My Big Virginity Mistake
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I was 14 years old when I married Jesus. Not Jesus, the Panamanian who worked at Six Flags. I mean Jesus Christ, the Lord. My parents sent me off to Baptist youth camp in Panama City Beach for the week, and I came home with a tan and a purity ring. I sat with my legs crossed, cramped in a theater with 200 sweaty, sobbing teens as our pastor described the unwavering bonds of sex and why it should only be experienced within the confines of marriage.
The lyrics echoed in the background as he shouted about STDs and unplanned pregnancy from the pulpit. Cause I am waiting for you, praying for you darling, wait for me too, wait for me as I wait for you. One by one we each placed a ring on our fourth finger and made vows to an apparently bi-curious Jesus who took teenage husbands and wives by the dozen that night.
I didn’t buy into a word of it. Jesus as my husband: Were they kidding? But that ring! Silver and engraved with entwined hearts – everyone I knew was wearing one and I’d finally been given the opportunity to get my hands on it. And it wasn’t just the ring. This was a movement with T-shirts and hats and the added bonus of superiority over kids in school who couldn’t keep their clothes on, those sinners. After an intense and very detailed sex talk with my mother , where she stuttered and I blushed and we both used the word “flower,” I was terrified of sex. That and the slide show in sex ed didn’t help one bit. So I scribbled Jesus + Jess on my Bible cover, and I casually mentioned my virginity in daily conversations. I committed to the idea hoping it would ensure a successful marriage. Instead, it led to my divorce.
I don’t know many people these days who married still a virgin. But going to high school in the furniture capital of North Carolina, it didn’t seem so strange that I wore an engagement ring at the age of 19. People admired my decision to marry my college sweetheart and were enthusiastic about my goal of waiting until marriage to have sex. (He actually wasn’t a virgin, but he was willing to wait for me.) Over time, I’d watched my brothers and sisters in Christ lose sight of their celibacy around the time they felt the pull of raging hormones combined with slots of unsupervised co-ed time. But I pressed on in stubbornness until finally, the time had come to replace Jesus as my other half. Twenty may sound early to get married, but tell that to the girl who had her knees locked since puberty and the boy who spent years trying to convince her that just the tip didn’t count.
The morning of my wedding day, I threw up. Everyone assumed that I was nervous about having sex. I wasn’t. But it dawned on me how much we hadn’t learned yet about one another. We had known each other for three years by this point, but there was so much unexplored territory. So what was I supposed to do when my “aha moment” came as a dress was heaved over my head by seven bridesmaids? Plus, my mother had mentioned no less than 400 times, this wedding was costing them a fortune; I was getting married, there was no way out.
“I’ll give you a five-minute head start if you want to run,” my dad said with a half-smile as we walked up the aisle. I held onto his arm tighter, afraid my legs might just take him up on that offer.