ANDREA: There’s just like this sense, this feeling that they have ways — like they’re going to find out. That’s how I remember feeling, is like, you can look at me and see that I’m having sex.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot...
...and need to talk about more
I’m Anna Sale.
Andrea was in the sixth grade when she had her first sex ed talk, like many sixth graders. But for her, sex ed didn’t happen at school. It happened at her church, an evangelical congregation in Texas.
ANDREA: It wasn’t quite Pentecostal, but there was definitely raising hands, people dancing in the aisles, ribbon dancers, all kinds - things like that.
ANNA SALE: What did you first learn about sex through your church?
ANDREA: That you should not have it until you’re married. There would be discussions about it at youth group, you know, waiting until marriage, and what does that mean, and you know I - I also attended True Love Waits conferences with my youth group.
AS: Mmhmm. What was that conference like?
ANDREA: It was kind of like a rally about purity. You know, and what does it mean to wait until marriage, and you get a True Love Waits ring, and you sign a pledge saying that you won’t have sex until you’re married. And I think I was 14, when I went to this.
AS: And there were girls and boys there?
ANDREA: Yeah, yeah. There were.
AS: Did it feel like the messaging was the same for the girls as the boys?
ANDREA: I - I think the messaging is always that girls should behave themselves in a certain way. You know, don’t be alone with a boy. Don’t dress in ways that might cause him to stumble. That message is I think burned into my brain.
AS: Stumble is the word.
ANDREA: Yeah, stumble. We’re responsible for making sure that they don’t have impure thoughts.
Sexual purity — both abstinence until marriage and purity of thought — that’s what Andrea’s sex ed was all about. When she was a teenager in the early '90s, it was the foundation of a movement in evangelical Christianity. There were the rallies, and also special rings for sexual purity and bands playing anthems for abstinence.
ANDREA: It was just something that—I, you know, it was just my life, you know? I didn’t really know any different. It was really the only community that I knew growing up.
AS: And so as you’re a young teenager, and your body is changing, and you’re developing, and you’re becoming more aware of sex, did you feel, like have earnest, sincere commitment to these ideas? Or did you feel like you were torn in some way?
ANDREA: I think I wanted to have sincere commitment to those ideas. Because I wanted - I wanted to be a good girl, you know. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. Um, but yes, I think I felt torn because as I got older, and started dating, and having sexual feelings, I mean, those things feel good. (Laughs) You know? And I didn’t want to deny that. But at the same time, I - I’m a rule-follower. I’ve always been that. Like, I couldn’t allow myself to feel those things.
AS: When did you have your first experiences of being physical with someone? How old were you?
ANDREA: Um, I was 15, 16?
AS: And how would you - what were the rules you had? Like, when you would kiss someone, for example, like, what was okay, and what was crossing the line?
ANDREA: Kissing was okay, but anything like under the clothes was not okay. Um, but I think the more you are with someone, those lines get blurrier and blurrier. So I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really good at stay- (laughs) at not crossing the line.
AS: At following the rules you were trying to follow.
ANDREA: Yeah, I wasn’t very good at following the rules, even though I really wanted to be a good girl. (Laughs)
AS: And what would that, like take me back to - when you would be in a moment as a teenager, where you’re trying to do the thing that you’ve said you were going to do, and then you’re noticing that it feels good to be with someone. Like, what would be the internal monologue in your head?
ANDREA: I think, I think I just tried to shut it out, mostly. The person that I was with at that age was also pressuring me a lot. And I didn’t know how to - I didn’t know how to say no. You’re not given the resources, like - you’re given the message that your body is a temple, and your virginity is sacred, and without it, you’re nothing. But like, you know, I remember being with this guy when I was that age, and wanting to do some of it, and not wanting to do some of it, but feeling really pressured, and not knowing how to say no.
AS: That’s interesting, because what you’ve learned how to do is to try to do what people are asking of you.
ANDREA: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Was this boy also in your church?
