I was a good Christian, but sinful thoughts tempted me. They said college was a challenging time for women, but I was fine until my summer missions trip sophomore year. We served in South Carolina doing Bible camps for kids. Misty led the songs, Alice did crafts, and I did the lesson. It was hot but easy work.
The three of us girls lived in a house by the church. Our neighbors, the Scotts, were a family involved in the ministry year round. Their son, Travis, was a senior in college. Travis had actually been born in Zimbabwe because his parents had been long term missionaries there. Travis had gone all over the world as an MK--missionaries' kid. This summer he was home doing an internship at the church, and we often hung out with him and his friends after the Wednesday night service.
One such Wednesday, we went over to watch TV. "Tara," he said while we were in the kitchen making popcorn. He was a tall guy, with blond hair and green eyes. "Can you look in my room and see if you can find the Action Bible? I wanted to show it to Alice tonight."
"Sure," I said.
"It should be on my nightstand." I walked down to his room. It was a mess, like most of the college boys' rooms I had seen. I went to a Christian college, and the girls' and boys' dorms were across campus from each other. I didn't see the book on his nightstand, so I opened the drawer to check. Instead of the book, I saw small shiny packets, and with a shock I realized they were condoms. Our church opposes premarital sex, and it was surprising to know someone so religious was even thinking about it.
"Did you find it?" I heard a voice behind me and jumped. I spun around and saw that it was Travis.
"No," I said, reaching to close the drawer behind my back. I was unsuccessful, and he walked over to look.
"Oh. What did you find?" he asked, but it wasn't really a question.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't snooping..." I wrung my hands together.
"It's ok." He smiled. "I guess I'm not very good at hiding things. If you're wondering: yes, my girlfriend and I are having sex."
I bit my lip. "I don't want to judge you, but I thought..."
"I'm not as conservative as some of you guys are," he said, shrugging. "We love each other. I don't think there's anything wrong with it."
"Because I love her and I respect her. And you know it feels good." I shook my head. "You don't? Haven't you ever masturbated?"
"No." Masturbation was a sin according to my pastor.
"Do you ever think about sexual things?"
"I try not to." There were plenty of boys--including Travis--that I thought were cute, but I was going to wait for sex until marriage. I had never done more than hold hands with a boy, but I got a little thrill every time I saw a movie or book with kissing. I didn't like thinking about what to do with those feelings.
"But it's natural," he said. "Your body has sexual desires, and if you're not going to act on them, you have to at least work it out."
"That's sin," I said, with more confidence than I felt.
"Is it?" I nodded. "I don't think it's sin to know how your body works. You haven't ever read a book that got you excited?" I hesitated, and he said, "You're a woman now. You don't have to shy away from sex. Oh." He looked over at the floor and grabbed a book. It was the Action Bible, a Bible written in comic book format. "I left it by my bookbag. Anyway, we should get back."
I avoided him the rest of the night, but as the girls and I were leaving he handed me a book.
"Hey Tara, this is what I was talking about earlier," he said with a wink. Mortified, I held the book close to my chest. I murmured my thanks and followed the girls out.
"What did he give you?" Alice asked when we got into the house. She was a thin girl who loved to read. Before I could say anything she pulled it up into the light. "'Treasure of the Valley,'" she read. "Oh, sounds nice. Must be a romance." I made myself look. It did look like a novel, a paperback with a lonely looking girl on the cover.
It was several days before I realized why he had given it to me. The story was engaging and romantic, but several chapters in, there was a sex scene. Usually I skipped over those, but this time I read it while glancing over guiltily at the girls sitting with me in the living room. It was terrible to think that I was enjoying it, but I couldn't deny the tingle I felt between my thighs. No matter how it felt, I was sure that 'working it out' was a sin.
The next time I talked to Travis, he was helping us with Bible camp. The lesson that day was about Jesus being tempted in the desert. God was preparing him for his ministry on earth when the devil tempted him three times. Travis and I were cleaning up after the activity, and the other girls were out of earshot.
"Did you like the book I gave you?" he asked, smiling.
"It was a good story," I tried to say casually.
"Did parts of it get you excited?"
I blushed. "Do you really believe masturbation is not a sin? It's so...indulgent. How can you focus on God when you're focusing on yourself?"
