DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I love reading your articles, and have a question for you that may be less applicable for your usual audience. But you’ve written before about virginity and toxic gender stereotypes, and I think your advice is always spot on.
Here’s my problem: I’m a nerd who’s never really struggled with dating until now and faith has been formative in my life. I grew up in a very religious home, and through high school and college came into my own more nuanced perspective on faith and doubt and living in the productive tension between the two. And naturally this influenced my perspective on dating and sex.
I’ve been friends with a lovely person for the past year, and we starting dating a few weeks back knowing full well that after graduation (my undergrad, his grad) and our subsequent moves to opposite ends of the country, we’d return to being friends. I thought this would be something easy and fun (and it has been), but then I slept with him. Intellectually I know this was just a new experience, and I haven’t radically changed as a person, but it’s hard to resist falling into the shame and guilt that two decades of church teaching and abstinence sex ed associate with “losing” your virginity.
I don’t think God loves me any less now, or that my value as a human being has decreased, but I’m afraid that now I won’t ever be able to date someone with similar love for God and others. Basically that since this has happened, I’m no longer the good girl and shouldn’t expect to men with upstanding morals and character to have anything to do with me. Do you have any advice for overcoming this feeling of being damaged goods?
Unfortunately, many of the people in my life would think I should feel ashamed and repentant, and so I don’t know who to talk to. Bad enough not waiting till marriage, I didn’t even wait for a long term relationship with someone who says he loves me. I don’t regret it—he’s caring and kind—but I’m worried that one night may have ruined any chance at a happy long-term relationship down the road. How do I get over these irrational but deep-seated fears?
Good Girl Gone
DEAR GOOD GIRL GONE: First things first, GGG? You didn’t do anything wrong. You had sex with someone; this has absolutely nothing to do with your goodness or moral character. There’s nothing to feel ashamed of. Hell, all things considered, it sounds like you had a great first time. That, in and of itself, is something to be proud of. You were with a partner of your choosing, at a time of your choosing and on your terms, with someone who cared for you and was gentle with you. That sounds like a giant “win” to me. That’s the sort of triumphant experience that coming-of-age stories are written about
But now your jerk-brain is dripping poison in your ear and telling you that you’re “bad”, that you’re “sullied” and that nobody could possibly want you anymore. And I’m here to tell you: that’s bulls
t. Unmitigated, 100% pure bulls
t. You’re hearing the echoes of the lies that people have told you in order to control you, sexually and emotionally. It’s their way of trying to usurp your will and bend you to theirs, to tell you that you don’t have the right to make decisions for yourself. You’ve exercised your power and control and they don’t like that. So they tell you that you’re bad and that nobody of value could possibly love you now.
Here’s what you need to know: people who judge you and shame you for how you lost your virginity are not people of upstanding moral character. People who tell you that you should be ashamed and repent have told you everything about themselves while knowing nothing about you. People who shame you, who browbeat you and denigrate you are not good people nor are they righteous or good, no matter what scriptural bulls
t they use to back up their slut-shaming ways. Even those who use “love the sinner but hate the sin” are looking for a way to judge people while still being superior. If we’re going to refer to the Bible, then let’s not forget that Jesus befriended, loved and defended the prostitutes, the thieves, the tax collectors, the beggars and the sick – the “sinners” – without shame or judgement. He accepted them as they were.
If someone judges you for having had sex, then they have shown themselves to be someone you don’t want to date. They have done you the favor of self-selecting out of your dating pool and good riddance to them; why would you want to date someone who thinks you’re damaged when you haven’t done anything wrong? Someone who shames you for having had sex can talk all they want about loving God and being a good Christian but their actions are proving otherwise.
(I’m also curious as to just how hard they’re having to lie to themselves about their future brides; less than 4% of adults are virgins on their wedding night, and I’d be very interested to know how many of those took advantage of God’s Little Loophole before the big day)
The only way that you’ve “ruined” any chance at a happy, long-term relationship is if you let these toxic beliefs control you and sabotage your potential happiness. A partner who is right for you is someone who loves you for you, accepts you for you and – critically – doesn’t see you as having done something wrong because you had sex when you chose to do so. Anyone who has a problem with that can f
k right the hell off.
Now I can tell you from experience: your jerk-brain is persuasive. It’s hard to ignore because it’s whispering in your voice and telling you all that all of your worst fears and anxieties are valid. But you can shut it down. Mindfulness meditation is especially good for taking control of your own brain; it teaches you how to control your thoughts and how to silence them when needed. It may also help to talk to somebody; contact The American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists and find a counselor in your area, or find a sex-positive therapist who can talk you through your issues. You may want to find a local church that’s part of a more accepting, sexually-positive denomination as well – the Unitarian-Universalist Church, for example.
But no matter what, I want you to remember: when you hear that toxic little voice telling you that you’re bad, that you’re sinful, remind yourself that it’s your jerk-brain and it’s full of lies. Remember that you’re an awesome person, someone who’s broken away from the toxic bulls
t that people have used to try to hold you down because they were afraid of you. You’re stronger than they were. You’re stronger than that voice.
You are powerful. You are good. And you don’t need to be ruled by other people’s poisonous beliefs and judgements.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)