I first heard about sex from the neighbor girl, Emily. She had a big sister who kept her informed, and Emily was more than happy to pass that information along to her younger best friend. Proud of my new knowledge, I let my mom know where babies come from, and it wasn’t long before my brother and I were called to a family meeting to get the real information.
While I understood the logistics and was one of the first girls in my class to be awkardly blessed with the equipment, the only other messages I received about sex can be summed up in these two statements:
1. According to the soap opera, Santa Barbara, sex was actually called “making love” and required dim lighting, mood music, and lots of lustful looks.
2. Premarital sex was a one-way ticket to hell, and I was NOT, under any circumstances, allowed to give over the goods.
It is a difficult thing to hear over and over again that something is so incredibly wrong that it would bring about the eternal damnation of a soul while at the same time riding the hormonal wave of puberty. It was like someone had placed before me a delectable seven-layer chocolate cake, handed me a fork, and then told me that eating it would make all of my teeth fall out immediately.
I watched as the girls around me began to become physical with the boys we had known since pre-school, and I wondered – worried – that I was playing in a game I could not win, no trump card in my hand.
Then a new boy came to our school. He wrestled. His hair curled at the nape of his neck. His smile was wickedly crooked. And unlike every other boy around me, he was brand spankin’ new to me – pure gold. It wasn’t long before my teen girl sleuthing turned up two upsetting pieces of information about new boy: he had a girlfriend at another school and they were totally doing it.
It was clear to me that the only way I’d stand a chance was by adding an item to my menu. I soul searched. I put the Bible next to the dictionary and I looked for any loophole I could find. And then I made a decision that had nothing to do with what I was taught by my parents, nothing to do with the shame glaring down on me from the mandates of my church. I decided that true love was more important than having a boyfriend for the moment.
I almost had it right.
I bought myself a silver ring engraved with the words Amor Vincit Omnia – Love Conquers All – and I wore it on my left index finger every day until I was married. This wasn’t a promise ring gifted to me as part of some bizarre ceremony, a pledge of purity. This was a promise to myself that I would honor my own romantic dream, wear the words that Chaucer’s Prioress from Canterbury Tales wore, wait to be saved by someone who would make me feel what I longed to feel – safe and loved.
What I didn’t realize in my teenage naivete was that I had unwittingly turned myself into Chaucer’s satirical character who claims to be a woman of God, yet clings to the treasures of this world – including romantic love. The sentiment I carried with me everywhere was correct, but what I failed to understand was that I was born loved and lovable, that my soul was already claimed for a price, and that I had long ago been made safe and rescued. There was no need to wait to receive the eternal love of God.
Like all of Chaucer’s characters, I’m on a journey, living out the pages of my story. Sometimes I remember who is the author of my days, and sometimes I find myself still waiting to be rescued. Regardless of where my heart is, I rest in the knowledge that the love of God conquers all.