I’ve wanted to write this for a while, I think. Or at least I’ve considered writing about it for a while, and I’ve written a paragraph or so and then abandoned it for several months at a time. Because aside from the fear of how personal this could get, how many people actually want to read what I have to say about sex? – and those who do will probably spend too much time itching to have a serious chat with me afterwards and I don’t know how I feel about that yet. Sometimes, I feel like I have an idea of what I want to say, and then I start to try and spell it out and I find myself getting lost in the sentences and feeling completely unsure of myself. Perhaps that is what this is about – the countless transitions between feeling sure and unsure, and the way it changed my life. For better or for worse, is up to you. But I’m not complaining.
When I was sixteen I was a hopeless romantic caught between naivety, anxiety and misunderstandings, as many sixteen year olds are. I also had one foot in the church I had grown up in, while the other dangled in my public high school, and my carefully crafted world was beginning to expand at an alarming rate.
I wanted the purity ring. It was my decision, and I got it for my sixteenth birthday from the hands of my parents who cherished that moment with the highest sincerity. Why did I ask for a purity ring? I’ve asked myself many times, then and now, and I’ve come to believe it was a combination of many things which ultimately acted as both good and potentially naive reasons.
I wanted one because I wanted a relationship with a God I had grown to believe frowned upon sex before marriage, and I wanted to live out my christianity. That should have been the main reason, but it wasn’t. Somewhere in there, was my naive understanding that if you were having sex, it was largely because you were ready to have a child. And I think most people agree that sex is much, much more than a tool for reproducing. At sixteen I believed I would never have a child until I was married, so ultimately it was unlikely I would have sex until then anyway. Perhaps there was also a hint of anxiety. Okay – more than a hint – of anxiety that swelled around accidental pregnancy’s and the retributions that would entail in the type of family I was raised in – which was really only the fear of being a disappointment.
High school is not the easiest place to wear your beliefs on your skin, and needless to say, my friends were a little more than skeptical about the ring on my wedding finger. For the most part, I was met with, that will never last, and the occasional, but good for you. I got pretty good at shrugging it off. But somewhere through my final year I began to feel as though I was wearing it for the wrong reasons. That the ring on my finger existed out of a deep-rooted anxiety to not disappoint people, and the irrational belief that given my upbringing, if I didn’t wear the ring I would most certainly get pregnant just to spite me (because that’s how pregnancy works, right?). It’s not. But it is most definitely how my mind works.
During that final year, I had also gotten close to a friend that I had begun to fall for. And while he was not the tipping point for breaking my self-proclaimed promise, the line he would date you, if you didn’t have a purity ring, was not one that was easily forgotten. So one day, I decided to take it off. I decided I wasn’t wearing it for the right reasons anymore, and yeah, maybe I wanted to date a guy who liked the idea of sex a lot more than a silver ring.
I didn’t end up dating him. Not even close in fact. But I never regretted deciding to walk away from something that was extremely hard to walk away from.
Anxiety is hard-wired into my body, most people know that, but some a lot better than others. And the world of sex, has a fair amount of anxiety-inducing aspects. Between unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, being “good”, and of course the emotions intertwined with potential romance or lack thereof, there are enough things to worry about. In fact, in a lot of ways, having a purity ring was much, much easier on my mind.
But this wasn’t about the easy road I guess. It was about learning to be honest with myself. It was about moving past the anxiety of disappointment to recognize that my parents loved me more than enough to want me to live a life that was not simply following blindly in their footsteps. It was also a coming-to-terms with my anxiety, and not just in the realm of sex. At this point in my life I had been overwhelmed with anxiety that spread out in different directions over most aspects of my life. I was learning that it shouldn’t keep me from doing things I wanted to do, but those conversations never seem to come out right when you’re referring to sex and trying to explain that to your mother. Especially when she probably wouldn’t mind if anxiety kept you from having sex in the first place.
