My brother and his bride were both virgins when they married at 22 and 20-years-old. I wasn't the only member of my family who didn't support their decision to marry young and statistics say I'm right. Below are the current percentages of divorce rates by age:
Married by 20/24 - Women: 37 percent; Men: 39 percent
Married by 30/34 - Women: 9 percent; Men: 12 percent
Married by 40 - Women 5 percent; Men 7 percent
My brother and sister-in-law are Mormons who live in Utah (where I can never find a liquor store!). I assumed they married young because they were horny. It was a generous assumption on my part; a woman living with a non-commital philanderer, throwing stones from my glass house.
Religious people, of any kind, irk me. I feel superior to and judgmental of them, because I think they feel superior to and judgmental of me considering my heathen beliefs and wild-west sexual past.
With the idea of debunking the stereotypes I polish to high luster in my Machiavellian brain, I asked my brother, Ryan, and sister-in-law, Ginell, if they'd be willing to discuss their sex life with me (as I've done with other marrieds here and here). I figured there was NO WAY they'd agree. As Mormons, wouldn't they feel discussing their sex life (allowing they have one outside of procreation) is verboten, even sinful?
So I was pleasantly surprised when they whole-heartedly agreed. My brother asked me to send him the questions I planned to ask. Could I, would I, should I send the questions I really wanted the answers to? More importantly, would they answer the questions candidly?
I winnowed my intrusiveness down to four questions then pressed send. I anticipated a prolonged silence, so was startled to see my brother's name on my Caller I.D. screen the very next day.
"Hi Shan, I'm driving home from work and I've got an hour to answer all your questions."
Silence. Ryan's not much of a talker. He's a listener, which can be nerve-wracking. Was he really going to make me ask my inappropriate questions out loud? It dawned on me at that moment that I really didn't want to talk to my brother about his sex life. Because that's just weird. But, then I imagined I was his urologist, minus the proctology exam, and was simply gathering scientific information.
"Did you get married young because you were horny?" I expected God to smite me. I'm provincial like that. I also expected an embarrassed silence. Instead I got a barrage. The guy talked my ears off!
"When I got back from my mission (for the Mormon church in England) I had no intention of getting married right away, even my mission advisor told me not to do it. He told me to finish my degree and figure out what I wanted to do with my life before getting married.
"But then I met Ginell and we started hanging out and we were on a bike ride and I was riding behind her and I literally had the thought that I was bike-riding with my wife. I don't know why, but I just knew she was the woman I was supposed to marry."
Goosebumps up the insides of my arms.
I'd literally had the same experience. I'd won a writing award years ago, I was trying to get the philanderer to marry me, my husband was the person presenting me for the award. He spoke about me as a writer the way I wished a man would speak about me as a woman.
In that instant I knew, with a weird, unanticipated certainty, that I was looking at my future husband. It took us two more years to actually go on a date, which I blame him for. You were very slow on the uptake, Henry!
"Do you ever wish you'd had more than one lover?" I asked.
"I've never really thought about it," said Ryan.
I still don't completely understand this answer. I'm very curious sexually. How would this man kiss? How would that man hold me? How would that other man perform the Falling Dragon Inverted with double chakras? (Will send diagram of execution in future post).
For someone like me it's a good thing I sowed some oats because I now know that fantasy and reality are two very different things and that sexual freedom can be un-glamourous and lonely. (There was a gorgeous man who seduced me with his dance undulations in a club only to hand me a box of Kleenex after our two-minute romp in his bed while he jumped in the shower. Reality, people. Ree-al-ity.)
"How can someone who hasn't learned through experience not be curious about other lovers?" I pressed further.
"I think there are two types of people," said Ryan, "There's the Committed Type and then there's The Thrill Seeker. The Committed Type wants to settle down with one person. And as long as his intimate relationship with his wife is healthy, he's content. Then you have The Thrill Seekers, people who would feel stifled and bored with that kind of commitment."
Again, the goosebumps.
"That's why professions where there's a lot of danger and uncertainty attract the Thrill Seekers!" I shriek. "That's why there's a huge culture of divorce among fire fighters, military people, police officers ..." (did I mention I dated a firefighter and the son of a cop? Everything somehow always comes back to me.)
"It's true. There are exceptions to every rule and I think the other problem with those professions is the amount of time spent away from their spouses. I just don't think you can maintain the sexual intimacy you need in a marriage unless you're together."
"Do you think you and Ginell are faithful because you're both Committed Types or because of your religious faith?"
"Our religious community supports monogamy in marriage, but there are plenty of Mormons who can't live up to that ideal. I have a good Mormon friend who recently left his wife because he realized he wasn't the Committed Type. He knew he was always going to prefer moving from one woman to the next and finally just accepted it."
"Are you ever tempted by other women?"
"Never?" This answer kind of annoyed me. Didn't the guy have any imagination? Even Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart, but didn't stray.
"To be fair, my job is male heavy. There aren't many women around me other than my wife. But even if there were there's just no way I would risk everything I have with Ginell and the emotional and mental well-being of my children by straying. My intimate relationship with my wife would have to be deteriorated to the point where there was no hope of repair before I would do something like that."
As a reporter I kept trying to unearth the headline. Where's the controversy? Where are the corpses in the closet? Isn't this life of fidelity with just one lover vanilla? The road most taken? A snore?
"If your brother could," said Ginell on the phone the next day, "We'd have sex three times..."
"A week?" I interrupted, disbelieving.
She chuckled, "Every day."
"I really didn't want to know that."
Ginell admitted she wasn't up for that and that when her children were first born there were some stretches where she just didn't want sex and Ryan had to suck it up. But, she always has his needs in mind and tries hard to meet them.
It became clear, during our talk, that Ginell's a classic Comitted Type.
"Ryan's only the second man I've ever kissed." Sweet Jesus.
"How is that possible?"
"I don't know, I always found something wrong with every guy I dated before Ryan. The other guy I kissed, he had such a short neck. I just couldn't get around that short neck."
"But, didn't you have crushes in school? In second grade I chased the boys around the soccer field at recess and if I caught them I kissed them! They were terrified of me. Weren't you ever boy crazy?"
Ginell replies, almost apologetically, "No. Some of my sisters were, but not me. I don't know why."
"Can Mormons have oral sex?" I just threw that one in out of curiosity and was informed by Ginell that the Mormon church doesn't stick their nose in a married couple's bedroom. What happens there, stays there.
Ryan and Ginell are in their late 30s now and have been married 17 years. They've proved the statistics and some members of our family, including me, wrong.
I'm glad I took the path I did with all of its messy, silly sex, but I'm so proud of the two of them. Not just because they're a happily married monogamous couple (although that's great for families and kids), but because they aren't religious automatons, as I might have cast them. They're a married couple who, through the births of their babies, financial and familial stresses, have always managed to find their way back to each other.
I'd love to hear from happily married virgins and non-virgins alike. How do you stay faithful? Is that essential to your union? Are there some of you with open marriages who have found that works? Are any of you Thrill Seekers who have accepted the fact that a monogamous marriage just isn't for you?
Anyone who would like me to write about their unique marital intimacy story can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org