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Do Christian Teens Really Have Butt Sex to Avoid Losing Their ‘Virginity’?

The folklore of religious teens pursuing anal sex as an alternative to PIV-ing stretches back decades, but there’s always been a whiff of urban legend about it

From getting it, to eating it, to having it, welcome to Ass Week, MEL’s weeklong exploration of the body part du jour.

At first, Austin and his girlfriend agreed not to get naked around each other — for fear that God might judge them — but it wasn’t long until they decided a peek was no big sin. Kissing while naked? The Bible didn’t seem to really fuss on that, so they tried it. Oral sex? Turns out, a bit off-putting to both, but promising.

The one hard line the 17-year-old duo knew to draw was on “regular” sex, given the Holy Book’s mantra-like words on the sanctity of virginity. But one day, in a dank little basement in a suburb outside of St. Louis, Missouri, they realized that anal sex could be a compromise. It can’t be so different, Austin thought.

Then he heard her exhale a sharp gasp as he tried to enter her from behind. The more he tried to get inside, the harder she pulled away. “We were both very, very sexual, and it was as simple as wondering, ‘Why don’t you just put it in here instead?’,” says Austin, now 27. “We were kids who had no idea what we were doing. I didn’t use lubricant. She was obviously really upset about it, and we agreed we wouldn’t do it again because that actually hurt her.”

It was only a few weeks, however, before they changed their minds and tried again. All told, Austin and his girlfriend attempted anal three times, and each was better than the last. But none of it was great. “It’s not like we learned about it somewhere and thought, Here’s this great way to have sex but, you know, not have sex,” he adds. “We were just so in the heat of the moment.”

The folklore of religious teens pursuing anal sex as an alternative to conventional vaginal sex stretches back decades, but there’s always been a whiff of urban legend about it, if only because it makes so little sense to non-believers. As music-comedy duo Garfunkel & Oates explains in their deeply NSFW, satirical tune “The Loophole”: “Thank you for giving me holes to choose from / And since I’m not a godless whore / He’ll have to come in the back door.”

Yet when you consult people in deeply conservative religious communities, it’s obvious there’s a truth to the premise dubbed “God’s Loophole,” and that the stories haven’t changed much in decades, either. Marie Griffith, professor and director of the Center of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, remembers her older Evangelical Christian friends (now in their late 50s and 60s) discussing alternatives to PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex in the same way back in her early teen years. “Girls absolutely felt it was crucial to be virgins, but they often defined that in a narrow sense. They talked about it as if every other type of sexual encounter seemed okay,” Griffith tells me. “This went on with kids growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, too.”

So many of these stories come from young people in very conservative American Christian and Mormon traditions. Maybe it’s because Judaism, even the Orthodox branch, has less prudish and more positive attitudes toward sex generally (the Talmud, after all, compels men to give their wives orgasms first), while Islam is more pointedly punitive about unnecessary acts of “lust” and non-PIV sex acts.

In Austin’s case, he was raised by a Catholic mother and a Southern Baptist father who both expected him to save sex until his wedding night. Austin’s girlfriend came from a large family with even stricter fundamentalist beliefs. Their sexual purity was tantamount to their families — so much so, in fact, that they never talked to them about sex beyond the binary of do (wait ‘til marriage) and don’t (anything else). He also wore a silver “purity ring,” fitted on his finger under the watchful eye of his mother, to remind him of that binary.

“We never got ‘the talk,’ or whatever, about sex. We were just kind of left to figure it out ourselves. I found porn in sixth or seventh grade, after moving on from bikini pictures of women, basically. I just knew these naked pictures made me feel pretty good. I’d print out the pictures and keep ‘em in a drawer,” Austin says, chuckling. “I went to a private Catholic school, and to be honest, we didn’t have a sex education. It was just abstinence.”

Given that they lacked the language skills to really talk about sex and pleasure, Austin and his girlfriend never actually planned out having anal sex. He admits they both “kind of thought it was wrong,” but kept shuffling the boundaries further and further while indulging their physical urges as teens. “We didn’t overthink it,” he notes.

So how can the loophole be explained? Call it a sin of omission, if you will, as the Bible never explicitly refers to anal sex, even as it condemns men “lying” with other men. There are copious references to the sin of “sodomy,” which is widely interpreted today as non-PIV sex. But in a stricter biblical interpretation, the act refers to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which the men from both cities insist on having sex with two (male) angels, rather than “a virgin daughter… and a concubine.” Elsewhere in the Bible, vaginal intercourse is heralded repeatedly as the privilege of a holy and pure marriage, and the only worthy sex you can have.

You can see why two thirsty teens would find wiggle room in this vagueness to believe that, even if anal sex isn’t outright allowed in God’s eyes, it’s a lesser problem than actually breaking your so-called “technical virginity.” Which is how you end up with stories like that of the pastor’s daughter, the kind of devout follower who openly proclaimed that she simply wanted to serve God and always made sure to show up to church early on Sundays. It was the kind of girl that Courtney, a 22-year-old in Rochester, New York, had seen a lot of while growing up in a fundamentalist Christian community. Courtney chose to go to a secular university after high school, while her best friend chose a Christian university in Pennsylvania. And not long into freshman year, Courtney got an intriguing phone call from her best friend. The pastor’s daughter — her friend’s roommate — was going out on Saturday nights and bringing boys home.

