I doubt any artist who moves to New York can avoid enduring a season of . Mine began in May 2004, two years into my East Coast adventure (I moved here from Arizona), when my contract for a well-paying editing gig ended. It seemed like a good time to return to a languishing novel, collect unemployment a few months, and figure out where my life was going. But before long I found more fertile territory to explore. I began blogging about my sex life (or lack thereof).
At first, Sexless in the City was just a way to negotiate the tension between my desire to serve God by staying chaste—no matter what—and a sneaking suspicion He was gypping me out of life's good stuff by prolonging my search for a husband into my late twenties (patience has never been my strong suit). But from this conflict an original character was born: Anna Broadway (my nom de plume)—a Jesus freak whose romantic misadventures were almost exclusively drawn from dates with horny, .
While they knew I was a Christian, most men never assumed chastity was part of being religious.
Anna's blogging was heavy on sarcastic self-deprecation and bawdy observations about dating and . Light on Christianity. Let's just say Anna—I—wasn't really "out" about my chastity or relationship with God. After all, I wanted to hold and expand my burgeoning audience, didn't I? Instead, I kept the spotlight on my stories; there was no lack of wacky, naughty adventures to retell. And while faithful readers could eventually guess why many men wandered through my life but never into my bed, I stayed coy about my status as a virgin.
Then came Jeff Sharlet—a religion journalist writing about the "new generation of young men and women" who were "embracing celibate life." He featured me prominently in his . In a whirlwind two weeks—marathon holiday-weekend interview, photo shoot, and cover story in Rolling Stone—I was outed. Magazine cover lines labeled me part of a "" in which I supplied "fire, brimstone and brains." The article raised no little hoo-ha; within days page-views for Sexless had doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled. And with the readers came emails and It was a shock. Before, I'd always been reluctant to disclose personal facts too-quickly about my lack of a sex life. With men, it was a vulnerability best revealed on subsequent dates (if we got that far), or when I would eventually explain why I couldn't see them anymore. I'd keep my secret, use them for a few drinks, flirtation and dates, then accept the inevitable parting of ways that followed.
But after the Rolling Stone story was published, and once I inked a book deal with Random House based on Sexless, that wasn't an option any longer. There was no way to talk about my life and work without disclosing my "secret." And that clearly destroyed my chances of giving out digits or even exchanging much flirtation with any secular man I'd meet.
Magazine cover lines labeled me part of a 'new virgin army' in which I supplied 'fire, brimstone and brains.'
But it wasn't just that I couldn't get away with an undercover virgin's flirtation anymore; I had to reckon with who I was and what I claimed to stand for.
Though I'd always considered myself a girl who didn't play games with men, looking back I can see I was deceiving myself. Each time I dated a man who didn't share my faith, I wasn't playing straight with him. While these guys knew I was a Christian, most didn't assume chastity was part of being religious. And while not all men were as crass as the one who told me, "Call me when you wanna f--k," none of the ones I dated were up for a girlfriend committed to pre-marital virginity (and not just in the "technical" sense). After I started Sexless, I began to realize this, but I still wasn't ready to be honest.
But the Rolling Stone article forced me to a bracing decision: did I care more about readers' approval and men's attention (both of which I thought depended on maintaining shock-n-awe) or the approval of my Lord? Was I going to forego not just extramarital sex but the ways I'd been using men I knew I couldn't consider marrying?
I chose honesty. Which is scary, but also liberating—and not as lonely as I'd thought.
A couple months ago, I ran into a bright young writer I'd met in the early days of Sexless. We had one of those great, electric conversations where two people who previously didn't have much to talk about suddenly find each other fascinating. But because he knew the stakes with me upfront, there was no question of him calling or somehow pursuing our modest chemistry. In that sense our interaction was more human for being stripped of the sizing-each-other-up that happens with a potential date or mate or lover. And it was more generous since we weren't thinking about how the other person could meet our needs. We were just taking each other for what we were.
Was I going to forego not just extramarital sex but the ways I’d been using men I knew I couldn’t consider marrying?
I won't say I've completely recovered from using and manipulating men. But I've gotten much better at treating them more like brothers, rather than servants whose job it is to fawn over me.
This gets closer to the Christian sex ethic I've so long struggled to apply than did my old, rather legalistic abstinence. What Rolling Stone taught me was how much my dating—though somewhat true to the practice of chastity— disregarded its purpose and the whole spirit behind the "laws" I'd so long chafed against.