Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 1, August 27, 1998


  In the interest of intellectual honesty, it is fitting that I begin this work with my story.  As a sexologist and former Franciscan nun, I have made dramatic changes in the way I perceive and now honor my sexuality.  As I moved into my middle years and reflected on the changes I had gone through, I became conscious of a profound lack of understanding of my sexuality.  There appeared to be little self knowledge and comprehension of why I had, as I saw it, repressed such a vital life force.  This awareness led me to study human sexuality at a graduate school devoted to this subject.  It also led me to wonder how many other former nuns shared experiences similar to my own.

  I was raised in Northern England in a tight-knit Irish Catholic family.  My father provided well for his family.  He worked as a coal miner; a hard, thankless job.  We were always well-fed, well-clothed, and I feel, to the best of his ability, well-loved.  Unfortunately, his generation of Irish men had little love to copy and even less example of gentleness.  The contradictions one feels in this situation is in itself an interesting phenomenon.  He was a heavy drinker and would regularly binge on weekends.  At these times, my two sisters and I would be fearful since he was capable of being violent.  He usually shouted and broke furniture, but was generally not more physically violent than that.  It was a very unusual event when he would hit any of us.  My mother and I were the only ones to experience this.  It is not an understatement however to say we lived in fear when he went out to drink and was in a bad mood.  Because I was the tallest and strongest (both of my sisters had health problems), I would be the one to "take him on" and defend my mother from his threats.

  My mother was left motherless at a very young age.  She once shared with me her story of being dragged from under a bed, along with many of her sisters, to the convent orphanage.  Her father could only keep a few of his nine children.  The decision was very hard on her and the others not chosen.  She never spoke about her orphanage experience.  It is not surprising to me that she lacked tenderness, she probably had experienced very little.  Being brought up in an Irish Catholic convent would almost certainly have meant severe suppression and condemnation of all forms of intimacy, sensuality and sexuality.  What she gave was total dedication to her family in the best way she knew: strict, merciless discipline, a high degree of self-worth and a blind observation of Catholic doctrine.  A big treat for me was to sleep in her bed when my father worked the night shift, because it felt warm and good to be close to her. I don't ever remember any snuggles at this time.  As a mother myself, I know the pleasure I received from snuggling with my two children when they were young.  My mother would make me lie on my back with my arms across my chest and pray "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take," so that if God took me in the night I would be in a state of grace.

  This brief account of their background I give as backdrop to the following.  I am sure there was no cruelty intended by my parents.  Nevertheless, the effects of my history have led me to this point where I can look back without acrimony and examine why I have repressed and suppressed my sexuality for so long.  It has been a struggle to confront my past and myself.  Questions needed to be asked.

  I really believe my background prepared me to live in fear of sex.  Never to allow myself to see the sexual act as pleasurable and if I had to do it, then to endure it as a duty to my husband.  But where did it start, this mental block toward sex?  I have no conscious memory of sexual thoughts or feelings in my early childhood.  It was as if sexuality did not exist for me until the day I began to menstruate.  On that day of fear and mystery, my mother and her friend sat having tea when I came in from school and told Mum of the "event."  She immediately shared the news, and her friend said to me, "Well now Frances, you're going to have to be careful of the boys from now on."  I did not know what she meant, but I heeded her words and the kernel of sexual repression sown so much earlier in my childhood flourished.  It was fertile ground, richly manured with years of Irish Catholic indoctrination.

