Our theme for the month of June is “Sex and the Church.”
I want you to know that it won’t be easy. There will be people that will tell you to have sex and get it over with. There will be those that tell you to wait because it would be wrong not to. They will call you sexy in a way that makes you feel dirty. They will call you sexy in a way that makes you feel powerful.
When things feel dirty, sweep the floors and do the dishes if it makes you feel good to have a clean sink, not because you feel like it is your responsibility as a woman.
When things feel sexy, pour yourself a glass of wine and write down what you love about yourself. Explore your own body without shame. Pose naked in front of the mirror with red lipstick on.
Wear your womanhood however you prefer. Wear it as a low-cut tank top and your short-shorts in the park, drinking lemonade. Wear it as a knee-length skirt and tights to church on a winter Sunday. Both are beauty.
You are not responsible for the actions of men. When the strange man boarding the bus tries to reach under your skirt, use your elbow to hit him in the face and say “fuck off,” as I once did. Do not let anyone tell you your clothing or your sexual body are to blame.
Statistics say you most likely won’t wait for marriage to have sex. But still, you may make this choice. It is yours to make. I’m not going to say that “scripture is clear” about whether or not you should wait because I believe that God is in the gray areas. It’s also possible that you’re not really feeling the “Christian God” these days and that’s understandable. (Just remember not to worship money. And read some Mary Oliver. That always helps me.)
I know that it is highly likely that when you feel ready to hold his hand, kiss him, or have sex with him, you won’t feel the need to tell me. Perhaps you won’t even tell me when you meet him. Perhaps there will be multiple hims. Perhaps there will be only one. Perhaps he will be a she.
I hope that if you choose not to share these parts of your life with me, it is not out of fear of what I will say, or do, or how I will react.
Because what I will do is make sure you know about consent. I will tell you about STDs and birth-control. I will answer your questions about anatomy and refer you to reliable sources when I’m not certain. I will tell you to be careful because people lie and manipulate to get what they want. I will tell you that your virginity is not a commodity. I will tell you that “sex” is hard to define, especially when we are trying to avoid being heteronormative.
I will tell you about my experiences, in hopes that you will make some of the same choices I did. I will tell you about my mistakes, so that you may learn from them.
I will tell you to guard your heart and keep your head. Don’t be afraid to love, but be sure about who you are without him/her, so that in times of loneliness you may mourn but not crumble. No relationship will make you happy all of the time. Surround yourself with a people from all walks of life. Surround yourself with those whom you can serve. Surround yourself with family, if they haven’t failed you, or maybe even if they have. I know I will not be perfect. Surely, you will call me old-fashioned about something, as I now confront my own near-perfect mother about some of her ideas.
I will tell you that your body is a miracle that I made with my body (with some spiritual and physical help) and you should try your best to take care of it. Try to exercise and eat well—not to achieve a certain size or weight, but simply because it will make you feel good. Don’t smoke or drink too much. (Though the queen of England drinks four cocktails everyday, and she is ninety-two.) These things are not done to make you more attractive to a mate, but out of respect for your female form—earthly and holy, both.
I will tell you that you must love yourself—not because you are better than anyone else but because you are an individual. Your worth does not come from how desired you are. You are already enough.
When you are bent seductively over a bar, trying to catch the eye of a bearded bartender. When you are crying into your croissant because she told you she loved you when she didn’t. When you are in the CVS aisle, wondering if the off-brand Plan-B works just as well. When you are trying to explain to your husband what it was like to grow up as a woman, always feeling like you were waiting to be chosen by a man, knowing he will never really understand. When you are sitting in church, gritting your teeth as pastor prays for those who are not married, and the ladies afterwards ask you why you haven’t been dating. When you are nursing your own daughter in the middle of the night, marveling at the beauty and miracle of your own strength and your own body. When you are growing or grieving or glorifying God, you are beautiful, you are loved, and I am here for you.
Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.