sex

‘I took a purity pledge at 11 years old. All it did was make me think about sex.’

If you look at the photos, you can't mistake me for a grown woman, even if you tried. 

I'm wearing awkward heels with a dress that shows far too much skin. I've tried my hardest to hide the pimple forming in the middle of my forehead, but I've failed. My arms are too short for my body. I am chubby and my face looks even rounder than usual thanks to the bangs I've cut for myself. 

I don't look like a woman, but I don't look my age either. All because of what I'm about to do.

I'm 11 years old and taking a pledge of purity at my hometown church in Western Sydney. My entire family watch on. From this moment on my virtue, my dignity and my honour will be saved for my husband, in God's name.

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Looking back, I can still picture the makeshift aisle made to resemble an actual wedding. I can see the white fabric cloth placed on the tables and the purple bows on the chairs. It's all there, in perfect clarity.

Back then, I believed I was doing something brave. 

I didn’t know what I do now. That the silver promise ring would provoke in me a shame and guilt so deep. A shame I would carry all the way in to adulthood, my first relationship, my first sexual experience and every one thereafter.

Before the pledge, I wasn't all that concerned with sex.

Sure, I had asked about babies. I wanted to know why I had to cover my eyes or turn the channel when a movie showed a couple in a rather compromising position. But in a child’s mind, one plus one does not always equal two – so sex was never really that interesting to me. 

And then I turned 11.

The possibility of committing the highest sin of all (partaking in sexual activities, of course) was a big worry. According to the teachings at the time, the world was in peril. We needed to protect our girls from having sex behind dumpsters. And I knew that my way to do that – my crucial role in saving the humanity– was to take a purity pledge. 

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I was desperate to abide. Under no circumstance did I want to fall out of God’s favour. The concept itself made me shiver. 

My dad walking my down the aisle. Image: Supplied.

There was an immense sense of pride I had for the years I wore my purity ring. I felt whole. I felt like I belonged and I felt special. God was protecting me and he was keeping me from being tainted. With the ring on, I felt invincible.

Retrospection is a real b*tch though. 

Perhaps if I had not been thrown into a fake wedding scenario where I swore off intimacy, I would have had the right tools to navigate the world around me when I finally left my church. But instead I was lost, uninformed and deeply confused about how to learn about sex the second I slipped my purity ring off. 

I didn’t know how to ward off predators, or what to do when the boys at school unclipped my bra as a prank. Or how to wash myself of guilt when I searched 'porn' in a search engine for the first time. I wasn’t sure how to navigate the dating world when I turned 19, so I let the first boy I liked take every 'first' sexual experience I had been waiting for my theoretical husband to take and keep.

No one had taught me how to say no. All I knew was that it was 'my fault' if I put myself in that situation at all.

I wish religion hadn't turned me into a confused woman, with little understanding of boundaries, or cause a little girl with coloured clips in her hair to wonder what was just so bad about sex to begin with.

Taking the purity pledge. Image: Supplied.

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Now that I am older, my perceptions are a little skewed. I reminisce about a church I wholly worshipped, about a people I truly loved and honoured. I also grimace because there was an innocence taken from me much too soon – all from making a promise I wasn’t taught how to keep. 

I’m 23 now but I can still feel the ring on my wedding finger if I close my eyes hard enough. I can remember what it felt like to take it off for the last time, and I can still picture exactly how it looked sitting at the top of the bin.

I don’t know how I unlearnt my toxic relationship with sex and marriage, but I do know that it is a lesson I’m probably still battling with. I know this, because even now a man's touch can still make me seize up and wonder if I am doing the right thing, or if I am a 'bad girl' for wanting them to touch me in the first place.

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I don’t blame anyone for pledging my purity. It’s not my mum’s fault I begged, or my dad who I urged to walk me down the aisle. It wasn’t the youth leaders and cooler older girls who I believed I had to follow in order to be taken seriously. It wasn’t the bible or God, or anything like that.

I refuse to completely vilify my former church, or even my former religion. 

It was simply just a decision I made. And it is now one I have come to deeply regret.

Feature Image: Supplied.