I got married at 30 years old.
Until that night, I was a virgin.
Like lots of people who have been raised in the church, this is something I’ve always believed in doing. My parents instilled in me that sex is essentially like a gift for the person you marry — something you don’t give away. Growing up I never really thought I’d have an issue with it; I just thought you’d date around, find a woman you want to be with, get married and then start having sex.
Was it something I had to hide? Sort of. Looking back, there were times in high school when it felt like a secret I had to keep. I mean, I wouldn’t go around disclosing it or anything, like when guys get together and the conversation naturally turns to girls and sexual exploits. I just avoided interjecting myself into those discussions, and let everybody else drive the conversation. When the conversation did turn to me — like one time at a high school basketball camp — I wouldn’t lie. I just responded that sex was something I was gonna wait to do. They weren’t applauding me or anything, but they were like, “That’s cool.” Overall, people were supportive. No one was ever like, “What the fuck are you doing, man?”
It helped, too, that I knew a few people in high school in the same boat. And I knew a lot more in college, because I went to a private Christian school. That said, when you’re in Christian youth groups as a teenager, sex is definitely one of the biggest topics — along with drugs and alcohol. You just wanna know, Why shouldn’t I have sex? As a teenager, you haven’t necessarily accepted why you believe what you believe. I think that happens later. So the big question is, Why do I believe this, and why can’t I do this even though everybody else is doing it?
Admittedly, I did think my parents’ reasoning — that it’s like a gift for the person you’re gonna marry — was kind of stupid. But along the way, you see people get STDs or get pregnant, and it reinforces your commitment. More importantly, you understand that if you want to say you’re living a Christ-like life, this is something you do. It’s the one way you can really plant your flag as a Christian teenager.
That commitment, however, got harder when I started experimenting more with the opposite sex after college. I wasn’t a serial dater or anything, but it’s never fun when you’re in the throes, so to speak, and you have to stop. For example, whenever we’d be making out, I’d think, Okay, this is getting to a point where I know I have to make a decision soon. I always had to find a good point where I could stop and explain things. For the most part, the women were understanding—at least, they didn’t seem upset or anything. But I also think that maybe I planted a seed in their head that this isn’t something that would be long-term. Or maybe those are my own insecurities talking. Whichever the case, even then, I was unwilling to compromise.
One woman, however, did try to flip me. We met a party, and the first couple times we went out, there weren’t any expectations of more. The third time, though, she really wanted to have sex. I said no, but she was like, “Come on, let’s do it.” I told her again, “Not gonna happen.” It fizzled out after that.
Basically, I always knew how far I wasn’t willing to go. But it’s something you have to deal with depending on the situation; it’s not like I went into it with a game plan. Penetration was obviously off the table. Aside from that, however, it’s very vague and different for everybody. It’s one of those “I-know-it-when-I-see-it” kind of things. Sometimes you go too far, and you feel bad about it; other times you go too far, and you feel fine.
I definitely can’t say I was sexually satisfied during this time period. Absolutely not, in fact. That’s what was the hardest part of living the lifestyle, knowing, whenever I was with a girl, that I could have sex if I wanted, but needing to stop. Even if you get to a point where you’re satisfied, you’re still replaying it in your mind: Would it have been okay if I did this? Or: I definitely shouldn’t have done that. So it can be unsatisfying both physically and mentally.
As for masturbation, I think there’s a verse somewhere in the Bible that says something about how spreading your seed is unbecoming. But shit, if you’re a kid with raging hormones who’s not gonna have sex, then you have to do something.
I’ll leave it at that.
I met my wife at a church retreat. She was actually dating one of my friends. Even though her and I became good friends, when she and my friend broke up, I didn’t immediately try to date her. She started seeing this other guy I knew at church anyway. Still, I was the person she’d have a drink with at the end of the night. Eventually, I started to feel things for her, and she started to feel things for me.
That’s when I put it out there: “I want to date you. I want to be with you.” But she told me no. It was brutal. I haven’t cried more in my whole life than in that moment. We didn’t talk for two months. One day, however, she came over and said, “I can’t stop thinking about you. I wanna give this a go.” After that, we started dating in earnest.
She wanted to wait to have sex till marriage, too. The conversation only came up once, and we both quickly agreed to it. We did, though, have a bunch of other conversations around, “This is what we’re not gonna do” and “This is what we are gonna do, and how do we feel about it?” Because one thing would lead to another, and we’d talk about it after the fact. One of us would feel guilty and think we shouldn’t do that anymore. In a lot of ways, that was a much more awkward conversation.
Personally, I wasn’t worried that when we finally did have sex that it would be bad. I knew we had good chemistry from having gone way too far, way too many times — in the eyes of God at least. Nor was I thinking about sex that much in the run-up to the wedding. And I especially wasn’t thinking about it on the wedding day itself. I just loved seeing my family and friends have a good time.
Right after the wedding, you might assume we rushed to our hotel room and ripped off each other’s clothes. But we didn’t. We were both exhausted and thought, Just because we can finally do it, doesn’t mean we need to do it now. There was some fruit in our hotel room, so we ate that while we replayed the wedding. Our room also had one of those huge bathtubs that I’ll never own, so we made a bath and sat in there for a while. After that, we went to bed. As we were lying there, however, one thing led to another, and we went ahead and did it.
Honestly, the first time was nothing special — including my performance. Let’s just say it didn’t last very long. I wouldn’t call it a bad experience, but it wasn’t mind-blowing either. I was definitely excited and exhilarated — and it’s a sensation different from anything else I’d ever felt before — but neither of us came out of it thinking, Yes, this is amazing!
The next morning, though, with the pressure off, it was much, much, much better. It wasn’t like we were switching positions every 10 seconds, but we had more of an appreciation for the act now that the first one was out of the way. Plus, because we’d chosen to wait, we knew that the act of sex was about something a lot bigger than what happens the first time. There was also a feeling of freedom — from the weight and the pressure of not having done it — that only grew with time.
These days, I don’t spend much time thinking back to my time as a virgin. The one thing I do remember, though, is my wife and I thinking that because we’re very sexual people — even though we’re not doing it — that we’d be able to do all kinds of crazy stuff when we were married. But that hasn’t really been the case. In large part because, like anybody else, we’ve got kids now and that part of our life — as well as our jobs and all the other shit we have to focus on — has overtaken our sex life. I also think, though, that sometimes expectations simply don’t match up with reality. How can they? What’s forbidden is always better in your imagination than in real life.
—As told to Adam Elder