Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 1, August 27, 1998



But surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted.  Men cannot remain children
forever; they must in the end go out into “hostile life.”  We may call this
“education to reality.”

Sigmund Freud  The Future of an Illusion.

  The decades of the 1960s and 70s saw a revolution of sorts in the Western world.  Major incidents such as the assassination of President Kennedy, the Vietnam War and the Cuban missile crisis were an assault on the American bedrock of faith, and created a very uncertain world.  There was a movement away from authority, away from conventional sexual and traditional lifestyles.  Feminism was gaining momentum.  In all areas of life it seemed dramatic change was taking place; music, space travel, air travel and finally the sexual revolution culminating in the spectacle of Woodstock.  Crisis was also brewing in the Catholic Church.  The Second Vatican Council or Vatican II opened on October 11, 1962.  The impact of this meeting of all the prelates of the Catholic Church was to have a profound effect on women in their convents all over the world.  Vatican II was probably one of the most decisive influences on male and female religious in the past century.  As stated, the message of this revolutionary Council was “change,” forcing personal responsibility on religious men and women and changing monastic practices centuries out of date.  Some of the women in this study reported entering the convent because they felt called to do something “bigger” with their lives than be wives and mothers.  They wished the Peace Corps had been available for them.  Incidentally, if it had been available, the commitment involved would have been only two or three years.  These women were prepared to make a life time commitment to religious life.

  My data show 76% of respondents felt sexuality played a role in their decision to enter, with the same number feeling it was an escape from sexuality.  Ten percent saw it as a way to live in an all female environment.  Further information from my data shows the average age of women entering the convent to be 19 years; the average age for leaving was 32 years.  Seventy-five percent of these women had professed vows, which means they had been in the convent for more than three years.  The average age of all respondents was 54 years.  Thus the majority entered and left within the time frame of the greatest unrest in the Church.  The effects of Pope John XXIII's call to modernize, plus the establishment of the Peace Corps, were integral to the great exodus of women from their convents and the dearth of others to replace them.   Hendricks (1995) in her autobiographical musings, Whatever Happened To Sister Jane? addressed the issues in a similar fashion to that I heard in my interviews.  She said that there were others like herself  “swept along on the idealism of the 50’s into the realities of the 60s.”  She goes on to say that many women like herself had entered because the Peace Corps was not available.  They did not want to go into the armed forces or get married and so religious life was the only option open to them.  Hendricks' statistics (p. 17) show by 1977 there were 130,804 women in religious orders or institutes.  This number was down 50,000 from the all time high, which peaked in the 1960s.  By 1990 the number was 102,504.  The 1993 Catholic Almanac reports 97,751 women religious in the United States.  The Tri-Conference Retirement Office for Women Religious in 1993 lists the membership at 92,857.  This is a drop of 88,564 in 27 years, a 44% drop in population.

  Sipe (1990, p. 4) says, “Before the 60s, celibates were presumed to have no sexuality.”  Sipe was referring to priests; however, the same could be said about nuns.  Vatican II was pivotal in re-directing the entire approach to religious life.  Pope John XXIII is often quoted as saying he wanted to “throw open the doors and windows and let a little light in.”  Many of the women in this study felt he was speaking directly to them.   For not only did he throw open the doors and windows, but threw them open so far that thousands upon thousands of religious, both male and female marched right on out.  Vatican II forced religious men and women to think as adults instead of being forced to believe that the way to Heaven was to think with the mind of a child.  Translated, that meant, “do as you are told.”  As Hazel said previously, “Keep the rule and the rule will keep you.”  What the rule really developed was a child-like devotion, but now they were told it's time to wake up and begin to take personal responsibility.

  This relaxing of the rules and establishing of more personal accountability resulted in many changes.  For women such as Lua Xochitl who had suffered from body image issues all their lives, this was a traumatic ordeal.  She expressed her feeling in this way:

     When we were told we were going to get out of the habit, I cried for three days.
     I hadn't looked in the mirror after I put on the coif because I had been taught I
     was ugly and I believed it.  So now I had to put on street clothes and the thought
     was terrifying to me.  So I had to unlearn all that. The process of unlearning is
     more painful than the learning.  What was happening also was a sexual, spiritual awakening.

  Lua Xochitl was insightful enough to recognize the bigger picture.  Once the nun is taken out of her protective ancient garb, she is perceived by those around her and even more importantly by herself, as a woman.  The relaxing of the stern old ways had other ramifications, notably the formation of open close friendships, which would have been terminated in the past.  San Giovanni (1978) says it is a basic sociological truth that sex roles are never static.  Data from the wider group show a move away from strictly heterosexual throughout the transitions:
SEXUAL IDENTITY N = 45 N = 47 N = 49
Heterosexual 89% 79% 67%
Bisexual  9% 11% 21%
Homosexual  2% 10% 12%

For some of the women, experimenting with sex roles was part of their progress which culminated in their leaving community. Eight women had varying degrees of sexual relations with priests or brothers whilst still in their communities.  One met a layman and began a relationship.  From the data I found that 54% were aware of sexuality between the clergy and nuns, and 36% who knew of nuns and a lay person being sexually involved.  Three out of this group were sexual with women during their time within the convent.  Two had same sex relationships once they had left.   The remainder did not admit any same sex experience.  However, 44% admitted to knowing of its occurrence within the convent.  Further information from the questionnaire shows, 26% had lived openly with a same sex partner for an average of 6 years.  The minimum was one year and maximum 25 years.

  Josephine had an observation on this subject.  She said, “I think living in a primary female world all those years scoots people to a more bisexual place.  I think it can't not for most people.  Even if you're as heterosexual as they come when you move into that experience, there's no way it doesn't influence you--psychologically, spiritually, and sexually.  There's just no way you can avoid it.”  I asked, “but very few have acted out on it, did you?”  She answered

     No, but that's how a Kate can happen [story to follow].  I could fall in love with
     a woman; I haven't but I could.  Now, I wouldn't let it happen because I'm
     committed. But if a woman came along before Paul, I would have struggled with it
     because of the edges of homophobia that are still there; but I think I would have let
     myself have the experience.  There have been two people I can remember who I
     have been briefly infatuated with.  One was a postulant when I was a novice, and
     the other was someone who came to live in the house for a brief time and we
     became good friends for a long time.  At the front end it just felt like infatuation it
     didn't feel sexual at all.  I just felt like a good friend.  That's the full extent of
     25 years living with women and I never fell in love with one of them.

At a different point in the interview she told me

     I have proposed to three women in my life.  I could have lived with any
     one of  them, and I could have sex with any one of them.  They took my proposal half
     heartedly but I could have married any one of the three.  I think about that when
     things aren't going very well with Paul and they're commiserating with me.  I say
     to them, well I'm only with him because you wouldn't marry me [laughing].  I
     don't know why I'm telling you that, in as much as I haven't fallen in love with any
     of these women.  I'm not physically drawn to them, but I am emotionally, and I
     can see any of them being a partner to me.  They're friends and I can see us doing
     it all and sex would probably be fun, but it wouldn't be what it is with Paul. That is
    a very authentic expression of the whole thing.

I will continue later with the theme of same sex partners.  However, to complete Josephine's story, which describes how she began on her road out of the community, she entered at 18 years old and was 42 when she went on leave of absence from her convent.  Up to that point she had one relationship which began eight years after she entered, when she was 26 years old.  After being assigned to work in a parish she met a young priest,

     We became good friends and by the end of the first year I fell in
     love with him. That was in 78 and it ended in 83.  It was a very
     powerful friendship and we talked about how we were beginning to feel.
     He wasn't feeling similar so we cooled the friendship but by a year
     from then we were both very much in love.  I feel that my intention
     always to get beyond this, not that I didn't enjoy it, but I was clear
     that I didn't want to act on it and move it into a sexual friendship
     and that didn't happen.  I would take breaks from the relationship then
     we would have contact and have it be okay, it was 99% in love emotional
     reaction.  At some period of time we would go to the beach and lay on
     the sand together holding hands, a couple of times we would kiss but it
     was very limited, very controlled in the way we acted.  I didn't see
     him after that and I didn't think it was right to need him like that.
     I knew during that time that I was playing with fire in terms of the
     stress I was feeling in the form my relationship with God took and I
     now had this real live person that I was in love with.  That
     relationship ended very badly as we both slowly just abandoned it and
     as he made a choice to go forward with his ordination.  My take on it
     was that this relationship does need to change but we can't just
     abandon it, but he had nothing to say.  Then within two years he
     identified himself as gay and was acting out.  He caught AIDS and
     died.  All that happened within two years.  A lot of the way he
     managed the relationship was around his being gay.  For me it was
     around the fact that I had vows and I wasn't going to act as if I
     didn't.  He wanted to pursue the sexual relationship more than me, I
     think he was in such denial about his sexuality which he later said he
     knew about in high school but had been put underground.  He said I'll
     either leave and we'll marry or I'll be ordained.  To him there were
     two options, since you're saying no to me I'm just going to move
     forward.  I think if I had been willing to be sexual we would have left
     and married.  When I think of it now; imagine what it would have been
     like?  Two kids later to find out he's gay, oh that would have been
     bad. When our relationship ended I felt cut off, abandoned; it totally
     mimicked my feelings of abandonment by my mother which of course I had
     no clue about at the time.  When I went into therapy it all came up; I
     finally fell apart. I had a nervous breakdown and it all started at his

