Lies my romance novels taught me.

Confession: I read romance novels. You know, the ones with the slightly awkward covers, steamy bedroom scenes, and sappy happy ever after endings. I used to live for them. Part of me liked seeing someone’s love story work out when it became obvious that my own love life was more of a farce than a romantic comedy. Another part of me liked reading about the leading man – the tall, dark, handsome, manly yet sensitive heroes that would sweep the heroine off her feet. Still another part of me secretly craved the sex scenes. There is some truth, I’ll admit, to the idea that romance novels are porn for women.
(It should be noted that I now tend towards books where everyone dies in the end.)

We live, I believe, in a culture of Happy Ever After. We read the books, watch the movies, invest years into tv shows that often show us exactly what we want – two people beating the odds, overcoming the unlikely to end up happily together and in love. We sigh at the final page, the final frame, the final episode when years of strife end in a kiss.
“That’s what I want,” we say to ourselves. “That’s the love story I want to live.”

So we go about our lives expecting that. Every guy or girl could be our surprise chance meeting. Every first date could be our last first date, the beginning of the relationship. Even our old loves could come back and rekindle the still-there romance. Someone who saw you as merely a friend could wake up one day and finally see you.

And some of our love stories will go this way. Some happen exactly like something out of a fairytale. But even then, they aren’t going to be perfect or easy. They aren’t going to be relationships with conflict neatly resolved in a chapter or episode. We can’t build love and trust in the span of 120 minutes.

We’ve bought into a set of lies perpetuated by the culture that gave us Disney princesses, How I Met Your Mother, and Nora Roberts. We’ve believed in lies that only make sense in the fantasy land the writers have built from nothing. We’ve allowed these lies to shape our approach to sex, love, and relationships.

Lie #1: Sex will always be perfect.
I’ve never read an awkward sex scene in a romance novel. Whether it’s between two virgins, a virgin and an experienced partner, or two experienced people having sex together for the first time, it’s always perfect. There are no uncomfortable moments or pain, and everyone has an orgasm. Always. Maybe even more than one. The guy has no performance anxiety, the woman is always in an adventurous mood, and the bedroom scenes are always explosive.
Ha. Now, I’ve never had sex, but I have friends who have. I’ve heard the stories about the awkward first time, the pain of the women, or the guy not lasting long. I’ve listened to the frustration and confusion as they say, “It’s not supposed to be like this.”
The truth is, sex is messy. Sex is a tad awkward (I mean you are naked, for God’s sake). And there’s a learning curve. What works for one person won’t work for another, because our bodies are different When it comes to sex, there just isn’t one perfect/right way. There is only the way that works best for you and your partner. (Also, the sex scenes in movies? The hot, intense moments in the bedroom? Fake. Something to remember.)

Lie #2: Sex comes before love.
The couples in romance novels and movies fall into bed pretty quick. Maybe they wait for the socially acceptable 3 (?) dates or they give into the sexual chemistry. We see the sexual tension and watch as the couple admits they just aren’t strong enough to resist.
In the last romance novel I read, every time after they had sex, the man and woman would look at each other and say, “I still don’t love you.” The sex was just sex. Just physical release. The love came later, at the end. But sex was first.
That sexual chemistry is hard to resist. As a virgin who struggles with lust, I get it. But I don’t like the idea that I won’t find love until after I’ve had sex. I don’t believe that my love for a man is less because we’ve never been physically intimate. The idea of using something as unpredictable as sex to determine whether or not you love someone is a dangerous game. I’m not saying you can’t have sex without love, because you can – people do it everyday. But don’t believe that sex determines that love. Love should come first, allowing sex to be a passionate physical expression of that love.

