If you’re a fan of CW’s hit series Jane the Virgin, you know the subject of sex is a huge storyline for its lead character Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez). In the first three seasons, we see Jane date new people and explore her sexuality while wrestling with her commitment to abstain from sex, a rule imposed by her Catholic grandmother. She manages to keep her virginity until she marries Michael Cordero (Brett Dier) at age 24, but it wasn’t always easy.
This struggle is real for many Canadian women, too. Since most religions have pretty strict rules surrounding sex, it can be tough to remain faithful while cozying up between the sheets. So how do you navigate sex while respecting the rules of your faith? FLARE asked religious millennial women about their experiences, and here’s what they said.
Ingrid*, 25, is Sikh. She is a virgin, but her choice to abstain from sex is more cultural than it is religious
“Sikh scripture doesn’t speak about sex or intimate relationships, or anything like that. What I know about sex—and what one should and shouldn’t do—comes from cultural practices. My parents were both born in India, and because of their beliefs, I was taught that you’re supposed to wait until you’re married to be intimate with someone.
Growing up, if we were watching a movie or a TV show and an intimate scene came on, my mom or dad would change the channel. My parents would tell me stories about people they knew who got pregnant before they got married, and then they would shame them. There’s no definitive point in my childhood where I learned that sex was meant for marriage, but there were several instances where that point was implicitly made.
I’m the oldest child of three, and I very much internalized the rules my parents made for me. I have a huge guilt complex. Of course there are certain things I want to try because I’m growing up in a different generation and in a different country, but I’m also the child of immigrants, so there are all these added expectations and rules set for me. I still feel really guilty when I do things my parents told me not to.
I still haven’t had sex. I’ve been on one date. I haven’t really been intimate with anybody. I don’t want to disappoint my parents, so I suppress the sexual side of me. I don’t feel frustrated though, because Sikh scripture tells us that there’s a time and place for everything. But for me, abstaining from sex until I’m married isn’t a huge priority because I wouldn’t want to marry someone without first having had sex with them—it’s such a big part of compatibility.
It’s somewhat important to me that I end up with someone of the same faith. In a lot of Indian families, a marriage between two people is technically a marriage between two families. I think it’s really important that my parents feel comfortable in my decision, too.”
Rachel, 23, and her fiancé are Protestant. She is not a virgin and neither is he, but they are practising abstinence until their wedding
“When I went away for university, I loved the idea of living a Christian lifestyle, but there were a lot of things in my life I wasn’t ready to sacrifice. Up until my third year, I continued partying, binge-drinking and smoking as I thought these things would fill the void I was feeling. When I became homesick and started struggling with my mental health, I decided to reconnect with my faith.
I realized that without God I wasn’t feeling satisfied or happy, and I found it difficult to deal with problems. I knew something needed to change, so I told myself that the next guy I was going to date would be a Christian. I started going to weekly Athletes in Action meetings—an organization that works with varsity and professional Christian athletes—and I started to attend a new church. I began dating a guy named Christian, who also attended AIA, and we pursued our faith together.
My current relationship with my faith is on the mend. Christian and I started going to a new church together, but both of our pasts have been a source of conflict in our relationship. I lost my virginity to my first serious boyfriend at 15, when I didn’t take my faith as seriously. A lot of people ask Christian and I why we aren’t having sex before marriage (since both of us have already had sex with other people and with each other), but to God, it is never too late. We wanted to give ourselves that period of time to get closer to God by honouring each other, so we began practising abstinence after we got engaged.
I wish that I hadn’t lost my virginity before marriage. Sex is as much spiritual as it is physical, and I feel like God encourages us to wait until we enter the sanctity of marriage to protect us from consequences—not to punish us. For me, sex outside of marriage doesn’t have the same spiritual union because there is not the same commitment.”
Anna*, 21, is Buddhist. She doesn’t feel like she can experience intimacy without a meaningful emotional connection
“My mom was raised Hindu, but she didn’t really find that Hinduism gave her answers to her everyday struggles. She found Buddhism when she was 27, and she introduced my dad to it in the early years of their marriage. I still grew up knowing culturally about Hinduism because of how prevalent it is in India—where my parents are from—and I’ve been to temple and understand certain aspects of the religion. But since I was young, I’ve looked to Buddhism as a source of spiritual strength and structure in my life.
Despite being Buddhist, my parents were deeply influenced by Hinduism, so sex was never really discussed when I was younger because it’s considered quite taboo. Because of that, and because Buddhism doesn’t have strict rules about sex, much of what I learned about it as a teenager came from my friends. I had a lot of super religious friends who wouldn’t have sex because of their faith, which made me think I needed some strong moral reason for having sex. I was confused about my moral grounding because I didn’t have strict religious rules to follow.
