The Choice

Let’s talk about sex.

And I’m quite serious. Not just ‘Let’s talk about not talking about sex’. This is a conversation, not a monologue. But a lot of people in my life who know about my convictions and choices have been challenging me on them recently, and I have loved it. We need to have these debates. We need to be open.

What we don’t need is to impose our personal convictions on any other human being – but it is loving and constructive to try and understand.

There are a lot of voices, a lot of opinions – and everyone is pushing for a more open landscape on which to dissect (most notably feminine) sexuality.

In the spirit of that openness, I’m keen to tell my story.

I haven’t had sex in three years. Not an outrageous amount of time, but by our generation’s standard, this is somewhat of an eternity. I have been in romantic relationships within that time, and in each case it has been my decision and in equal measure my partner’s decision, to abstain from having a sexual relationship. Consensual abstinence. Stuff of the dark ages? Apparently not. A lot of men and women I know – my age and older – have never had sex. Not ever. When I first learned of this, it shocked me. The secret world of happy virgins was revealed.

I lost my virginity at seventeen, because I liked the boy and I figured I should. I supposed it was probably a pointless accessory, like my appendix, or detrimental to my growth, like my wisdom teeth. Best to get the removal out of the way.

By age twenty, in the circles I was in, virgins were unicorns.

At first, I didn’t understand the female anatomy, let alone the male. I was in long-term relationships, and not-so-long-term relationships, and I learned big lessons. I do not, for one second, regret the relationships or the experiences. I value the people I was with, and the lessons I learned about bodies and about hearts. However, as time passed, I began to realise that many of the issues I was grappling with in my life –physically, socially and emotionally – were because of decisions I or someone else had made about whom they had had sex with, or under what context. I was confused. Sex – my language of love – could apparently be a weapon of destruction as well.

It can be useful, when you’re hurting. Sex is easier than words, sometimes. Sex solves fights. Sex keeps a dead relationship dynamic. Sex is an opportunity to escape into a different reality. It simplifies things, even if it significantly complicates things later. You can hide behind sex, instead of dealing with what is actually going on in your heart.

I had very firm beliefs about sexual liberty, and I continued embracing sexual relationships. I very openly spoke about nudity and sex scenes in my work, and embraced that aspect in a number of acting roles. I didn’t feel any guilt – and still do not – but there was a strange emptiness in my supposed sexual liberty. Nothing felt clear to me. It all seemed to just get messier.

As I met more people, I decided sex was part of the first conversation in figuring out if we would work. We were just bodies, touching. I didn’t feel any need to wait. I figured the natural, spiritual process of sex and sexuality would uncover for me what my true feelings for that person were.

In actuality, it obscured them.

I was left wandering – my body felt homeless. I had tried on these different shells, cowered under different bodies, and yet nothing felt like it could hold me in. I had acted on cravings and then realised I was never hungry. My life was spilling out around me.

Three years ago, in an experience not unlike my last post, I woke up in a hotel room I was living in in St Kilda and I walked downstairs feeling completely different.

I was single, and I was in the process of a profound spiritual encounter.

That morning my body felt whole. I felt like I belonged to myself.

I had realised, very simply, that I didn’t have to have sex.

I could. But I didn’t have to. If I didn’t want to, that was okay.

I didn’t have to have sex to attract, impress or keep a partner. It wasn’t required. My body was mine, and it was deeply sacred. I had nothing to prove. I did not have to share, fight, sell, or appease. The doors could close. I was allowed to be alone in my body.

I was enough, without sex.

From observing friends of mine who were living this out – I had begun to realise that I could be desired, pursued, loved and committed to, without sex being involved.

Sex would happen – but after a vow of loyalty and love.

I did not have to give all of myself – my wildest, earthiest self – without the assurance that the person I gave it to would keep and protect what was revealed.