  The stimulus which finally made Josephine decide to leave came in a curious revisiting of the scenario surrounding her entry into the convent.  A nun who was sharing her apartment decided she wanted to live alone; this meant Josephine also would be required to move apartments.  She requested a particular apartment adjacent to the one she occupied which would have lessened the trauma of the move for her.  Unfortunately her Superior decided the rent was too high and required that she move into a lower grade apartment.   The disregard shown for her feelings was too much for Josephine.  This brought all her issues of abandonment up again.  She began her leave of absence that same year.  She said

     I think the sexuality question in that is, the first decade I was held and I had this
     channel for how I understood my sexuality.  Then I had that period of time when I
     kind of fell apart because the relationship shifted the way I dealt with my energies.
     I had the attempt at recovery that never happened, if it had I would have
     weathered a lot of the other issues.  I think the sexuality question is central to the
     whole story.  It's central to getting me in and it's central to why I ended up leaving
     and I never thought I would have the relationship I have today.

  During Josephine's leave of absence she met a man and as soon as she received her final release papers from the convent they moved in together.  Her parents were outraged.  The couple wants to marry in the Catholic Church.  However Paul was married before and the Church required him to get an annulment.  Until this was worked out the couple lived together, to the chagrin of her parents, and this caused Josephine a lot of pain.  The relationship between Josephine and Paul became sexual very quickly.  She said,

     We had sex every night for two or three months.  I think he
     thought he'd found an Amazonian.  I said I've been waiting 42 years for
     this; lay down and shut up!  I was very aggressive and very ready to do
     this; I knew exactly what was happening.  I'd walk into work and shout
     I love oral sex.  They just looked at me, I was talking about it all
     the time.  Here is this very modest man and I would run around naked
     all the time, it was like this all the time.  I have this modest little
     man with this wild woman who's telling everyone everything.  I was
     still processing it.

I asked if she felt this euphoria was due to the fact that she had denied herself sexual pleasure for so long and now delighted in the free expression of it?  She answered,

     Yes maybe in a different way than when you're 18.  It's so many
     things all at once.  It's the first time so there's all the newness,
     but you're 42 when you're doing it for the first time, that's a really
     different meaning to it.  It's been contained for so long.  I'm more
     sexual than he is.  The focus of it is what makes it as good as it is.
     The relation between having it all and it being as good as it is, is
     sort of how it came together with my spiritual experience of it too.

  Josephine had many bouts of depression and spent years whilst still in the convent searching for spiritual fulfillment.  Given her history of instability, it is notable that she now exudes an air of professional success and peace with her life choices.  Her only cause for concern is her inability to marry in the Church and to re-establish a good relationship with her parents.  Coming to terms with her sexuality she sees as key to her happiness.

  Nuns by virtue of their avowed celibacy are denied the role of wife and mother; they are expected to subordinate their sex roles to the demands of religious life.  San Giovanni (1978, p. 97) says “Paradoxically, while a nun was discouraged through convent law, ideology, vows, and routines, from defining herself and acting in terms of her role as a woman, the very same structure of convent life, grounded in Catholic theology, reinforced traditional feminine values and behavior.”  The data shows 65% of respondents wanted children and that long-term marriages, i.e. 12 years, is average.

  This period of change and turbulence prompted by Vatican II catapulted members of communities out of medieval centuries into the 19th Century.  Thus, once the rigor and ritual was removed and more feminine dress was added to daily life, those who had stayed in the fixed mode of thinking were now forced to re-evaluate their lives.  It would take much more pain, therapy and education before they would enter the 20th Century as fully contributing members of society and in control of their womanhood.  For those women who would eventually relinquish the celibate life, one major key was in recognizing, challenging and eventually owning, their sexuality.  This is a remarkable transition from turning over their minds, their aspirations and their virginity to Christ as His Bride.  San Giovanni (1978, p. 31) describes “two primary themes” which she sees as motivating forces for women leaving their convents.  Those who were “pushed” out, as a consequence of change and convent politics being too slow and restrictive for them; and those who were “pulled” out by options and alternatives unavailable to them as long as they remained nuns.  Maria is an example of one who may have considered herself to have been pushed out because Rome was too slow in allowing priests to marry.  On the other hand she was pulled out because she knew outside the convent she could have sexual relationships with impunity.  Three of the interviewees fit into the first category.  Those were the political radicals who became frustrated and could not conform to convent life any longer.  The remainder were enticed back into the world because of their desire to make their own decisions amongst other things.

  Several of the participants had intimate relationships during their time in community.  Lisa had an intimate relationship with a fellow nun during her 15 years in the convent.  In remembering this part of her life it triggered an emotional response which surprised her.  As her story progressed she wept and told me

     On and off in my religious life I had thoughts, should I leave or
     should I stay? and I always recommitted myself to staying.  During most
     of my religious life I lived in small communities, a big part of that
     time I lived with a women who I became very close to.  We were very
     warm with each other physically, we never got into genital sex.  You
     know maybe some of the things we did with each other could be construed
     as sexual. I remember thinking of her if I could marry anyone I would
     want to have married her.  I loved her and I continue to love her, I
     don't have the same feelings toward her now but I look back and I see a
     lot of that sexual energy I had in those young years in my twenties,
     definitely directed towards her.  Throughout the course of years we shared
     a room in some houses and had separate rooms in others.  We were
     parted for a year, and I wrote a love letter to her every single night
     for a year.  It would be the last thing I did every night. There was
     nothing inconsequential; it was almost like a diary of that year, I
     wish I'd kept those letters, because I'd just tell her everything.  She
     also wrote to me almost every day and I remember rushing to the mail
     box.  There was another nun I lived with who had a close relationship
     with someone but they didn't write letters and she would say “Oh, I
     envy you, I envy you.”  We were having an affair in a sense, it was
     long distance, and sometimes she would come up to where I lived on
     business and we would be together for the weekend and it would be, it
     was like heterosexual couples would be like and I never felt guilty
     because I loved her and if I could have married her I would have done
     and she me.  We are still very close.  If I were to say who is my
     dearest friend, she is that person.  Even when we were in the convent
     and were having some difficulty with our friendship she said “no matter
     what you decide to do, I will always love you.”  I remember
     experiencing that love is a matter of choice, not a matter of
     emotions.  When my emotions that I had with her for so many years were
     beginning to wane, I made a choice to continue to love her.  That
     experience taught me that love is beyond feeling, there is choice to
     love, and when you are in a relationship with someone, sometimes the
     feeling isn't there but you can choose to love.  It was kind of a love
     beyond feeling which so much of our love is in our world today; I don't
     feel love so I'm just going to go.  It taught me you can continue to
     love without all the emotion.  I actually saw that modeled in my
     parents in their marriage, they were together for 50 some years, and
     they made a choice to be with one another for the rest of their lives
     even when the emotion wasn't there.  After 15 years of recommitment's
     my dearest friend left. She had been with the community for 25 years,
     she had her own reason  for leaving.  She entered the convent because
     she wanted to make sure that her father went to Heaven and she
     sacrificed her life for that.  She found out that's not the way it
     works so she left and got married.  I stayed on another year.  I didn't
     want to leave because she had, even though I'd been thinking about it,
     so I took my time.  I finally decided to take a leave of absence for a
     year.  I went home and told my mom and dad and mom just smiled, a lot
     of priests and nuns were leaving at that time so she just accepted it,
     it wasn't a surprise to her.  My father's eyes welled with tears again
     and he said, “do you remember what I told you when you entered?  Well
     God is just giving you back to me again.”  I was overwhelmed with
     that.  A couple of years later I took a weekend workshop on
     co-dependency and this story came out.  The leader of the workshop told
     me “you know your father had no right to determine your destiny, that
     was your choice.”  When she said that it made sense to me.  Not that I
     love my parents less for that, they did their best from where they were
     coming from.  It became so clear to me that my time in the convent was
     just part of my journey, it was not going to be my whole journey.  It
     was like a second womb. I had this home that protected me and loved me
     and taught me some wonderful things about life and relationships. Then
     I needed to in a sense die out of that life, be born into another,
     learn something's there, die to that, be born into another and so on.
     I believe there are lessons to learn and then you move on, that's what
     happened in the convent.  I've been out now for 18 years and I'm
     learning things in this third lifetime. Yes, three very different
     life-styles.  I don't think my real death will be very different for
     me.  I do believe that I will go on.  At the time when I left I had a
     lot of fantasies about what it would be like to be with a man, and my
     fantasies were a lot grander than the reality it really is.  I mean sex
     can be really wonderful, but it's not all that it's cracked up to be.
     I wanted to discover that.  I think my first penis-vagina sex was when
     I was 33 years old, I was a virgin up till that time.  It was a homely
     guy I'd met at work.  He dated me and I wasn't all that attracted to
     him, he was very attracted to me.  He was always very nice and I thought
     oh Lisa let's just get it over with, let's just do this thing!  I
     remember feeling “Oh finally I'm a woman.”  I remember going to work
     the next day, I finally did the woman thing, and know I can get on with
     my life.  I don't know why I waited until I was 33 but I just wasn't
     ready, and it wasn't as if I was waiting.  I've talked with other
     people who say they wanted to do it with someone very special, but by
     the time I was 33 I didn't want to wait around for someone special but
     he was very nice, and he was very inexperienced.  If the man I'm with
     now had come into my life when I first left the convent, no way would I
     have been ready for him because he has had a lot of experience sexually
     and I think his relationship with me was the first time he'd been
     monogamous.  So I guess I began to go out and experience men.  At first
     I was resistant to telling people I'd been a nun because if I did it
     was like they had certain expectations; like, I guess you don't like
     sex, or have you ever had sex.  Here I was 33 years old it was kind of
     hard and there was this 15 years vacuum.  One man had the gall to say
     well you mustn't like men, if you're this age and not married well then
     obviously you must be gay.  I can still count my sexual liaisons, about
     12 to 15.