  In my home, sex was variously described by my mother as dangerous, bad, dirty, vile, nasty or filthy.  The injunctions to see sex and human bodies in this light created massive conflict for me.  From my early teen years onwards, I was a very sensual person.  I was tall for my age and also rather outgoing.  I developed an active if clandestine interest in the opposite sex (due to my mother's watchful eye). When I was fourteen I met a young man of eighteen. We had a "relationship."  Dating was not allowed (and certainly not with an eighteen year old), so trying to see him and not let my mother catch me was spice to my life.  One evening, a few weeks into our secret dating, while we were petting in an alley, he took his penis out and coaxed me to touch him.  I believe I had never seen a penis before, let alone touched one.  At that moment, the silhouette of my mother appeared at the top of the alley and her voice calling to me stopped the further development of my sex education.  The ramifications of this evening bring both sad and warm memories to me.  The Catholic Irish mentality takes caring one step beyond what could be called healthy parenting. The day after this event I remember the fear of what I had done eating away at me.  I remember sitting in front of an enormous coal fire at my mothers feet, crying and telling her that I might be pregnant.  Without asking me for any details, she sat and stroked my head and cried with me, saying,  "Oh God, the only one out of the nine of us to have this shame."  I have no other recollection of having been held or touched by her so this was a special moment, warm and safe, regardless of the words.  Then she asked to see my panties from the previous day.  When I brought them to her she looked at them and said, "Yes, that looks like the filthy stuff."  When I heard her say those words my fear intensified; we both thought I was pregnant!  I think she intended to fill me with fear (or perhaps in her ignorance her own greatest fear prevailed, that her girls would bring her that shame).  She succeeded.  I never saw that man again.  In actuality, he had never touched me and no ejaculation had taken place.  But those were inconsequential points for the "lesson" I was being taught.  Now I knew for sure that sex would ruin my life.  My mother did not explain pregnancy to me; I did not know about intercourse then.  I must have menstruated as normal later that month, yet I don't remember her using the relief of that event to talk to me nor did she try to explain anything about sexuality.  All I knew was I never wanted to play with another penis and I still, to this day, have a problem seeing semen as anything but a distasteful body fluid.  This experience in retrospect had another consequence.  When I came to realize that what was on my panties could not have been semen but my own juices, then they too came to be "the filthy stuff."

  If my mother was sex negative, my father was sex prurient.  Rarely did we hear anything spoken about sex; mostly it was in the form of off-color jokes. He almost always spoke of women in pejorative terms. They were variously described as "cunts" or "whores" depending on whether they were displaying independence or sexuality.  One summer he visited Amsterdam with the coal miners' social club.  He brought home lots of magazines and kept them under the cushion of  "his" chair.  I remember looking at them once and being curious, but he caught me and I never looked again even though they were there for years.

  There was a lot of social drinking within my extended family.  At these times all the children would be included in the revelries.  I remember quite vividly as a budding adolescent, my drunken uncles coming up behind me and groping my breasts.  The memory makes me shudder.

  My interest in boys lessened after the pregnancy scare and my interest in school heightened.  I attended a Franciscan Monastery high school.  A contingent from this order came to recruit when I was fifteen.  Two of my friends and I became very interested.  At that time I was going to Mass every morning on my way to school.  I felt it started my day out calmly and with peace.  Into my sixteenth year, the three of us girls would spend a lot of our free weekends at the lovely convent in Belper, Derbyshire.  This time of my life is still one of the happiest in memory.  The big feather bed, the clean, peaceful, loving atmosphere.  The mystery which surrounded the nuns was captivating.  I loved being in an atmosphere of quiet, alcohol-free thoughtfulness and spirituality.  It was in direct contrast to the atmosphere of my home.

  My father refused to allow a girl to continue school past seventeen.  He thought we should work in the local factory, be a hairdresser or a machinist, in order to pass the time until we were married and then have a trade that would help out our husbands.  From an early age I saw and detested the life of most of the women around me.  Upon graduating from high school, there were three "professions" open to me, nursing, teaching or secretarial.  I chose nursing because it allowed me to leave home immediately. Reflecting upon that decision, I do not recall even thinking about how close proximity to human bodies would affect me.  The important thing for me was that I would be paid a small salary which freed me from dependency. I began my course of study just before my eighteenth birthday.

