Question 5: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Q: In what ways do your faith and sexuality intersect?

A: This question, as originally conceived, was a question that our Hopeful Abstainer did not wish to answer. I wanted to know what she wanted the church to understand about her sexuality, and her peaceful resistance to this form of the question revealed a bias of my own lurking in the subtext. While I imagined most of our Hopeful Abstainers as eager critics of the church’s sexual ethics, I was pleasantly surprised by her refreshing and gentle refusal. Her answer helped me refine this question, and I think we boiled down the meandering conversation to something like this: Her life has been an opportunity to live the countercultural message of the Bible—that our bodies are sacred by virtue of their created-ness. She ultimately decided to have sex with her husband before the wedding and never found herself wrecked with guilt or with a sense that she had dishonored the image of God in each of their respective bodies. She entered into their physical relationship with respect for herself and her lover—with a commitment to their shared love and humanity. When asked if she would be comfortable if her minister knew about their jumping the proverbial gun, she shot me an easily interpreted stare and volunteered that in her premarital counseling, they weren’t even asked about their sex life. So yes, faith and sex are inextricably bound together in her mind, but the ethical specificity of that is altogether of unclear.

With that, we conclude our first interview. I am grateful to my friend for letting me pry into this uncharted conversation. It seems that we didn’t develop 5 key points to remember when making sexual decisions as a single, 30-something Christian. Though I’m no closer to a definitive answer to this question of mine, I am reassured by the community that is formed when we speak without shame and with a sincere commitment to honesty and a sense of humor. This Hopeful Abstainer challenged the reshaping of my interview questions. Maybe she’s challenging us to ask a different meta question….

Yours Truly,

A Hopeful Abstainer

Question 4: Doin’ the Dirty

Q: Have you decided to wait until marriage to have sex? How did you come to that decision?

A: “I’m too old for this shit.” This was the advice that pushed her into preparations for her first time to sleep with her now husband. At the time, they had been dating over a year, and as a woman in her mid-30s, she was struggling to understand why she was still adhering to the abstinence education of her teen years. While she still felt the Bible had something to say about sex, she worried that she was wasting her prime years and stubbornly clinging to old ideals that no longer felt like her own. And so it was with a simple cliché, “I’m too old for this shit,” she set out to make her preparations. You may know from Hump Day, she had already embarrassingly told her boyfriend that they would not be having sex. However, she planned ahead, began taking birth control and waited until she felt ready. When I asked her for more details about how and why she made her decision, she giggled as she told me about wearing her favorite dress, the sushi restaurant she chose for dinner, and the extraordinary way that everything and nothing changed at the same time. In listening to her story, it was striking that this was a responsible decision made over the course of at least 15 years. And even still, when probed about condoms and birth control, she emphatically shared, “I could not get pregnant before the wedding. I would have died of shame.”

Question 3: Happy Hump Day, Y’all!

I’m thrilled to introduce you to a day that’s really just for fun. It may come as a shock to you that I’ve been occasionally accused of overthinking. So….enjoy a little whimsy.

Q: Tell us about an embarrassing sexual encounter that you can laugh about now.

A: As is often the case for Hopeful Abstainers, the not having of sex often causes more embarrassment than the act itself. When I asked her to tell me a story, she sort of guffawed reminiscing about the moment that she told her now husband that she had never had sex before and wasn’t ready to with him. For those unfamiliar with this horror, she set the stage for us. They were making out on her couch a few months into their relationship. It became clear to her that this particular night required a conversation about her abstinence….Empowered sexual decisions? Virginity? From her account, it went something like this.

“I have to tell you something.” (Sighs heavily and covers face desperately).

Awkward and unbearably long pause.

“Are you ok? I mean? Are we okay? Are you not enjoying something I’m doing?”

(Reluctantly) “No, no. It’s not that.”

“Ok…”

Awkward and unbearably long pause.

“What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

And so the conversation went for another 10 minutes—he, frantically asking questions, and her, slipping deeper and deeper into the panicked, wordless coma of her 30 year old virginal mind. She knew he wasn’t from the subculture of her True Love Waits world, and she liked him. She really liked him. What if he doesn’t understand? What if he thinks I’m crazy or broken?

By some inspired miracle, he finally connected the dots. “Oh. Oh. Ooooooh. I see. You haven’t. I mean. You aren’t. I mean, we aren’t.” With her nod, he went on, “DONT SCARE ME LIKE THAT. DONT EVER DO THAT AGAIN. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. We’ll wait. I thought you were dying or weren’t happy with my (gulp) performance.”

