We had sex before marriage. And I’m glad.
People generally have very specific feelings about sex before marriage. It’s either right or it’s wrong, and there’s not a lot in between. And, generally, people seek out partners who share their view on it, because, well, it’s just easier on everyone.
This is not how it went to Mike and I.
How we met
We were both 20 when we met. At the time I was Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and he was definitely not. I had been raised with the idea that, not only was sex before marriage not recommended, it was a sin. A sin with serious consequences.
Mike on the other hand, held the completely opposite view. He felt that sex before marriage should be a given. And that ideally, we would live together before even thinking about getting married too.
We knew this about each other within just a few months of dating. Ordinarily, people would’ve just called it quits at that point. We didn’t. Maybe we were brave, maybe we were stupid, but we decided to keep dating.
When we met, I was a virgin, and Mike was not. This did not bother me. In fact, I had assumed that he wasn’t. I knew what I was getting into – but at the same time, I really didn’t.
Falling in Love
Things progressed as they normally would for two 20-year-olds. There was one day we had a break between classes, and we snuck off to the beach for a little while (the perks of living in SoCal). We found a spot on the rocks near the pier and made-out for, what I remember being, an hour! It was a very young-love, impulsive thing to do. We didn’t plan it, it just happened.
Based on Mormon teachings and how I was brought up, this should have been a red flag. We should have called things off then. But we didn’t. Because we didn’t want to.
In the first few months of dating, we would spend a lot of late nights at Mike’s place. I remember the first time we did more than kissing. We didn’t have sex – not even close actually – but it was enough to make me feel conflicted. I very vividly remember being fully nude together that night. It wasn’t just my first time with him. It was my first time with anyone.
I was sure I’d made a mistake. But at the same time it really didn’t feel wrong. I felt vulnerable – as anyone would their first time – but strangely comfortable at the same time.
The fact that I felt comfortable only made matters worse.
Here’s a little context. Mormons believe in what they call the “Law of Chastity”. This “law” is a set of standards surrounding one’s sexual purity. Here’s the short list of the rules:
- no dating before 16.
- if you date at 16, it should only be group dating until you’re 18.
- no “petting” (the innocent way of saying “no touching”)
- no “passionate kissing” (the innocent way of saying “nothing beyond a peck”)
- girls must dress modestly, so as not to tempt the boys (no bare shoulders, no cleavage, skirts or shorts down to the knees, no form fitting clothes, an so on).
- absolutely no sex (intercourse or otherwise) before marriage.
I was in the clear for being over 16, but not much else. And as time would go by, we’d break more of the “rules”.
Our Love Grew
Mike and I continued dating into the summer of the year we met. We had more time to spend together, and more time to get to know each other. As most probably know, intimacy with your partner is a one-way street. Once you begin to be intimate with your partner, you don’t stop, especially in the early stages. More on that in a bit.
By the end of the summer we had moved from home in San Diego, to Long Beach, where we would complete our undergrad degrees (by this time we’d only been dating about 6 months). We were both living away from home for the first time. We were practically attached at the hip, and we loved it. It was the time we became best friends.
I was still attending church mostly regularly, doing my deed to fill my heart and soul with the Mormon doctrine that would inspire me to “be obedient to the laws and commands of the Lord”. Mike was a good sport and would come with me from time to time.
To be clear, I never once pressured him to convert to Mormonism. And he never pressured me not to be Mormon. This was very clearly out in the open at the beginning of our romance. We would have respectful discussion and debates about our views. We were focused on trying to understand one another, not change one another.
My views on sex before marriage hadn’t changed, especially as I continued to fortify myself with Mormon teachings, and even though we had crossed some of the boundaries set forth in the “Law of Chastity“. But, as I mentioned earlier, intimacy is kind of a one-way street.
I struggled immensely with how to handle this our situation. Six months into our relationship, we still hadn’t had intercourse, but we’d certainly moved far beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable as a Mormon.
I was confused. I knew what I wanted, but felt so guilty for wanting intimacy with my partner, because that’s what I was taught to believe.
Mike could see my struggle. He was in a unique predicament as well. He knew that we both wanted to be together intimately – (I was open and honest with him about the fact that I wanted to, but wouldn’t act on it for reasons I previously explained) – but he knew he had to respect my needs and my boundaries. Mike always did so with complete and total grace.