With that revelation, I made my decision. It was not that I ‘shouldn’t’ or that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to. This was absolutely to do with God, in the sense that I believe God led me to that place of healing – but I didn’t read something that made me feel guilty, or have anyone sit me down and lecture me about my apparent promiscuity. I felt totally free, and in that freedom, I could choose. I chose abstinence.

I was surprised at how calmly my body responded to something that seemed so extreme from the outside. It was like a detoxification for the spirit. My body went into rest. I had pushed it to be able to engage with a partner at any given time, under the assumption that sex was just a primal need, and it did not matter who it was with or what level of relationship we had. That’s like saying it doesn’t matter what we eat – that the different ways we can feed and nurture (or sicken and abuse) our digestive systems are irrelevant. We have accepted as a society that it matters whether we eat healthily or not, and we monitor and celebrate elements of our body’s intake and balance, but we don’t treat our bodies as having the same sort of sensitivity when it comes to sex.

Up until this point, my body and soul couldn’t keep up. My womb cried out. My heart was overwhelmed.

I now believe that sex does bind us spiritually – not matter how emotionally invested we are/are not. I could not keep track of my splintered self. In my decision to stop having sex, I started a process of restoration, which was quite simply adjusting to the mindset of abstinence before marriage. I didn’t really need to train my body not to have sex – but I had to retrain my instincts from the pursuit of it. As time passed, incredible things happened.

I experienced reconciliation between myself and people I thought I had hurt beyond measure. I forgave, too. I found an inner integrity that I previously assumed I didn’t have – an ability to say exactly what my intentions with prospective partners were. I felt exposed, but also protected. I started to have healthy friendships with women. I had a new understanding of men. My sense of womanhood returned – I began to see my sexuality for its ability to create and foster life, not only to bring me release/pleasure.

I chose to date men (a different story, and a decision made in love and peace) who had similar opinions on spirituality and sex to me, as I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on any other, but also because abstinence in a relationship is a two-person job. You need to encourage one another, and challenge one another. In addition, I think love comes from resonance at the core of who we are, and if a guy couldn’t understand my relationship with God, then he could never really understand me.

Initially, I struggled with boundaries. I knew how to express affection with my body – or even get my way with my sexuality. I knew how to navigate a relationship with sex as an ingredient. Without it, I was faced with a challenge, and I was skeptical.

How could I possibly be intimate with another human being without sharing my body with them? Surely that is the most powerful gift of vulnerability one can give to the person they love?

I discovered, through my own experience of abstinence, that I wasn’t totally on track with that.

Firstly, intimacy and sex are separate.

Intimacy is closeness. Closeness can look like sex, sure, but it can also look like friendship. Like interdependency, and trust, and teamwork. Partnership.

We can sleep with strangers quite readily, but sharing our hearts is a different story. Explaining our deepest fears and secrets, actually exposing our flaws – that is hard. Finding grace in disappointment, humour in tragedy – that is relationship.

Victor Borge wrote that ‘Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.’ I discovered that intimacy, for the first time.

I learned how to express my love or my excitement or my frustration using words, actions, and decisions. Without sex, you are forced to encounter someone’s character, and in doing so, you are exposed to his or her truest nature. The intimacy I experienced in these dating relationships was unlike anything previous. I truly got to meet the person I was in relationship with, and in doing so, I could make an informed decision about whether or not we were supposed to spend a lifetime together.

Secondly – sex is vulnerable, absolutely. That is one of the reasons I do not share it readily – but true vulnerability is a heck of a lot harder than sex.

Sex isn’t that great a surrender on my part – it is quite simple and exciting to hand over at the time. We look for reasons. We look for opportunities from the second we hit puberty. Though profoundly precious, sex isn’t my greatest gift to my partner.

My greatest gift, my most vulnerable position in love – is to offer my commitment.

That, for me, is why it has to come first.