  Although the pregnancy scare had dampened my interest in boys I did have fun running around with a gang of young people, but they were considered lowly in my mother's eyes and she would stop me going out with them whenever she could.  My sister and I went to dances together and met men, but I was really very prudish with them.  Although I would allow kissing, any other form of petting would scare me.  During the initial months of my nursing training, the other girls cut my skirts outlandishly short and changed my name from Frances to the more 'hip' Fran.  We had a blast.  It was great fun being with them.  I was always upset when boys would come and split up our group; we were having so much fun just on our own.  Then when it was my turn to be "picked" I would go through agonies because it seemed to me that their only interest was in "the part of me below my belt."  It became intolerable for me (and, on reflection, for them too) nine times out of ten I would freeze them out after a couple of dates.  I recognize now that my actions could have been misconstrued as teasing, because I would be very turned on to some of the boys but equally conflicted about how to follow through with actions that my conscience would not allow.

  Surprisingly, although the boy issue was a major problem for me, I do not believe it was, at least consciously, the stimulus to enter the convent when I did.  The catalyst came six months into my nursing training when the schedule for the next six months was posted and there was my name on the roster for night duty.  I still remember the panic...me on night duty, alone on the ward with forty sick people. Perhaps that was the last straw, which I took to 'prove' that I didn't belong in the secular world. I wrote to the Mother Superior requesting that I enter as soon as possible. To renounce sexual desire (which I did not allow myself to experience), to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience was one to which I felt ideally suited. I was frightened of responsibility.  The life in the convent was only marginally more austere than the nurses' home, so I thought.  My world, the one I felt was truly meant for me, was the cloister...God's world.  To be a "virgin bride of Christ" allowed my lively brain free range with romantic imagery (as my letters home would attest) without any physical contact; I felt happy with my choice.

  The day I entered was terrifying.  My sister and her fiancé  took me to the convent.  As I said good-bye to them and we kissed, my sister said, "We'll see you in a couple of weeks."  We both thought I would be able to have visitors if anyone was in the vicinity of the convent.  "Oh no," said the Novice Mistress, "Frances isn't allowed visitors for the first six months!"  Suddenly the "good-byes" took on a whole new meaning, and I realized maybe there had been a few gaps in my preparation.  My next surprise was my "bedroom."  The poverty and austerity of the dormitory was stark.  My mattress was filled with straw.  I remember the terror of the first night, putting on my strange big white gown and climbing onto the hard surface.  I lay most of the night with tears blinding me, while wondering what was going to happen to me next, being acutely aware of the others behind the curtains in beds just like mine.  There was no talking.  The "grand silence" was to prove one of my greatest trials. One that I failed many times, after all, wasn't I the one at school from my earliest recollections who had had their legs slapped the most often for talking?  No humming, no singing as I scrubbed floors.  I was constantly being shown the sign to "shush."  Oh, what had I done to myself?

  I was a "postulant" (introductory period) for six months, and a "novice" (after receiving the habit) for about a year.  It was not very long, yet the teaching and the indoctrination of those few months are indelible.  I agree with Karen Armstrong in her autobiography, Beginning the World (1983), when she says that it is difficult to confront those years "because they never die."

  Sexuality was never mentioned in the convent.  In fact, not only was it never mentioned, it was deliberately excluded, expunged from the life around me.  At home I used to love to watch a TV program called "Top of the Pops."  It was a disco style production with young people dancing to the top music of the week.  I managed to convince my Novice Mistress that I should write a paper on this program for one of my classes.  She, not having ever seen the program, gave permission for us to watch it the next time the show was on, as part of our one-hour recreation.  I shall never forget her face as she saw scantily dressed young people writhing to the strains and sights of The Rolling Stones.  The undiluted eroticism, was from her perspective, shocking and she immediately switched off the television with a very deliberate, stunned silence following the action.  She gave me a look that spoke volumes; where had I come from to watch such wanton "entertainment?"

  We rarely saw men other than the elderly priest, our chaplain, who said daily Mass and heard our confessions.  However, as a novice, I had a young priest for my spiritual advisor.  He was a student at a university not too far from the Mother House.  We talked for hours about books and world issues.  He was the first man who I can genuinely say was a platonic friend.  The novice mistress on many occasions made it quite clear that she did not approve of the time we spent together in the parlor.  We didn't tell her about the books, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe or The Gospel According to Charlie Brown; she would definitely not have approved.  What joy it was to talk to him, he provided a male perspective in a disciplined, narrow, female world.