Sex is personal, regardless of how you use it. You can wait until marriage, you can have it with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or you can casually have it with the person you met one hour ago and the only full truth about it is that it’s really nobody’s business but your own. I had an extremely hard time with this reality. Because having sex always seemed like it tainted my image in my family – it was everybody’s business. This was nobody’s fault except mine – my own unwillingness to move past my concerns and take ownership for my actions – I was worried about what they all thought of me. They were just worried about me.
When I left home it got easier. Easier to try and find my own footing, and decide how I wanted to live my own life. My anxiety had been improving, and I was catching waves of newfound confidence for a life I was learning everyday how to live. But coming home hit like walking into a brick wall of all the anxiety I had left behind. Being in the house I grew up in meant I was likely pregnant, or had a STD that I would have to try and explain to my parents in the morning. It was unrealistic in so many ways, but being under my parents roof meant I was a child again, and that since my actions differed from what they would want for me, I was suddenly setting myself up for severe retributions.
Perhaps you need to return to the place you left, to see how far you’ve come, and to also see how much further you need to go. Ultimately, you should not feel the need to falter if you are comfortable with your own decisions. I don’t think I was, for a very long time. And today I’d say that I have come a long way from where I was, but coming home is still met with certain degrees of anxiety.
I have gone through many phases. One’s that declare sex is for marriage, wait – no, sex is for the person you love – wait, maybe the person you like – oh, but we’re sexual beings and what if you don’t like anyone so maybe sex is for sex, right?. So I guess I’ve gone through all the possibilities, except the one that thinks sex is irrelevant because I just really, really don’t think that.
I’ve never been good at taking what I was spoon-fed and not asking questions. I had to step out of line, break the family rules a few times, and find my own foot steps because I felt like my parents’ weren’t quite for me. Sometimes I felt like I was an outcast at family dinners. Sitting next to a brother and sister-in law who didn’t kiss until their wedding day, and remembering that time I had sex with somebody who didn’t mean all that much to me. I should emphasize, my family – immediate and extended – love me. They may not always understand me, and they may spend a lot of their time praying for me, but they love me and respect me in the most unconditional ways, and for that I am forever thankful. Still, I knew and I know that it is hard to watch someone you love make decisions that you are not proud of, and I’ve never wanted to be the person that gives someone any reason to not be proud.
Sex is complicated because it probably shouldn’t be near this complicated, and yet something that is so personal is also so public and we all have our own views on it that we wouldn’t mind sharing. We use language like kill counts and wonder why we worry when our number gets high. Because it sounds terrible, doesn’t it? And there are truth values to many of the concerns. Because sex is intimate even when it’s with a stranger, and how does it feel when you’ve given something away that you can’t get back? Are you prepared for that? Some people are. But it can also add up. And many of us have gotten very good at using our bodies to say things that we are unable to say out loud because perhaps communication is scarier than being naked – or maybe we’re just petrified of commitment and nothing says its opposite like casual sex. I’m not always totally sure how it should be navigated around, to be honest. But somehow I’m more sure of this set of complications than I was with the ring I wore on my finger and I guess that says something.
Getting the purity ring, and deciding to take it off, was not just about sex. There was a much bigger picture to it, one that involved attempting to create a life around what I believed in and not the things I had been told to believe in. I wish it was easier to figure all of these things out, but it never is. Did I want to have sex when I first took off my purity ring? Not really to be honest. It still terrified me, but if you’re going to put a ring on your figure and declare a public promise to God and the people around you, wearing it for the wrong reasons can make you feel like a fraud. Taking it off, made me feel like I was being a lot more honest with myself, and everybody else. Walking away from the purity ring signified a moment in my life where I decided I needed to figure out what my values were, what my relationship with God was, and to start taking ownership for whatever actions I had made or would make. Years later I have no solid answers, but I’m thankful for the day I decided to pursue them anyway.
So at twenty-one I’m going to assume it’s pretty obvious now that I don’t have a purity ring on my finger, but I still believe in the same God that I did when I first put it on despite the lengthy list of questions I always have for Him. And for some people, this is conflicting. Maybe you are right, maybe I am trying to bridge a gap that cannot come together. And I would love to take your word for it, but the thing is, I have this knack for wanting to figure it out myself, and to be honest, I enjoy the context it gives me.