Marie Claire: I imagine you didn't expect to be a virgin in your mid-30s.
Nicole Hardy: For Mormons, sex is only allowed inside marriage. Most of my friends got married during college; it was a lot of baking cookies—doing stuff to make boys like you. I wasn't into that. Also, I realized that I didn't want kids. So it was hard for me to get past the first date with Mormon guys. One of the first questions is, "How many kids do you want?" If you say, "I'm not sure I want any," it's over before it starts. And at the time, my "Mormon-ness" made me undateable outside the Mormon community. I was stuck.
MC: Your religion mandates that you must be closed off from your sexuality entirely—you can't masturbate or have casual sex.
NH: Sexual feelings and thoughts are only for married people. I was committed to celibacy for a reason, and I thought it was temporary. But biologically, it was getting harder to avoid temptation. There were occasions when I was out with a man and my own sex drive came as a shock to me. Suddenly, I really wanted to go further and further—I just really craved sexual contact.
MC: What was dating like?
NH: I had a few short relationships, but it's really hard to stay around first base. I was dating 30-year-old men who'd been having sex for 15 years. The only way that I could remain a virgin was to withdraw. I got very depressed.
MC: You finally decided to leave the church.
NH: I was 35, and I had a boyfriend at that time. I thought it was going to happen with him, but we had a couple of awkward failed attempts. We eventually broke up, so it was at least a year after I left the church before I had sex. By that time, I was ready.
MC: How did it happen?
NH: It was lovely and sweet. I'd finally met someone, and it just wasn't a big deal. He wasn't freaked out or intimidated, like other men have been. My whole life I was told I'd lose respect for myself or the man would lose respect for me. Neither happened.
MC: How did you feel afterward?
NH: Relieved. Weirdly complete. And I don't want to make it seem like you can't be a fulfilled person if you're a virgin, but I'd spent so many years trying to keep my mind and body and spirit separate—it seemed like if they were ever allowed to coexist, it would be destructive. Letting down all those barriers and allowing myself to be a woman was incredibly beautiful.
MC: Are you now trying to have all the sex you missed out on?
NH: I'm single now, and I wish I could be more promiscuous. There are a lot of experiences that I'd like to have, but I'm still kind of a good girl at heart. I haven't had any bad sex yet, though.
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