Christianity, The Patriarchy & “Virginity”
First, I long abandoned the Christian notion that sex was strictly for marriage.
Secondly, I’m writing this under a pseudonym; all names have been changed.
Who am I? I’m a 20 something-year-old New York Transplant. I’ve been here for about four years now, and I chose the middle of a pandemic to foray into hookup culture. I laughingly described myself as half a virgin. Virginity, the stupid patriarchal concept that it is, is my descriptor.
Matched, texted, sexted, plans made, ghosted. I’ve been through this vicious cycle three times in the last three weeks. Tinder is a dumpster fire. Tinder in NYC during a global pandemic is a dumpster fire on a sinking ship. Yet, I always find myself swiping when I’m bored.
I’m wondering how I got here. I’m attractive but not hot— I think— at least I’ve got friends and acquaintances who will back up that claim. I think I’m an interesting enough person- and I don’t meet most of the criteria for what white cis heteronormative society would deem an outcast.
You’d think it’d be easier to hook up for someone like me, even in these unconventional times. My friends and I regularly make fun of our cringy profile matches over drinks and a shared photos file. I’ll admit, I’m meaner and more judgmental on the apps than I am in real life. I do this because I feel like I was cheated out of my conventional exploratory period, the discovery of sex, ideally including hot men with six-packs and whatnot.
One thing that might be the cause is that I come from a fundamentalist Christian background. I grew up in the South. And Christianity fucked up my sex life.
You see, I never had the opportunity before, so why not now?
How Fundamentalist Christianity Fucked Up My Sex Life
I attended a traditional Christianity-based Bible college. For those of you who don’t know what Bible College is, these are schools for the ultra-religious to achieve degrees like Chaplin, divinity, and theology. These colleges often place God and finding a spouse over education. Chapel class was mandatory, gender roles were strictly enforced, and engagements by spring of senior year were highly sought after.
I never felt like I fit that Christian Evangelical mold, though, for more reasons than one. There are many reasons that friends of mine growing up have now left The Church and religion altogether. I didn’t feel like I had that choice. I still don’t feel like I have that choice. There is a part of me that still sees my religious beginnings as an intrinsic part of me, however damning and damaging that part may be.
So where can I start? Well for those of you who don’t know, most Evangelical Christians strictly believe that sex is reserved for marriage. And everything that comes with it. They believe that marital rape can be sanctioned by God and that there is no joy in sex outside of marriage. On top of that, there are the gender-specific roles of Christianity Purity Culture. The insidious messaging that a woman’s purpose is to find a husband, procreate, and expand the church and that she finds joy and fulfillment and blah blah blah. There’s literally an entire industry dedicated to keeping women away from sex and expelling those that choose to express themselves sexually. Linda K. Klien has an amazing book that describes the damage in detail by traumatic detail.
My days in college had been filled with closely monitored, awkward attempts at courtship that had the community gossip abuzz, or unrequited crushes that never went farther than my imagination. Dating only occurred within the small pool of churchgoers that almost felt incestuous: small community and strict criteria for choosing partners.
College is also where I discovered porn. Thinking I was going to Hell, I sought it out more with curiosity than for pleasure-seeking since I never had SexEd. Not a single person had ever told me what masturbation was or that sex could be pleasurable for women. Reading porn was more my speed. I created library accounts and a Reddit under a fake email in order to avoid the discovery of my explorations. That was probably a little over the top, but I couldn’t be too careful. Those steamy romance novels were just too damn good. But the anxiety it induced hung over me like a noose. It was a terrifying and shameful existence that I endured until I was finally financially able to leave.
New York & New Sexual Adventures
Thank God I moved to New York. Once here, the real exploration began.
I can number the men I’ve had sexual encounters with on one hand. And 3 of those were over Snapchat. So you can imagine how well that went. The other two, however, are more or less seared into my mind.
I still remember the first time I rubbed my boyfriend through his jeans. I had a panic attack afterward. Both of us still had our clothes on. He was my first boyfriend in my first New York apartment in my first year of grad school. I had never lived so far from home, never had a guy take interest in me where the feeling was mutual. We didn’t go farther than that. He broke up with me a week later. And I cried for an hour in my therapist’s office. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had long left the Christianity-embedded idea of virginity and sexual sin but it was like my body couldn’t get with the picture. My brain was insisting that I wanted sex, that I wanted to explore, to try, but my body would freeze every time something was initiated.
Years later, I met a guy online who seemed genuine enough. Does that mean I still didn’t go internet sleuthing to make sure I didn’t end up dismembered in a dumpster? Absolutely not. Dating in NYC is about as tricky as trying to do sudoku while in a cage underwater. Eventually, we ended up back at his place. I have to admit I probably had more feelings for his apartment with a balcony on the Upper West Side than I did for this man. Regardless, he somehow coaxed me into “going farther” than I ever had that night.
I still had a panic attack. I couldn’t “go through with it”, he was manipulative, he was pushy, he didn’t want to wear a condom. But I still ended up naked in his bed. For those reasons alone I should’ve left. But I somehow let him talk me into staying the night. This didn’t last a week and I took Plan B while panicking the next day.
It is extremely helpful that my therapist not only specializes in religious trauma (which I undoubtedly have from Christianity) but also is also a sex therapist. She helps me normalize the things that I thought were abnormal and calms me down in my extremities. She’s been with me throughout this entire journey. From the first date to the first time. She’s been the most consistent thing in my time here.
When I finally met the right man for my first time, I went into the night with confidence and determination. We didn’t message much, but I was already out with friends and had a few drinks in me for confidence. I was ghosted by the third snap chatter earlier in the week, so I was already feeling ready for anything. He was the first one I met on Tinder that actually seemed interested in meeting up. I texted him that we were in West Village as a challenge, not really believing he’d show up. And then he was there. Definitely tall, had kind eyes, and seemed to be genuinely interested in me beyond what we were talking about doing later in the evening. I found out later that he works in finance, has a religious background, and likes hiking. All of which seems inconsequential now. But he really did put my needs first that night; he made sure I was comfortable with everything that was going on, he let me explore at my own pace.
One of my childhood friends that has long since left the church and Christianity once told me that exploring sex for us is new and awkward, it’s as if we’re socially delayed. I agree. I might not have been having vaginal intercourse, but I had explored other facets albeit awkwardly. The first time I was asked about a specific sexual act, I didn’t want to make the night awkward, so I just went with it. Consent was something I had to learn myself through dangerous situations.
I find it ironic that it took having sex for the first time to feel healed from my religious trauma. And that it was someone with a religious background as well, which was my first. I’m still figuring myself out as a sexual and spiritual (maybe religious?) being. Realizing I can be both is also healing. Finding my supports who cheer me on, knowing what a huge deal this was and is to me, has been life-giving. I’m grateful that there ended up being a world outside of the religion I was raised in. Christianity brought me anxiety and almost destroyed my spirit beyond recognition. But these friends, this chosen community of strangers and friends alike has brought me what I’ve been searching for.