AS: And would you talk about how you were fudging the lines of what your church was telling you was okay? Or did you not say it out loud?
ANDREA: To, like - he and I together?
ANDREA: No. No, it was, I mean - no. We never talked about it. (Laughs) Some of the physical encounters that I had with the guy that I dated in high school, when I broke up with him, he shared that with other people at the school.
AS: You broke up with him, and then he told people at your Christian church what you had done. That you had broken the rules.
ANDREA: At the school, yeah. People at the school, which, it was - the school was affiliated with the church I went to, um.
AS: And the story was, this is what Andrea did, not, this is what we did together.
ANDREA: Yes. Yeah.
AS: So you became known as a slut.
AS: Sorry, that—that word is, that's really blunt, but I just—
ANDREA: No! It’s - (laughs)
AS: I'm just trying to - the way high school can be cruel.
ANDREA: I was going to use whore, so - (laughs). There aren’t any good words, I think, to use in that context? But I was sitting in class one day, this is my senior year of high school, and a guy friend was sitting behind me, and I heard him talking to the guy sitting next to him, and I just - all of a sudden, I realized what they were talking about. I heard them talking about me, and what my boyfriend and I had done together.
AS: What were they saying that you had done?
ANDREA: Uh, that we had had oral sex. I just remember my stomach just dropped. (Sighs) And I felt like I was going to throw up. And I had to - I literally just ran out of the classroom, because I couldn’t believe it. It was humiliating.
The experience was so humiliating that Andrea decided she didn’t want to go to church anymore. When she went off to college nearby, she dated, and eventually decided to have sex. But the messaging about purity stuck with her.
ANDREA: It always felt like this shameful part of me. This shameful thing, or this, this thing that I was always ashamed of.
AS: Did you know how to have sex safely?
ANDREA: I did, but I wasn’t.
AS: You didn’t use protection?
ANDREA: I wasn’t making good choices, no. When I did have sex, it was at this point in my life where—I hate saying like, I had sex because I was just being self-hurtful, but it almost kind of was that? I just reached this place where I was thinking like, I just don’t care anymore. You know? Like, I’m so tired of always feeling like I’m doing something wrong and I’m never good enough. If I’m gonna get in trouble, then I may as well do something worth getting in trouble over.
AS: Did you ever have a pregnancy scare?
ANDREA: I - yes. So there was a time when I realized I had had unprotected sex, and I kind of realized where I was in my cycle, and realized I - this is not good. I should probably get Plan B, which is something that I never had done before. Um, you know, I never even considered birth control, much less getting Plan B, which, in the world that I grew up in is tantamount to having an abortion. Um. My parents are very anti-abortion. Or pro-life, as they would say it. Growing up, they were the people marching around the abortion clinics. My dad was arrested for marching around an abortion clinic. And the clinic that I ended up going to, unknowingly, to get Plan B, was the same clinic that I had marched around with my parents, as a 12-year-old girl.
AS: You had protested at that particular Planned Parenthood.
ANDREA: Yes. There was this particular house that was right across the street from it, that was abandoned. And that was what made me - I remembered that house, um, and when I saw it, I was like, oh - I saw that house, and I was just like, oh my god.
AS: Did you tell the guy you'd had sex with? That you were afraid you were pregnant?
AS: How did he respond?
ANDREA: He said you need to get Plan B. (Laughs) And, one of the more humiliating parts is that he said that he would pay for it, because I didn’t have any money. And I went, and I paid for it, and he never asked me about it again, he never paid me back. I didn’t have the courage to ask him for the money. I just wanted to move on.
Coming up, after going to Planned Parenthood, Andrea went back to church.
ANDREA: I don’t know how else to phrase it other than I had a "come to Jesus" moment, where I just realized like, wow. Okay. I need to fix my life. And get back on the right path. And that meant, for me, that meant going back to church, stop having sex, you know, be a good girl again.
