My guest post for Good Women Project.
I don’t remember the exact moment when I decided to “save myself for marriage” but I do remember it being a constant theme in my upbringing. Though my parents failed to ever sit me down and give me the scoop on the birds and the bees, I was blessed to be surrounded by people in my high school youth group who helped me establish this idea in my mind. These days, it seems that people are learning all about sex early on, like by the 3rd grade. I’ll have you know that in the 3rd grade, I thought that sex only required the removal of one party’s clothing. A quick laugh and Barbie-doll demo from a friend helped me realize the error of my ways. But that’s neither here nor there. Once I was in high school, “save myself” was my mantra. And I stuck to it. Because losing myself? Would be the worst.
I became an abstinence advocate within my friend group, and largely underestimated how hard it is for some girls not to have sex. My naivety made me arrogant, with tendencies toward invincible.
Then I got a great boyfriend who picked me flowers and told me he loved me and held my hand as we skipped off into the Hills of Innocence Lost. He was admirable, honest, strong, kind. Years later, he became one of a million co-authors of the book entitled, “How To Break A Girl’s Heart” with special attention to Infidelity and A Web of Lies. I could spend an entire post on the hardships of being betrayed, but that’s a whole other Oprah. And frankly, no good comes from re-living the past over and over. I’m practicing that whole “write injuries in the dust” thing. But you need to know that I trusted him when he told me he loved me. I believed him when he said I was beautiful, perfect, and going to be his wife eventually. And I gave him the deepest level of intimacy possible. The aforementioned “myself” that I was supposedly “saving.”
And every time I felt him pulling away emotionally, I gave more physically.
And each time, that kept him around a little bit longer.
Monkey see, monkey do. I became a trained expert on the art of seduction. Every time I convinced him, I felt like I had won. I felt victorious.
I felt like I was in control.
Perhaps now you see the problem with this particular phrasing. All of “myself” had been poured into this one act, this one thing. Imagine my dismay when I gave that up. “Myself” was gone, in a moment. And the point isn’t really that in that moment, I felt empty and different. The point is that after that first time, I stopped letting myself feel empty and different; I convinced myself that those emotions were not happening.
After that first boy, I stopped feeling really anything during sex. It was most definitely fun, and gave me a rush of adrenaline and excitement, pleasure and empowerment. But after the Boy Who Loved Me became the Boy Who Betrayed Me, I stopped understanding sex in the way it was created to be understood.
The biggest lie I took away from the entire thing was that I would not be chosen. Sure, I was funny enough and charming enough and sometimes even pretty enough. I said enough, did enough, laughed enough, and eventually even gave enough. But once compared to Someone Better, I would not be chosen.
I wish I could tell you that this was a pinnacle turning point in my life. That once this heartbreak was over, I re-evaluated what I had done and never did it again. But that is not my story. I wandered off into the arms – and beds – of more boys, none of whom loved me. None even professed to love me; that was no longer required by my standards. All I needed was to be chosen, even in this small act. Because even though there was the First Boy who didn’t choose me, I was able to find a few who would.
While I think what happened over the course of that next year is technically referred to as “sexual addiction”, I can honestly say that it’s not the sex I was addicted to. It was the before, and the after.
The moment before, when there is hesitation mixed with urgency, splashed with fear and unknown. I was addicted to being in control of my body and another’s. I knew what to do to cause him to lose control, which made me feel hugely successful.
And then there’s the moment after. When the sheets settle and the breathing slows and the eyes slowly open and man plus woman lay in their perfect nakedness, feeling all the safety in the world. Before anyone speaks, or nervously shuffles back to their clothing, the serenity of that moment is deafening. And as soon as someone spoke, as soon as I was ushered to leave, I felt even dirtier, even emptier than before. And it caused me to want sex all over again.
Truth be told, I can’t quite recall a time when I actually enjoyed sex. It has never been tender, it has never been sweet, it has never been pleasurable. I have never made love to anyone. Every time I have ever had sex, I have eagerly anticipated the end, so that I could stop. I think I actually hated it.
I knew I was creating a huge hole in my being. I knew it deep inside of myself, but I refused to acknowledge that. Instead I pushed that still, small voice down to a place where I could not hear it, and I would be back in the arms of another lover soon enough. I’d be back at my place of control. “While we’re young and beautiful” became my new mantra, and I felt entitled to the lifestyle I led. I felt like I needed it. Like I had been missing out during all those years of “saving.” I placed my identity in the attention I could get and I felt sexy for the first time in my life. I knew that every boy I was with was simply attracted to my appearance, and I ignored the ache that it left within my heart. I had spent my time with a boy who loved my soul, and he screwed everything up. So I might as well get my kicks, right Jim Morrison? Doesn’t matter if their heart is in it, it just matters I have fun before it all goes up in flames.
Nothing noteworthy really triggered my turnaround point, but my world finally came crashing down. I am equally ashamed and grateful for the moment I woke up, and realized that I could not, should not, be living this way.
My healing has come from several different sources, but one in particular was in the moment when I confessed my past lifestyle to my current boyfriend. He knew pieces, but not the whole thing; we were waiting for an appropriate time to talk about it. Talk about “fears: realized.”
We sat on the ground next to lake while it lightly rained and I guided him through those few years of my life. I realized something vital as I spoke that day; I had felt guilty for my mistakes. I had repented. I had felt forgiveness. But I don’t think I had ever felt sorry before. And while I told my boyfriend everything, I felt sorry, truly remorseful for the first time in my life. . Because I painfully realized that my previous lifestyle did not only affect me, it affected him. The look on his face is hard to forget – pain and surprise and anger and hurt, all in one pair of bright blue eyes. As I wept uncontrollably, I felt sorry in every nerve on my body. My hair felt sorry, my arms felt sorry, my body was heavy with sorry. It made me understand sin in a deeper way: what I did was selfish in more ways than I knew. I was repeatedly hurting someone who, though I didn’t know him then, I now love very deeply. And then he held me and rocked me as I sobbed away my fear and sorrow.
And as my breathing slowed, and my eyes opened, I felt the safest I have ever felt. No amount of safety I ever felt in the after-moments of sex before could ever compare to the heights and depths of safety I felt in those arms by the lake that day. And that’s when I understood forgiveness on a deeper level. I know that I am forgiven. But this is one of the consequences of not guarding my heart. My sweet, tender, strong boyfriend has to suffer my consequences. He chooses to.
I didn’t give “myself” away. My identity was not lost in the arms of a boy, it was not given up in the heat of a moment. Something sacred was given up, absolutely. But “myself” is still intact. I am chosen by the King of Kings, just as I am. My identity is partially found in the crevices of my story, but it is fundamentally founded on who I am in Christ. My beauty enthralls Him; He has crafted me together from day one. He is nowhere near through with me, and rejoices over me with or without my mistakes. I did not lose myself by giving up sex. But I am finding myself every single day in the arms of safety, forgiveness, and love. My whole life, my every day is better than any “after-moment” I could ever experience, because I get to dance around in the freedom of grace – getting that which I do not deserve. Thank God.