  Although we did not discuss this at length, it is surprising to me that Lisa said so little about her bisexuality once out of the convent.  She did in fact speak about attending workshops which were “very sexual” but did not give details about her participation.  She did however admit to many same sex relationships although her primary lover is male and she appeared totally comfortable with her sexuality.

  When Lisa spoke about knowing people who wait until just the right man comes along before becoming sexual, I thought of Mary.  I was troubled on a number of levels after speaking with this woman.  Her voice was flat and emotionless throughout the entire hour we were together.  Even though the topic of our conversation and the content of her story was emotive, her voice showed no reflected emotion.  She is a therapist herself and so the time allotted was exactly the time allowed. Although she made me feel very comfortable and I believe she made a true and considered attempt to be frank in our interview; I did however feel a sense of sadness upon leaving that here was a woman desperate for something she didn't have the dialogue to ask for.  Mary was one of only a few women who left the convent primarily because of the vow of chastity (the majority of the others left because of obedience) with the express wish to be sexual and after ten years out of religious life, still remained a virgin.  This was another woman who as a nun had a life threatening disease, this time in the form of breast cancer

     I think having been so close to death and age wise, I was thirty
     when I got cancer, I just wanted to be more free basically. During the
     process of all the treatment and thing that happened to me, it became
     evident to me that I was a very different person. One of the things
     that I wanted was very much connected to early religious life, which
     was to be open to all kinds of relationships.  I was aware even before
     my first profession at the age of 21 that I was crying because I knew
     it was connected to not getting married; I stayed for 21 more years.  I
     do remember each time I took vows contemplating leaving around the
     marriage factor.  There were other people leaving to go with people
     they'd met in college and things.  That didn't happen to me, I do
     remember being attracted as a sister in those young years.  I dated
     tremendously the year after I left but I wasn't ready to form a
     relationship, I was still in transition.

She went on to explain how a series of events overtook her life: her father's diagnosis of cancer, her studies for a Ph.D., and a very busy work schedule cumulatively making a social life impossible for her.  Even having just moved into a new condominium housing many single men who could be potential partners, she said she was just too tired and was busy with her own activities. I asked if she had ever considered just having anonymous sex, to get it over with?

     Yes, I thought about going out and being a prostitute or
     something.  I think for me it's so caught up in love and the whole
     package. But there have been times when I've considered just finding
     someone and just doing it.  But I've never known how to go about doing
     that in a safe way to tell you the truth, and I always go back to the
     fact that it will be so different if you really love the person than if
     you're just doing it.  If I was afraid of it, the pain and all the rest
     of it I feel all that would be okay if I really loved the person, so it
     just doesn't make sense to me. As I said I feel like my family was very
     affectionate but I also feel my mother had a lot of problems with
     sexuality, just listening to her talk now.  My mother will talk about
     the fact that they didn't have sex after a certain age, quite young.  I
     get the feeling that she was pretty frigid, she's a person who holds
     herself pretty tight.  There's never been a soft side of her.  I don't
     feel like that at all, I feel very soft most of the time.  The men I'm
     attracted to are spiritual, growthful and I don't meet many of them.  I
     have to say one of the men I met nine months after I left community, I
     had to chase him out of my apartment because he wanted to go to bed
     immediately.  We had only gone out a couple of times.  I don't feel I
     have to be married or anything to do it, but I do see myself as needing
     to love the person and wanting to embrace them in my whole being.  I
     feel the only piece of me that isn't fulfilled is sexually and so in the
     last year I feel very open to it.  I feel like if it happens, if I
     moved into an intimate relationship that my life would be very
     different and I would not be working like I'm working now.  I would be
     spending a lot of time with that person.  When I left community I
     wanted it to happen, I was pushing it and it didn't happen.  Now I'm at
     the point where I would like it but it's not necessary.  I feel like if
     it happens that would be great and I feel open to it but I also feel
     like I am who I am.  I have men as well as women friends, I feel very
     complete that way.  I feel it's just the sex act, if I was with the
     right person I think it would be very fulfilling, it's just that I've
     never met the right person.  In the nine years since I came out I've
     never been that close to anyone.  When I was in community there was
     that automatic protection there and when I was in high school, there
     were guys I kissed but it was just not something that happened.

I asked Mary if she was aware of sexuality in the convent?

     Yes, that's another thing I felt extremely naive about because
     that was happening all over the place in the convent, and I was really
     not aware of that at all initially.  That was even happening amongst
     our group; there were 19 of us, and things would happen at nighttime.
     I thought I pretty much enjoyed people and had a good time, I felt like
     a very young adolescent college kid who was acting out.  We did a lot
     of acting out the first two years.  We did things that kids do, that
     teenagers do.  I never was attracted to another woman but it became
     evident to me later as people were leaving that it was because they had
     become sexually involved with someone in the community who wanted to
     stay or that they just needed to get out because it had become too
     intense for them to stay.

  I asked, of all the vows, which was most responsible for your leaving?

     The celibacy, yes definitely.  I think it was probably the
     obedience, a combination of them.  In my letter I think I mainly talked
     about celibacy, but I think for me I just needed to do my own thing.

  As the interview progressed Mary began to delve into why she seems unable to “do the act” and comes to the conclusion

     I looked at the possibility with the help of my therapist that I may have been
     sexually abused as a child.  This just doesn't make any sense to me, I can't even
     picture it or imagine it, I've thought about it and tried to imagine it.  This is when I
     start to wonder about other lifetimes, I don't know, it just interests me.  There was
     no sexual abuse at all.  If anything I'd say my mother was physically abusive.  I
     have vivid incidences that I remember that the boys were more treasured than the
     girls.  Father was definitely loving but anything else, I don't know.

  In a closing statement she refers to the question previously discussed regarding the possibility of child abuse and said that if something is going to come up for her regarding the sexual abuse question, she feels it will come up when she has sex for the first time. That's why she protects herself and wants to make sure it's the “perfect man.”  It occurred to me on reading this transcription that Mary did not speak about psychological or medical counseling regarding her sexuality following her mastectomy.  I ask myself what effect a disfiguring surgery such as breast removal would have had on a 30-year-old virgin?  This woman who has never attempted to be sexual when her body was intact has to enter a world of extraordinarily body conscious individuals and establish a sexual relationship.  I anticipate this to be one of the underlying problems.  Mary denied any experience of self -pleasuring, and again I suspected her body image may have been part of the issue.