"It can take you away from God if you let it. But it's not like I'm thinking about sex all day everyday. You can still serve God and be sexual."
"How do you plan on serving in missions if you think that way?"
"Honestly, I'm not going to serve in a Southern Baptist church." I looked at him, shocked.
"You're going to leave the church?"
"Just the denomination. My college is American Baptist, and they are more moderate."
I shook my head. "I can't believe your college is telling you to have sex."
"They're not, but they're realistic." He was still smiling, but I felt angry. "Most of the people in the world are not going to wait until they're married. You have to tell them something that is practical."
"You don't have to live it."
"What I do is between me and God. I think He's ok with it."
I was trembling with the news. How could he just reject a teaching from the Bible? Just because one church said it was good didn't mean it was. I thought about what I knew of American Baptists. They were more liberal, but they still did good work. They even had female pastors. I thought about my own calling to the ministry. I had grown up heavily involved in the church, and I loved to help people. I couldn't lead a church, but there were many other ways for Southern Baptist women to serve. How could I if I had sin in my heart?
A few days later, I went over to the Scotts to print off flyers for the next camp. Our printer at the house was broken, and the church secretary had yet to buy a new one.
"What kind of picture is that?" Travis asked when the first pages started spitting out of the printer.
"It's supposed to be a child reading a book," I explained sheepishly. I had found some free photos online, but it looked better on the screen than enlarged on paper.
"There have to be some better pictures," he said, leaning over my shoulder. "Here, Mom has a whole folder of pictures she got from Campus Crusade. Use one of those." He started to take the mouse, but just then his phone rang somewhere out of the room. "Let me get that. It's in the Pictures folder."
He left, and I clicked around in the pictures. I didn't see the folder right away, but I did find one called Travis' Bible Study. Curious, I opened it to see what chapters he might be reading. Instead I went through multiple folders, like online nesting dolls. Finally there were some files, but they were all numbered.
I clicked on one and felt a rush of shame. It was a photograph of a naked woman touching herself, legs spread and open wide. Her face was contorted in a cross between a smile and a grimace. I quickly closed it, but I couldn't erase the image from my mind. The joy on the girls face almost reminded me of a worship service, when everyone was lost in a powerful song. It was such a sinful thought to compare masturbation to worship, I told myself.
"Did you find it?" My stomach clenched when I heard Travis behind me. I blushed as I clicked on another folder and shook my head.
"Still looking," I tried to say nonchalantly. He came over to take the mouse again. I could feel the heat from his body, and it made me warm with guilt. Travis was casual as before. "Hmm, she must have moved them to a CD. I guess you'll have to use that picture. Or take some of the kids tomorrow."
"That's a good idea," I said as he pulled back. I studied him, but he didn't seem upset at all. Maybe he hadn't seen me. Who knows, maybe he thought I should be looking at such things.
"I'll bring my camera, and you can get some high res ones, so they'll be good when you blow them up."
"Thanks." I smiled, and he smiled back. I couldn't believe how much sin he was allowing in his life, but my pastor said it was harder for boys. It shouldn't have been so hard for me.
That night, I couldn't stop thinking about the words from the novel and the image from the computer. The three of us girls slept in a room together with bunk beds, and I had the bottom one below Misty. The book of Philippians said to think on whatever was pure and good. Was it sinful to think of sex, even between a married couple?
I had felt my body respond to sexual things before, but I had never explored those sensations. Curious, I put my hand into my panties. I grazed over my pubic bone and felt the hair there. I trimmed it for hygiene, not because I ever expected anyone to see it. I went down to my labia, the outer lips, feeling the warm heat radiating out. I carefully touched the inside lips, wet with natural fluids. They felt slightly puffy, and as I stroked them a warmth traveled up my body.
My heart was beating fast and my breathing was shaky. I felt for my clitoris, feeling a shock as I touched the small bead. My vaginal muscles clenched and I lifted my hips. It was a strange aching pleasure, a rush that made me feel shamefully excited.
I thought I heard one of the other girls stir, so I pulled my hand away. When I brought my hand up, I could smell my own musk, and it was both disgusting and pleasing. I waited until I could hear the girls breathing slowly, then went to the bathroom.
