The church I grew up attending was obsessed with rules.
The messages I've received about sex have been complicated, to say the least. Throughout adolescence, I got messages from the mass media, the advertising industry and my peers that told me over and over again that sex was incredibly important.
I watched movies that taught me how sex was the pinnacle of romance. I was taught by commercials that sex was elusive and powerful, and something to strive for.
I was taught by Cosmopolitan that sex is formulaic. It said there were good ways to have sex and bad ways to have sex, and that it was utterly important for me to figure out which was which.
I was taught by rap music that sex was about insatiable physical desire, and that the most pressing thing in life was to fill that desire as often as possible and with however many partners were necessary.
I was taught by all of the industries mentioned above that sex was, in part, about personal ego — about being able to pat yourself on the back because you got some, because someone wanted you, or because you knew you performed really well in bed.
I was taught by my peers that having sex would make me mature and grown up. They also taught me that the entire sexual act was divided into multiple parts — into bases and levels — and that the only thing that truly counted was getting to the last level.
My health education classes taught that sex was dangerous because I could get an STD or get pregnant. Sometimes, every now and again, I would get a faint message that sex was about love, but it was always rather quiet and inaudible.
Lastly, the most prominent message I received about sex was this: if I wasn't having it, I was missing out.
Of all of the messages, that was the one I was most tempted to believe because I figured it had to be true. Why would the entire world devote so much time, energy, and attention to sex if it wasn't the greatest thing ever?
Those were my thoughts whenever I was sitting in church and I heard the one solitary voice that came from both the pulpit and from my parents. It taught me that sex was only allowed within the confines of marriage. Because God said so. The end.
In high school, the idea of waiting for sex until I was married grew increasingly strange and unrealistic. It seemed antiquated and unjust, like only a God who didn't understand human beings would require such a thing of them.
In addition, the church I grew up attending was obsessed with rules. Their message was always about what not to do, and not having sex seemed like just one more rule in the midst of many.
As a teenager, I had secretly assumed that many of these restrictions were out-dated and unnecessary, thus I decided to try and intellectually prove that premarital sex fit into that category.
Over a period of months, whenever I had free time, I would dive into the index of my Bible and search for all the verses that said anything at all about sex. I read over them carefully, searching for a loophole — some fact, some story, some statement that I could pluck up and use as my justification.
It continued on into college, and was fostered by the invention of Google and by the vast array of research techniques I acquired as an English major. I read books, I gathered quotes, I highlighted my perceived contradictions and hypocrisies, like the fact that Solomon had hundreds of wives and had slept with all of them.
Then, with the help of a pastor, I realized that looking for loopholes wasn't the answer. I actually started embracing the idea of waiting and the idea of what sex can be within marriage — not because I had to out of fear or obligation, but because, surprisingly enough, I actually wanted to wait.
It began to make sense. Now, my faith is what influences me when it comes to sexuality.