Hey everyone, this is Death, Sex & Money senior producer Katie Bishop. And if you follow us on Instagram, you know that we've been sharing your big workplace transition photos there. We've seen your time cards, your commuter knitting projects, your selfies on your final day at a job. If you have a picture to share that represents a big shift in your professional life, we want to see it! You can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just put it up on Instagram with the hashtag #DSMatwork.
Of course, the reason we’ve been thinking about big workplace transitions is because, yes, Anna had her baby! Her daughter Eve was born on December 21st. And I caught up with her by phone just a few days ago.
KATIE BISHOP: So how have the first few weeks been?
AS: It’s been really nice! I think the thing that I’ve been sort of struck by is like, you know, you’re just looking for little hints about who this little person is. Like I have this, sometimes when Eve, the baby, cries and seems to get particularly frustrated, I’m like, is she more expressive and fiery than June was? Who is this person? I’ve really been struck by how little you know about the little baby even when she’s here.
KB: What does June think about Eve?
AS: She’s totally into being a big sister and helping. She is also, you know, taking in the new reality of parents having divided attention and feels less positive about that.
KB: Seems normal.
KB: Has it felt overall easier, harder, just different stepping away from work this time?
AS: I always have a hard time letting myself not make a to-do list, so I’ve tried not to focus on work. I’ve tried to remind myself that I’m doing really important work right now. But I have enjoyed seeing the Instagram photos of people’s work transitions. I’m like, oh that’s really cool! I’m really glad that’s happening.
KB: They are so cool. I was gonna ask you, do you have a photo that you would share?
AS: I mean I think it’s my slippers, which I’m wearing right now. The fact that I don’t put on shoes and socks until very late in the day when I go out on a walk with June or the baby. I’m very much homebound right now, and that feels very good and contained.
That’s our host, Anna Sale. And if you'd like to see those slippers, just head on over to Instagram. Again, we are @deathsexmoney there. Anna's on maternity leave for the next few months, but don't worry, we've got a lot of brand new episodes to share with you… including two next week! Our conversations about our sex educations... and miseducations… continue, with your sex ed fails… and your stories about what it’s like to have a sexually transmitted infection.
DEBBIE: Most of the time people feel really alone when they get that diagnosis. They think they're the only one and they're disgusting.
This is Death, Sex and Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
After college, Andrea moved to Austin, where she joined a new church. It was also evangelical, and preached against premarital sex. For Andrea, having a firm set of rules again felt comforting.
ANDREA: I got re-baptized there. I recommitted my life to the Lord, that's - you know, as they say - because I just - it was just the only way that I knew to fix myself.
She even got a job working full-time in the church administration. Then, when she was 26, she met someone at church, the man who would become her husband.
ANDREA: And it was just - I fell in love with him. And I wanted to be with him. And it just happened.
AS: Did it feel good? To be together? To have sex?
ANDREA: Yeah. (Laughs) Yeah, it did. Um, until it was over. And then there was a lot of shame. And I was really afraid that I would lose my job or I - I just didn’t know what would happen. I was really afraid of what would happen if people found out that I was having sex and working at this church, because, like, I’m on staff at a church. I’m supposed to really not be sinning.
AS: Did your now-husband, did he know you were feeling that sense of being torn? Of being a hypocrite?
ANDREA: Yes. Yes. And I think that he was struggling with it as well. I think maybe not to the degree that I was? But he also grew up in kind of that purity culture and you know, he got it, he understood that, and I think that he struggled with that as well. But for me it was like on this whole other level. We actually came to a decision together to stop having sex, because I just - it was too much, I was like, I can’t handle the guilt, I don’t want to be deceitful. I - you know, we’re not going to do this. And so we did stop having sex, and did not have sex until we were married, after that point.
AS: How did your bosses at the church find out that you had had pre-marital sex?
ANDREA: So when they found out, I was - my husband and I had already been married for three years. But (sighs) someone that I trusted, that I had told, years before. They got really angry with me about something. And sent me a letter, an e-mail, saying that if I did not tell them, that they were going to expose me to the pastor and to my boss.