  If I was unaware of any sexual attraction to my spiritual adviser, that was not the case for a young visiting priest who came to relieve our aging chaplain for a time.  This man was young dark, slightly balding, and gorgeous.  I was nineteen and still, under that dark brown habit, sensually alert.  Although hardly a word was spoken between us (we were definitely kept well away from him), I do remember the attraction.  The silent dropped eyelids in chapel, staring at his face from the safe distance of my pew.  How strange to feel sensual in rough serge and tough cotton.  I think I was so dissociated from my sexuality that I have no recollection of dreams or fantasies about him.  It was all in the present tense; that is, when he was in front of me at Mass or passing in a corridor my senses would jump, but otherwise sexuality was sublimated by spiritual practices. It was easy to suppress sexual feelings because I knew they had no place in my life and should not be there.  More importantly, if the novice mistress ever noted any outward display of pride or sensuality, one would soon be told about it and have to do penance.  In retrospect I question why I didn't talk about my feelings to my fellow novices.  There were three of us in the novitiate and nobody ever addressed the subject of sexuality.  I was unaware of sexual feelings toward any of the women I lived with or sexual activity within the convent on any level. The professed nuns lived in another house. I certainly remember having feelings of arousal upon leaving the convent when I went back into nursing training.  I remember being what I would now call infatuated with one of my female fellow students, although we never acted out sexually.  But my time in the convent was spent in sexual dormancy.

  I never masturbated, never touched myself. I do however remember tightening the cord around my waist to try and emphasize the small size. This was fruitless, of course, because the habit is designed to sabotage any such pride. The body was supposed to be ignored, depreciated, submissive and totally controlled.  Bodily functions such as menstruation were treated (particularly by our Novice mistress) as a time for deliberate sacrifice.  On entering the convent we were required to bring two yards of terry cloth.  This was made up into sanitary napkins with our number on each.  Our Novice mistress took the new ones and distributed them to the older nuns, giving the novices older, harder ones.  To add insult to injury, after laundering, she would not allow us to use our own piece of cloth the next month, a practice that is grossly unhealthy because she also had a practice of not allowing us to use enough soap powder to wash properly.  Additionally she did not like us to use "too much" hot water.  There was another nurse in the Novitiate, and this "discipline" caused much mumbling (and chafing).  When we complained we were told it was part of the "discipline" and we had to endure, to cure our pride.

  In my imagination, I thought my habit the most beautiful dress I had ever worn.  It set me above all other women.  I was pure, untouched, and untouchable, protected by God, my only lover, my perfect soul-mate.  No decision was mine.  No money was mine.  No clothes, feelings, expectations.  Nothing.  Nothing for the foreseeable future was in my control.

  In my letter home each week I portrayed God as a real lover to me.  I felt I was in a personal, intimate relationship with "Him."  Spiritually, I was fulfilled; yet sexually completely dormant.

  After a year and a half, I began to feel emotionally drained and intellectually stunted. No matter how badly one wishes to be successful and live life with pure intentions, personal reality is not always how we would like it to be.  I experienced two bouts of pneumonia and coughing fits that forced the Novice Mistress to ask me to leave the Chapel because I was making so much noise.  Theology classes became a time for disciplining my mouth not to ask the questions that provoked the good Sister to chastise me for impudence.  In class, questioning Mary's virginity after she bore Jesus was considered, according to our aged theology teacher, doubly sinful for it brought sexuality and marriage into the classroom and also challenged the very tenets of the Church's doctrines.

  My novice mistress was a very disturbed woman (I heard many years later she had a nervous breakdown and was released from her vows).  She eventually created in me such turmoil that I had to recognize my vocation was questionable.  I could not accept everything I saw around me and submit my mind and soul to what, for me, became abuse.  The older sisters told the other novices and me that these things were our trial and we had to submit unquestioningly.  I wondered why God would give me such a strong personality and then expect me to deny it for his sake.  In retrospect, I am thankful for having this Novice Mistress to test my vocation at such an early stage.  If it had been someone else with more warmth and compassion, I think I would have stayed a long time before coming to the realization that life in community was not my path.