Lie #3: All love stories resolve.
One common motif (fancy, huh?) in romance stories is the triumph of unrequited love. The return of a lost love, the realization that a friend is more than a friend, the childhood crush finally being returned – each have created some heart-wrenching moments. We read books and watch movies where it all falls into place; everything comes together exactly how you think it should. The hero always comes back. There is always a declaration of love. Love always conquers and is always, ultimately, returned.
Only it’s not. Not always, not in the real world. Your childhood love won’t always come back. The best friend you love won’t always love you back. Sometimes the perfect guy or girl that you know is for you actually isn’t for you. We waste time waiting for impossibilities instead of going after maybes. We find ourselves wishing the man or woman of our dreams leaves the person they’ve found happiness with in order to give us what we want. We become selfish.
The truth is that not every love story has a happy ending. Some are tragic, ending in heartbreak. Some just aren’t meant to be. The longer we wait for those stories to gives us the ending we the want, the resolution we’ve been told we will get, the more we miss out on the story we’ve meant to have.

Lie #4: There is no need for God in a successful relationship.
Most tv shows, movies, and novels are of a secular nature. There are no religious themes or implications. God is as absent from the stories as He is from much of our society. So we are given examples of relationships that succeed without God’s presence. A couple meets, falls in love, gets married perhaps, and deals with all the struggles that come with it without relying on God. He quite simply isn’t there.
I’ve seen relationships where God is an important part and relationships where He isn’t. I’ve seen relationships without God succeed and relationships with Him fail. Allowing God into your relationship isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get your happy ever after. But is you, as a Christian, have a personal relationship with God, He should be at the center of every aspect of your life. We try so hard to do things on our own. We figure we can muddle through. But sometimes the problems are too big, the struggles too great. Sometimes we need to sit with our partner and admit we don’t know what we’re doing. But we do have a God who offers love, strength, and peace.
We have a God who will see us into our happy ever after if only we ask. Besides, shouldn’t we endeavor to mirrors God’s amazing love in our relationships and eventual marriage?

I’m not saying that reading romance novels is a sin, or that you shouldn’t watch romantic comedies or cute tv sitcoms. (God save me from legalism.) The problem, as I see it, is the intention with which we read the books and watch the movies; what we hope to get out of them. The problem is what we let them mean to us, what we them write on our hearts, and how we let them affect our ideas of love, relationships, and sex. The problem is when we let a novel or show teach us something it’s not meant to teach us.

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Why I’ll wait: On sex, virginity, and my choice.

There is one thing that I have found to be rare in our hyper-sexualized society. There is a type of male or female that seems to be incompatible with a culture that produces such iconic gems as Magic Mike and Fifty Shades of Grey. Most in my generation, after entering into their roaring twenties, have probably forgotten that such a thing exists.

I’m talking about being a virgin.

Now, when I say virgin, I mean virgin. I am probably the absolute least experienced person when it comes to physical intimacy than most twentysomethings you’ve met. My sexual history is a list of things I haven’t done. I’ve never even kissed a man (much to my dismay). I’ve never gone on a real date or been in a relationship, let alone spent a night of passion with a man, trading desperate embraces and soft caresses. I’m inexperienced and innocent, though my sense of humor might indicate otherwise.

There was a time in my life when I was embarrassed by this. A 20+ year old virgin is a travesty this day in age. Something must be wrong with me, right? I mean, how unfortunate that I haven’t had the experience of sex, making love, and all the emotional intimacy that comes with it. How deprived am I that the only knowledge I have about the goings-on in the bedroom is from what I’ve read and the movies I’ve watched. (Not that kind of movie, my goodness.)

The worst part was thinking that being a virgin meant I was lacking. If a guy didn’t want to sleep with me, obviously I wasn’t woman enough. Being a virgin got twisted and tangled up in my self esteem. Being a virgin meant I wasn’t pretty enough, sexy enough, exciting enough. Being a virgin became every insecurity I had rolled into one. Being a virgin, instead of being a virtue, became something I hated, something I was ashamed of, something I resented. Being a virgin meant I was unwanted, unloved, and undesirable.

It’s hard when you live in a culture that bombards you with sex while maintaining a faith that places value in being chaste. It’s hard when society mixes embracing your sexuality with engaging in casual sex. It’s hard when the lines between being an empowered woman and being an experienced sexual being have been blurred. It’s hard when being a man and an assumed sexual Adonis leaves you feeling like you are missing a vital part of yourself.