Her advice to others after this experience: Don’t be afraid to put off the conversation (even several months!) until he really likes you. If he’s already hooked, it goes down easier.

We hoped you enjoyed this adorable story!

Joyfully yours,

Two Hopeful Abstainers

Question 2: Oops.

Only 3 days in, and I’m already getting forgetful. This is one of those questions that encouraged me to be self-reflective in my own critiques of religious sex education. Her simple, but thoughtful and sincere answer is worth a ponder. Much has been said about the larger state of affairs in church sex ed, but this is a reminder that each person experiences and interprets their experiences differently.

Q: Tell us about your adolescent sex education.

A: “I learned the mechanics from Dr. James Dobson’s cassette tape. I later learned that my sister cried when she heard the tragic news, but when my parents asked if I had any questions, I was too horrified for tears or questions. After that, we didn’t discuss it much at home. I was enrolled in the True Love Waits class at church, and my parents left the conversation to the Youth Pastor.  I definitely took seriously the idea of saving yourself as a gift to your husband.” When I pressed for more on this topic, she was straightforward and sincere, “I could tell you everything that is messed up about that kind of sex education, but I wouldn’t be saying anything new.” The truth, for her, is simple and optimistic. There are any number of reasons to gratuitously mock abstinence only sex ed, but she doesn’t feel damaged by the general lack of clarity on the subject that persisted through her early 20s. In fact, she is grateful to have inherited a sense of the sacredness of her sexuality, and she’s having good sex now so it couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Sincerely,

Two Hopeful Abstainers

Question 1: Gettin’ Rowdy in College

Please welcome our second guest and first participant in the Sex Quiz! This Hopeful Abstainer’s story patiently refined my original questions over the course of the entire month, and she has a seriously contagious enthusiasm for laughing, biking and adventure. If you have no idea what I’m doing. Check out the introduction to this series here, and consider adding your story.

Q: Tell us about your first (or an early) sexual encounter. Define sexual encounter however you will. What (if any) meaning did you make of it then? What meaning do you make of it in retrospect.

A: “My college roommates were waiting by the door after every one of the 5 dates it took before my college boyfriend kissed me. I would come in and throw myself on the couch in semi-faux desperation.” 5 dates is a respectable waiting period, but for this Hopeful Abstainer, the dates represented 21 years of waiting for that first kiss. When it finally happened, it was a 2 hour affair, and the relief of discovering she could hold her own on the dance floor felt more important than the kissing act itself. That first kiss turned into a boyfriend of 2 years, and she only got up the courage to tell him he was her first kiss a month later. After all of the embarrassment and anxiety over when it would finally happen for her, she was pleased to hear he wouldn’t have supposed her naivety. As with many late bloomers, friends and family told her that college would be her time. Our well-meaning confidants know our discouragement over the dates never enjoyed by the high school version of ourselves, and they regale us with tales of the mature university man who will truly see us. While she believes that her college first kiss was a matter of circumstance not a holy high school decision, she entered that first physical relationship with the training of her True Love Waits curriculum. He was also a Christian so they stuck to strict rules–no sleep overs, no bed time. As far as meaning is concerned, she was honestly just relieved to discover that her mouth seemed to know what to do.

Tomorrow, you’ll hear more about that accompanying sex ed that formed her first encounter.

Gratefully Yours,

Two Hopeful Abstainers

Sex Quiz, Bi$@&es!!

It turns out that my friends and family have more important things to do than create 500-700 word essays about their sex lives for my blogging hobby. This was a sad realization, but quite an understandable one. And so I’ve been on a meandering path to figure out how to elicit the confessions of my venerable Hopeful Abstainers. With the help of a few close friends, I’ve settled on 5 basic questions that get to the core of my quest to tackle this single obsession—how should I live in this body of mine? The interviews thus far have challenged my cynicism, given me reason to laugh with knowing sincerity and deepened my friendships with companions who I’ve known for years but with whom I’ve not breached this topic in such depth.

