I had quite the conservative and religious upbringing. I attended a Christian private school and went to church every Sunday, so I was basically in church every day of the week. My brother and I went on every youth group trip that our church offered and even went on others with our friends who went to other churches in the year. Growing up it was no surprise if we attended all of the local churches’ VBS’s or Vacation Bible Schools. Throughout our constant presence within church only further solidified my family’s reputation as a “good Christian family” with me as the “good Christian girl.”
The closest thing my siblings and I had to “the talk” was our parents asking us at dinner one night if we were both “waiting.” They never even mentioned the word “sex” but I knew what they meant. My parents, especially my mom, made it very clear to me that anything besides kissing was unacceptable outside of a marriage relationship through the comments she would make about my cousins or other girls my age that she knew for more experience than she believed an individual should be before getting married.
I never really questioned my parents’ beliefs or what the other adults around me said I should believe and do until middle school. For one week, my religion class was split between two classrooms. The boys in one room and the girls in another. In my room filled with my female classmates, my teacher gave each of us an Oreo cookie.
My teacher told us to split the cookie in half and look at the way the cream had separated. Most of the cream stuck to one side, but there was a little bit left on the other. Then, we had to try to put the cookie back together. The moral of the story was: just like with the Oreo cookies we had before us when we have sex a part of our self is given away. We could never be whole again.
To a room full of eleven-year-olds, the idea of losing ourselves and never being whole again was incredibly scary. We were subject to a similar demonstration in my Sunday school class a few months later. This time with Play-Doh. The message was clear: don’t have sex before you get married unless you want to lose your value as a person.
The fear of losing personal worth translated into internal slut shaming as I grew older. As you can probably imagine, the vows of chastity that I made at such a young and naive age became incredibly difficult and ultimately impossible to uphold as I became an adult and fell in love. Even though I lost my virginity to someone I deeply loved and trusted, I still felt like I had let my parents down and lost part of my worth as a person. I was scared that I had become even less of the daughter my parents wanted. I would never be innocent or as desirable as before.
My relationship with this boy ended shortly after and l began to date other people. And like a great deal of adults, these relationships involved sex. Although I decided for myself that I believe that sex is normal and a part of a healthy relationship, my parents (especially my mom) still have no idea about my change in beliefs. Because of this, I have had to find ways to get birth control behind their backs and avoid questions about my relationships. Although the answers to these questions are none of my mom’s business, I can’t help but feel guilty.
When she asks if my boyfriend is “a gentleman,” she’s really asking if he’s willing to wait until marriage. Her questions slut-shame more than any comment found on an Instagram selfie. I don’t like the feelings of guilt these questions evoke but I don’t feel like I really have another option.
Every day, I am working hard not to feel guilty about the choices I have made about sex. I don’t judge others for the way they express their sexuality but I find it difficult, impossible, even, to do the same for myself. I will probably have to continue to keep working on my feelings, but I am happy to have surrounded myself with people who appreciate female sexuality and help me to release this guilt I have been taught to feel.
Although I cannot change my mom’s disposition, I can change how my future children learn about sex. I will freely and openly talk to them about my own experiences (if they care to ask or know) and I will make sure they are given healthy and factual information about sex. Most importantly, I will ensure that they are able to come to their own conclusions about sex and that they will never feel guilty for their choices.