When I started university, I felt super inadequate when it came to dating and hook-up culture. I felt like everyone else was partaking in something that I just didn’t like, and that feeling was really isolating. Now that I’m in my third year, I’ve realized that to have an intimate connection with someone else, I need there to be depth between us. I think that comes from my Buddhist practice. I learned through trial and error that meaningless intimacy doesn’t work for me, and now I own my desire for a deep connection. I don’t feel lonely because my Buddhist practice teaches me that just because I don’t have an active love life doesn’t mean I can’t live lovingly.
I would like to date someone who has the same values as me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be Buddhist. The tenants of Buddhism are quite universal, so I think many of the people I surround myself with inherently possess these values without actively practising my religion.”
Lorena, 25, is Roman Catholic. She’s in a committed interfaith relationship with her partner, who is Jewish
“My mother is very religious, and I went to church every Sunday in high school, but I’ve always been critical of organized religion. I was never convinced by the church’s beliefs about pre-marital sex, because when I asked why it wasn’t OK, I was told that the church believes you have to be married to give your body to someone. To me, the decision to sleep with someone is less about giving away my body and more about sharing intimacy. I think sex is a pivotal part of a relationship, and you must know if you’re compatible before getting married.
My mother outwardly shamed me for engaging in pre-marital sex. She found my birth control in high school and called me names because I was using it to protect myself from pregnancy. She was very disappointed in me and said that only people without self-control choose not to save themselves. Although this made me sad, I didn’t regret my decision; I lost my virginity to someone I loved. My mother consistently suggests that I confess and ‘save myself’ until I get married. I haven’t repented, and I don’t intend to do so because I believe sex is my decision to make. I also help my younger sister cope with this pressure by giving her a safe space to ask about sex or birth control, and I intend to do the same with my children.
My partner and his family share this relaxed view on pre-marital sex. Sex isn’t a taboo subject for his parents because they know it’s likely to happen, so my partner wasn’t under as much pressure as I was to abstain. I think their views are healthier in this respect.
In my relationship, religion has been a hurdle, but never a barrier. A hurdle because certain differences are inherent when you profess different faiths, but it has never been a barrier to our happiness. I think in an inter-religious relationship, you have to be willing to learn about and love the other person’s beliefs and traditions. We have an unspoken agreement about how we celebrate our different religious holidays. For example, Passover is always spent with his family, regardless of whether it conflicts with Easter. Christmas, however, is non-negotiable for me, and so I always spend it with my family. With us, it’s a give and take.”
Lamees, 22, is Muslim. It’s important to her that her partner is also Muslim, but at the moment she’s dating someone who is Hindu
“I was born in Oman, and I lived in the United Arab Emirates for 14 years, where learning about my religion was mandatory. I often made trips to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, and I observed the hijab for a year. I maintained distance from the idea of a boyfriend until I had a crush that became something more in grade 11. I never allowed us to toy with the idea of sex, limiting our intimacy to mostly kissing. I felt guilty over the idea of straying from my plan to stay a virgin until marriage. During this time, I didn’t drink alcohol and I dressed modestly. Overall, my actions were those of a ‘good Muslim girl,’ but my understanding of my religion was still limited.
When I moved to Canada at 15, I started seeing a different side of life, and there were a few moments where I was mad that God didn’t protect me from certain things. I must’ve been about 18 when I decided I no longer felt any attachment to God.
But over time, I started to read more about my religion and involve it in my meditation, and I soon realized I couldn’t live my life without Islam. Now, I have a simple belief: if it isn’t hurting anybody, it’s OK. I once read in a book about Rumi [a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet and scholar] that God exists outside the mosque, church and synagogue. God exists where love is, whether it’s between two partners under the sheets or between the wine drinker and his cup. As long as there is love, there is God.
Now, I’m a lot more educated on topics in Islam and feminism, and I live my life guided by those interpretations. I’m not a virgin now, sometimes I have a few glasses of wine and occasionally I’ll show some leg. Because my Muslim faith is a huge part of me, I want to be with someone who shares my views and values. My partner is not Muslim—he is Hindu—so right off the bat there are a lot of differing views. For the most part, we’ve been OK with our differences; we don’t poke at personal beliefs. We’ve talked about how we’ll raise children, and we haven’t come to a conclusion yet.”
Juenelle, 22, is Christian. She’s in a long-distance relationship with a non-practising Christian and together they practise abstinence
“I was raised by a single mom and baptized as a baby. I was the only mixed-race child in my family, and I had my dad’s last name—but I didn’t know him. I grew up in the church, but my mom stopped going when I was about 9, so I did too. By that point, mentally and emotionally, I was struggling and I turned my back on God. I can remember being in junior high, sitting on my bed and asking God: Why? Why this specific life? Why this family? When I was 16, I started to have sex and smoke weed, among other things.