Celibacy/abstinence is traditional within many spiritual practices. For followers of Jesus, the practice is encouraged but not enforced – the holiness of marriage is biblically supported and explained using a metaphor of Jesus in loving relationship with the people He died for. The spiritual understanding of sex is that you become one flesh with whomever you sleep with – the original intention for this being you shall become one with your lifelong spouse. The bond between people who have sex has been called a ‘soul-tie’, and a soul-tie with multiple people can be emotionally damaging.

If you have a relationship with Christ, you are one with Him in spirit (rather than flesh). The belief is that your body becomes a temple for His spirit – He lives inside of you, and you are automatically deemed holy. If your body houses something so beautiful and pure (it is the spirit of ‘truth’), pairing it with other bodies in an ‘immoral’ way is dishonouring to God, your current or future life partner, and your own body. Within the marriage relationship, however, two bodies become one body housing the same spirit of God, and sex actually becomes an act of worship.

I know most of this seems very metaphorical and dry, but the Old Testament poetry book ‘Song of Solomon’ talks very openly about sex and sexuality, and celebrates eroticism. God may be holy, but He is no prude.

So God asks his people to abstain from sexual immorality. But what is that? Before you lose it at me over my hetero-normative/’A Walk to Remember’ take on all of this thus far, let me at least suggest that the spirit of God – which speaks – has the ability to define and relay what is sexual immorality for you in your circumstances. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says ‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.’

A lot of people can accept that adultery is sexual immorality, but not so many consider pre-marital sex in the same way. The definition of pre-marital sex isn’t clear either.  The bible makes suggestions, but some people interpret scriptures differently.  There are no clear ‘rules’ now, but there is a living God, who lovingly speaks about what is beneficial for your body and your heart if you ask Him.

In the Old Testament, virginity on your wedding day was paramount. It was the law. However, we live under a different rule, under a different code – which is not legalistic, but spiritual. ‘God’s law is written on their hearts.’ (Romans 2:15)

In this, we each have freedom to follow the Holy Spirit, and we cannot judge how another does so. In my case, sex (before marriage) just didn’t feel right anymore. I actively wanted something more.

It is not ‘messed up’, ‘unhealthy’ or ‘repressive’. At all.

For me, it is about addressing the body as the literal temple that it is – a place of holiness, a sacred place of worship, and a sanctuary. A place of peace. A place you can return to, that is protected and free of drama. I want my body to be that place.

It is about channeling sexual energy into a point of focus. It is scientifically understood that creativity thrives in abstinence – artists have been encouraged throughout history to hold back from having sex, as it speeds up and refines their output and process. I knew about this from psychology studies, long before I ever expected to participate in it.

Friends have suggested that the more recent relationships of mine that have had struggles or come to an end have been due to the fact we were not having sex. This simply isn’t relevant. The men I have had the privilege of dating honoured my choices and body (and I honoured theirs), thus allowing both of us to accurately assess the relationship, and maturely make the decision to part, in the cases where we did.

This doesn’t mean there were not problems. This doesn’t mean there weren’t temptations. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t sexually attracted to them – I was! I was acutely aware of the nature of our sexual chemistries, and could tell you exactly how we related to one another sexually, because sexuality is so much more than the sexual act. We wanted to have sex, sometimes. It was hard not to, sometimes. But we held back, because there was more to learn. There was more intimacy to explore, before we got to that part.

That is what is at the core of this – my focus has shifted from instant gratification to the goal of knowing someone. I want to gift my commitment, and all that comes with it. I believe in the covenant which lets two people become one.

I am excited about having sex again. I’m not a nun (though God bless ‘em). I anticipate my marriage, and all that comes with it, but I don’t need it to happen tomorrow. I don’t need it to happen in the next five or ten years. Even if it never happens, I am still complete. Sex is not a necessary part of self-expression. Yes it is expressive, creative and beautiful. But to be a whole, complete, fully realised and sexually-expressing woman, I do not need to be having sex. I do not need to be having sex to feel or be sexy. I do not need to be having sex with a man or woman in order to judge our compatibility, our chemistry, or at all examine the strength of our relationship. Truly.

