This is the presentation I gave for the "Vagina Testimonies" -- a Mormon version of "The Vagina Monologues" -- at the 2012 Sunstone Symposium.
I'd like to bear my testimony that I don't believe in chewed gum and licked cupcakes. And I never did, not even at my most Mormon.
Mormon kids learn some very interesting lessons about sex. For one thing, they learn that doing it is a sin next to murder, and that even thinking about it -- even wanting to do it and imagining it -- is almost as bad as actually doing it.
Girls get the additional message that sex somehow uses them up. That the act of sexual intercourse somehow transforms them from being a pristine, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper stick of gum to being a wad of chewed-up gum, or from being a pretty, fresh cupcake to being a slobbery, disgusting cupcake with all of the delicious frosting licked off.
I totally believed and internalized the first message, that feeling lust means you're an unspeakably shameful sinner. I spent many years as a kid cowering in the closet of shame for the crime of entertaining the occasional sexual fantasy -- and enjoying it -- instead of putting up other actors on my mental stage, as we're taught that righteous and holy people are supposed to be able to do.
I never bought into the other message, though. I'm not a cupcake at all, licked or otherwise, I'm a person. Any guy who would seriously consider the hermetic seal on my vagina -- and the ignorance that seal implies -- to be an important part of what makes me a good partner for love or marriage...? Screw him. He's an idiot. That's great that he doesn't want to marry me because the feeling is very mutual.
I know a lot of women consider an invitation into that sacred space to be one of the greatest gifts they can give. Allowing another flesh to enter your body is, for some, an almost life-altering big deal. And as I've listened to other women's stories, I've come to understand that that feeling isn't entirely the result of bad lessons about chewed gum and licked cupcakes. We all have our different perspectives and experiences.
However, for myself, I have always felt empowered by my natural inclination that it's not that big a deal. Sexual intercourse (and here I mean traditional vaginal penetration) can be a wonderful pleasure. It can be an expression of love. In some circumstances it can be something bad. But it doesn't represent handing over some essential part of myself to another person -- any more that a man is permanently diminished by giving me his essence, or whatever the metaphor would be if our social prejudices were reversed.
By the time I entered Brigham Young University at age 17, I was convinced that the church's teachings on sexuality were totally wrong. I saw sex as something playful and fun; something that might be part of a relationship, but not necessarily.
One of my freshman dorm-mates from Budge Hall told me about a game she'd played in her naughtier days called "I never." Basically, a group of people sit in a circle and take turns saying "I never did X," and everyone who has done "X" has to take a drink. It sounded amusing, and since most of the X's were obviously about sex, it kind of inspired me to make my own game of having sex in unusual places.
In particular, I had sex with a boyfriend in the bathroom of the BYU library and with another in the annex of a BYU chemistry lab. (I know I'm admitting to having broken the honor code -- and I've discussed that decision on my blog here.) Later locations included a cave, a boat, a stairwell, a bank vault (to have "safe sex"), a convent, and probably some other places I don't remember. And yet, after all that, I never got around to playing "I never"!
That's your cue to take a drink.
When dating, after I finished with BYU, I always made a point to have sex as early in a relationship as possible, generally on the first date. On my blog I wrote a number of semi-serious reasons for this: for fun, for efficiency, for the element of surprise, and to weed out guys who disrespect "sluts" and/or who don't actually want to have sex with me, for whatever reason.
It was also because I didn't like the dynamic I'd observed in chaste dating relationships, where sex is this giant elephant in the room; a relentlessly ever-present objective/anti-objective that places all other activities in the shadow of thinking about what you're not doing. I felt like it was better just to do it, and have a clear head to relate to each other as humans while deciding whether the relationship is one you want to pursue.
Today my attitude hasn't substantially changed, even if my behavior looks quite different. I've been happily, monogamously married for more than eleven years. I choose to be monogamous -- not because extramarital sex is a sin -- but out of love and respect for my husband. Even if sex doesn't transform me, it's not totally devoid of emotional consequences that could affect our relationship, and my adorable sweetie is now the only one I want to be with.
I hope that my example shows that a girl -- regardless of what sexual experiences she may or may not have had -- is not a cupcake or a stick of gum.
I say these things in the name of all that is good and chooses not to be holy, amen.