The opening scene of television series, ‘Jane the Virgin’ shows a ten year old Jane holding a perfect white camellia. Her Abuella (Grandmother) asks her to crumple the flower within her fist. When she reopens it, the flower is bruised brown. “Now try to make it look new again…. That’s right...” Abuella says, “You can’t. Once you lose your virginity you can never go back.” This memory serves as a catalyst for Jane to protect her 'flower' until she is married and the scene resonates deeply with me too. The desire to protect my virginity was tied up with a range of fears and expectations that effected me for years.
Now I’m currently facing a more important task: preparing my own children to handle their first relationships without inheriting all of my hang-ups about sex!
Jamie (The Very Worst Missionary) sums up my quandary in the following way: “Everything I believed about my own sexuality was built on two huge lies: The first comes from our culture, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage isn't a big deal. The second is from the Church, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever. One allowed me to give it away freely, convinced I would carry no burden. The other forced me to carry a spirit crushing load. Both are complete crap.”
I’m trying to find some middle ground between these two extremes and I think I found it in an article called; “Don’t Talk to Your Sons About Sex - Talk About This Instead.” Kitty Black explained how boys are currently crying out for “meaning” in relationships and are more interested in learning about relationships than “the mechanics of sex”. I feel encouraged to support my kids in developing quality relationships rather than fixating on telling them when, how and who they can have sex with.
Here are some of the conversations I hope to share with my two daughters and two sons in the years/ months/ days to come…
Value yourself and others
“First and foremost I want you to accept yourself, value yourself and be yourself. If I’ve done my job properly then you already know how amazing you are. You’ll know how to treat yourself well and you’ll be able to create boundaries that will help others know how you expect to be treated. You will also know that you don’t have to sacrifice your own self to make other people happy. If you are uncomfortable, say so. If you don’t want to, say no.
I already know you’ve learned to value others. I hope you’ll treat all people with respect and will honour their boundaries (even if they're different to yours). If you realise someone is not for you, then I hope you’ll be sensitive and let them go gently."
Shared interests that are important to you
Secondly, I’d encourage you to listen to your Nanna and Grandad because they know a lot. They say to look for people who share some of your interests, have similar levels of intelligence and a sense of humour. They recommend a “shared faith.” You already know there are lots of different kinds of Christians so I think your best bet is to find someone with similar views regarding the important things in life aka God, the universe, politics, kindness and compassion.
I also hope I can convince you that dating is not a lifetime commitment. Contrary to what you might be taught elsewhere, dating is a legitimate way of getting to know someone. It’s okay to date for a while then realise that person is not for you. I also know a few rejections and break-ups won’t kill you, but they will teach you lots about what you do and don’t want in a life partner. That being said, if your first is your “one and only” - I’m fine with that too.
Joy, enjoyment and wisdom
I hope experiencing your sexuality is less about fear and shame and much more about joy. Please enjoy all the good things about relationships. Enjoy the kissing and conversation and caressing and meals and movies and walks on the beach. Make the most of the time you spend together. If you don’t enjoy time together as a couple without getting physical, then re-evaluate whether the person you are with, is the person for you? Have fun. Take it slow. I’m telling you now: you are going to want sex, but sex might not always be the best thing for you in the heat of that particular moment. Look after the person you are with. Keep safe. Be prepared. Make decisions with your heart and your head - not just your body.
While I don’t believe you need to protect your virginity at all costs, delayed gratification does have some benefits. It’s lovely to gradually increase intimacy rather than jumping straight to the “end game”. There are benefits to flexing your self-control muscles so you can face tougher temptations that may come in future. Self control can also help you develop a deeper long-term connection because you are showing heartfelt concern for one another in those moments you choose to pause.
We make mistakes
And now the words I wish I’d heard as I was growing up: no mistake is unforgivable. God is the great forgiver and you are loved no matter what. Sleeping with your boyfriend/ girlfriend is not something that will get you written out of my will. If you make a baby, I will cherish it. If you catch a disease, I will take you to the doctor’s. If you get hurt, I will hold you while you cry. Gandhi said, "Mistakes are simply opportunities to learn" - and I agree. Take time to apologise if you need to. Reflect, then once you know better - do better.
I do hope you understand that strong sexual attraction does not mean you’re meant to be together forever. As Carla da Costa, author of A Single Heart says, “The chemicals created during physical intimacy blind you. Be mindful who you jump into bed with, they may not deserve you.” Many of us look back at our relationships and wonder what on earth we were thinking at the time. Chemicals and hormones have a lot to answer for. And if you don’t get this wrong at some point then you’re a better person than I am!
Real relationships with real people
Next, tread carefully around pornography because it is scientifically proven to damage relationships and set people up with false expectations. It also tends to exploit women and create an escalating addiction for more titillating material. Steer clear of anything that objectifies other people and focuses on one dimension of their character. Spend your time building real relationships with real people.
Once you start having sexual relationships, I hope you’ll be considerate. Look after the other person and consider their needs as well as your own. Make sure they’re considering your needs too since selfishness in one area is likely to indicate selfishness in other areas. I also recommend that you do what you can to help yourself grow as a person, including becoming the best lover you can be. Read Sheri Winston’s Women’s Anatomy of Arousal. There’s heaps more to know about our bodies and sexuality than you learned in science class and your partner will thank you if you learn more than the basics.
Take care of your temple, and the temple of another
In truth, you are not defined by your virginity or sexuality. You will be the same person after sex that you were before, because… it’s just sex. Expecting the preservation of your sexual purity to eventually be a gateway to bliss is ridiculous. And while a deeply ingrained sense of shame regarding your natural urges is not healthy - neither is sharing your body around as though you aren’t worth much. To be honest, Christianity is not the only religion in the world which suggests your body is a temple that needs to be cared for, so please take care of yourself and the people you date.
Finally, whatever you decide about your first time and then the times after that, “I refuse to tie your value as a human being to your junk, like a shiny red balloon” (Jamie: TVWM). I trust you to make the decisions that are best for you. I also have to trust that some mistakes are yours to make."
At the end of the day Jane’s Abuella is right: our virginity can not be restored after it’s gone but nothing is “lost” either. It is not a marker of our righteousness because none of us are perfect before we have sex and none of us will be perfect afterwards. We’re all going to fall short of an invisible standard at some stage, but making love is one of the messy and unique and fun parts about being human: so enjoy it. The ultimate lesson of any sex education program for our kids should be: Sex is beautiful and it is good but it isn't everything. It’s the way we look after the people we care about that is far more important.
Read: Sluts, Soul Ties and Sex Ed. (Part One)
Read: Sluts, Soul Ties and Sex Ed. (Part Two)
Catherine is a teacher, life coach (linedwithsilver.com.au) and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Catherine Joy