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I was reading a few selections of a book my mom brought home from work –I think it’s called “What we hope for our daughters,” and it’s kind of the history of this bridal shop somewhere in Illinois. The book is made up of a numerous personal narratives about women preparing for their marriages, buying wedding gowns, encountering obstacles, etc. It’s a nice gesture at the very least, even if it is one that doesn’t really speak to me—I’m single and my sister still isn’t engaged, so I haven’t been to a bridal shop since my BFF asked me to help her try stuff on in 2009.
 
Still, there were several sections where women talked about their faith and about what they hoped for in their marriages (and parents also talked about what they hoped for their daughters). As someone who is religious and who believes that marriage is a sacrament, I thought it was nice to see that these women were not treating their vows lightly (even if their understanding differs from my own; by the way, I’m not saying that anyone goes in to a marriage thinking it’s no big deal or that it is a thing to be treated lightly; I just mean the book was focused on THE DRESS and THE IDEA OF MARRIAGE AS A PARTNERSHIP).
 
What I’m a little perplexed and bemused by is the section on “preserving purity.”

There’s one family whose three daughters decided to have their first kiss as man and wife—you know: they’ll first kiss their spose at the altar as the officiate concludes the ceremony). There’s nothing wrong with this, really. In college, I knew a lot of girls—and a lot of guys, for that matter—who didn’t believe in kissing before marriage. It was part of a huge campus debate when I was a sophomore, so the topic was usually floating around on some level. One of my co-workers at the library actually had a deal with her father: If her first kiss was at the altar, he would buy her a new truck. (This agreement was not made with her other sisters, who are all actually married now—Kass is not, but she and her boyfriend are holding out for marriage and a truck, I guess.)
 
I think the general idea behind the purity movement—and I’m no expert!—is to guard one’s heart against lust, and to make sure that one chooses a partner based on shared beliefs and mutual respect. I believe it is also an attempt to pledge sexual fidelity one’s spouse—that is, to say, “I waited to have sex with you, because I believe that sex should be confined to marriage, and that sex is an expression of my devotion to and love for you alone.” Again, no problem with this: I believe in abstinence and in sexual fidelity. That may make me naïve, but I’m comfortable with my boundaries.
 
What I don’t understand is the constantly iterated belief that, because a couple waits until marriage to have intercourse, the experience will be “special,” “more meaningful,” and, essentially, a mutually satisfying and world-changing event for both partners. I’m sorry, have you read Ian McEwan’s PROUFOUNDLY DISCOMFORTING novel “On Chesil Beach*”? Ladies, have you ever had a pelvic exam? Do you know what to expect? (Shockingly, a lot of conservative Christian women refuse to see a gynecologist on the grounds that they are not sexually active and thus do not need medical care. I will talk about this topic later, but suffice to say, I think it’s important to know your healthcare provider and to know your body, so that when things do change, you are aware of what’s happening).
 
A woman’s first sexual encounter is statistically unlikely to be satisfying. It is likely to be painful/uncomfortable, and, I assume, awkward and embarrassing. My mother helpfully offers up facts about her early marriage and I share them here, though I die of embarrassment: “Listen,” she said. “I just want you to know: sex hurts for a while. You both have to work at it to make things mutually satisfying.”
 
I suppose sex is like all forms of communication: it requires perseverance and dedication to make sure both parties’ needs are addressed. You throw a couple of virgins in bed, you gotta hope that they know how to talk about issues that are confusing, awkward, and fraught with complicated emotions. (When two of my friends from my conversion class got engaged, K reported back that the first thing the priest said to them in pre-marital counseling was, “Ok, I’ll bring it up because I know you two won’t. Let’s talk about sex, marriage, and your expectations.” Our priest is an amazing counselor, and K said that the initial conversation, while difficult, made her first year of marriage a lot easier to navigate.)
 
Perhaps this is what the purity movement is trying to accomplish; maybe these couples are having open, honest dialogue with one another, and are just offering up cute sound bites to the general public—after all, you can never really know what goes on between two people.
 
And to address any possible drama: I’m not trying to offend anyone; I personally do not care about, nor do I want details of, your sex life; all I wanna say is, communication is important and relationships take work. I don’t think we should try to make things glamorous. We’re all human, regardless of our personal beliefs and choices, and we all make a lot of mistakes while we’re navigating this gritty, glorious, confusing world.
 
____________________________
* Better Book Titles renamed this, “How premature ejaculation very quickly ruined my marriage.”
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