Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder
In a culture of indulgence, some Christians look to the Bible for strength and love through celibacy
It’s Friday night, and I’m at a party with friends. We’re sitting around the living room playing Never Have I Ever, a game that requires you to drink if you’ve done the thing in question.
I’m having a great time … until it’s Jessie’s turn.
“Never have I ever had sex with a girl,” says Jessie, a tall blonde with electrifying green eyes. She smiles and looks around.
Crap. I can’t say I need to go to the bathroom and leave. That would look too suspicious. But I don’t want to lie. So I turn myself in. While all the guys drink—and a couple of the girls, too—I just sit there, frozen, drink in hand, wanting to disappear.
Looks of confusion and uneasiness cover people’s faces, as they all glance in my direction. Silence fills the air. I’ve been found out.
“I’m waiting until marriage,” I say, reluctantly and without confidence. I pinch my fingers against my wooden chair and look down at the carpet.
Awkward pause. I see the disagreement in their eyes. No one asks me why I’m waiting. They just resume the game, as if they’d never found out an alien was in their midst.
My skin has only gotten greener since then. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, I’m part of a 5 percent group of people waiting until marriage. I know I’m a rare breed. I don’t need awkward drinking games or statistics to prove that.
But what’s so interesting to me is that, while the 95 percent are aware of our existence, they’re often not aware of the real reasons why we choose this path. While there are good, secular reasons for celibacy—guaranteed avoidance of pregnancy and lower incidence of STDs, to name two—those don’t really get to the heart of the matter.
There are, of course, those who’ve chosen another direction with their sexuality.
Bryan Rae and I sit in my living room on a recent Friday afternoon. Rae is a tall, built, 31-year-old veteran and University of Nevada, Reno student. He has a chin strap beard, clear-rimmed glasses and short, dirty blond hair. He doesn’t agree with waiting until marriage at all.
“Sexual compatibility is one of the keys to a healthy long-term relationship, and I don’t feel that someone can find their life partner without knowing the sexual compatibility is there,” Rae says. “And that’s only going to come with experience.”
He says sex with a girl he’s broken up with has never caused jealousy or pain in his life, but he admits that sex can create an unnecessary bias in a relationship.
“Because I’m such a sexual person, there are times that I have overlooked things that I wouldn’t have overlooked if the sex was just mediocre,” he says.
I have my laptop and am typing out the interview. He comments on my weird typing style.
“I have weird form with a lot of things,” I say.
“Well, you should practice everything first,” he jokes, relating the comment to sex and causing us both to laugh. “Get someone to teach you.”
Rae thinks “relationships” feel like simple friendships when there’s no physical intimacy involved.
“Sex is tied in with any kind of healthy emotional relationship as far as being close to someone,” he says. “I just don’t really have that solid connection with someone relationship-wise unless we’re having sex.”
Rae wonders if I’m asking these questions because they’re things I’m still personally pondering. He’s referring to a time in my life last year when I doubted my Christianity and my decision to wait until marriage. I assure him it’s only for the interview this time.Not everybody’s doing it
I live in a house called the 10th Street house, an old three-story house populated by 16 Christian guys. Eleven of us are virgins.
We have weekly meetings in our living room. This room consists of beat-up couches and chairs circling its perimeters (10th Street is where furniture comes to die, we say); wooden floors with stains beyond hope of ever being removed; brownish red walls and a sky-blue ceiling (which doesn’t sound good in theory but it works); and a large, brown clock hanging on our wall that’s only accurate twice a day.
At these meetings, we discuss house business, Jesus and our lives. At a recent house meeting, the guys discuss the reasons they’re waiting until marriage.
“Having those other partners subtracts from the amount of adoration that you can put into your spouse,” says Matt McDowell, a 27-year-old virgin with blue eyes and light brown hair.
McDowell once raced to the finish line to lose his virginity, literally. When he was 15, before he had made this commitment, a girl walked up to him and asked if he wanted to take her virginity. She invited a few guys to race from the school to her house. The first one to the house won her virginity. McDowell lost.