In 2009, I met my dad and the many other siblings I had, and it was through my dad that I started going back to church. It became a Sunday tradition to spend the day with my dad and my sister at church. Soon, I started reading the Bible and decided I wanted to study it, so I began working with a mentor at the church. I was re-baptized in on October 30, 2016.
When you’re baptized—dipped in the water and brought back out again—it symbolizes that you are washed clean. The events of your past aren’t counted because you didn’t know better then. It’s an act that confirms your faith in front of everyone. While it’s now important for me that my partner is also Christian, I believe everyone has their own path. I don’t mind if my partner takes his time finding God.
I have had pre-marital sex, so I can’t judge others, but now knowing better, my partner and I are not having sex. I would love to be married one day, and I don’t want to have kids before marriage, so abstaining from sex helps with that.”
Divya, 28, is Hindu. She lost her virginity to her current boyfriend two years ago
“Sex was never really talked about when I was younger. My parents never really gave me ‘the talk’; I learned most of what I know from sex-ed classes. I’m not Indian—I moved to Canada from Guyana when I was 3—but Indian cultural values are very present in the West Indies, and in Indian culture, you’re taught that sex doesn’t happen before marriage. While this is a cultural belief, my dad is a pandit [a Hindu priest] and growing up, I never heard explicitly in our scripture that you need to wait until marriage to have sex. But as I got older, I started becoming really serious about only having sex with one person in my life.
My current boyfriend is the first person I’ve had sex with, and that happened two years ago when I was 26. It wasn’t hard for me to wait because I knew what I wanted—and I didn’t want to give up my belief. We aren’t married, but waiting to have sex until marriage never really mattered to me as long as I picked the right person.
My partner is also Hindu, and that’s really important to me. I like the commonality that comes from having the same faith. The values Hinduism promotes are important to me, and it will make raising our children easier.”
Shira, 23, is Jewish. She’s casually dating, and it’s important to her that whomever she dates is also committed to the Jewish faith
“I didn’t go to synagogue until I was in undergrad. I moved from Vancouver to Kingston, Ont., to go to university. In my first year, I was overwhelmed by the transition. I started going to synagogue because I felt connected there, and I felt very inspired by the words of the Bible, and not even in a religious way. I realized you can take the messages and apply them to your life regardless of whether or not you believe in God.
In my relationships, it’s not just about religion: it’s about the religion’s values and valuing the traditions of my ancestors. It wouldn’t be enough for my partner to convert to Judaism; I would expect them to embrace the faith I want to give to my children and also celebrate it with me. My partner would have to really love the religion in the same way that I do, which can be hard to expect of someone.
There are many sects of Judaism, but the community I identify with is really inclusive, accepting and non-judgmental. My synagogue of choice is very LGBTQ+ friendly, and there are people who identify as trans in that space. Because of this, when I make decisions that don’t necessarily align with orthodox Judaism, it doesn’t hurt my identity because that’s not an identity I align with.
I lost my virginity when I was 21, and no part of that was guided by my faith. I was waiting for love over a religion telling me when I could or couldn’t have sex. I am personally for pre-marital sex if the person engaging in it is for it, too. Everyone has their own choice. You learn a lot about your partner when you have sex, but it comes down to the couple and what they want.”
Ana, 27, is Catholic. Her fiancé was baptized a year ago because he recognized how important religion is to her
“I didn’t really think about what it meant to be Catholic until high school. I thought my experience with sexual assault made it clear: there was no God, or the good Christian kid that I was would’ve never been raped. It made me wonder, What is the point of all this if something like that can happen to me?
When I moved on my own to another city, I threw myself into a wild university lifestyle, and I wasn’t going to church, except when I visited my parents. But a year later, my sister invited me to do some mission work with her, and in caring for people in deep poverty I swear I heard a voice that changed my life. It might seem completely crazy, but I think God was talking to me in that moment. When I came back home, I switched universities and put volunteering at the centre of my life.
My boyfriend was raised by a Catholic mom, but she didn’t raise him to be religious. When things started getting serious between us, I made it clear that I wanted to raise my children Catholic. I didn’t force anything, but I was an advocate of my religion by my actions and words, and the desire to live like I did pushed my boyfriend into the process of meeting with God. He got baptized when he was ready, and today, we are preparing for our wedding, pushing each other to be the best we can be. I think it’s okay to have sex before the wedding, but pre-marital sex must be paired with love.”
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people who shared their stories
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