The Secret Sex Lives of Conservative Christian Women
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The following article first appeared in the Hairpin.
Sex and evangelical American religion have a lot in common: Both are weird and personal; both inspire prescriptive, reductive public dialogue; and both are used as conduits for ecstasy, punishment, comfort, self-satisfaction, and pain that can turn into pleasure. When I was a teenager going to music festivals for the first time, I’d watch crowds of people throwing their hands up and feel like I was back in the mega-church where I grew up, a congregation in the tens of thousands that boasted a decent house band and a massive worship center I called the Repentagon. Recently, I disturbed myself by realizing that the name I’ve said more than any other during sex is probably “Jesus.”
Because we rarely see sex and religion intersecting in non-troubling ways, and because it’s unfortunate that “virgin” is a social punch line in a country where Plan B isn't available over the counter, I called up a half-dozen Christian women this year and talked to them about sex.
“He pursued us, and now we belong to Him.”
There’s something Byronic about the way that some churches present the idea of God to young Christians, particularly women. A divine creator romancing fallen humanity through a display of sacrificial devotion far more intense and visceral than anything you’d find in a rom-com — once desired like this, how can we not live in obedient submission? “We are Christ's bride,” one woman told me, fairly breathlessly. “He came and pursued us to be with him, and now we belong to Him, and I think that's really beautiful.”
One woman I interviewed talked about a Bible study she’d gone to in high school: "It was called Sacred Romance. God was the Great Romancer. I was in the middle of a breakup and I just kept telling myself, 'Don’t ever forget that He loves you more than your ex-boyfriend ever did.’"
As for me, I remember a girls-only Bible study session at a middle school church retreat, during which a chirpy blonde woman with glossy pink lips put wedding veils on all our heads, turned onMoulin Rouge, and fast-forwarded to the “Roxanne” scene, the slow grimy drag of that tango. “Remember this feeling,” she told us. “This is what you have to look forward to on your wedding day.”
“There had been fondling, you know, I’m human.”
It was hard to find someone who’d actually waited until marriage to lose her virginity. I only talked to one woman who did it by the book; to alleviate wedding-night pressure, she and her husband had waited not just until after the wedding but until the morning after. She told me, "I felt so liberated by the fact that I'd never had sex before, not even oral sex. There had been fondling, you know, I’m human. But I felt so protected in that moment, with all expectations stripped away. It was so freeing, so exhilarating."
In many of the stories that felt more familiar, there was still a religious component; one woman had lost her virginity at 14, to a boy she’d met as her mom was dying. “We were just young kids trying to process this thing,” she said. “We cried together almost every day. We were going to church together. We were spiritually close, and it felt right to be physically close. So we started to have sex, a lot of it, all the time.”
Another woman had simply compartmentalized the anti-sex parts of Christianity and decided to trust her instincts: “I have my body image issues — I don't like sitting in my swimsuit next to someone skinny, stuff like that — but with a guy, naked, I feel really comfortable. I’ve always just known what to do.”