What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Holly. 

I want you to know that I lost my virginity when I was 15 years old.

I want you to know that I don’t fit the stereotype of the “kind of person” who has sex at age 15. I grew up in a devoutly Christian family and my father was one of the pastors of our church.

I experienced a lot of confusion about what happened for a long time, but looking back now I see that the relationship that I was in had abusive elements. It could best be described as emotionally abusive, though that doesn’t really fit the situation either. How do you describe a relationship of constant manipulation? Where your boyfriend tells you that you are the only good thing in his life? Where he threatens to kill himself if you end it? I know that I felt constantly isolated and powerless to affect the trajectory of our relationship.

The first time the sex happened without my consent. I hadn’t planned for it to happen, but all of a sudden it was too late and I couldn’t go back. I don’t think it was rape, but I know that I never said it was okay, either.

It continued for a few months until I finally had the courage to end the relationship. When I told my parents, they acted like it was the worst thing in the world. I felt permanently tainted in their eyes. To their credit, however, my parents did not seem to hold what happened against me, and once I was out of the relationship we didn’t talk about it again. I told my two best friends what happened but kept it a secret from everyone else I knew.

I want you to know that I experienced a lot of shame about what happened for a long time. I felt like a barrier had separated me from everyone else, and I was always scared that others in my small town would find out and think that I was a “slut.” Whenever we had sex talks at church, I felt dirty and broken. Keeping what happened a secret became so ingrained in me that even now, ten years later, I am still hesitant to include a picture of myself with this post in case someone I know sees it.

Over my last three years of high school I began to heal. I began to realize that having sex had not lessened my value as a person, that I still was made in the image of God and loved immeasurably by him.

When I was 18, I met the man who is now my husband. My mother advised me not to tell him that I wasn’t a virgin, but I knew that I didn’t feel comfortable keeping that secret from someone I was falling in love with. I wasn’t at all sure what his reaction would be, but you know what? He didn’t care at all. He told me that he was sorry I had been in an unhealthy relationship, but that sex that I had had three years ago didn’t matter to him. This is when I knew that he was really someone special. In the seven years of our relationship to date, he had never once made me feel guilty about this experience or held it against me. Our marriage is very happy and not at all damaged because I wasn’t a virgin when we met.

I want to you to know that what happened to me occurs much more often than we realize, to all different kinds of people, even those from good homes. More people than just bad kids are having sex in high school. There has been a lot of talk in the Christian blogosphere recently about reframing the way we discuss sex and virginity with young people. I definitely agree that we need to find a way to move from a shame-based view of virginity to one that empowers people. If I had felt empowered maybe my situation would have been different.