Virginity in print.

As it turns out, I am not the only woman who has put her virginity in print.

Another is a woman named Elna Baker, who in 2009 wrote an essay for Glamour called “Yes, I’m a 27-Year-Old Virgin.” But her story and mine are very different. In hers, she wrote of frequent close calls in beds with men and the Mormon roots that repeatedly compelled her to stop just short of sex.

And in 2011, Baker wrote a follow-up essay for Glamour. It’s called “Guess What? I’m Not a Virgin Anymore!”

Both essays are charming. Both are well written. And I have a few things to say in response to snippets of both. Read on.

From what Baker wrote before she had sex:

1. …everything I knew about sex I learned in church. I remember a Sunday school class on chastity when I was 13. The teacher walked into the classroom and slammed a tray of cookies onto the table with a loud clank.

“Does anyone want a cookie?” she asked in an aggressive tone. We perked up in our seats. Chastity class was always easier to endure when the teacher brought food, but something was amiss. Upon further inspection, the cookies were half-eaten, broken and sprinkled with dirt. “Anyone?” When no one answered, she nodded emphatically and said, “That’s right, no one wants a dirty, half-eaten cookie.” And that, my friends, is how I learned not to have sex.

For Baker’s Sunday school teacher to call what she taught “chastity” is unfortunate. Chastity is “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. … Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. … The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.”* Dirty cookies are irrelevant to chastity. They’re frankly irrelevant to abstinence, too.

2. Although my virginity was a disadvantage, I stayed hopeful about dating.  … Right there on the floor of the yoga studio, despite everything my parents and religion taught me, I decided to change the rules. I, Elna Baker, could have premarital sex. My criteria were pretty simple: It had to be with someone I trusted (no one-night stands). Most important, I would not cave to pressure from anyone. I had to make the decision for myself.

Over the next year, instead of just kissing sitting up, I started kissing lying down (the gateway drug to sex). And my dating life actually improved. By not taking sex off the table right away, I made it past the four-week mark in relationships with several different guys.

That guys won’t date you for more than a month because you’re saving sex does not mean virginity is a disadvantage. It means you’re dating the wrong guys. (And convinced, perhaps, that no other kind of guy exists.)

From what Baker wrote after she had sex: 

1. I thought it would help to go public about my virginity in a magazine; it ended up turning me into a reluctant spokesperson for abstinence. There were perks—the supportive e-mails I got from strangers were moving—but because I was so out there about it, Google soon became my biggest cock block. Guys would look me up and just think, No way. And to be honest, I had grown used to the fascination, disgust and confusion my virginity elicited in men.

So it’s a bad thing that guys who can’t handle your virginity don’t want to date you? Because I prefer that they don’t try.

2. And then it really hit me: I wasn’t a virgin anymore. That part of my identity was gone, and I had to face the fact that, at 28, I had no idea who I was.

This – virginity as part of identity – is a sad side effect of being taught abstinence outside of the context of chastity. Chastity is a way of life livable by people who are single, married or celibate. Chastity as part of identity is safe, because chastity never ends.

– – – –

Click here to read what Baker wrote before she had sex.

Click here to read what she wrote afterward.

Click here to read what I most recently put in print about virginity.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • “When no one answered, she nodded emphatically and said, ‘That’s right, no one wants a dirty, half-eaten cookie.’”

    Wow! So rather than emphasize the positive aspects of chastity, the teacher rules by fear. If you have sex, you will be likened to a dirty, half-eaten cookie.

    I can only imagine the damage she did to teens’ psyches.

    • Sincerely!

      In a human sexuality class I took a couple summers ago, my professor put it fabulously: Telling people “sex is bad, you are bad if you have sex” from childhood through young adulthood is kind of like saying “peanut butter and jelly is bad, you are bad if you eat peanut butter and jelly” over and over and over, until their wedding days, at which point you say, “Ok! Go eat some PB & J! And enjoy it!” The result of the damage is that lots of people have a hard time shaking the “sex is bad” thing, or the “I’m bad because I had sex” thing, and you can imagine the impact that has on a person and on a marriage. Something’s gotta change…I’m determined to change it. 🙂

  • SVB

    I always find it interesting when women sleep with guys and then say, “Yeah, we really didn’t have chemistry” or, “I didn’t want to sleep with him anyway.” From Elna’s second column:

    “Number two taught me a lesson in chemistry: I knew immediately afterward that I didn’t want to have sex with him again, and never did.”

    If I don’t feel chemistry with a guy, I don’t want him TOUCHING me, much less doing anything else. I’ve never been tempted to have sex with people I’m not attracted to. I don’t understand when women have sex with guys with whom they’re not attracted. I know there’s more from her articles to be taken than this observation, but I seem to hear about this type of thing over and over again. I just don’t understand it.

    • I’m w/ you, SVB! Kind of like the last time I conducted a sex survey and somebody said you have to have sex before you’re married so you know whether there’s chemistry. If you aren’t sure there’s chemistry but you’re having sex with someone anyway, my hunch is what underlies the choice to have sex is not “interest in finding out whether there’s chemistry.” The person is probably using sex to meet a need that would be better met in any number of other ways (but in our culture, it can be hard to discern that).

    • SVB

      I agree. Especially since chemistry can be felt without getting that intimate. You’re attracted to a guy? He’s attracted to you? BAM! Chemistry!

  • Spot on – Abstinence and chastity can only be understood in the holistic sense. They are part of the whole human person and cannot be considered as a “bolt on” to the human condition.

    The separation of sex from it’s holistic context is in the interest of many industries which have turned it into a commodity to be exploited. As a result, there is great resistance to chastity and abstinence, largely because society is unused / unable to consider them in their proper context.

    • PREACH! You’re totally right. Couldn’t agree more.

      There is great resistance to chastity, and society also resents it. Pope John Paul II put it this way:

      “Has the virtue of chastity in particular ceased to be respectable? … in modern man, (there is a) characteristic spiritual attitude which is inimical to sincere respect for it: (Resentment.)

      Resentment arises from an erroneous and distorted sense of values. It is a lack of objectivity in judgement and evaluation, and it has its origin in weakness of will. The fact is that attaining or realizing a higher value demands a greater effort of will. So in order to spare ourselves the effort, to excuse our failure to obtain this value, we minimize its significance, deny it the respect which it deserves, even see it as in some way evil, although objectivity requires us to recognize that it is good. Resentment possesses as you see the distinctive characteristics of the cardinal sin called sloth. St. Thomas defines sloth as ‘a sadness arising from the fact that the good is difficult.’ This sadness, far from denying the good, indirectly helps to keep respect for it alive in the soul. Resentment, however, does not stop at this: it not only distorts the features of the good but devalues that which rightly deserves respect, so that man need not struggle to raise himself to the level of the true good, but can ‘light-heartedly’ recognize as good only what suits him, what is convenient and comfortable for him. Resentment is a feature of the subjective mentality: pleasure takes the place of superior values.” -p. 143-144, Love and Responsibility

  • Terry W

    I also find it quite sad that the teacher compares a persons sexuality to a bunch of chocolate chips cookies, broken or not. Now cookies are good, but comparitively speaking…

  • Hi Arleen! I found your blog thanks to Ignitum Today–I’m a new columnist, too. I absolutely love your writing! You have one of the most fearless, articulate voices in matters of chastity that I’ve ever read. The balance between speaking candidly, yet still reverently, about sex is a tricky one to strike, but you do it phenomenally. I’m looking forward to reading more!

    • Wow! I’m so honored, Stephanie, and grateful for the kind words and compliments. Thank you! Stay tuned. More to come. 🙂