Our house isn’t only trying to resist sex. None of us are willing to go past kissing either, since we believe it’s sexually immoral or leads to sexual immorality, according to the Bible. We try our best to minimize masturbation, too. God is a big reason why we do all of this. It’s an act of love and obedience to our creator, who also gives us the strength to persevere.
At this point in the night, Bryan Rogers is the only non-virgin who hasn’t left the room and gone to bed. Rogers is a tall, well-dressed, 23-year-old with a surfer look and blonde hair often hidden under a beanie. He used to be engaged and says that his ex-fiancée would have been an amazing wife, but sex factored in to the relationship’s demise. He became more in love with the sex than with her.
“I don’t question or doubt that God has redeemed me in these things,” says Rogers.
I bring up a classic rebuttal to abstinence, which is the claim that you have to test drive the car before buying it.
“If you’ve only driven the car you’ve driven, that’s the only car you’re going to think about while driving that car,” McDowell says.
“You won’t have anything to compare with,” adds Nathan Hartley, a short, bald 21-year-old virgin with a wicked goatee and brown eyes.
“It’s the best sex you’ve ever had,” McDowell replies.
“That view is focused on no one but yourself,” Hartley says. “How can you genuinely care about someone if that’s the focus?”
“And it’s focused on sex,” McDowell replies. “When you enter a marriage, you’re not buying just sex.”
Nearing midnight, I notice many yawns in the room. I ask if anyone has anything else to add before we end the meeting. McDowell throws in something of a closing statement.
“When I read scripture, I don’t see anywhere where God says, ‘I don’t want you to have sex’,” McDowell says. “He’s saying, ‘I want you to have great sex, and here’s how.’”
Our house is in close fellowship with a Christian house of ladies, called the Lake Street house. They live a few blocks away from us and have half the number of people living there. I go to a Mafia-themed party they’re having one night to ask a few of them why they’re waiting until marriage.
The Lake Street house is unfurnished tonight. Not because no-one showed up to their party, but because they’re moving next door. The dance floor where the living room once was is just an open, wooden floor, and the walls are blank. There’s a stereo in the corner of the room parallel to the front door and a bunch of young adults dancing to pop music. After catching up with friends, I hit the dance floor. I run into Brooke Walker, who used to live in the house. As we’re dancing, I strike up a conversation about sex.
Walker, a short, 22-year-old with long, straight brown hair and blue eyes, is not a virgin. In the past, sex has led to many problems for her, such as jealousy, distance from God, unfaithfulness, and stress. She is currently in a relationship of a year and a half, and the two haven’t had sex. And they don’t regret it, either.
“I’m closer to God than ever before,” Walker says. “I feel like a much happier, healthier person, and I don’t have to live with that guilt.”
I leave the dance floor for the kitchen. Much like the dance floor, the kitchen is pretty empty. The left side of the kitchen has the essentials—fridge, oven, stove and cupboards—but the right side has nothing but a wooden table with food and drinks on it.
Lauren Bernstein hugs a friend and walks into the kitchen. Bernstein, a 21-year-old with curly red hair, hazel eyes and slight freckles, walks up to me. I skip the small talk and cut straight to asking her about her virginity.
Before Bernstein became a Christian, her goal was to wait until she was in love to have sex. God is her main reason for waiting until marriage now. She doesn’t think that God is just trying to suck the fun out of our lives by telling us to not have premarital sex, but is protecting us from pain.
According to Bernstein, when someone has sex and breaks up with that person, “there’s some residue that’s left behind that marks them emotionally and spiritually whether they realize it or not.”Sex is a gift
I meet up with Abigail at Walden’s Coffeehouse. She doesn’t want her last name mentioned because she doesn’t want her family to know that she’s an atheist and has lost her virginity, though not willingly. Her first time was rape.
Abigail, a 24-year-old with dyed brown hair, pale white skin and green eyes, never wanted to stop waiting, even after she lost her faith in Christianity.
“My mentality was still that sex was a gift that you give to someone, and it’s a special thing,” she says.
The Walden’s employee brings us our drinks. Abigail and I sit at a high table along the wall near the back entrance, talking over light music and a few other voices in the room. I ask her why she doesn’t turn back to sexual abstinence. She says it’s not important to her anymore, and she wants to enjoy her life. She doesn’t judge anyone who waits or doesn’t wait, as long as the person is staying safe and gaining consent.
