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A Mormon woman writes about separation from her community and her own body

I'm totally behind in mentioning this fantastic Modern Love column that ran in the New York Times in January. Titled "Single, Female, Mormon, Alone," it's a beautiful, funny and moving essay about a 35-year-old woman's frustrations with the virginity demanded of unmarried Mormons. And it's about her slow rebellion to begin a sexual life. Poet Nicole Hardy, the author of this piece, has been overwhelmed by responses to this essay, including an offer of a book contract. It's easy to see why. I don't know if it's still publicly available at the Times website, so here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

I was not frigid, fearful or socially inept. Not overweight or unattractive. Didn’t suffer from halitosis or social anxiety disorder. I was a practicing Mormon, and Mormons “wait” until marriage. So I had waited, spent the first two decades of my adult life celibate and, for the most part, alone. Because only after the trial of my faith would I be blessed with an eternal marriage, which, I prayed, would also blow my mind in the bedroom.

It never occurred to me that I would remain unmarried, especially in a system where marriage is not only a commandment, but also one of life’s primary purposes. Turns out, though, that there is no place in that community for a single woman who doesn’t want children. Obviously, I was left over, too — I was just never sure what my problem was. Until one man let me know. After overhearing a friend and me comparing our weekend horror-date stories, he walked up to me and asked, “You know what your problem is?”

No, I did not know what my problem was. And I was dying to find out. “Your problem,” he said, “is you don’t need a man.” I thought that was a good thing — to be able to take care of oneself. [...] “Men in the church are raised to be providers. We are the breadwinners, the stewards of the household. If you have all the things we’re supposed to provide, we have nothing to give you.” “What of love?” I asked. “What of intimacy and partnership and making a run at the world together?” “Nope,” he said. “We’re providers.”

Oddly, my trip to Planned Parenthood provided much that the church had not in recent years. During my exam, the clinician explained every move before she made it, asked permission to touch me during the most routine procedures. I was mystified: by her compassion, by the level of attention paid to my body — as if it were fragile, or sacred. Only then did it occur to me how many terrified and abused women Planned Parenthood must treat every day. [...] I would have an IUD instead of children; I would have intellectual and spiritual freedom; I would write poems and finally live inside my body; I would, for the love of God, feel a man’s hands on me before I died.