  Wendy entered the convent not so much because of her dedication to religious life or for the love of God, but more because she wanted devote her life to a higher calling than marriage and family.  She would have gone to the Peace Corps had it been available.  When referring to her time in the convent Wendy said

     We were in transition time where they used to know how to form
     nuns but were moving to a time where they didn't, so we were right in
     the middle.  We were the experimental children.  I must have given my
     grandma some kind of a hint when she came to visit me before profession
     for her to say, “you know if you ever want to come out, it's like
     changing jobs, you think of it that way.  People do it all the time.”
     Later on I was so into religious life getting ready for vows and
     everything, at 20 years old I could have laughed and said what does she
     know?  Of course she's absolutely right; which is why I probably
     remembered.  It is changing a profession.  I did have one close friend
     in the novitiate; she was like a sister to me.  We could be naked
     together in the shower and there would be nothing, but there was
     another woman however that I had kind of a relationship with.  I don't
     know if she ever realized that it was an expression of my
     homosexuality, and it was all very invisible to the nun in charge.  You
     were not supposed to have particular friendships, and we were doing
     exactly what you weren't supposed to do.  She eventually left, nothing
     stopped for her because we were still friends, what stopped for me was
     having it be some sort of sexual expression.  We only did back rubs,
     nothing else.

  During the course of Wendy's final ministry she worked in a hostel.  After 17 years in the convent, she met the man she was eventually to marry.

     I developed a very deep friendship with him.  He is an amazing man. My little
     chastity radar never went up, I never said don't come any closer.  I was never a
     nun to him, I never fit the stereotype.  It never made sense to him.  To him I was
     such an anomaly, none of the rules applied.  There was no overt sexual come on or
     anything from his end.  He could take my arm, like he would take my mother's arm
     but from my side it was a physical contact that felt good, combined with this
     intense friendship that was developing.  Without this friendship I probably would
     have stayed in the convent for a long time.

Wendy's work required her to live in the hostel full-time.  One night a man came to her room and tried to seduce her, unsuccessfully.  She told her friend later on the phone,

     I remember saying out loud what I had been thinking, I said, you
     know what that jerk was asking for I will only give to you, you're the
     kind of person I'd want that with.  I don't know if I was even thinking
     about sex then.  There was a long intimate silence, he in the next
     month or so rang and said I have to see you.  I remember thinking I
     wonder if my legs are shaved.  I was thinking of being touched.  We lay
     on the floor in the living room, fully clothed and just rolled around.
     He touched me everywhere, not trying to stimulate me, he was just
     trying to take me all in.  The relationship developed and on my 34th
     birthday I distinctly recall I decided to give myself a birthday
     present.  The question for me wasn't “Am I going to have sexual
     intercourse?”  That wasn't the line to cross, the question was “am I
     going to let myself have an orgasm with somebody?”  That was the line,
     complete letting go.  I remember on occasions getting close to it and
     thinking I don't want to do that and talking about it and saying no.
     But on my 34th birthday saying okay, this is a present I'm giving
     myself.  I really distinctly remember it then and think of it now, that
     even though he kissed me into an orgasm I still think of it as a
     present I gave myself, although it was definitely a present he gave to
     me as well.  Intercourse, I remember the first time, I don't care how
     big anyone is, never having been penetrated before, it felt huge to
     me.  I remember taking a shower afterwards and making every nerve
     tingle.  I remember thinking it wasn't particularly blissful; it's kind
     of a developmental thing.  This was all over the space of a summer that
     I decided to leave.  Being in bed together and being comfortable with
     each other's bodies was during that time.

  The couple lived together while she completed graduate school and they were married two years after leaving the convent.  She said they have a very active sex life.  She refers to her lesbianism as not having gone away but rather that she has made a choice to only have one partner.  She explained

     We talk about our mutual homosexuality, men turn him on occasionally.
     Sometimes in our lovemaking he feels like I'm a man, which is fun because
     sometimes I feel like a man.  It's transparent to me, I don't know that I so identify
     with femininity as the model of my sexuality, that having him say to me you feel
     like a man to me is not an insult.  It doesn't feel bad to me.  I feel like he's relating
     whatever is inside of him and whoever I am to him, that's fine.  Whatever we bring
     to our relationship is part of imagination and that's fine.  It does not relate to our
     real lives. I feel like our relationship is within very traditional bounds, I'm the wife
     and he's the husband, but both of us are probably closer to the center on the
     homosexual scale.  But we make the choice not to act on it because it enhances
     our relationship.

  Lois’ political and life intentions were similar in some ways to Wendy's.  She saw religious life as a means to fulfilling a political as well as a professional spiritual life.  She was totally unaware of sexuality in the convent and said she wishes she could be a fly on the wall now to see what goes on because she was just oblivious to it when she was in community.  She said she was really good at keeping custody of the eyes and therefore was unaware if things were going on around her.  She was asked to leave because of her political opinions and up to that point, when she was 21 years old, had no sexual experience whatsoever.  Her first real experience came after she had left the convent, when she met a young man on the Vietnam protest lines.  She was 24 years old by this time and he was 22 and as in Lisa's story, Lois decided “it was time” and virtually planned the seduction of her date.  She described it like this:

     We had sex for the first time on Valentine's Day; I planned it
     that way.  I started sleeping with him in October and I was like
     sleeping with him with my clothes on.  He was my first kiss, my first
     necking, it was perfect in terms of as I got more comfortable with the
     contact it got more intimate.  I love having Valentine's Day, I love
     that I chose, that I made the decision.  You see I made the decision to
     come out of my family's house and decided I want to explore sexuality
     now and how am I going to do it, so I chose him.  I invited him over to
     my apartment.  My room-mates were out.  I fixed him a big dinner then
     we went over to his apartment.  Trying to perform intercourse was too
     painful, I was too tiny so we stopped and we started again in the
     morning and that's when it happened.

  Lois’ sexual development was rapid after this and very convoluted.  She went on to have numerous partners, 69 men and then she came out as a lesbian.  This is an unusual story, which continues in later chapters.

  For eight of the women, molest, rape, and incest were the means of their sexual initiation.  Ann's ordeals began too early for her to put an exact age to it.  Being the victim of incest by her father, becoming pregnant by him at age 15, plus her time spent as a teenage prostitute made her a very unlikely candidate for religious life.  Kathleen was raped at 15 by a drunken man who paid her mother for access to the child.  She was impregnated by the incident, gave birth to a son and put the child up for adoption.  Ursula was doubly traumatized in her childhood, first at 10 years old by her uncle then at 13 by a “de-frocked priest” at her school.  Ione endured years of incest at the hands of her father and Marian self described, was like a “little prostitute” from her earliest years and was also raped at the age of 13 by a friend of her father.  This is a tragic way to become sexually aware.  Marian and Ann were both consensually sexually active from an early age.

  Ann appears to have always thought of sexuality as something she could control, in fact by using her sexuality as a prostitute she also had an element of control over others’ sexuality also.  She was frank and open about her life and her feelings, minimizing the importance to her of the celibate period of her 2½ years in the convent.   Most of that part of the interview where we discussed her transition back into secular life she focused more on her political activities than on sexual pleasures.  In fact Ann rarely mentions pleasure in connection with the word sex.  I did not hear of one experience that had any romantic overtones.  She spoke about going back to prostitution for a short time to support herself after she left the convent.  However as stated in Chapter 4, I met Ann at a sex workers meeting and she identifies herself as a former prostitute.  She told me that leaving her religious order made very little difference to her life since she had been working in the abortion movement for months before she actually formally left, which put her outside acceptable Catholic mores.  I asked Ann if she considered herself heterosexual?  She answered

     Oh no never have been. I really like queer the best.  When I was a
     teenage prostitute it was the first time I'd slept with women, but I
     really discovered I liked sleeping with women.  I really liked sleeping
     with men, too.  I don't mind trying anything.  I've always been on the
     radical fringe.

