Since the publication last October of The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, a memoir about being young, abstinent, single and Mormon in New York City, Elna Baker has become a leading voice (to her chagrin) of celibacy in the city. So naturally we caught up with her to find out what choosing not to have sex in the sexiest city in the world is like (with the obvious exceptions of Bangkok, Paris and Toronto).
How strict is the celibacy that many Latter Day Saints practice?
Pretty strict. While I've had my fair share of slip-ups, I'm basically only allowed to kiss sitting up.
What's the religious thinking behind it?
The rule—not to have sex before marriage—is supposed to be for our benefit. By staying chaste we can avoid unwanted pregnancy and disease. And by waiting for marriage to have sex, we're guaranteed that the sex we do have is within a committed, intimate relationship, so that it's not just a physical union, it's a union in every sense of the word. And finally, the biggest religious reason is that Mormons consider sex to be sacred—it creates life and is therefore an act that unites us with God. Try explaining all of that on a first date.
Does that make you feel like a fish out of water in a sex-crazed city like New York?
I've lived in New York City for ten years now. Contrary to what others think, I'm not naive and I'm not terrified of penises, at least not the circumcised ones. I'm simply choosing not to participate in an aspect of this city that most everyone else participates in. Whether I want it to or not, this makes me an outsider. I'm actually surprised by how big of a deal people make out of my decision to wait for marriage. Perhaps when I do have sex it'll feel like being let in on an inside joke.
Simultaneously, I'll be embarrassed by the fact that I didn't get the joke sooner and I'll understand why everyone was laughing at me all along. But for now I'm content to navigate this sex-crazed city without letting go of the values that have helped me become the person I am today.
What's it like to be with your non-celibate New York friends?
Because I'm constantly toying with the "should or I shouldn't I?" question, I find that I use my non-celibate friends as a resource for what it's actually like. Over the years I've learned a lot by simply observing them. And according to my non-celibate friends, having sex isn't going to get me any closer to finding love. Anyone who tells me otherwise is just trying to sleep with me.
What about non-Mormon men?
As far as dating non-Mormon men, this has been a real problem. There aren't very many Mormon men in New York, so I've primarily dated non-Mormons. As a result, I'm constantly getting into awkward situations. For example, I was recently making out with a guy who didn't know I was a Mormon. When he slid his hand up my shirt, I tensed up.
"You're so uptight," he whispered into my ear, "I mean, come on, did you and your last boyfriend even do anal?" Clearly we weren't on the same page. Or, there's my personal favorite awkward date: I was asked to dinner by a Frenchman.
"You're a Mormon?" he asked, as soon as I arrived.
"Can you have ze sex?"
I was surprised at his candor. "No," I answered.
He looked at me in disbelief. "Well if you can't have ze sex, what can you do?"
For simplicity's sake I took my left arm and lined it up under my collarbone. "Nothing below here," I said. I lined my right arm across my knees, "Nothing above here."
"What about your armpit?" he asked, "Can your boyfriend do anything he wants to ze armpit?"
I thought for a moment, "Yeah," I said optimistically. "My boyfriend can do anything he wants to my armpit."
"This is good," he said, "He can stick his penis in and out of ze armpit, and if you grow hair it is almost like a vagine."
My jaw dropped. "Is it too late to change my answer?"