  It was clear the life of a celibate ascetic was not for me.  I left quietly, inconspicuously one Saturday morning while all my Sisters were in chapel.  It was a black day.  I was filled with a sense of failure.  Only one dear fellow Sister knew I was leaving, and we cried and gave each other a hug after Grand Silence on my last night.  No one else said good-bye and I did not hear from anyone again until nineteen years later when I made contact with the nun who recruited me.

  The skirt my sister had brought for me to wear home was above the knee.  I squirmed when my knees showed because they had become big and squishy from so much kneeling.  My hands were huge from so much cleaning.  I had lost a lot of weight.  So the clothes hung on what could pass for a skeleton.  We stopped at a gas station and as I was walking back to the car, some young man whistled at me.  My legs felt like jelly, I felt sick and exposed.  If this was what it was like again, how would I cope back in the world.  I returned to my parents' home.  In my memory the failure of my religious vocation remains a source of shame.  I was once a Bride of Christ, now divorced after only eighteen months and returned to my parents with twenty pounds in my pocket (my dowry upon entering) and ruined hands and knees.  The hands mended and to this day I have a passion for nice nails and I don't care to look too closely at my knees.

  I was like a lunatic escaped from the asylum.  I was twenty years old but must have acted like fourteen.  My old friends were still around for me.  We went out as much as possible.  It was as if I was trying to get back, in fun, the year and a half I had lost.  One particular night my old friend from junior school asked if I'd like to go ice-skating.  The reason this event is even noteworthy is because of the frantic way I threw myself into it.  To this day the pleasure of feeling my body skimming the ice, the freedom of racing across the surface, and even the spectacular falls and the abandoned laughter, are indicative of the release I felt from being trapped, incarcerated, my personality buried in the convent.  If only experiencing sexual abandon could have been so easily achieved.

  Finally the time came to make a decision.  It was clear to me my parent's generosity in keeping me at home gratis could not go on forever.  After a couple of attempts to avoid the night duty issue in different jobs, I bit the bullet and went back to my old hospital to resume my tuition.  They were very good and put me back to the point I was at in my training before I left.  I was on the roster for the next set of night duty!  It was fun.  The other student nurses were just as nervous and, together with the girls I'd known prior to entering who were now almost through school, night duty was a breeze, a great relief.
  I was making good progress in my life.  However, in retrospect, my sexuality was still highly conflicted.  However, I had found a sure way to protect myself.  In the convent I needed to wear glasses, issued free by the National Health.  All the nuns who needed spectacles wore a similar frame and it didn't seem odd there.  I continued to wear them when I got out but they were very ugly.  One day I fell off my bike and broke the arm off one side of the glasses.  As a temporary measure my father mended them by fastening the arm back on with a straight pin.  It looked ridiculous.  I carried on wearing them like that for some months.  Of course, I had very short hair in the convent, which I continued cutting myself with the expected result--hideous!  As I see it now, my deliberate attempt to make myself look odd was intended to find a man who could see through all that and care for me on a deeper level, almost like my dear friend and spiritual advisor had done.

  My old nursing friends were my best support team.  They helped me get back into life. We shopped, trimmed my hair, curled it and let it grow, bought new glasses and went to discos, but I still hardly ever got a date. Now I was twenty-one.  I was concerned because I had never had a relationship and thought there must be something very wrong with me. In retrospect I remember a terrific urgency to meet someone and form a relationship.  Yet I'm sure my demeanor was still telegraphing "get lost" signals.

  One of the student Medics asked me out and we went for a drink to the "doctors' bar."  I left my glasses in my room in an attempt to improve my appearance.  He pointed to an object on the bar and asked what I thought of the work of art.  I squinted and strained my eyes and said it was a good representation of two eyes and a big nose.  Someone from behind us laughed out loud and said to my date, "Where did you pick her up, a convent tea party?"  With knees buckling under me we walked out.  As I passed the art work I still couldn't make it out, even up close.  "It's two balls and a penis," said my date.  That relationship didn't last long!