  Ione began work on her incest issues early in religious life through therapy.  It was during her early years in the convent that her sexual orientation began to be clear to her.  She said

     After three years in the convent I fell in love with my novitiate mate.  We started a
     sexual relationship that probably went on for about a year, but we were kind of
     tortured by guilt over it because we were sisters and made promises to be celibate
     and we weren't.  So then we decided to put an end to the sexual relationship, and
     we did pretty good.  At the time we were living together and then she got
     transferred and that made it easier.  We kept the friendship and emotional
     attachment but we weren't sexual after that.  The year after that I met a woman at
     a party and was really sexually attracted to her, and kind of the same thing started
     again.  I felt I had a responsibility to be celibate so I decided to leave the  community.
     I left pretty quickly.  The woman I left the convent for broke up after
     six months; that was pretty devastating for me.  When I was in the community
     I  went to graduate school, I met a young man who I was interested in and he was
     with me, but I was still a sister.  We went out a bit.  I was very confused.  All
     my sexual abuse issues were swimming and my sexual feelings were swimming.
     We went out a couple of times but I said this is ridiculous.  I can't get involved
     with you.  So I said, forget it.  I still had feelings for men.  After I left the convent
     I started to date men again.  I met a lot of men at parties and bands but I realized
    the only reason I was dating men was because that's what people expected me to do.
    I wasn't having too much fun.  I remember something switched inside me.  The
   man I was dating started to get sexual and I felt really uncomfortable.  I knew it
   wasn't that I didn't like him or anything.  I was seeing another man at the same
   time but I never had the same deep emotional feelings I'd had for the woman.  I
   really didn't know what to do then.  I thought I'd just fall in love and I didn't try
   and put a label on who I was going to fall in love with.  I fell in love with a woman
   I was working with.  We had a relationship for about six years.  We never lived
   together, I wanted to but this was her first relationship and she was really
   uncomfortable with it.  She was very afraid that someone might find out.  Up
   until about four years into the relationship I didn't see myself as a lesbian.  I was
   seeing a woman therapist at the time and I said well maybe I'm a lesbian since I'm
   falling in love with women.  Then one day I looked in the mirror and said I'm a
   lesbian and that seemed really true for me.  Up until the time I identified as lesbian
   I still would have fantasies about men, I wouldn't find women on the street
   attractive or anything.  Once I said to myself I was a lesbian my feelings towards
   men began to adjust to seeing them more as brothers.  Then I began to be more
   attracted to women or other lesbians.  It's been an interesting little journey.  Now
   that I look back I think that I have always felt different from my girlfriends when I
   was growing up.  I always thought it was because I was a tomboy, and didn't
   really do girlie things.  They started to wear make-up and do things, some girls
   would just go along with that but I decided I just wasn't going to do it.  When
   young men started to come into the picture I remember feeling jealous and
   thinking the guys were disrupting our little group.  I think I was brought up in a
   very heterosexual environment, like the thought of being with a woman never even
   occurred to me until I went to college, girls on campus were identifying as lesbian.
   The way I grew up in a Catholic family, went to Catholic schools, I never met a
   gay person.

  The fact that she never knowingly met a gay person is not surprising.  Catholic theology and politics of the day would have denounced homosexuality.  A study commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America entitled Human Sexuality New Directions in American Catholic Thought (1977, p. 74) reports from a 1970’s study that 86% of the general American population disapproved of homosexuality and that three quarters of the general population that attended church weekly still disapprove of it.  The same study reminds us of Catholic tradition over the past centuries, when evaluating moral behavior.  “Masturbation, any premarital sexual pleasure, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, sodomy, and bestiality were considered intrinsically evil acts, seriously immoral, and under no circumstances justifiable” (p. 88).  The way Catholic families in those days dealt with issues such as these, which would be destined to bring “the wrath of God” upon them, was to ignore them.  Silence and ignorance was the order of the day.  My own mother quite frequently told us “where ignorance is bliss, it's a folly to be wise.”  Which was her quote for “don't ask.”

  Whereas Ione's sexual abuse did not lead to precocious, promiscuous behavior, Marian and Ann began consensual sexual activity at a fairly young age, 13 in both cases.   Marian jokingly quips that her “first real sexual experience, at age 13, ends up being a menage-a-trois, and it involved everything except intercourse.  There was oral sex, finger fucking everything.”  Although Marian was in her own words “very sexual” she remained a technical virgin until she married, in that she had never had vaginal penetrative sex after the rape.  We had a little fun at this point during the interview since she compared herself to an inside joke with Catholics, “the girl who says I'm a virgin but I do blow jobs, I like oral sex, anal sex anything but vaginal sex because I want to be a virgin when I marry.”  She thought she typified this picture.  She met the man she was eventually to marry when she was in high school and they dated.  He was the only date with whom she was never sexual.  This man entered a religious order independently of Marian; they had already ended their relationship.  As previously explained in Chapter 5, Marian had a radical hysterectomy when she was 25.  She said

     I think there was some knowing in me about that.  I wanted to go
     to the doctor about it when I was young and my mother told me to save
     my money and I could go.  I did that but she telephoned before my
     appointment so that when I went to see him, without even examining me,
     he told me I'd be fine once I got married.  Had I gotten married right
     away it would have been horrible because of all the expense and stuff.
     I definitely wanted a family, I knew I wanted a support system. I
     wasn't ready for it when I went in the convent, though it did deal
     heavily in my wanting to leave.  By the time I wanted to leave I had
     dealt with a lot of the issues.  I repressed some.  I masturbated.  I
     felt my feelings.  But there was enough aversion, not to sex per se but
     to the context of marriage and family and closeness to a man that it
     detoured me.  As I say, it gradually came back in, maybe in the last
     five years and then it became quite apparent that it was a part of my
     life that I wasn't willing to live without, among other things. Of
     course Vatican II was the great hope for us.  It opened up a lot, and
     along with many other nuns I was a political social activist.  I could
     pull a lot of stuff off in some places.  Of course we were assigned to
     wherever they want you to go and that was crushing for me because I
     would become very attached to people.  In fact when I left the convent
     I didn't leave the area.

  Kathleen was similarly abused and gave birth to a child when she was 15 years old.  Her time in the convent as stated was three years and mainly in response to the adoration of Mother Magdalene who had shown exceptional kindness to this young girl.  Once she left the order, Kathleen continued to work with the nuns in their orphanage. She had not, up to this time experienced a consensual sexual experience.  She said

     I loved children.  Not being loved as a child, I loved children, I
     knew how important it was.  I had a hard time thinking I was unlovable
     and thinking someone could love me.  I had a few boyfriends and I
     thought the only way is if I do something I don't want to do, I hated
     sex--I hated it.  I was afraid of it, I was afraid of men; but I knew
     if I wanted to be loved, that's what they wanted.  It's all the wrong
     ways; even as a child it was all the wrong ways, of learning about sex
     and about love.  I have one man that I've loved since I was a little
     girl.  He's the one who found me on the street, beat up by my mother.
     He knew that she was abusing me, knew that I was getting hurt by men,
     and I have loved him since I was about eight.  He was a reporter and he
     found me and brought me home.  I never told him my mother beat me but
     he must have known.  He checked up to see if I was okay and was always
     checking up on me.  I felt this was a fantasy love of the heart.  I
     loved him so much.  When I was 13, he sent for me and told me that he
     was getting married, it broke my heart.  Those were the two people I
     totally loved Sister Magdalene and this man.  I loved him so much.  He
     got married and he used to call me his little girl.  He's the only
     person that ever gave me attention, he's an outsider of the family but
     he was caring and I was googoo-eyed over him.  When he told me he was
     getting married I said please can't you wait till I'm 18?  I'll be a
     good girl, please wait for me.  I begged him to wait for me.  He said
     “Oh foolish little girl, you're going to grow up and you're going to
     laugh at all this.”  But he died a year ago, and I'm not laughing.  He
     knew that I loved him a lot.

  Kathleen spoke about the time after she left the convent when she met a man who lived next door to her.  They began to date and to go to church together.  She said

     I finally thought I had someone of my own and that he was going to
     marry me.  I found out he was dating me and another girl at the same
     time.  He told me about it and then I thought I didn't want to live no
     more, I tried to commit suicide.  I thought I'm not worthy to marry,
     I'm not even worthy to live.  I wound up in a mental hospital for about
     a month and it was just this desperate thing to be loved. It's a
     terrible thing for anybody to experience, because I didn't learn to
     love myself.  It took me 50 years to learn I was lovable [she pounds
     her chest as she cries].  But now nobody can mess me up.  I wound up
     marrying my husband because the woman he was supposed to marry found
     out he was divorced and because she was a very strict Catholic she
     couldn't go through with it.  I felt so sorry for him I said, ah I'm
     not doing anything I'll marry you.  I loved his children.  But before I
     married him I went to see my friend Laird.  He hadn't seen me since I
     was 13 and now I was 22.  I told him I have to see you, I have to tell
     you I've loved you all my life but I'm going to marry this man, he
     needs a mother for his children.  That was really the reason, the wrong
     reason to marry someone.  I was terrified, terrified of sex, terrified
     of everything.  I let Laird know that; I settled it with him and then I
     married my husband.  He had to be very gentle with me and teach me,
     because I didn't trust men.  After a while I trusted him so much I
     hadn't known anything except that it hurt and that it was painful and
     bad.  He taught me to enjoy sex and all that stuff.  The sad thing is
     we married for the wrong reasons.  It’s 35 years later; I won’t end it
     unless he wanted it.  I didn’t love him the way I was supposed to.  I
     loved him enough to stay to raise his children.  Even when he cheated
     on me, I left and came back, twice.  I trusted him like God, I thought
     if anyone would hurt me it wouldn’t be Peter because he idolized me.
     He idolized me for taking care of his children, but you can’t think
     that anybody is that perfect.  That was my problem; everyone was better
     than me.  I don’t think that any more.  It happened in my own house
     when I was pregnant.  One night I got up to go to the bathroom and
     heard the TV, I went in and saw my husband and on his lap kissing him
     is the woman from upstairs whose children I’d been looking after.  It
     was like I’d been stabbed.  I thought again what’s wrong with me, it
     must be my fault?  The priest told me I had to forgive.  I thought
     perhaps I’d loved the other man too much, so I did everything to
     restructure myself to give him the attention, only to find out when he
     came out here to find us a place he was cheating on me again.  The
     woman told me herself that she was a call girl and that while I was
     waiting to move here, she had been taking care of him for me.  So then
     again you can imagine how sick I was; I almost went crazy with it
     all.   And the saddest thing is he would give anything if I could have
     my youthful belief in him, but I can’t.  I don’t love him I pity him.
     I’d never let myself love again.  Just my children, I love my children,
     I lived for my children.  I feel all my life I’ve been a Cinderella,
     I’ve suffered, I always worked very hard and now I have my children;
     named after the two people I loved and I do the things I want.  I live
     my life the way I want to live now.  As far as sexuality now, we have a
     good sex life as far as it goes.  He had heart surgery a couple of
     years ago and he’s afraid.  I never deny him but it’s not the way it
     should be, the way I think it should be.  I might fantasize about the
     man who I never even touched who never touched me.  If I did ever
    dream, it was with him and now he’s gone and he’s with Mother Magdalene.