If you are a stranger who happened upon this blog, I have a few recommendations for you:

  • Consider grabbing a friend and asking each other these questions. If you have time to write it up, please do submit it HERE to share with this community. If you don’t have time for the writing, I think you’ll still enjoy the glass of wine/beer/hard liquor/hot tea and conversation. Community for those Anonymous Abstainers who embrace the complexity and beauty of faith and sex is, after all, the essence of the blog. For more on my purpose and dreams for the conversation, read HERE or HERE.
  • If you aren’t quite ready to share your stories with a person you have to see on the regular, write up your own answers. Read over them; refine them. Discover your own story, and if you feel compelled, share them HERE. I’m still hopeful you’ll find some companions along the journey through the telling of your own story.
  • Lastly, if you read more HERE you’ll find that I define abstinence quite broadly, and I hope that regardless of your gender and sexual identity, marital status, faith/spiritual leanings or sexual ethic you will find that your voice is welcome here. If it ever starts to feel like it isn’t, you should let me know ASAP. I’ll want to rectify that situation pronto.

With gratitude and overwhelming conviction, I invite you to sign up for the blog updates by subscribing to my blog with your email on the right hand side of the screen. I’ll never send you emails directly or share your information ever. You’ll only receive updates from WordPress when a new story is submitted. With all this said, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow morning to begin the unveiling of the 5 questions….

With Anticipation,

A Hopeful Abstainer

Online Dating: Booty Call or Bae?

Online Dating: Where Good Christian Girls Learn Scary Lessons About the Birds and the Bees

Online Dating: Where Height is Relative

Online Dating: Should My Profile Say No Hook Ups or Is That Just Off-Putting?

Online Dating: Where People Meet Without Having to Actually Meet

I feel a game developing. Titles for this blog post. I’d love/be afraid to see them. Anyway, it could be argued that a blog about sex, whose audience is young urban professionals, that does not include a post about online dating is 2 million percent irrelevant. It may also be argued that online dating is ubiquitous so need not be explicitly mentioned. Whichever argument you support, it’s my blog, and I just reentered the world of online dating. So. I’m doing it.

When I first dipped my toes in the tempest waters of online dating, I was quickly sucked away by some heavy undertow. One night I legitimately dropped my phone having been completely horrified by a particularly creepy sex solicitation involving a feet fettish. Yes sir, I do have very nice feet. No stranger, you may not do that to them. I retreated to the warm, sandy beach to catch my breath before building the courage to wade cautiously back into the water. After a few misinterpreted booty calls, I eventually learned to spot the signs of dangerous undertow. When you’ve been living in fear of dating and are wondering how you will ever break free from the baggage of your non-sexEd, online dating can be especially mystifying. There is no shame in that, and I offer a few online profiles that have proven questionable. My apologies to those searching through lady profiles. Please feel free to post your own list in the comments. 

1. He only messages after 12am. My mom was right. There is little good that lurks after midnight even in the city that never sleeps. At the very best, he’s one of those guys trying to make it on Wall Street and thinks a date is meeting up at the company cafeteria and has the erratic travel schedule of a college student backpacking across Europe. The occasional late night prowl is okay, but be weary of patterns, especially if you are a Hopeful Abstainer of the no-sex-with-strangers type.

2. He has a shirtless, headless shot as his first and often only profile pic. While intriguing, the abdomen shot has a clear message. Nuff said.

3. His About Me section is actually just a rant about his cruel and emotionally unavailable is ex. This man needs some time to heal. Do you really want to be the one to pull him out of the funk with your bodacious bod?

4. He generally doesn’t sound like a person you want to know. Being a compassionate social worker type, I gave one too many people the benefit of the doubt. Trust your gut ladies and gents; trust your gut.

5. He asks to move the conversation to text message way too soon. This is a recipe for late night sext requests, unsolicited penis pics or at the very least obnoxious barrages of emojis. Does this guy have a job??? Who has time for all of those emojis on a Monday morning? A gentleman will understand when you request exchanging personal information later.

These are a few of the lessons I have learned the hard way. I’ve always been a tactile learner so I understand if you have to make your own mistakes. Please don’t let me ruin your fun. But if you believe the word of a stranger, I offer you this list with great humility and the hope that your online dating life yields many fun dates and the relationship of your dreams.