  At a disco one night I met John.  He worked for the airlines.  He was blond, tall and quite stunning.  I was proud to be with him, but he made me nervous because it was as if he had a perpetual hard-on.  With a man like this, I have to ask myself, why I imagined a weekend in his cottage alone would be anything but a sexual trial for me.  I insisted on sleeping in the twin bed.  If I had thought of it, I would have brought my flannel pajamas.  However, a little blue nightdress with capped sleeves had to suffice.  I slept with my rosary beads under the pillow to protect me and jumped out of my skin every time he came near me.  When he walked into the kitchen in the morning with a hard on proudly marching before him out of his dressing gown I thought I would faint!  This definitely was not the man for me!  His sexuality was too unbridled for my taste.  Why did I accept an invitation for the weekend?  To this day no answer comes to me, other than to remember that every time I got close to what I wanted I would run away.  I also re-live the terrible fear of my teenage years and recognize the dangerous naiveté I lived by.  I have to say I think it was at this stage in my life that I developed a wicked sense of humor.  It was said that my tongue could bring down the biggest ego or the hardest erection.  I realize now what a disservice I did to myself by engaging in this vicious self-defense.

  I had several platonic male friends.  One of them introduced me to Richard.  He was intelligent, quiet and reserved.  We were good friends before ever I realized he felt anything more for me.  The relationship became sexual in a wonderfully casual, non-threatening way, with me being the initiator! (So I thought).  Laughter was the emotion most memorable throughout those early months, when we began to pull down the walls of my self-doubt and ignorance.  The first time we attempted to have intercourse, I looked at the challenge very coolly and laughed.  "It's impossible, That will never fit in there!!"  It did and we were married fifteen months later.  We have two adult children and our marriage has survived twenty five-years.

  As I view my sexuality from the vantage point of my youthful forties, I reflect that fundamentally when I was in a situation where, if  sex and or intimacy were offered (I could not differentiate between the two), I wanted more than anything to engage in the activity. Yet most times when the moment of decision arrived, I would turn my back and walk away.  I always felt that, morally, I had taken the higher ground.  We are taught in the Catholic Church, from a very early age that our bodies are the Temple of Christ.  Therefore, if you violate your body in any way, you violate Christ's "space."  Since I accepted this philosophy completely and went to communion daily, I felt my body was truly special, so special that sex would contaminate it.  I therefore wanted an impossible relationship, one which fulfilled all my romantic fantasies for warm sex but on the other hand was celibate.

  The indoctrination is still there in the depth of my mind today.  I understand now that no matter how hard I tried to overcome it, the act of walking away left me with a feeling of superiority--good over evil.  As I reflect on it now, it is of course a fallacy and one which I am not proud of.  What it actually did was to deprive me of personal pleasure and intimacy, which I craved.  Now I relish intimacy in many areas of my life with lots of different close friends.  Sexuality is something very different and I enjoy the freedom to choose for myself when to be intimate or when to be sexual.

  The issues surrounding personal choice versus pleasing people went unsettled throughout my adult life.  I did not have the tools to view and address sex and intimacy as different.  Four years ago I met a sexologist.  The result of our conversation was that I decided to study human sexuality.  It was clear to me by this time that my husband thought there was something "wrong" with the way I thought about sex and in many ways I agreed with him.  I would rarely speak about the subject, never watched erotic films, although our friends were sexually open people I felt myself on the periphery of relationships with them.  I never allowed myself to become too close, although I was every man's "buddy."  I enjoyed being with open minded, free spirits, but what concerned me more importantly, was the fear that if I allowed intimacy with any of these people it may lead to sex and so there could be no physical contact at all.  There still was no appreciation that it was under my control.