  Kathleen told me that she and her husband have had separate bed-rooms for many years and he “visits her” occasionally.  Her story returned to Laird,

     I went to see him three years ago because his wife said he had the
     disease where his mind eventually goes, and he kept calling for me.  In
     the end he loved me, he realized how much I loved him.  His wife even
     said you would have been a wonderful wife to him; but I said, I was
     just a little girl he didn’t love me that way, but in the end he did.
     When I said good bye I knew, he told me, he said I loved you, I just
     didn’t know you were always around and now it’s too late.  He was 17
     years older than me but my husband is 11 years older, today it wouldn’t
     matter.  I adored him, to me he looked like Tyrone Power.  I found out
     why I loved him, I told his wife and wrote a poem to him, because he
     used to call me foolish little girl and I told him,
                Foolish little girl that’s what you always called me for loving you
                Foolish little girl who lives in a dream world.
                A dream that can never come true.
                I know it can never be.
                Foolish little thing you’re going to grow up and laugh at all this.
                Foolish, foolish man, my love for you still exists.
                Although we live apart because God has made it our fate in life
                Today I have a husband, you have your lovely wife.
                But this foolish little girl, she’ll love you till the day she dies.
                She keeps asking herself, but why, but why?
               And as through the reflections of my mind I do try,
               I found the answer there.
               It was so easy.  Because of you my foolish man, I saw God.
               He was the only light in my childhood.

     He could have taken advantage of me, he could have done anything, he never did.
     Sister Magdalene was the second, two finer people they never made again.
     She used to say don’t think of me as a Saint, don’t think like that, she brought me
     closer to God.  I used to go to Church, I’d made my communion and everything
     but I didn’t know God, she was the one who brought me closer to God.

  One area of Kathleen’s story illustrates the strength of her ability to fantasize the life she would have chosen.  It again revolves around Laird and this time also illustrates a spiritual connection,

     I had a dream, it was 15 years ago.  All I ever wanted to be was Mrs. Laird ....
     If I could have been that I would have been the happiest girl in the world.
     You know, fantasies; and then it [the dream] comes with Mother Magdalene
     and the priest and God and says you can commit spiritual bigamy.  You can be
     Mrs. Laird you have to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and find me
     and you can commit spiritual bigamy; you can marry him spiritually and treat your
     husband as you would treat him.  That helped me become a better wife. On this
     certain day, October 17th, I went to the Church.  I had a white veil my mother-in-law
     gave me, I bought a white dress, and I went and I prayed and I had to look for Jesus.
     There were many altars of Mary and all the Saints and finally there was the altar
     of the veil of Jesus and I knew that’s where I had to be.  In my dream I was told
     to bring a little Yarmulke and a yellow rose and leave them at the altar, so that’s
     what I did.  And I said in my heart Oh God I hope he knows how much I’ve loved him
     all my life, and I want to be his wife spiritually.  Months before this I’d written to
     him and told him of my dream, that on October 17th I could be his wife spiritually,
     and I forgot all about it, I didn’t talk to him again.  Then I went and did it and as I was
     leaving on this beautiful day I was happy. I was leaving and opened the heavy door
     and got such a surprise because I didn’t know anybody, and who’s there but my Laird
.    I said what are you doing here?  He said, “I’m not having my little girl come all the way
     to New York and marry me and not be here.”  He made it special, he came, he took me
     to the Rockefeller Center for a glass of wine and a piece of cheesecake.  He said,
     “I must be crazy, I don’t know why I’m here.”  He made it so much fun, I said,
     “okay where’s the honeymoon going to be,” he said, “on the Subway” it was a day
     I’ll never forget in all my life.  I guess that made him feel safer too, we became
     closer after that, he was always there for me.  And Mother Magdalene was the same.

  Kathleen shared the deep sorrows of her life story.  However, I came away from her with a sense of her strength and acceptance of the sexuality of others.  When she told me her daughter had come out as a lesbian it was without a trace of judgment.  She told me how happy she was to talk to me because her story deserved to be told.  I am honored to tell it and wish I could include more.

  Ursula, at the age of 75 still struggles to identify her true sexual identity.  Her experiences as a young girl in pre-war France were traumatic enough to leave their mark for a lifetime.  When looking at sexual awakening, it is somewhat curious that in the case of this woman all but one of her of her sexual encounters happened prior to entering and in her life she had a total of four voluntary sexual experiences, all with women.  She was introduced to sexuality at a young age by a pedophilic uncle and a priest.  She did not speak at all about regular friendships of same age boys and girls during her childhood, although in follow-up conversations she said as she grew up she was always friendly and had no problem making friends of both genders.  She spoke of being aware from the age of 16 that she was attracted to women but does not explain what that meant to her at the time.  She had no consensual sexual experiences until she was 25.  However, when she was 22 she left home and went to Paris for the enforced year before her father would allow her to enter the monastery.  At this time she fell in love with a married women with whom she worked, who was 15 years her senior.  Ursula wanted to go to bed with her “to feel her body.”  The woman did not reciprocate the feelings but was gentle and kind and called herself “mummy.”  To compound the confusion Ursula said she was molested by the husband of this woman.  Specifically this man attempted to seduce her and does succeed in digital penetration.  This was the third such experience for Ursula.  In the course of her life Ursula had two more relationships with men where she felt she was violated.  The female friendships, which became genitally sexual, were traumatic to her and she said after three or four months they always reverted to spiritual, platonic friendships because she couldn’t handle the sexuality.  This is the only woman in the group to enter in her later life, for although she expressed a wish to enter at 20 years old she did not accomplish this until age 39.  When she left the convent, breast cancer changed her life.  She described herself as a life-long celibate and continued her struggles against a need for self-pleasure. She also remained in a dilemma regarding her sexual identity.

  Maria had been in the convent for 16 years and had up to that time had no physical sexual interaction.  Her only emotional experience had been a fondness she held for her students.  This was until she met a young priest who lived across the road from her convent.  The religious couple worked together and were friends for a long time.  She asked him to give her a ride to their work but he refused because he said the rule was that he was not allowed to give anyone a ride in his car except for women as old as his mother and even they must sit in the back seat.  Maria said she would always absolve herself from rules for which she saw no reason.  This was one such rule.  She denied any sexual interaction whatsoever before this period.