Yours Truly,

A Hopeful Abstainer

Lattes & Libido: Why I Don’t Date

After a month break, I am thrilled to host my first guest. Remember that you can add your story here. I received this piece that captures the tumult of being a Hopeful Abstainer in a world that often misunderstands and doubts the plausibility of a sexual ethic other than just do it. I’m sure many of us can relate to these thoughtful questions. I, myself, have witnessed one grown man cry when I mentioned my abstinence, another laughed because he thought I was joking, and more seriously, another didn’t know how to navigate our physical relationship and constantly pushed us further than I felt comfortable. This struggle is truly real, embarrassing, anxiety-ridden and can drive a Hopeful Abstainer to feel like a crazy person. My prayer is that sharing these stories rids them of their power to terrorize us and to keep us enslaved to our shame. May vulnerability and honestly unlock the doors to our lonely attics and invite us downstairs to share in the intimacy, friendship and love of belonging in our own homes.

And so, without further ado, please welcome our brave guest.

____________________________

Once I turned 30…oh, let’s be honest – 25… it became common practice for any woman in my life to regularly inquire about my state of singledom. I’ve long since become immune to it and have plenty of witty retorts standing by for why I’m still single, not dating or not actively trying to be dating (i.e. – internet dating). But on Wednesday I was betrayed by the one thing that was supposed to love & cherish me regardless – Starbucks. The good people behind my beloved Starbucks app have joined the club wanting me to plunge headfirst into the terrifying world of online dating and will even pay for it on my behalf. (Really, Starbs? This is how you pay me back for the $2.67 I give you everyday? Betrayer!!!) Online dating freaks me out for a variety of reasons, but one of the bigger reasons is I have ZERO interest in talking about my sexual history and sexual ethics (totally intertwined for me) with a stranger. I realize I’m a delightful human being with any number of charming characteristics that should make me a catch, but for some reason I feel like sex (or current lack thereof) would come up quicker with some dude from the internet. I just don’t wanna deal with it. I’m blushing just thinking about this imaginary conversation. I realize I’m cutting myself off from a large chunk of the dating pool by not signing up for all these sites (even those Starbucks partners with) but I can’t make the Risk/Reward math work.

So tell me Abstainers – if you’re braver than I and have jumped into online dating, do you announce your Abstaining out & proud? Do you not mention it initially and deal with it in person? On date 2? Moments before you’d stop abstaining? Or have I created an imaginary situation that just doesn’t happen as often as I think it will? Bless you, lovely Abstainer & your bravery!

_____________________________

I invite you to share your support and the ways you have navigated our puzzling questions in the comments. How are you living in this body of yours?

Blue Balls: Yea, I Said That

This post is not funny. I’ve not experienced this humiliation one time in a way that retrospectively makes me chuckle. Perhaps you find credibility in my typically raucous and clear intention to find humor in my feeble attempts to abstain. The mortification of this particular topic stems from two primary sources:

1. The first time a guy asked, I only sort of knew. I had to google it later, and it was terrifying.

2. The question only comes up in close relationships for me. I have to believe that there is a smidgen of relationship potential before it gets to the physical point when he feels the painful urge to ask. In the context of my emotional and physical guard coming down, the question feels laden with unfair blame. I mean, even that stranger on Fire Island didn’t ask. He knew we had pushed things too far for my comfort. He quickly understood that I really hadn’t been playing it coy with the virginity chatter. He took care of himself in the bathroom…like a gentleman.

What is this degrading topic?

Blue balls.

What is this heinous question I dread?

Do you understand blue balls?

It stings and enrages every time a guy asks if you know about blue balls. Every. Time. Yes, I understand. And I am deeply embarrassed that you have to ask me that question right now. I’ve already laid my virginal vulnerabilities at your mercy. Quite honestly, I don’t have a lot of compassion on this one. I’ve made my standards clear. Hold yourself accountable to the same standards by which you are now embarrassing me. Know your body a bit and call it off sooner. Please don’t imply that your painful predicament is entirely my fault. I’m already humiliated enough. AND I need a cold shower, too.

Perhaps there is a scenario in which this harmless question about the discomforting color of your testicles may open an honest conversation leading to improved intimacy and honest mutual consent. Though, I’ve yet to experience it in that way. To be transparent, this humiliation plagued me exactly twice—two times too many—and was preceded by something like this:

“I’ve been having so much fun. I really like you, and um. I need to tell you something. (She smiles meekly) I really, really like you. I just. Well, I just. I mean. I’m not going to sleep with you.”

At times, my list of reasons to dread that vulnerable moment spirals to irrational. And, I do hope that my timing will continue to improve as it seems there are better times to deliver the virgin message than others. Most importantly, I pray that hope, sincerity and honesty will be the mark of my dating relationships. Because quite frankly, I’m working through enough shame and doubt to turn your entire scrotum a rainbow of emotionally conflicted colors, and I’m gonna need you to help a sister out on this one.

