Five years ago, Alice signed a contract. Now she breaks a promise with God
Story By Olivia Bednar
Catholic schools often teach a more conservative version of sex-ed. Although it’s more common in the U.S., some Catholic schools across Canada still teach an abstinence-only education, and get students—mainly girls—to sign virginity pledges.
According to the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, abstinence-only sex education programs are ineffective in reducing adolescent sexual behaviour, and are also unethical. Beth Ostrander, a Toronto life and sex coach, says that the biggest challenge for people is to regain the self-autonomy that gets lost when we are brought up in religion to rely on God. “So when it comes to our bodies and relationships and intimacy, we come to struggle around our beliefs,” she says. “We’re waiting for someone to tell us it’s okay.”
“I am making a commitment to myself, my family and my Creator, that I will abstain from sexual activity of any kind before marriage. I will keep my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God’s perfect plan for my life.”
At Alice’s Catholic high school, this was the abstinence pledge all of the Grade 10 girls had to sign—a promise to preserve themselves until marriage came along.
In middle school, Alice wore baggy clothes to try and hide any evidence of her womanhood. She squirmed during conversations with people chatting about sex. Alice felt no control over her body and her sexuality for as long as she could remember.
Now in Alice’s second year of university, thrust into a more open-minded environment than she was used to, she’s felt more confused than ever.
One evening, Alice sat with her boyfriend in a dark, old-fashioned theatre. Alice met Sam in film class, so it was fitting that they spent their six-month anniversary watching an old Hollywood film she couldn’t remember the name of. Alice was a bit lost on the plot; the black-and-white couple on the screen appeared to be in a heated conversation. The male lead swiftly grabbed the leading lady’s hand and whisked her away to the bedroom, and a fairly mild sex scene played out. Alice noticed that neither of them had rings on their fingers—they were a young unmarried couple. She readjusted in her seat. Her hand, intertwined with Sam’s, clammed up and stiffened.
Sam was Alice’s first serious boyfriend. Sure, she’d kissed boys—three to be exact—but nothing more than fleeting high school romances. Sam and Alice had their minor in film studies in common, but to Alice, there was a big difference between the two of them. She never had sex and Sam had.
She was taught her ‘virginity’ was her most valuable commodity, something worth saving
Sam was a nice guy. He was fine. Not the man of her dreams, if she was being truly honest. He had never pressured her to do something she didn’t want to. But it was their sixth-month anniversary. Two months ago, he had asked her if she wanted to have sex. She felt weirdly betrayed, how could he even ask her that? She said no, but had tossed around the thought in her mind ever since.
Alice thought back to the first day of her gender studies class in her first year of university, where her professor announced that she would not be using the term ‘virginity’ as it was a phallocentric construct. Alice had never been exposed to the idea that virginity doesn’t exist—it was a shock hearing this just coming out of her Catholic high school.
Since her youth, she was taught that her virginity was her most valuable commodity, something worth saving. ‘Losing’ it would be giving away a part of herself she could never get back. Throughout her life, Alice experienced guilt and shame when having so much as a sexual thought.
The credits rolled on the screen as orchestral music boomed throughout the theatre, grainy in the old speakers. The film was over and the audience gave an awkward but polite applause.
Most of the crowd got up to leave but the couple liked to wait until the credits finished. Alice felt an uneasiness she couldn’t quite pinpoint. Her boyfriend turned to her. “Want to come over?”
“Uh-um, sure. Yeah,” Alice stuttered nervously. She had been to his place many times, but tonight, the question seemed to have more weight.
Sam knew about Alice’s feelings toward sex about as much as she knew her own. She loved him. But still, something didn’t feel quite right to her. They had been dating for a long time, but for him, it was only a third of his longest relationship.
They arrived at his apartment complex. Sam fumbled with his keys. Walking inside, they made their way into the kitchen.
“You still have these,” Alice pulled out a plate of cookies in his fridge they had baked a week ago, trying to lighten the strange mood. “They’re still pretty good!” Sam said. He laughed nervously.
He then made his way over to her and leaned in until their faces were almost touching. They started making out. He led her to the bedroom.
She had been told her whole life she was supposed to wait until marriage to have sex, that it was something between a husband and wife. Her older sister had waited, saying it was the right thing to do for a good foundation for marriage and parenthood.
But that just couldn’t be. She wasn’t even sure if she was really truly in love with Sam, let alone going to marry him. But she wanted to have sex. The shame and guilt she felt from her church filled her head. She felt as if she would break their contract—she didn’t think it belonged to her.
She looked around Sam’s room—he had white linen bed sheets, a poster from The Godfather hung on the wall and photos of them at parties taped around the room. It was familiar. It was Sam.
Alice breathed deeply. She felt a sense of calm flow over her.
“Sam, I want to.”
“Are you sure?”
Afterwards, Alice went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. She looked at herself in the mirror. “I look exactly the same,” she thought.
She went back to Sam and laid down beside him. Sam turned to her, “So, do you want to go grab some food?”
For Alice’s whole life, a cloud had hovered around doing what she just did. She felt the cloud evaporate.
A few weeks went by and Alice started to feel herself distancing from Sam. Instead of going out with him on a Friday night, she opted to stay home, reading or writing in her journal. She had a new sense of independence and was more interested in fostering her own needs and new feelings of liberation. She began to rethink everything she had been told, how sex was something that happened in marriage, something between a man and a woman. Did it have to be that way?
Sam asked her to meet up for coffee one afternoon. She could sense the tension, which was confirmed when her boyfriend confronted her about her evasive behaviour. After much discussion, Alice decided to break things off.
The new semester started the following week. She had film again. As she scanned the classroom for her ex, she noticed a girl in the row in front of hers with silky brown hair and grey-blue eyes. As they got up to leave for class, the girl turned and smiled at her. Alice suddenly felt a spark she had never felt before. She hoped she could sit beside her next time.