The evidence of my touching was left on the paper when I wiped myself. It was a natural process that left me embarrassed. My family had always avoided talk about sexual subjects, even about the reproductive system. I had educated myself, but I never realized how powerful the mind could be on the body.
I went back to bed and tried to sleep. The faint scent of my body stayed in my nostrils. It wasn't sin, I tried to tell myself, just exploring.
The next day at Bible camp was hot as usual. That day we did Adam and Eve. For the activity, we made apples and glued them to a large cardboard tree. Travis showed up for the craft and took lots of pictures. He stayed after to help us clean up. "I'll leave you the camera and you can upload the pictures when you have time," he said.
"Great idea," I said.
"Are you girls hungry? Mom was cooking an early dinner because of Bible study. I think she might have made extra to take to church."
"That would be awesome!" Alice said. "We haven't gone to the grocery store this week anyway."
"Why don't we eat and go afterward?" Misty suggested. We all liked her suggestion and drove over to Travis' house.
The conversation ended up on the family's travels. Despite living abroad for most of Travis' life, Mr. and Mrs. Scott decided to go back home for his high school years. They were surprised that he stayed nearby for college.
"I thought you would get bored here," his mother said.
"I'll have plenty of time to travel once I get my ministry degree," Travis said. Naturally, he was studying international missions. He looked at me and said, "Besides, there's enough temptation in town." I blushed and looked away. He had done plenty of tempting.
After dinner I had to prepare for the next day's lesson, so I stayed at the house while the other girls went shopping. While I was thinking about it, I used the house computer to upload the pictures from Travis' camera. He didn't have thumbnails turned on, so it was hard to tell when the shots from today began. Random clicking got me in trouble again.
This picture was of a young woman with a penis in her mouth. It was revolting, but I didn't close it. Instead I clicked forward, strangely excited but vainly hoping I would get to the Bible camp pictures soon. I found a progression of pictures as the woman touched the man. The pictures were taken from above, and I had to assume it was Travis' body. The penis left the girl's mouth, and the last picture was of her face covered in sperm. It looked messy and degrading, but the girl had a expression of pride and lust.
My pastor had said oral sex was OK in marriage, but I couldn't imagine doing it. It seemed so dirty to touch a man down there, much less let his seed get on your body. Perhaps it was the dirtiness that made me moist in my panties.
I heard the front door unlocking, so I quickly shut off the camera and stood up to help the girls. The company helped keep my mind off the images, but I knew I was sliding into dangerous territory.
I forgot the camera until the next Wednesday night. We were at Travis' house with the other youth for pizza and a movie. Travis stopped me while I was going into the kitchen to refill my drink.
"Tara, do you still have my camera?" He asked as I set my cup down.
I was about to answer but felt stuck when I remembered those pictures. Blushing, I said, "Yeah, it's at the house. I can go get it for you," I said quickly, moving by him back out of the kitchen.
"I'll come with you," he said, and I was too embarrassed to say no. He followed me out of the side door. "How do you like the movie?" he asked as we walked.
"It's great," I said. It was a Nicholas Sparks romance. They were always sweet and not too graphic.
"It's a girl movie, but I think it's ok," Travis said. "Sometimes I like things with a little more action."
I nodded as I slid our door open. We hardly ever locked it. It was a country town and everyone knew each other. The camera was where I left it on the computer. "I haven't uploaded the pictures yet, but that won't take a minute."
"I can do it," he said, shaking the mouse to wake up the computer. He connected the cable and turned the camera on. "I was wondering: you didn't see any of the pictures I left on here, did you?"
I swallowed. "Pictures? No, I didn't see anything." I watched as he turned on the details view, sorted the files by date and quickly started the upload. If only I had thought of that.
"Are you sure?" he said, crossing his arms and leaning against the desk. His gaze made me blush with shame. "I would hate it if you saw something that offended you."
"Offended? No, there weren't any offensive pictures that I saw." I wrung my hands together.
"Really? Maybe they got you excited, then?" I looked away.
"That wasn't you, was it?" I asked quietly.
"In the pictures you didn't see? It was. Me and my girlfriend. That was kind of boneheaded to give you the camera without wiping them," he said, glancing back at the computer. The upload was done. "Wouldn't want to tempt one of you girls."
