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August 7, 2007

Father Knows Best

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“It awakened everything in me,” Lauren says later of her first kiss. “It was beyond. I was just like, Wow!” “Wow” is also how she describes her first night with Brett after their wedding reception, when they checked in to the Broadmoor Hotel. An explicit promise of the virginity-until- marriage movement is that if you wait for the big day to have intercourse, the sex will be mind-blowing. (A popular public-school sex-ed curriculum in Colorado is called “Wait Training: Learn How to Have the Best Sex — By Waiting Until Marriage!”) In their hotel room, the first thing Lauren did was get a basin and water pitcher and wash Brett’s feet.

Come again?

“My spiritual gift is serving,” she explains. “And I wanted to show Brett, ‘I’m here to love you, follow you, and serve you.’”

Oh.

After drying her new husband’s feet, the night only got better. “It was incredible,” Lauren says of losing her virginity.

I push for details.

She sticks to “incredible.”

I describe the first time I had sex. I was 17, and my boyfriend’s parents were out of town. My boyfriend (Bob), his buddy, my best friend (Jen), and I were at his house fooling around, and Jen came into Bob’s bedroom and said, “I’ll do it if you do it.” We all did it. In Bob’s bedroom there was some confusion about mechanics (hips synchronized or in opposition?), a bit of discomfort on my part, and a little performance anxiety on his. Afterward, Jen and I confabbed and decided that sex had “potential.” Lauren nods and smiles.

I flat-out ask if she has orgasms. She defers with an “it’s amazing.”

Three weeks after their wedding, I visit Lauren at their apartment near Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Brett is temporarily stationed. She looks the same — smiling, doll-like. When we sit down to talk, Lauren tells me about a 17-year-old girl she met in the computer room of her new apartment complex. Crying, the girl told Lauren, “I think my fiancé’s cheating on me, and I’m trying to figure out what to do because I’m pregnant with his kid.”

“And I thought, Oh, that’s really interesting,” says Lauren. “She’s had sex with him, and now she’s opened the door to fear and rejection. What’s she going to do if he leaves? She’s got his child, she’s only 17, she didn’t graduate high school. Now what?”

Lauren thinks the trouble began when the couple had sex. I think the trouble began when that girl didn’t use birth control. Before I’ve put these thoughts into words, Lauren continues. “For me,” she says, “I’m stronger as a woman because I came into marriage as a virgin. I’m whole.”

Despite my past lovers, I feel remarkably whole, too, and tell Lauren so.

“But when you’ve saved yourselves for only each other, there’s trust,” she says. “Now I’m able to give Brett everything. I know that I’m the only one who knows him intimately. I’m not afraid of, ‘When is he going to ditch me?’ or ‘Will he cheat on me?’”

I hold the opposite view. It’s kind of like dieting: Limit me to vanilla wafers, and I’ll be craving a bakery. And while I sampled many cookies before getting hitched, I never worry that either of us is going to stray.

That night in Arizona, Lauren, Brett, and I dine at a restaurant across from Wal-Mart called Mimi’s. She wears a beaded gauzy top, he wears a T-shirt that shows off his admirable muscles. They sit side by side and share shy smiles, looking and acting like a couple who just met — which, in many ways, is what they are. Unlike my husband and me after we married, Lauren doesn’t automatically know what Brett will order. He stares intently at Lauren when I ask her a question — not sure what she’ll answer. He’s amused to learn that Lauren feels like they are playing house; she’s surprised that Brett feels guilty when he lingers at the base after work. They are great mysteries to each other, but even so — or maybe because of that — the sexual heat between them is palpable.

Lauren says she embraces her new life as a stay-at-home wife, spending her days cleaning, grocery shopping, decorating, e-mailing, “then waiting for Brett to get home.” Though she misses her family, she’s determined to succeed in her new role. “I see my life as helping Brett,” she says. I tell her it sounds like she’s giving up her personal freedom. She disagrees.

“Freedom,” she says, “comes from living within boundaries. It’s like driving. There are lanes and signs — which some might find constraining — but if they weren’t there, it would be chaos.” Stay in your lane, though, and it’s easy to get where you want to go. Before I catch a plane back to New York, Lauren and I visit the mall to get our eyes done at a MAC cosmetics counter. Lauren looks modelesque in a range of plums; I look like a large leprechaun in a trio of lime greens. As we laugh together over that girly universal, eyeshadow, you’d never know that Lauren fears for my marriage and maybe my soul, and I fear that she — a bright, passionate girl — is living a subjugated life.

I rub the green grub from my eyelids and mutter obscenities about evil makeup pushers as we leave the store. Lauren giggles, and we step out into the blinding Arizona sun. We agree — oddly, in a way only two women who have shared a beauty ritual can — that perhaps subjugation depends on your point of view. Consider Randy. Consider Lindsay, Paris, and Britney. Consider the thousands of American high-school students taking a sex-ed class that suggests the only thing you need to know about sex is how not to have it. For now, ours is a confused culture in a free country. Lauren and I find our car and, burning our fingertips on the hot metal, unlock it. Soon, to the tune of the Kelly Clarkson song, I mentally sing, “Go forth and search for love any way you can.”


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