Well. There is just really no way to turn that one around now, is there? I’m fighting the urge to explain this sort of rage in a more palatable way. But the truth is that being a hopeful abstainer is more than just a couple of near misses and G-Rated mishaps. It’s an all encompassing effort to wrangle your faith and your body into one being rather than the dissociated mess that both our faith and secular cultures propagate. This rather untoward question about bodily discoloration feels to me only a symptom of a larger, more important question that I continue to ask. How then should we live in these bodies of ours?

Yours Truly,

A Hopeful Abstainer

Make a Joyful Noise: Sex Noises & Church Camp

I learned about sex noises at church camp. The conversation involved at least three of us. Again, I radically altered names to protect the guilty.

Meet the guilty:

Deb: A slender, leggy, Texas equestrian. At one of her infamous sleepovers, we played strip volleyball in the yard. Then, we marched a couple of miles down the country road to toilet paper a boy’s house in the nude. We were caught by her dad.

Brit: A second, slender, leggy, home grown homecoming queen. She dated a Varsity baseball player as a freshman. As roomies at a small Christian college, we kept dorm life spicy with streaking and pants-ing episodes.

Me: A busty, leggy golfer and adamant rule follower. I was definitely in need of some support when we were running, naked, down that country road and was most certainly the last of us to have any sort of relationship to my sexuality.

The three of us were sitting in a dormitory at the University of Houston on a service trip to paint houses in the inner city. My best recollection comes down to this dicey dialogue.

Deb: (giggling) When I get married, I am going to make really loud sex noises.

Brit: (with a loud guffaw) Yea you will. I bet you will be really feisty and loud. You’ll be like, “Oh yeah, ooo, mmm…”

Me: (blushing dramatically) What are y’all talking about? You don’t really have to make noises when you have sex, do you? I mean, it just seems like there is a lot going on there already.

Deb and Brit: (simultaneous) Seriously? Aw, you are so sweet.

Deb: It’s like you can’t help it. The noises just come out, but you have to practice so that you don’t sound stupid.  Like this. (loudly) Aah. Aah. Oooo. More. Yes. You try it.

Me: (emphatically) No way!

Brit: Come on. Try it.

Deb and Brit: (in unison) Aaaaaah. Mmmmmmm. Ooooo. Yea.

Me: (Deb and Brit’s moans continue) You guys. Cut it out. Seriously. Come on. Ugh. Fine. Mmmmmm. Ah. Um. Oo. Ah. Are you happy?

All laughing. End Scene.

Despite and possibly because of moments like these, I loved church camp. I was a church camp junky who kept a spiral notebook with phone numbers and MySpace screen names. I loved all of it–the service projects, daily Bible study, aimless hours playing cards in the dining hall, the pre-camp fundraising talent show. My childhood bestie and I did a bit where we stuck flashlights up our noses, killed the lights and flickered them to the tune of the Dueling Banjos. The crowd roared, and my parents got the discount for kids who participate in the fundraisers. I loved camp so much that I worked three years at a camp. Did I mention? I LOVE camp. Like, I still love camp.

The cynical New Yorker in me is horrified by images of adults hopping up hormonal teenagers on intense prayer experiences, close living quarters and too much sugar. I watched that documentary, Jesus Camp, and ugly cried. I promise my camps were different. I realize it’s like when Bill Clinton promised he did not have sexual relations with that woman. It may be technically true, but who really believed him? You’re just gonna have to trust me on this one.

What remains of my charmed Texas self believes a more intimate spiritual truth. I learned so much of my sense of service, compassion and how to live in Christian community through camp. I learned about forgiveness, friendship and commitment, and I fell in love with Jesus and the Bible. I retreated to remember that my life was more than the angst of being a loud, bookish girl. I found refuge from the sadness of my parents’ divorce. Even now, I believe that God met me at camp, and I feel the embrace of God in remembering that innocent conversation in the UofH dormitory. I’m often hard on my Christian sex education. I fancy myself worldly and educated–preferring complexity in my life of faith. Yet, in the sex noises memory, I see three innocent teenage girls exploring their sexuality. They are naïve and unburdened. They envision a simple Cinderella story and prepare their sex noises for the mind blowing and sentimental sex they will enjoy with the men they love. It’s uncomplicated. Some days, I pray for something that simple. I’m wondering if you do too.

Yours Truly,

A Hopeful Abstainer