Nicole Hardy was a 35-year-old virgin.
A Mormon, she had stuck to teachings of her faith for three-and-a-half decades, choosing not to have sex even when her (non-Mormon) boyfriends wanted her to and patiently waiting for the future husband she expected God to bring along.
But at 35, Nicole got tired of waiting. And, as she wrote in her January Modern Love feature for The New York Times, she decided that she didn’t need a man.
What Nicole meant was that she didn’t think she needed a husband. Surprisingly, this revelation accompanied her decision to let go of her virginity.
She didn’t need a husband, but she was tired of being alone. Or at least, a virgin. She opens and closes her story with the scene of herself in a Planned Parenthood, getting an IUD implanted.
She describes herself wrestling with her faith, her family and God:
“Regardless of my tragic dating history, the fact that I had no reason to feel hopeful, I tried for 15 years not to lose hope. The gospel was the answer. It had saved my parents, each of whom had converted, separately, when they were young. Thanks to the Mormon church, they escaped childhoods rife with abuse, alcoholism and neglect. They found God, found each other, and were rescued by a community committed to family, forgiveness and joy.
Out of chaos they created a tiny space where our family of four lived happily and prospered. I was surrounded by love, taught that I am a child of God, that I have a divine purpose — my whole life I’d felt secure, fulfilled, purposeful and connected. And further, I’d made a commitment. Why would I abandon God and his church now when in all ways but one I had asked and had received?
Perhaps the failure was mine — I’m sure many church members see it that way. I was too weak to endure. They’ll say I should have waited another decade, or spent my whole life alone if that’s what God required.
I’m just unwilling to believe that’s what God wants for anyone, and was unwilling to continue spiraling further into a disconnected life, feeling abandoned, being discounted.”
The tragedy here is that she wasn’t abandoned, or disconnected, or discounted. And the irony is that casual sex certainly isn’t going to alleviate her pain or frustration.
Juxtapose her story to another 30-something woman who champions chastity as freedom, rather than bondage. Catholic writer Dawn Eden authored “The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On,” which was published in 2006.
In 2008, she described to The Today Show her life before she recognized the beauty of chastity. She had pleasure, she said, but she didn’t have joy. It was within chastity that she found an answer to the emptiness:
“That emptiness was in fact a God-shaped vacuum, as I discovered at 31 when I had a born-again experience that converted me to Christianity — beginning a journey that would eventually bring me to Catholic faith. But when the initial rush of my newfound faith faded, I had to face some hard facts — namely that, where my sex life was concerned, I had to get with the program.
For the first time, I saw clearly that all the sex I ever experienced had failed to bring me closer to marriage or even being able to sustain a committed relationship. Even when I had been in a relationship, the sex that was supposed to bring me and my lover closer effectively caused me to put up emotional barriers.
Before I discovered chastity, I believed I was supposed to make the most of my freedom to ‘have sex like a man.’ That meant divorcing my emotions from my sexual activity, so that I would feel a bond with my partner only if and when I wished. If I wasn’t enjoying this game, then, according to feminist wisdom, I was doing it wrong.
Today I see that I was doing it right, and that’s precisely why I was unhappy. Can a woman really have sex like a man? I’m not so sure men can ‘have sex like a man’ — at least, not without lasting emotional dysfunction. Sex is the most giving, self-sacrificing act that a woman can do with her body; she literally lets a man under her skin. I could not handle making myself so vulnerable for a man when I knew he had an ‘out.’ And I don’t care what anyone says about the high divorce rate: The fact remains that when a man hasn’t signed that piece of paper, it is much easier for him to simply pack up his clothes and leave.
So I had become hardened, to protect myself. And when the smoke cleared after the bolt from the blue that gave me my faith, I found myself having to learn not only chastity, but vulnerability.”
It’s tempting for singles in their twenties, thirties, forties — heck, nineties! — to abandon long-held values as unobtainable ideals and settle for what the rest of the world dishes out. But, as Eden explains, that’s not going to lead to happiness. It’s not going to lead to joy. (And Nicole even lists joy as among her parents’ possessions as they adhered to Mormon values.)
And it’s joy — not fleeting pleasure — that’s worth the sacrifice.