Sex is natural, clean and incredibly healthy – but in my case, only within the protection of a closed circle. The next person I have sex with will never again have sex with anyone but me – he will have made that commitment not knowing how I perform in the bedroom, or what my breasts look like (cue Underbelly joke here). He has chosen me based on a deep understanding of who I am.

In that, I can truly be naked.

I will wait. My body is too sacred. My commitment is too precious. It is my choice.

Politically, things get murky and misunderstood. I don’t care for that part of it – nor for religiosity.

I deeply respect every woman’s powerful choice to both have sex and abstain from it. The women who fought (and still fight) valiantly for our rights to sexual liberty have fought for me too. I support them whole-heartedly. We must all have freedom in this.

Without free will, love loses its beauty.

But I do want you to know that there is nothing wrong with choosing not to have sex. If you feel any expectation to be sexual before you are ready, or to disregard the desires of your heart because they seem illogical or far-fetched, I want you to know you actually have control. There are plenty of us out there, people of many faiths and cultures, choosing a different path. Your boundaries will elicit reactions from the people that encounter them, but please take courage. If someone is worth your body, they will be able to love, respect and delight in you without having to lay a finger upon you, and vice versa. That is how bright the light of the heart shines. We can know one another in the spaces between us.

You are free to choose.

About Anna McGahan

Anna is a writer, based in the Sunshine Coast, Australia. She can be found on Facebook under @annaweir, and on Instagram and Twitter under @annamcgahan.

3 thoughts on “The Choice

  1. This is so beautifully written. I’m so excited to share this with friends to help them understand my choice for abstinence- such a helpful tool. Thank-you so much for sharing your personal journey you’re so brave!

    1. Thanks, Dorothy! This is no small opportunity to make much of the grace and wisodm of God. As I was driving my daughter to school this morning, I was thinking about how we adoptive parents may use this particular issue to turn our adoptive children’s minds and hearts not merely to consider the circumstances of their conception but primarily the good that our all-wise and gracious God has brought and is bringing out of it. Three bibical characters came to mind: Tamar (Gen. 38; Matt. 1:3), Rahab the prostitute (Josh. 2:1 and Matt. 1:5), and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11 and Matt. 1:6). All three women are listed in the geneaology of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew lists Tamar but doesn’t mention anything about the story of her pregnancy. Everyone in Matthew’s intended audience would have been well aware of the circumstances of her pregancy, though. He lists Rahab but doesn’t say anything about her pre-Boaz past. But, again, everyone reading his Gospel would have been well aware of it. But with Bathsheba Matthew writes, And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah (1:6). Matthew puts it out there for all to read; and in so doing He shines a spotlight on the wonderful thing God brought out of these situations, namely, Jesus, the one who came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). One of the things that I think is incredible about Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ geneology is that there’s no attempt at cover-up. One lesson Matthew’s geneaology teaches us is that when God’s grace and mercy is at work, there’s no need for cover-up. These situations become an opportunity to make much of Jesus, who not only can sympathize with our sordid past because of his geneaological past, but also works for our great good (and the great good of others) through them. This is good news.Thanks, Dorothy, for your transparent sharing. It has served me well this morning as it provided me with the opportunity to rehearse the gospel in a way I would not have today otherwise.

  2. I found this piece confronting and challenging. I grew up in a Christian family but chose to have sexual relationships after leaving home for drama school at age 18. Sex has, thus far, been a disappointment. It has not held up to be the point of intimacy I hoped it would be. Reading this, I feel compelled to find a new intimacy with future partner/s. There is so much of me that hasn’t taken it’s clothes off for any partner. So much that has never been shared or understood with anyone I’ve had sex with. For three years I’ve been disappointed with sex. Now, I understand a little better why that might be. Thanks Anna, great food for thought. You legend.

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