“The man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” (Gen. 2:25)
One day in 1979, I was visiting my grandmother at her apartment in Oswego, New York. Not known for her subtly nor her bashfulness, Rosemary, as we all called my dad’s mom, turned to me and asked, “Jim, have you had sex yet?” Naturally, I didn’t see that question coming from my grandmother, but I wasn’t surprised.
I confessed that I had not had sex. I was an eighteen-year-old virgin who had been a Christian since I was twelve. Of course, I didn’t lack opportunities to have sex; what I lacked was courage. I didn’t have the courage to do something I believed the Bible said not to do. I’d spent six years in various youth groups where relationships were discussed, and the overwhelming biblical consensus was that a man and a woman should wait until they are married before they engage in sexual intercourse. I didn’t tell Rosemary all that. I simply said, “No.”
This is where the conversation got even weirder than it already was, as hard as that is to imagine. Rosemary went on to tell me about her wedding night experience with my grandfather. She told me she was a virgin on their wedding night but my grandfather was not, which was not unusual in the 1930’s. At this point I’m thinking, “This is too much information,” but Rosemary continued unabashed.
“The first time a woman makes love can be a very difficult and scary time for her. She needs a man who has enough sexual experience to be gentile with her on her first night. Your grandfather was such a man, and I’m grateful.”
As I’m contemplating all this, Rosemary continues. “I suggest you find yourself an experienced woman who can teach you the art of lovemaking, so when it is time for you to be with your wife for her first time, you can lead her gently and satisfy her needs.”
Yes, my fifty-five year old grandmother just told her eighteen-year-old grandson to go out and have sex.
It’s not that I hadn’t thought about having sex. After all, I was EIGHTEEN!! Of course, I’d thought about it. Often. God created me to desire a woman, to want to make love, to “be fruitful and multiply,” as Genesis 1:28 says. It was perfectly natural for me to want to lie down with a woman and experience sexual intercourse, and now my grandmother had just strongly suggested I go out and fulfill that desire.
As you can imagine, this conversation had my head spinning for about a week. As an eighteen-year-old virgin, I was doing my best to keep my thoughts pure and not think too much about sex, but now my grandmother suggested I do just the opposite. And yes, there was a part of me who thought she was giving me very good advice, and I spent considerable time thinking about how I could get away with it.
But that was the problem. I didn’t want to “get away” with anything. My grandmother said a man should not be a virgin on his wedding night, but my mind kept going back to the first chapter of Genesis, which reveals God’s original plan for a man and a woman. In this creation account, we see one man and one woman who were both virgins upon their first sexual experience and, in spite of their inexperience, they managed to stay together for a long and fruitful life.
Furthermore, I considered two other items in addition to what I believed the Bible taught me about sex. First, I didn’t want my sexual abilities, or lack thereof, to be the topic of conversation among other women I may have known in town. That discussion should be a private conversation between a husband and wife. Second, as cute as he may have been, I didn’t want a little Jimmy running around as a result of my poor decision. I wanted to go to Bible College, and the shame I would have felt because of my disobedience to God resulting in an unwanted pregnancy might have derailed that dream.
Rosemary and I never talked about it again, so I never told her I rejected her advice. My first real crisis regarding my obedience to Scripture came through the caring, yet misguided, advice from my grandmother. I loved her dearly, of course, but I decided my obedience to God’s Word was more important than either my grandmother’s advice or the natural desires of my body. And this was how, fifteen years later, I was able to share my virginity with my wife on our wedding night, where “the man (me) and his wife (Barbara) were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25).