“They’d had conversations about how important virginity was to them and all of that. And my friend asked her, ‘Hey, so are you having sex? What’s going on with these guys?’ And her roommate basically said, ‘Well, we’re having anal, but I’m still a virgin, technically. It doesn’t count,’” Courtney recalls. “My friend thought she was joking at first, but she said it again. And that was legitimately confusing to her.”

Courtney never tried “the Loophole” herself as a young Christian. She never even considered how to have sex, given that her family forbid her from even holding hands or kissing a boy. But hearing so many second-hand tales, plus being surrounded by women who felt empowered to hook up at her own university, changed the axis of Courtney’s faith. Her crash course in sexual education began with tentative talks with her new friends, which led her to question whether her fundamentalist upbringing had done more harm than good.

“I started to realize they weren’t burning up in Hell, they were good people who were enjoying themselves,” she says. “It also frustrated me. My freshman year, I started actually having a boyfriend who wasn’t religious, and we starting trying some of these sexual things. And I realized how naïve I was. I thought, I could have been in a very dangerous situation if you weren’t a patient, good person.”

Sexual education as a whole is flawed and inconsistent in the U.S., and many religious communities use abstinence-only programs as a replacement for more thorough conversations about biology, consent, self-care and contraceptives. It hasn’t exactly panned out. About 1 in 8 American teens, or 12 percent, officially pledge to avoid sex until marriage. Yet just 3 percent of Americans actually pull it off. Sociologist Mark Regnerus found even starker results in surveying evangelical teens: About 80 percent of them said sex outside of marriage is “morally wrong,” yet he estimated as many as two-thirds of evangelical teens break the rule anyway.

It’s worth remembering that a lot of teens, not just religious ones, “sexually substitute” non-PIV acts all the time, fearing pregnancy and STDs rather than God’s wrath, as a 2008 study concluded. But it’s also statistically unlikely for a teen to commit only to anal or oral sex for too long: the same study found that “only about 4 percent” of 20- to 24-year-olds managed the feat. The difference is that young people from conservative religious backgrounds often view sexual urges through a filter of shame that colors their relationships with family, romantic partners and their own spirituality.

Austin broke off a nearly four-year relationship with his girlfriend in freshman year of college at Mizzou. It was the first time that he came to terms with the notion that he really wasn’t a virgin anymore. He managed to avoid sex again until he turned 21, but that changed when he met a girl in a bar. “She didn’t know I was a vaginal virgin, and I was so, so drunk, it was kind of traumatic. I was thinking that my first time was supposed to be special. At first, I just wanted to fool around, but as soon as I slipped inside her, I basically went, ‘Screw it,’” he says. That was the trapdoor that unleashed a wave of hookups. By his count, Austin ended up sleeping with around 25 women in college after that initial encounter: “Even now, it’s kind of annoying. I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. Even though I’m still a Christian, I’ve struggled with that. I thought I might as well keep having sex because my virginity was gone anyway.”

Courtney, at least, began exploring her sexual desires in college and has shaken off the insecurity of being left in the dark about the subject. Talking to her parents about it, however, is still off the table. Last year, her mother and father reluctantly agreed to let her boyfriend of several years visit her at the family home. Things rapidly went downhill when her father strolled past the room where she was changing into a new pair of shorts while wearing a bathing suit, next to her boyfriend. “It didn’t look good, even though nothing was happening. And it turned into an absolute mess. My dad literally told my boyfriend that it was his fault for ‘ruining his girl,’” Courtney says. “He thought my purity was gone. It felt like he thought I was gone.”

The good news is that despite a very slow shift of views toward sex, some conservative religious communities are showing interest in changing the conversation. And as Washington University’s Griffith points out, many young fundamentalists are beginning to soften their hardline opinions on things like the LGBTQ community and the “traditional” role of women. These issues of identity are intertwined with sexual norms — questioning one leads to the questioning of another. “I expect this emphasis on female purity and virginity to decline a bit in time. Men and women both struggle with religious sexual shame, but the double standard on the woman preserving herself, and the treatment of women who don’t, has been alive and well for a very long time,” Griffith says.

It’s all an imperfect process, including for Austin. He went most of 2018 without having sex, but faltered a few weeks ago and slept with a woman he met. He’s single for now, and still grappling with what it means to fail with sinful acts. Like Courtney, his experiences have shaken his relationship with God. Unlike Courtney, he still believes in the value of waiting to have sex until marriage, and wants to do exactly that with the next serious Christian girlfriend he finds.

“The value of waiting is in the expectations of what sex is. Sex is so different with every person. I’ve learned that over my escapades,” Austin says with a low, tentative laugh. “You can think you’re really good, then all of a sudden feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s about learning each other’s bodies and preferences and making that connection with one person. You have your entire life after that to tailor yourself to them.”

In the meantime, a few years ago, he and his former high-school girlfriend got to chatting again, and toward the end of the call, the topic veered to their time as a teenage couple. She couldn’t help but point out how weird it was that they lost their virginity together, after all, despite the rationales otherwise. He couldn’t help but agree.