In a lot of ways, yesterday’s phone call was a relief. I had been so afraid to tell you, but now I can freely say: I live with my boyfriend.
In the past, when the topic of men in or near my residence came up, you became distressed, so I thought I’d save both of us the emotional strain. When I told you I was moving into a house with a couple guys and a girl, you were so unhappy that I fretted about it for weeks, though I knew the men were honorable and they made good roommates. When I told you a funny story my neighbor told me about blue balls, your face became dark red and you said, “I’m going to kill him.” So obviously, I worried saying,”I’m moving in with my boyfriend,” would bring some backlash. I’ve learned to just avoid certain topics to keep from upsetting you.
But now, the cat’s out of the bag. I live with my boyfriend. And of course, that means we’re having sex.
This is the real heart of the matter. This is why I couldn’t tell you. Because you raised me to believe that a woman’s worth is in her purity, her value is in that she has “saved herself” until marriage. Not that she has waited to engage in a sexual act until marriage, but literally saved her entire being.
You raised me to approach sex with fear and shame, not open communication. Instead of discussing how or when to decide to have sex, I was told simply, “Don’t do it. Doing it is bad. You’ll regret it.” Remember that story of your friend who had sex once in college and felt everyone was staring at her and knew her guilty secret, Dad? Yeah, that story haunted me.
Even after I decided I would not wait until marriage, it took me years before I felt I was free of that guilt, before I trusted that I could make conscious, informed sexual decisions without hating myself afterward for somehow being less good than before.
This is a problem, Dad. This purity culture taught me that my value was inextricably linked to whether or not I had had sex. And if I had, I was less desirable or good than if I was “pure.” My smarts, my accomplishments, my integrity, my talents, my goals, none of them are as important to my value as a woman as my sexual activity, according to this belief.
But sex does not have to be like that. It can be enriching and fulfilling. It can be fun. It brings partners together and is an expression of both affection and desire. And it is not necessary to marry a virgin for this to be true.
Do I regret some of my decisions? Of course. But then, I regret what I ate for lunch yesterday. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy dinner. If I had waited until marriage, I’m sure I would still have regrets, as I’d have no idea how to express my wants or communicate my boundaries.
In the end, I’ve learned that what is most important for a fulfilling sexual relationship is trust, open communication and attraction. My partner and I have all of these. We care about each other and communicate and have a fulfilling relationship. He wants me regardless of whether or not I’ve “saved myself.” And I have freed myself from shame and can openly, joyfully ask for what I want. It’s wonderful.
I am sorry I hurt you and mom by not telling you sooner. I knew you would disapprove and was afraid of your anger. I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. I’m not sorry for having sex.
P.S. For more on how purity culture leads, Christianity and fulfilling relationships, check out Libby Anne’s blog Love, Joy, Feminism. This is a good post on how purity robs women of sexual agency. And I highly recommend Samantha Field over at Defeating the Dragon’s post about how harmful tying women’s worth entirely to their virginity is. I related very strongly to the Christian object lessons she describes, as well as deep feelings of shame and dirtiness.