilt come from thinking that your value has decreased. In church it’s drilled into us that “most men want a pure woman,” or losing your virginity outside of marriage is “a gift that’s been unwrapped and given to the wrong person,” especially if God didn’t send that man your way. It creates the false idea that our entire worth is tied to that one single aspect of our lives. But thankfully, after more than 10 years of feeling that way, I finally know and feel better.

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