The virgin monologues: navigating sex, singleness and contentment
Carrie Lloyd is a breath of fresh air – cliché, maybe, but it's really the only way to describe the 34-year-old author whose latest book, The Virgin Monologues, explores the perils of the Christian dating scene with both humour and finesse.
Not one to mince her words, she believes our view of relationships, particularly within the Church, has become distorted, and it's down to what she calls "the curse of Eve".
"Often, we as women buy into this lie that life doesn't begin until Adam comes along – 'If I don't find Adam, I'm screwed,'" she explains, before quickly adding: "Not literally, obviously, but metaphorically...I can't wait to see if you print that."
It's clear she doesn't take herself too seriously, though there's obviously a real passion to help young women to cherish singledom, while also navigating the – frankly baffling – world of dating. And all without using fluffy princess metaphors.
"Everything seems to be about being a 'helper' – being a mum, having children, being a wife and having to be loved by a man in order to be validated as a woman. We so often hide behind those relationships, but it's one step away from co-dependence which is, I think, one of the biggest epidemics of today," she insists.
The crux of The Virgin Monologues is how to enjoy every season of life and honour those around us, and that starts – Carrie says – with understanding our identity in Christ. It's about knowing our value as individuals, regardless of whether we're in a relationship or not.
"We have to ask: am I seeking a relationship for the wrong reasons? Am I hoping someone else will be able to fix me, or can I do singledom well? If you're not happy with being single, you need to spend as much time in the secret place as possible – joy and contentment will always come from worshipping God," she says.
"My boyfriend doesn't fix everything for me; I can't go to him for that, which is why we have a great relationship. I'm not interested in marriage, I'm interested in kingdom marriages," she adds, meaning marriages centred on Christ, where security is placed on him alone, rather than in each other.
Before we get to marriage, though, there's dating, which Carrie readily admits is a bit of a minefield, especially within a Christian context.
"I love men, don't get me wrong, but there can be a real tribal mentality in the Church – boys seem to scrape the room for the 'best' girl, which doesn't make us women feel great. They sometimes pursue three or four girls at a time and it's like 'Just pick one!' We need to change that environment, and teach men how to honour women. We want to be chosen, pursued and feel exclusive, but they're fishing with a net rather than a hook."
She's not about to break into a Destiny's Child song, though; Carrie is quick to point out that girls haven't got it all sorted either.
"We can be really needy, and start reading into texts and thinking it's tantamount to a proposal.
"I call it the 'covenant coffee' – boys are terrified to ask girls on a date because we read into it. There's this bit in the book called 'You say coffee, I say commitment, let's call the whole thing off'. The poor guys don't even get a chance to pursue when we're like that."
Carrie also discusses the contradiction that seems to lie at the heart of the Church's view of relationships – which says something like 'don't look at the opposite sex, or even think too much about them, but make sure you're married by the time you're 21'.
"That's the main thing I want to go back to basics on," she says. "Some of the finest women in the Bible are not mentioned next to who they're married to or who their children are, unless it's Mary. Women like Deborah – she led a very influential movement but her story is so contradictory to what Christian pressures suggest – that it's a failure to be single, and if we're not loved by one sole person then we're missing something.
"Most married people I know tell me not to rush – not just to marry because the rest of the world is telling you to, or because you feel like a failure for being single. If we do that, we're marrying for the wrong reasons."
Unfortunately, not everyone seems to understand this mindset.
"Someone asked me recently: 'How are you, really, being 34 and not married?' So I said, 'Oh you know, some days I want to kill myself, some days I don't'," Carrie recalls.
"Then she said 'Really?', and I was like 'No!'"
"If I'd married the people I dated when I was 18-23, I'd have sorely regretted it. I changed so much in my 20s, and my 30s are my favourite times. The most important thing is to have an identity, and be happy with that and to have good community in Church.
"I'll be honest and say I want to have companionship and closeness and intimacy with someone, but if I'm not happy with being single and content with the family of the Church then that's a real problem. When I have a church family, I'm ingrained and I'm known. I don't wish for companionship as much – and it's when it's coming from a 'need' that you're in trouble. That's about fear, and fear ain't the Lord's."
Carrie is currently studying at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California, where she says there's an intentional focus on creating a culture of honour and "living back into purity".
Though many young Christians have "slipped a little" with sexuality, there's a movement to get rid of the shame and guilt that is so often attached to sexual transgressions.
"When we're convicted of something it's a time to celebrate, not a time to punish yourself," Carrie explains.
"Not like 'Oh great! I sinned!' but rejoicing because you've seen a new side of God's face and you're starting to understand why he calls us out of those things."
Carrie, who has been sexually active in past relationships, says the Church "hasn't handled brilliantly" people in her position.
"We're wired to be sexual and have these desires, and we're quick to judge and condemn. But why is no one saying sex is awesome! It's designed to be powerful, and that's the reason we can't do it with just anyone. It's not about the Lord not wanting us to have pleasure, but it's so pleasurable and gorgeous because it's a creation of his, and we've abused it for self-gratification.
"Christians and the Church have made some incredible mistakes in this, and it's the children of the Church that are dealing with the repercussions of that."
Carrie's book explores purity, heartbreak and forgiveness, and how to live out biblical principles in a 21st century sexualised culture.
"There are loads of books and courses that look at whether you're right for marriage, and I wished there was something like that for single people – what when you're not engaged but still starting to think 'is this the right person?'"
Carrie has spken openly about her faith and her relationship choices outside of the 'Christian bubble'. Her best friend is TV personality Dawn O'Porter, who describes herself as a "devout atheist" – despite Carrie's contention that she's "sure that's not a thing". Dawn has interviewed Carrie about her faith, and the exchanges are brilliantly frank and funny, as Dawn tries to make sense of where Carrie is coming from. It also highlights her abililty to talk about sexuality and faith in the real world.
"My two best friends, Dawn and Charlie, are both atheists. Actually most of my closest friends are, and that's no bad thing. It's good to be challenged by their thoughts, and it's helped me to be able to talk to anyone about faith on their level," Carrie explains.
"The Bible tells us to love everyone, and so if we just love Christians then we miss out. You have to have the same core values whatever your relationship is – Dawn is loyal, she'll fight for me, she'll give me her time. As long as we're doing that for each other, we're good."
So what advice does the woman tipped as the 'Christian Carrie Bradshaw' have for those of us navigating the dating scene?
"In a guy I always look for someone who is a Son, a Lover and a Servant, and the same applies to girls – be a Daughter, a Lover and a Servant," she offers. "Those are the three things you need – the rest is all packaging."