     In the last two years, especially after Vatican II, things changed
     dramatically, inside of the convent and inside of us individually.
     Throughout my career in the convent there were always priests who were
     very attentive and we would chat and be together and so forth, but only
     on a professional basis.  But I could tell some of them preferred to be
     with me than with some of the other nuns.  So not only did my students
     give me attention, the priests did too.  By the time I was in the
     Convent for 16 years I was sent to the place where Michael was
     originally placed as an assistant priest.  He was very young and I kind
     of liked working around him, I used to think he was wet behind the ears
     but I loved the way he celebrated the Eucharist.  The attraction I had
     for him originally was the way he celebrated the Mass and then we
     started working together teaching the kids.  He was going on to get his
     degree in counseling and he wanted to get some experience working with
     the kids in our school.  We had to go back and forth from where I lived
     to the school.  I thought it was stupid to drive two cars.  So Michael
     and I started working, and spending more time with each other and
     eventually we began to read Eugene Kennedy’s book, The Third Way.  In
     the book he talked about people who are dedicated.  Like the first way
     would be married. The second way would be single and chaste or
     celibate.  The third way would be these single and celibate people
     working together in such a unique way that you could have a
     relationship. It was very supportive of the work you were doing and
     allowed you to be compatible sexually. This was a whole new idea for me
     but it seemed like it could work.  It was a step beyond platonic
     because you could get into being genitally sexual but it wasn’t like
     you had to leave this major work to go and be together just the two of
     you.  So we tried this for three years.  We were still in the whole
     habit.  By that time I was living with a nun who was pretty open
     minded.  I went to a store and bought myself some shorts and T-shirts.
     When we went out with another couple, who were also a priest and nun;
     we would take these clothes and go to a gas station.  We’d get
     undressed from the habit, put on these clothes and go out and have a
     picnic or go to someone’s home that was given to this priest; not
     knowing it was going to be used for this double date thing.  We would
     neck, and they would go into the bedroom and rub against each other and
     pet and stuff.  I was still saying we can kiss and we can be with each
     other and hold each other close but there was still no petting and then
     finally one night when he did drive me somewhere, we drove back into
     the rectory garage.  I started to get out of the car and he was all hot
     and he said to me “Lick this” and I said “what?”  He pulled down his
     zipper and took out his penis and said, “Lick it.”  I said, “why ever
     would I do that?”  He said “well because it feels good’ I said “Oh.”
     So I gave him a blow-job.  That became one of the things that would
     happen frequently when we got together, but he never would do anything
     for me.  It’s very interesting.  I read the journal from our honeymoon
     recently and I realize it’s the same, it’s exactly the same, and I feel
     resentful at times. That I would give him pleasure but there was never
     any reciprocation.  I’m sure as I speak to you that he could have read
     it that I was pretty resistant to someone touching my breasts or
     whatever and so I can read it like that.  But then I think no way;
     because over a period of time I got to a place where I could say to
     him, if you turn me on you’d get more turned on.  So it’s like you
     don’t even have to think about what’s happening to you. It was pretty
     interesting when I read that last week, what does change? The Zebra
     keeps his stripes. We’ve learned a lot going to workshops and he does
     try to please me, but it’s still not enough.

  I asked Maria when had she become aware of her needs for more sexual attention?  She told me

     I think there was a point at which I loved him so much in our
     early connection that I think that I made some statements in my head,
     that it was such a privilege to be connected with him that like it
     didn’t matter.  There was some wiring going on that read, if I can keep
     him happy, if I can do what he wants then he won’t be sorry he left the
     priesthood.  I’m sure I realized it between 1969 and 1972.  I left in
     69 and he stayed in the priesthood until 72.  We were waiting for the
     bishops to allow a married clergy, and so I said originally I’ll wait a
     hundred years, and then I said I’ll wait fifty years and then it was
     three years and finally when I left I was shortening the time.  But it
     was during that time 69 to 72 that I realized I wanted to be pleasured
     and pleased and so forth but I was still walking in a very tenuous line
     because he was still a priest so it was a lot of that being the primary
     thing for me to look at that if he did leave for me he might go
     bonkers, so I didn’t want to be real demanding.  I decided to be very
     independent, it was a time of growing for me, I decided I wasn’t going
     to need him so that bolstered him because it kept me spinning with I
     serve him but he didn’t have to serve me.  But between 69 and 72 I
     still wasn’t sure Michael would leave the priesthood and we continued
     to be with each other.  He would come to my apartment, it was easier to
     make contact.  He was always wanting to make love and so was I, so that
     was a very powerful connection for us.  When we first began to get
     connected I still had my vow of chastity and he had his celibate role,
     I think we just created this Third way, that we were still doing this
     great work and so this particular vow wasn’t as important as  it was
     before that, I knew we were rationalizing.  Even today when I get down
     about how much more he wants, I realize if he could rationalize way
     back then why would it be any different today.  I was very involved
     with all the changes going on in our order, with the habit and
     everything.  I knew I wanted to be out as soon as I could but I was in
     “Chapter” [assembly of delegated members of a religious community for
     elections and decisions on other governance issues] that summer and so
     I couldn’t leave then.  I waited until Chapter was over and in August I
     decided I’m going to leave.   I went over to see Mother General and
     told her I wanted to leave, and I don’t need to go through a year of
     probation. I want out as soon as possible.  I think I told her I’m in
     love with a priest.  Within about a month I had my papers.  A little
     later they started to make people wait but I was in that rush of years
     of the huge exodus of priests and nuns.  I was in the earlier phases of
     it within our community, so I just said I want out and it happened
     pretty quick.  When I was in the convent The Third Way was sufficient
     but once I left it wasn’t anymore.  The two of us were trying to hide
     it but others can see the juice.  My family had met him when we were
     both still working together, eventually his brother convinced him to
     “shit or get off the pot.”  It was probably two months later that he
     left.  He lived in my apartment; until we got married.  My mother came
     to visit for Mother’s Day, and we had moved all his things over to the
     apartment where that other couple lived [former nun and priest] we used
     to double date with.  My mother gets up on Mother’s Day when I was
     going to be entertaining his mother as well because we were going to be
     getting married in a couple of months.  My mother says, you know Mrs.
     Brown isn’t going to like to see Michael’s shoes in your closet.  I
     wondered what would she be doing looking in the closet.  I always had
     that quick retort, she never said anymore, but I was probably the only
     one of the six of us who lived with someone before marriage, who
     probably screwed before marriage.

  Maria’s story and Helen’s which follows, are representative of two women who truly felt they were blazing a new trail.  The atmosphere of change within the Catholic Church was so pervasive, they thought it was just a matter of time before priests would be allowed to marry.  They did well not to wait in their convents and presbyteries for the Vatican to make up its mind.

  Helen married a priest the same year as Maria.  Their stories parallel each other’s in that their love affair began before they left their respective communities.  However in their case both partners decided to leave at the same time and moved to an apartment together.  Helen was vague in her details and description of her early relationship and religious life.  The interesting part of this woman’s story is how much she neglected to tell me about her own coming of age sexually.  She is guarded around the early years of her sexuality.  What she said is that there was no shame or guilt in her relationship and how she was “able to hold on to the warmth even though it was on hold for all those years.”  She was in the convent for 15 years.  Beyond referring to her comfort in having the relationship before she left her community her story picks up when she tells me her husband became an alcoholic and they divorced.  She was very disillusioned, because she felt they had the perfect love, one they had both given up religious life for.  During the break up of her marriage she said she felt “I’m not enough, I’m not skinny, I’m not earning enough money.  That was just a stage.  I was in therapy at the time and I knew it wasn’t my fault.”  Her most memorable sexual encounter came when she met and made love with a former monk; this experience she describes as “the full expression of my womanness.”  Although she only made love with this man once she said it was enough.  They remained very good friends, but she never felt they needed to repeat the act.  Helen’s story will continue.

  Pamela refers to having sexual dreams and fantasies and considering whether or not to declare these at “Chapter of Faults.”  This practice is described by Chittister et al. (1977, p. 187) as “Weekly Culpa Chapters [in English called a Chapter of Faults] the sisters confessed those personal mannerisms or minor accidents which had become part of a regular community script.  Each day time was set aside in the schedule for the examination of conscience, or particular examen, a practice designed to uproot faults by counting daily transgressions and comparing the results to previous counts.”  Pamela said,

     I used to love sexual feelings, and then I thought, Oh now I’ve got to say those
     in the “Chapter of Faults” but I didn’t, because I thought they
     were very normal.  I guess when I was in my early 20s, and I got out
     and went to summer school, there’d be all these cute guys, that was
     really hard.  I remember telling our Superior for the summer and she
     said “poor dear.”  I thought, “I’m not a poor dear at all.”  A couple
     of times when I did want to leave, I’d shave my hair to stop me going.
     Looking back I loved teaching, so all of these feelings were going on
     inside me but I kept on thinking, no I must continue to be this nun
     because that’s what I said I would do.  I became good at it, I was a
     good teacher and my family thought this was great.  My sister and
     brother had eight children between them and I was very close to them
     and when things opened up a bit I could go stay with her five children
     when my sister went on vacation.  I was a real close aunt.  That helped
     compensate my maternal instincts.  As we got more open and we could
     talk more openly with people I was able to get closer to other priests
     and people generally.  Not thinking about leaving or having any kind of
     sexual relationship.  Then one of the priests who came to say Mass for
     the kids (I’d known him for about three years), asked me to the park
     with him.  I told him I really didn’t want to go and then after a while
     he asked me again and said he wanted to marry me.  I burst out
     laughing, poor man.  I told him it made me feel really uncomfortable
     and there was no way I was going to be anything more than friends and
     certainly not leave the convent and marry him.  Meanwhile I was meeting
     all these different people, men and that.  I guess I was getting ready
     to leave. I don’t know, but, they were very interesting to me but none
     that touched me so emotionally that I would want to leave.  Then I met
     a brother who taught religious programs with me.  I fell madly in love
     with him, and that’s my husband.  The whole time we became really good
     friends and I didn’t really have sexual feelings because we were really
     good friends and then all of a sudden it happened, really, really
     fast.  Does that make sense?
     He’s seven years younger than I am. Oh God, this is a story!  He
     seemed so much older than me at the time.  But he was 22 when he met me
     and I was 29.  I thought he was 32 and he thought I was 21.  We never
     talked about age; we had talked about getting married.  It was my 30th
     birthday and I said to my parents Charles and I are going to get
     married.  There was a horrible upset, but I said for my birthday why
     don’t you have Charles over for dinner.  When they found out he was 22,
     well!  He bought me a beautiful pantsuit to wear to dinner but I said I
     had to wear my habit, wasn’t that weird?