Because the truth is that being a Christian isn’t enough to prevent us from having premarital sex anymore. Being a Christian hasn’t stopped me from wanting it or thinking about it. We sit in church on Sundays, nodding when the pastor goes on about sexual purity, trying to forget the hours we spent with lovers on the nights in between. We are told to wait for our spouse. We are told of the beauty of giving ourselves to our husband or wife on our wedding night.

Yet we live in a society that says we don’t need commitment or marriage to experience sexual satisfaction. The Church says that sex outside of marriage isn’t on the same level as sex between you and your spouse. But Hollywood says otherwise. Friends say otherwise. Even our bodies say otherwise. So why wait until our wedding night when we aren’t given a good reason? Actually, that isn’t fair. We are given a reason- the Bible says so. But when that is the reason for a lot of other rules we don’t really understand, we stop hearing it. It stops having meaning.

For an entire year, I threw out the rules. I took off my purity ring, because I thought the whole idea was ridiculous. I was tired of not doing something when I could see everyone else doing it and enjoying it. I was tired of going against the norm.

Nothing happened. And I honestly believe that a part of me didn’t want anything to happen. Emotionally, I couldn’t have handled a one-night stand or a meaningful sexual encounter. Because the truth is I didn’t want sex. I just didn’t want to be a virgin. I was surprised to realize there was a difference.

I didn’t want desperate kisses, multiple orgasms, and lingering touches. I didn’t want a soulful connection or lovemaking. I didn’t want a torrid affair.

What I wanted was reassurance of my femininity and attractiveness. What I wanted was affirmation that I was desired by men. What I wanted was the power to decide whether or not to be a virgin not because of a ring and a few Bible verses, but because it was my decision, only mine. What I wanted was the experience my friends had flaunted in front of me. What I wanted was the ability to say that I had finally done it.

What I wanted was selfish and reckless, which are two things sex should never be.

And I deserve better than to have sex just for the sake of having sex. The man I’d have been with deserves more than to be some meaningless fling, to be used for what I want. My future husband deserves more than for me to treat my virginity as a burden rather than a gift for him. I deserve more than to have sex just to gain the experience that comes with it. The act of sex, of making love, deserves to be treated with respect. It shouldn’t be an afterthought, something to cross off my checklist.

It should be anticipated, savored, enjoyed. Never regretted.

So for now I’ll wait. Not because it’s fun or easy, because it’s neither of those things. But I’ll wait because I’m not ready. I’ll wait because my femininity and sexuality aren’t defined by my sexual experience. I’ll wait because of love, because of my husband, because of my heart. I’ll wait because God has called me to.

I’ll wait because having sex shouldn’t be something we do to get it over with. It shouldn’t be something we engage in because everyone else is doing it. We shouldn’t use sex to makes us feel better about ourselves, because that disregards the person we are having sex with. It is self centered, and sex is always about two people, two hearts and two bodies.

I’m not going to tell you not to have sex before you’re married. That’s a personal choice you make. And I know that many of you may have already had sex in previous relationships, perhaps because you thought they were the one, or because, like me, you were tired of your virgin status. But I will say sex is a big deal. Sex means something. Sex changes you. And it won’t erase your insecurities or eliminate self doubt. Having sex isn’t going to solve the problems in a relationship. Usually it makes things more complicated.

So if you aren’t ready for the physical and emotional ramifications that come along with giving part of yourself to another person, I want you to know it’s okay to wait. You are allowed to wait.
And I choose to wait.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts. And maybe follow me on Twitter?

The Virgin and the Vagrant (with Cory Copeland)

Last week, my good friend Cory Copeland asked if I wanted to have a sort of Q&A discussion on… sex! Being the inappropriate young woman I am, I agreed. Of course, since I’m a virgin and Mr. Copeland is not, we each brought different things to the table. We managed to keep it tasteful with only a few sex jokes thrown in for good measure.

Check out our discussion here

And come back Friday for my post on the frustration of being a virgin in a sexualized society.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts. And maybe follow me on Twitter?

Sex and the Christian Woman

I’ve begun, deleted, walked away, and come back to this post for weeks. I’ve changed the title, purpose, and even audience for this post more times than I can count. I can never figure out where to start. And maybe … Continue reading