I had a very happy, idyllic childhood. Even though I had Baptist ministers for parents, they weren't frightening or hardcore. They were very loving. I was an only child—my parents tried for 13 years to have a kid and my mom suffered lots of miscarriages. Life was great until I was about nine. Then the bullying started. It was typical stuff about my parents being ministers, and my faith, and Jesus. But I did kind of ask for it: I was always wearing pink pastel sweaters with Bermuda shorts and big badges that said "Jesus Loves You." I would have bullied me.
We moved and I went to an all-girls school. I became obsessed with boys. But by the time I was 15, I began to realize that sex was valued as something very precious in my family. When my friends started doing it, I was like, sure, that's fine, that's the way of the world, but I'm just not going to. At parties, my friends would couple off and drift into different rooms together and I would be left listening to the BBC World Service. I was sort of fine with that, but no-one else seemed to be.
All through my teens I became known as The Person Who Didn't Have Sex. My decision not to do it was often either used as the reason why a guy didn't want to go out with me, or as the reason he did—so he could break down the barriers, so to speak. But I was quite naughty. Every other sentence was an innuendo. I think that intrigued people—she talks about it, she's candid about it, but she doesn't do it. Guys found it confusing, which I understood. Then, when I was 23, my dad died suddenly. And then I lost five other people over an 18-month period, and I began to question my faith and everything I believed in. It was textbook: "Why is there so much suffering? Right, bye bye God. See you later."
After that I went on a three-year atheism rant and although I didn't go off the rails in the sense of doing drugs, I certainly fell in love with a guy I lost my virginity to. The irony was he was willing to wait for me, but by that point I was no longer looking forward to a wedding day with my dad not there to see it.
Since then, I've slept with two other guys. I've had four long-term relationships, but I haven't had sex in all of them. There was the guy I lost my virginity to, then I met a Christian boy and we didn't have sex for the year we were together. The following year I went out with someone else and he was very upset that we weren't having sex as he knew I'd done it before. We didn't have sex for a year, but then one night we were at a bar and he was complaining I was smoking, and knowing he was about to bring up the "sex card," I just said, "Oh come on then." After him I was with someone for five years. And it was during that relationship that I found my faith again.
I gave him the option to leave if he wanted to. He came into the relationship with a very different girlfriend, and his love language was physical—he expressed himself through sex—whereas mine was words of affirmation and emotional availability.
That's not to say my burning loins were not real. Sex is a bit like dieting—once you give up cakes and biscuits, it's all you think about. I started to watch porn to get my kicks, to sexually release myself, and became addicted. It was a total contradiction of my beliefs, but I thought I'm not doing this with anyone else, it's just me and a screen. It doesn't harm anyone. Of course, it was completely hypocritical. And now the irony is that I'm counseling couples and some have porn addictions and it's ruining their marriage.
At 31, after five years together, my boyfriend and I broke up. I didn't have much holding me in London so I moved to California, became a pastor, and haven't had sex for five years. It was my mother who came up with the term "neo-virgin." "A 'reformed virgin' sounds too convent-like," she told me one afternoon over tea. So that stuck, and I became a girl who returned to a lifestyle that held a battle worth fighting for—exclusivity, something meaningful.
Abstaining from sex after you know what it's like is a lot harder than if you'd never done it at all.
Although sex is the most phenomenal thing, it's created, I think, to bond. It's meant to hold you together and I'm not sure we're meant to use it so lightly. I've got some friends who say "I just got laid and I'm happy with that," but the majority of the time someone cries at the end of it because it doesn't work out. Abstaining from sex after you know what it's like is a lot harder than if you'd never done it at all: The visuals are there in your brain and you know how great it is. The temptation to do it is huge, but I actually feel more free now than before. Even if it can be difficult on the surface.
When I'm dating, I have to be very upfront. If I'm at a party and I'm known as The Christian, people either make a beeline for me because they want to start an argument, or they leave me the hell alone because they think I'm going to evangelize them. That's never been my agenda. But because I'm a pastor most people know before date one that sex is off the menu. However, if I haven't had The Conversation by date three, there's a problem. It's not hard to give up sex, but it gets difficult when you start falling in love with each other—that's when you have to have strong boundaries.
A lot of the time people say to me, "You're 35 and single, it's not really working out for you, this whole holding out thing, is it?" But the thing is, it wasn't working out for me before I abstained. I wonder if I was an atheist whether I would have made this decision anyway. By holding out, I have more clarity—does that person want to know me for me, or are they co-dependent and just can't not be in a relationship?
What's kind of lovely about it, is that so many of my friends are in the same boat. It's quite quaint in a way: We talk about when he held my hand, or the conversations we had. It's like we're 15 again.
Prude: The Misconceptions of a Neo-Virgin by Carrie Lloyd is out now.