My Inner Conflict
The day that we finally had intercourse the first time is one I’ll never forget. And not necessarily for the reasons you’d think. Mike was, and still is for the record, a champion at seeking consent. I gave him the go ahead thinking, “We’ve done everything else in the book. Is this really that different?”
This was a big wall for me to let down, and not an easy one at that. Growing up in the Mormon church, girls were taught that their worth and their sexual history were mutually exclusive – they were tied together. I remember a lesson in church that likened girls who had sex before marriage to a chewed piece of gum – after someone chews a piece of gum, no one else will want it. It’s no good for anyone else. It’s worth has been spent on its first chewer. (There are other analogies that exist for illustrating the same concept – a licked cupcake, a wilted flower, a mangled donut, and so on).
I remember just before the first time we had sex telling Mike, “It’s okay,” in a decidedly defeated tone. Things progressed. There was a distinct disconnect between what I experienced physically and emotionally. Physically, it felt like sex. Emotionally – well, there isn’t really a word for it.
During the act, I remember thinking to myself, “This better be the man I marry.” I tried to convince myself that if I just married Mike, I would avoid having to wade through the guilt and shame of admitting to a future partner that I’d lost any worth that I may have had to provide him – that I was damaged goods.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I cried uncontrollably in Mike’s arms when we finished. I can only imagine how he must have been feeling. Probably terrified.
Overcoming Self-Placed Guilt
For months after that, I punished myself – tortured myself even – with guilt and shame. Mormons believe that sexual sin is second only to murder and denying Christ. That’s what I was comparing myself to.
Throughout this time, I still went to church, although it became less often. It is customary in these cases to confess this kind of sin to the bishop, at which time he will usually determine that you are “unworthy” to take communion (known as “the sacrament” among Mormons). This is a GIANT red flag to the rest of the people in the congregation that you’ve done something really bad. It’s simply a form of public humiliation and nothing less.
I refused to speak to a bishop about this because for one, I didn’t feel like it was anybody’s business but mine who I was having sex with, and I was pretty sure I knew what he’d tell me anyway. And for the other, I was not willing drag Mike through the mud and bring him into this either. I had made the decision that it was okay to break the rules, these were the standards that had been set for me only, and I didn’t expect him to adhere to the same set of restrictions.
I did however, refrain from taking the sacrament for several months. During that time, I had told Mike that I wanted to stop being intimate completely. This was the only way I could think to retain what little worth I must have left.
This was very difficult on us. Poor Mike, he knew I loved him, but I can only imagine the rejection and frustration he must have felt during that time. It was no easier on him than it was on me. Once again, intimacy is pretty much a one-way street. As much as we tried to refrain from each other, we couldn’t.
I let this turn into serious doubts about our relationship. The love was real, but our actions were wrong, and that was enough to call it off. I had serious doubts that our relationship could endure our differences.
There was one day in church though that I changed. I don’t remember what the sermon topics were, but I remember leaving that chapel charged up. “If I have to choose between my love and my church, then I know which one I should choose.”
It just came to me in an epiphany, that choosing love is never wrong.
Choosing Love Above All Else
If my church felt that who I loved and how I loved was wrong, then I had to take a step back. Mike never made me feel like I had no worth. That was church. Mike never made me feel like I was damaged goods. That was church. I did not find love at church. I found it in Mike.
Sex allowed a level of deep vulnerable connection with Mike that allowed me to escape the clutches of an extremely oppressive set of teachings. Shame should never accompany sexuality.
I became baffled by the idea that we’re taught to stay away from sex at all costs before we get married. That it is one of the most serious of all sins that could be committed. It is all about fear, and shame, and guilt.
But once you’re married, all of that is just supposed to go away. After years of conditioning, that was not going to happen for me! I needed an adjustment period! The notion that a government-issued piece of paper was what gave me permission to express intimate love with my partner was ludicrous.
About a year (maybe more) passed between the time that Mike and I began dating, and when I came to this liberating realization. Sex was what allowed me to learn – for the first time in my life – that self-worth and sexuality are in no way connected.
Intimacy brought down a huge wall between us. It let us get to know each other before deciding to get married. It allowed us to be comfortable enough with each other that we could let our relationship mature before committing to forever. For me especially, sex before marriage forced me to learn how to be loved, and how to love myself.
Best decision ever.