First Person

On knowing (yes, in the biblical sense)

When I first had sex, it wasn't just teenage hormones. I wanted to know and be known.

My husband Benjamin was not my first. Not my first love, and not my first . . . first. Although I once was the proud wearer of a purity ring—a silver band acquired in junior high school that advertised my intention to remain a virgin until my wedding night—at some point along the way, I misplaced the ring and, some years later, the virginity.

Beyond bursting into tears in the bathroom when it was over, I have few memories of the first time I went all the way with a boyfriend. The ring may have been gone, but I had absorbed its message. Sexual activity beyond the boundaries of marriage was wrong—a sin. Possibly even worse to a teenager acutely aware of peer pressure, the sexual relationship made me an outlier among my friends. They were good girls. They knew how to say no. At one point, a well-behaved and conscientious friend even ratted me out to her mother. Her mother, a friend of the family, called me up on the telephone after school one day to confront me. Never before or since have I experienced such an intense embarrassment. The only reason I didn’t hang up on her or dissolve into a nonverbal puddle of mortification was my burning desire to get a word in edgewise: Please, please, please, Mrs. Callahan, don’t tell my mother.

I had sex before I was married even though, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that “if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” I had sex before I was married even though practically every issue of my beloved Brio magazine managed to communicate that this was the worst possible thing a girl could do. I had sex before I was married even though I felt deeply guilty for everything I did, up to and including actual intercourse. Kissing and French kissing, petting and French petting (is that a thing?): it all filled me with a shame that overwhelmed whatever pleasure I might have otherwise derived.