"You didn't....tempt..." I said, but I was on shaky ground. I couldn't admit how the pictures made me feel.
He smiled. "They were exciting to look at, weren't they?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"It didn't make you think about masturbating?" he asked. He was smiling, teasing me.
"No." I shook my head.
"Why not? I thought after what you saw the other day you might like some more stimulation."
I wanted to melt into the floor. "That was an accident."
"I know," he said, gathering up his camera. "A good girl you wouldn't look at things like that on purpose. But you thought about it, don't you?"
"It's a sin," I said.
"Are you sure?" He brushed by me and held up the front door. "I'm sorry I exposed you to temptation. You be a good girl and don't think about those pictures."
The next day I called my mentor from my home church. Olivia was a deacon's wife and young mother, and I always trusted her advice.
"Tara," she said when she answered. "How's the ministry going?"
I told her a few things we had done with the kids, and how several Hispanic families were coming to the church now. Finally I got up the courage. "Can I ask you about something?"
"Did you think about sex before you were married?"
"Of course I did. All women do."
"But is it wrong?"
"Well it depends. We have to be informed, but do we need to try everything? No. Sex is just a part of being intimate with your husband. It's something you have to be prepared for."
"So did you masturbate?"
"You know, everyone has probably done that at some point. The concern is, are you obsessing over sex? Masturbation gives you a temporary feeling, but love is much deeper and takes work." I sighed. "Is there a boy you're worried about, Tara?"
"Yeah--well, no." She laughed. "He's cute, but he's a senior. And he has a girlfriend. He's just..." I couldn't say what he was doing. Tempting me.
"Well, it's good to make friends, but don't worry too much about your feelings. That's biology. It's your thoughts and your actions that can lead you into sin."
"Ok," I said. "Thanks."
I tried to avoid Travis most of the next week, but his pictures stayed with me, tormenting me. On the next Wednesday night his girlfriend came up, and he made a point to introduce her to me. She was pretty, blond like him, and I could see her in those dirty poses. I'm sure she masturbated. Maybe she looked at pornography as well. Even still, she worshiped with us like a normal Christian, with no sign of guilt. I felt jealous.
She played on Travis' computer while the rest of us watched TV. It was some crime movie, but I couldn't get into it. I kept sneaking glances back at the girlfriend.
"Hey, you know that book you were reading?" Alice asked. I turned around to her. "Are you done with it? Can I read it?"
"Sure, but listen," I said. "It has sex in it."
Alice looked at me quizzically. "OK?"
Embarrassed, I said, "I just thought you should be on guard." She shrugged and went back to watching the movie.
That night, I couldn't stop thinking about Travis' girlfriend. Would his parents let her sleep in his room? Would they have sex in his bed? It was disgusting, but also arousing. I was ashamed to be thinking about it, but I couldn't stop.
Almost unconsciously my hand reached for my panties again. I rubbed my hand over my vulva through my clothes. The warmth had already started to spread. I was breathing heavily as I reached inside and found my clitoris. Touching it made me feel hot and nervous. I thought about the girl in the picture, experiencing such pleasure. It was natural, Travis had said.
I went down to my labia and felt the wetness there. I slid a finger inside and trembled as I stroked the vaginal walls. I could squeeze and feel the tightness inside. You have to work it out, he had said.
I went back to my clitoris and circled it. It felt much better lubricated with my own fluids. I rubbed up and down and side to side, testing to see which felt better. They all made me squirm underneath the covers.
You can still serve God and be sexual. I reached my other hand up to touch my breasts. My nipples were stiff and sensitive. Rubbing them added to the tension in my body. I stroked my clitoris faster, raising my hips as if stretching. I felt like there was something I was reaching for. The sensitivity was almost painful, but I didn't want to stop. Finally I reached the edge, and I gasped as an orgasm made my body pitch underneath me. The warmth flowed from my hips outward and burned away all the thoughts in my mind.
You're a woman now. I opened my eyes and held still to see if anyone had noticed me. I could hear the other girls breathing quietly, so I rolled out of bed to wash my hands. The warmth of pleasure was replaced with the chill of shame as I realized what I had done. I had never enjoyed sinning so much, but I wanted to rationalize it away. I was just doing what was natural.