  My first weekend workshop at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality was quite probably the most traumatic experience of my adult life.  As I have said, I had never seen a "porn" movie all the way through.  I had never discussed sex openly with anyone except my husband.  Retrospectively I understand how guarded I was even in this limited interaction.  In comparison to my history, the young students from the junior college appeared so much more sexually experienced.  There was no escaping it; I had to address my sexual history.  The first evening I spent alone in a hotel room.  That was the first time in my whole life I had spent the night alone.  I did not sleep a wink, I had a vicious headache and my mind played back images of the day's events.  The second day I was a wreck.   I drove home at the end of my "baptism of fire" in silent confusion.  It took me a month to assimilate all that had gone on in that short weekend.  I would find myself sobbing driving down the freeway, and I did not know why I was crying.  The tragedy of my innocent ignorance took me a long time to process.  It was three months before I was able to go back and join any more classes.  I remember an exercise where I stood naked in front of a full-length mirror and was hit by a tremendous feeling of shame. Tears came to my eyes when they looked down at my knees.  But the disclosure and understanding were memorable, freeing and thoroughly remarkable.

  Now, after more than three years of studying the subject, I am finally at a stage where I can address and begin to understand the conflicts and their genesis.   The faculty at the Institute advised me not to worry about a dissertation topic, "through the course of time, it will find you."  Eventually enough questions surrounding those formative years were posed to force me to look at the conflicts of my religious principles regarding sexuality.  This is a topic which in all the twenty-seven intervening years I have diligently tried to ignore.  I was forty-five years old before I admitted I loved sex. This was a milestone in my life.  I had finally crossed the chasm, joyfully, from consecrated virginity to the open acknowledgment of my passionate sexuality.  I could move on from being the child, permitting everyone else to control my sexuality, and finally own it, enjoy it, and grow.

  Sexual freedom is more encompassing than anyone could ever have explained to me.  Realizing I have control of my body has mysteriously given me a whole new outlook on my life in general.  Never again would I subjugate myself in any manner for the comfort or convenience of anyone else.  I was truly unaware of the damage being done to my own sense of self, let alone the disrespect drawn to me by always putting myself in an inferior position.  I didn't need to wait for someone to put me down I would feed them the ammunition and help them load the gun to fire at me.  Understanding my sexuality has freed me from that misery, forever!

  I no longer attend services in the Catholic Church unless it is to support family or friends.  The ambiance of the Church is still restful and nostalgic if my mind and soul needs a peaceful place, as long as there is no service going on.  My personal connection with God needs no mediators.

  In formulating a hypothesis for the work I embark on, I hope the findings will be a source of discovery to the participants but also to the wider field of sexology. Investigating how other women have made the transitions in their life, how they have released themselves from their vow of chastity and how they have discovered themselves as sexual beings will be a rewarding challenge to me.  Perhaps the cumulative stories of many women's struggles with spirituality and sexuality will hold answers to the questions that still confound us.  Conflicted as I was between what it meant to be a "good Catholic girl" and at the same time be a  "good wife" to a sexually aware man, left me little time on my life journey to take stock of my personal sexual wants and needs.  Trained from birth to be submissive, I found the road to discovering myself has been long and sometimes tortuous, but all the searching for understanding has paid dividends.  Attending intimacy workshops, plus three and a half years of immersion in sexuality education has given me the promise of pleasures to come.  I have often heard "the power of women" being talked about, and made a mental connection that explained it as "women using their sexuality as a power tool."  To follow that road was anathema to me.  I always wanted to be judged by the quality of my mind, my character and integrity, not by the quality of the sex games I was capable of playing.  Now I realize what a dreadful mistake that thinking was.  By hiding behind such arrogant high-minded thinking, I denied the fundamentals of my womanhood.  I could never become truly who I was until I recognized and honored that part of me; that lusty, sexual part that was buried in my childhood.

  Of course I recognize that there are many more dimensions to this subject than can be covered in this short prologue. However, the stories to follow will perhaps fill in some of the gaps and add an element of enlightenment to the study of former ascetic women and how they perceive their sexuality.
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