AS: What did you do after you got that letter?
ANDREA: Well I got - I remember feeling very ill, and I just started shaking, kind of all over. Um, and I went to my boss and I told her that I needed to tell her something. And so I told her. You know, that my husband and I had had sex before we got married, and -
AS: And at that point you - you're a grown-woman, have been married for three years. You’re in your late 20s.
AS: And you’re confessing to something that you did before you were married. To your boss.
AS: Like, did it feel ridiculous, in some ways, that this was part of your job?
ANDREA: No. No. Like I got the letter and I was like, well, I guess God is telling me what I need to do. You know? And I just - this is what I need to do, I need to own up. It felt, it felt like the right thing to do.
AS: What were the consequences of your telling your boss that you’d had sex with your husband before you were married?
ANDREA: Later that evening, they had me sit in front of the church elders, which was a panel of four men, um, to further confess my sin. Um. They put me on what they called a restoration plan, which was a plan that they came up with of things that I had to do, that I had to agree to do. And then once I had gone through this plan, they would then determine, you know, when I had been made whole with Christ.
AS: It was like, we will tell you once you have been redeemed?
ANDREA: Yes. You know, I remember that day, after I had - had to confess my sin, going home and just, and my husband made me a hot bath, and I just remember laying in the bathtub and just crying. I think I cried for like an hour, because I just felt completely humiliated. There’s this part of my mind that’s justifying what’s going on because, yes I sinned and this was wrong and I should be punished. And then there’s this other part of my mind that’s really wrestling with, what I’m going through feels incredibly abusive, and hurtful? And this is not love. You’re supposed to feel loved, and Jesus Christ was love and all of this stuff, and I just felt, like, completely betrayed.
Andrea quit her job not long after that, and she and her husband eventually moved out of Texas. They don’t go to church anymore.
AS: Do you still think of yourself as a rule-follower?
ANDREA: No. (Laughs) No I don’t.
AS: Has that felt unmooring? I mean when you have had a moment of uncertainty, and where you previously had a place to go, a list of rules. When you’ve been in a moment where you felt like you needed guidance, how has that felt? To not have that anymore?
ANDREA: Yeah. It’s been hard sometimes. Um. There are still times where I find myself wanting to pray, because I don’t know what else to do. I just don’t know what else to do. And then realizing, but I don’t believe any of this anymore. You know, like I don’t believe that there’s a God out there that’s going to answer my prayers. I’ve got to figure this out. But it’s just my go-to instinct.
AS: When you have sex now, does it feel like how you were taught about sex, and how you were taught about goodness and badness with sex, does that still feel like a part of your muscle memory?
ANDREA: Yeah, it’s something that I still struggle with. And when you spend so much time and energy shutting that down, it’s not like a switch that you just flip back on. It's not like, oh, we’re married, now we can have all the sex we want, and I can feel super awesome about it! Um, and - and I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy sex at all, that it’s like, oh, full of shame every time I have sex, but there’s always this piece, that like I’m having to overcome. Like this little mental thing in the back of my mind, that I have to overcome, and it’s like, I just - I want to get to a point where that’s not there anymore. And I’ll be really honest, I don’t - at this point, I’m not sure what that would even look like or feel like or how I would get there.
That’s a listener named Andrea. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. I’m based at the studios of the investigative podcast Reveal in Emeryville, California. Our team includes Katie Bishop, Anabel Bacon, Stephanie Joyce, Joanna Solotaroff, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I’m on Twitter @annasale, the show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can email us at email@example.com.
So, Andrea told me it is still really hard to fully surrender to pleasure…
ANDREA: It’s not something that I know that I like, have ever fully done. Except for one time maybe when I was high. [Laughs]
AS: Isn’t marijuana legal now in Oregon?
ANDREA: It is, yes. (Laughs)
I’m Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.