After dabbling in things that I thought were different from sex (second base, third base…I’m not even sure if those are the right bases, but I don’t want to talk dirty to you by going into detail), I finally had sex, at the age of 28. It was a lot like everything I was doing already, only a little bit scarier. Afterward, I took a walk. Standing alone on the street, I burst into tears—it was the biggest step I’d taken away from Mormonism. It wasn’t that the sex that made me feel bad—it was knowing that the path I was taking was leading me away from my family. I felt terribly alone.

For the next year, I continued to have relationships and have sex. I kept it all from my parents. They knew I was on a break from being Mormon, but they didn’t know the extent of it. I was terrified of what they would do if they found out. I didn’t really think that they’d disown me, though it was a possibility. The main thing I was afraid of was disappointing them beyond heartbreak. Their religion is everything to them, and Mormons believe a very specific thing: They believe that families can be together forever. If you get married in a Mormon temple, you and your spouse and your children and their children and so on will all get to be together in the afterlife, so long as everyone keeps God’s commandments. Well, I’d just broken the number-two commandment. If I told them what I’d done, I’d be telling them that I wouldn’t be reunited with them after we died. I’d be saying that we only had a little bit more time together.

~*~*~

Waaaay back when I was a virgin, I wrote an article for Glamour magazine called “Yes, I’m a 27-Year-Old Virgin.” After I had sex, I wrote a follow-up. “Guess What?” the headline crowed. “I’m Not a Virgin Anymore!” It was meant to be a heartfelt piece about what it feels like to lose your virginity later in life, but instead it was turned into a cheesy article full of magazine-y lines I hadn’t written, like “Sex quickly went from slightly uncomfortable to PURE PLEASURE.” I wanted to tell my parents before the article was published, because I didn’t want them to learn that I wasn’t going to spend the afterlife with them via a picture of me dangling a cherry above my mouth.

To make matters worse, the article was slated to come out the same week as my Mormon sister’s wedding to another Mormon in a Mormon temple. The last thing I wanted to do was upstage her wedding. My whole family would be there. “Julia’s getting married,” they’d say, their eyes filling with tears of joy, “but Elna’s going to hell!” Then they’d sob uncontrollably.

And so, to avoid a huge scene, two months before the article came out, I flew to Siberia to tell my parents directly. At the time my parents actually lived in Siberia—that’s not a joke. My father ran a titanium factory in the middle of nowhere. I was excited to visit. It’d always been a dream of mine to run down the halls of the factory and knock things over while chanting, “It’s Daddy’s factory!” in a poncey British accent.

It takes three days to get to Siberia, which gave me plenty of time to prepare my speech. I have never been more nervous to tell someone something in my entire life. My goal was to tell them right when I got there—that way we’d have two whole weeks together to repair our relationship. But the moment I walked out of security and into the Ekaterinberg airport, my mother looked at me and said, “You look different.” I froze. I don’t have a hymen anymore, I thought. The mere thought of telling her the truth sent me into a panic. I decided to wait another day before coming clean.

The next day we went on a hike near the Ural Mountains. The weather was crisp and beautiful. I felt at peace being outdoors with my parents, seeing nature at its finest. We hit a clearing in the trees and looked out at the view. This was the perfect time! I turned to face my parents and deliver the blow, when my mother said, “Look at that pure, pure white snow.” Gah, I thought. I can’t tell them now!

I spent the next two weeks hanging out with my parents without giving them the news. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever spent with them. No friction, no fighting—I got to just enjoy my mom and dad. It’s amazing how much more you can appreciate something the minute you think it’s about to disappear. I knew that once my parents found out I was no longer a virgin—or a Mormon—our relationship would never be the same again. And so I treasured every moment of those two weeks—the time before everything changed.

Suddenly it was the last day of my trip, and I still hadn’t told them. My dad left early to go to work for a few hours. My mom was making me breakfast. I took a deep breath and decided to just come out and tell her, like ripping off a Band-Aid. I’d tell my mom, and she’d tell my dad.

I sat at the kitchen table in front of a plate of eggs over-easy and said, “Mom, there’s something I want to talk to you about…” As I said this, I cut into my eggs. Hot yolk splashed from the plate up into my eye. “Oh my god,” I said. I dropped my fork and covered my eye with my hands.

My mother dropped her silverware, too. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain in front of me!” she yelled. “Do you know how much that hurts me?”

Her face was beet red and she was fuming. I can never tell her anything, I thought. If my saying “god” hurts her, imagine what telling her I’ve had premarital sex will do! I started full-on crying. I pretended it was because my eye hurt. But the truth was, I was just so sad. Is this what it means to grow up? I thought. When I was younger and living a PG to PG-13 life, I could tell my parents everything; we talked all the time. But now that I’d entered the R-rated stage of things, I felt like I had to keep everything about my life from them.