“It’s a personal choice and each person’s value system is different,” Abigail says. “It’s really important for each individual to figure out what their boundaries are and what’s good for them.”
Coming from a very conservative, Christian family, it was hard for Abigail to rid her mind of the idea that premarital sex is wrong. I used to have a hard time with that too, when I left Christianity for five months at age 20. So I tell her I understand.
When I call John Friel, a well-known psychologist who has an office in Reno, he expresses to me his mixed views on the topic. Friel does couples therapy and has written books on relationships and Christianity. He’s come to many different conclusions over the years. One of them is that he doesn’t agree with the test-drive analogy.
“Any couple attracted to each other and that like each other can develop a good sex life if they’re not afraid,” Friel says, although other psychologists have less issue with the concept of sexual incompatibility. “Intimacy is uncomfortable and scary. People grownup enough to have conflict and work these things through can work them through.”
He doesn’t think waiting until marriage comes without consequences though.
“People who don’t have much sexual experience have a hard time developing a good sex life,” Friel says. “Not always, though. I can also say the reverse, that people who had way too many sexual experiences also have a hard time having a long-term committed relationship.”Hold outs for marriage
Mallory Colombo and I met up after church on a recent Sunday. We sat in the blue folding chairs in the right section facing the stage. At the time of our conversation, she was engaged and a virgin, living in the Lake Street house. She has since moved out of the house, gotten married and changed her last name to Rosier. I ask her about her then-upcoming wedding night.
“I’m excited that he’s the only person that’s ever going to have that piece of me,” said Rosier, a 22-year-old with brown hair, straight white teeth and Versace-looking glasses.
At first, Rosier’s only reason for waiting was because the church she went to growing up told her to. Over the years, she has formed reasons of her own. She has seen many girls hurt by sex. A longing exists at the heart of every girl to be loved and cherished, Rosier says, and waiting until marriage fully ensures those things. It allows for a familiarity and deeper intimacy.
I sit down with Mallory and Brian Rosier after they got married. They both express to me contentment in waiting for each other, though it wasn’t Brian’s first time having sex. He can see the difference between marital and premarital sex.
“In having sex in unmarried relationships, it causes tension that isn’t necessary,” says Brian, a tall, clean-shaven 23-year-old with short curly brown hair. “It exaggerates and elevates everything. Everything is more painful or stressful. Now, there’s no stress or frustration. There’s trust and intimacy. It comes with no strings.”
I catch up with Scott and Corinn Gayer that same night at church. Scott is a 23-year-old with thick glasses, buzzed dark brown hair, a close shaven beard and hazel eyes. His wife Corinn is a 22-year-old with an Abercrombie look. She has straight brown hair, hazel eyes and a red birthmark on her chin. Scott played worship music earlier during the service and is on the left part of the stage putting away his equipment while Corinn and I stand below him on the carpeted floor.
Corinne says that God protected them from having premarital sex with each other during the three years they dated and with other people before they started dating. Corinne cherishes that they have no other partners to compare to.
“Because we waited, we are perfect to each other,” she says.
After we talk a little bit more, we follow Scott outside to the vehicle to put away his equipment. The vehicle is parked on the sidewalk right outside the doors. As he’s packing up the vehicle, we keep the conversation going.
“At some point, marriage will outlast your sex life,” Scott says. “Sex will get old. What you really have to look at is the eternal things.”Onward Christian soldiers
My ex-girlfriend drives me home from the hookah bar in her red Honda on a cool, spring night. She wastes no time getting to her point.
“When are you going to lose your virginity?” she asks me, looking straight ahead at the road. She’s a pretty girl: 5-feet-2, green eyes, long brown hair, sexy curves. I’m tempted to just say, “Tonight. Let’s do this thing.”
I instead reply, “On my wedding night.”
She reminds me that her offer still stands. That she’s just a phone call away.
But I’ll never make that call. I’ve responded to a different call. And now I’m grateful to join a movement of Christians committed to following God and respecting his creation, a movement that argues true love waits and the wait is well worth it.