  I asked Pamela, “So you decided to marry before you left the convent?”  She replied,

     Oh yes.  I don't know if I would have left if not.  He said “I
     want to spend my life with you” and I said “I want to spend my life
     with you too.”  That’s how it happened.  So here we were at this
     birthday party and he was shocked to hear it was my 30th.  But he left
     the brothers.

  I asked what the transition was like for her, from a life of repressed sexuality to this?

     It was incredible.  I felt two things; first it was really good to
     feel somebody love me, I’ll never forget that feeling.  I was loved by
     my mother and father, sister, brother and friends.  But to have someone
     who just loves you and wants to spend their whole life with you, is
     such an incredible feeling.  With that other priest who wanted to marry
     me, I had no feelings, but with Charles it was so freeing it made me so
     happy and alive.  It was wonderful.  I guess it happened little by
     little.  We became friends, he got to know all the other nuns; because
     they all worked with me and had gone to high school with me and were
     all the same age.  There’s a lot of painful things.  My mother was very
     bitter, that was real hard.  She did not want me to leave, and that I
     was leaving to get married, I guess it was like a scandal.  My Dad was
     really good, very accepting and whether he agreed or not was just a
     very loving father.

  Pamela talked about how naive she was at 30.  She said she was totally naive sexually and that Charles gave her sex books and manuals before they got married.  I asked her if that was how she saw herself being initiated into her sexuality?

     I don’t think we even kissed.  We may have held hands and hugged
     or something because I still had vows.  I felt it was a phony thing,
     but I thought it wasn’t that long to wait.  I don’t know if it was a
     legalistic thing, but I said “let’s not do anything until this is
     final.”  We didn’t have sex until---we were going to get married in
     December and then at one point he said, “you know I think I might want
     to go back into my order.”  This was because of the change of life
     style he had to endure once he left the brotherhood.  From being a
     scholar about to begin a Ph.D. to working anything he could get.  Then
     when we were getting married he started teaching, but he felt lost and
     so broke down.  It was so painful.  Then three weeks later he came to
     see me and said “I just miss you so much and I want to be with you for
     ever.”  So that night he said, “I want to get married” and I said,
     “fine.” We had sex that night.  I conceived my daughter that night, the
     very first time we ever had intercourse.  I think we had been brought
     up so strictly I felt so bad about having sex, so Charles said “fine we
     won’t have sex again before we get married.”  But I was already
     pregnant...[she laughs an amused laugh]...we didn’t even do it all the
     way, we did withdrawal!  Three weeks later when my period didn’t come I
     went to a doctor and the test was positive.  I told Charles and he said
     “we’re not waiting till December we’re getting married right away.”
     Well my father had big plans and I had to tell them that the big
     wedding was off.  We told them after dinner one night and my father
     stood up and said, “let’s go have a drink and celebrate.”  He was
     always so stern, but he was a real good Dad.  Of course the Catholic
     Church refused to marry us.  I threw away the stuff I got from the Pope,
     my dispensation papers and stuff.  We had been in the Parish for 30
     years; our Parish priest had known us all those years.  My family was
     very prominent, my father had been on the parish council for many
     years.  They didn’t refuse me because I was pregnant, they refused me
     because I had just left the convent and I didn’t have the dispensation
     papers.  I’d thrown them out.  Anyway we had a lovely ceremony in
     another Church and it was wonderful.  My mother was cruel.  She said,
     “you got pregnant so that you could keep Charles.”  Oh my God, I think
     she felt so hurt to say that.  She never said it again, and before she
     died she and Charles were best friends.  But I think it was a very
     different society at that time.  I don’t think society cares now, but
     it did then.  I felt so nervous during that pregnancy, and I’m very
     angry that I was put through that.  A lot I might have put on myself.
     My brother and sister were wonderful but once in a while my sister
     would say “well we had to wait, you didn’t.”  I guess that made me
     angry because I thought this should be a wonderful time of my life but
     I was upset all the time because people looked down on me and I really
     didn’t care, but it still hurts.

  Pamela’s children were grown at this time and yet she still remembered the hurt of her mother’s cruel words and her sister’s thoughtless conversations.

  Whereas Ann joined her order with the express mission in mind to become a radical Catholic, Lua Xochitl on the other hand grew to this place, in part, as a result of the changes in her order brought about by Vatican II.  This woman became a revolutionary after twelve years in traditional religious life and it began with a chance meeting and comment from a fellow nun:

     When Vatican II told the women religious either modernize or close
     your doors, my convent wrote a new Rule.  It took them two years but
     with regard to sexuality it said each sister was responsible for her
     own sexuality.  What did that do?  Well it gave the sisters permission
     to experiment.  It opened the doors to allow women to get married and
     still remain the sisters of this order, they could do that.  It was the
     first Rule not based on Francis, Benedict, Augustus, Dominic or
     Aquinas. These were the five men who wrote the Rules for women and we
     were the first group of women religious to write a Rule not based on
     any of those cats.  It was great to be part of the Church at that
     time.  The new Rule said sisters could not teach in the classroom
     without their B.A.  I for example, started teaching twenty years ago
     without any preparation.  The grace of God was to help me to teach and
     I was to teach 50 children in a classroom with no preparation
     whatsoever.  So I went back to get my B.A., after 11 years of teaching.
     In 1968, the week before I was to attend a weekend workshop, one of
     the women who entered at the same time as me came back from Chicago and
     was living the new Rule.  The other nuns were outraged and wouldn’t
     talk to her.  We were allowed to drink alcohol and smoke in the
     confines of the convent in our own rooms and outside if we were not
     wearing the habit, at that time we wore modified habits or lay
     clothes.  I was the last one to catch on to things like this I was so
     naive.  One day this woman stopped me in the corridor and asked me to
     get some 7-Up and come up to her room.  This was the woman who no one
     spoke to.  I was always the supporter of the underdog and I was so
     naive I didn’t know what the 7-Up was for.  I bought it and went up to
     her room.  She served me a drink of bourbon and 7 and then another.
     She asked me ‘“Why aren’t you involved in the Chicano walkouts?”  And I
     said, “well I came back to study.”  She said, “why aren’t you involved
     with Caesar Chavez?”  I answered, “when I graduate I’m going to go back
     to work in my school.”  She looked at me and she said “you know you are
     no longer Al.....’s daughter.”  [Lua Xochitl was Latino and the
     daughter of a very prominent activist in the Latino community].  When
     she said that to me, I know it was the drink, but my response was;” no
     white bitch is going to tell me who I am” [click of her fingers] it was
     just like that.  She said “good it’s still there.”

  What followed for Lua Xochitl was months of affirmation of her Latina heritage and a slow and steady change in her attitudes.  A fundamental catalyst for this change began when she experienced the weekend workshop discussed in Chapter 7.  This to her “was the beginning of the unlearning of the lies.”  She began her journey out of the convent that weekend, yet before she left she began to fight for the rights of the oppressed.  She said she heard people say “What’s happened to Sister Mary, she used to be so sweet, now she’s talking about racism?”

     I stayed in the convent because my community was in transition and I was waiting
     to see if they were going to live out the new Rule.  The first sentence in the new
     Rule was “We as sisters of ...will give witness to the political, social, and
     economical needs of mankind.”  You know that was mid 60’s, that was the edge.
    When I saw that they weren’t going to do it I said I’m leaving, my integrity
    would not allow me to stay, it was nothing to do with sex, it was political.  When I
    saw it was a lie, and it was not going to change I couldn’t stay.  I stayed a year
    hoping it would change, I loved my community, even as I was becoming ostracized.

  Lua Xochitl had gone to her superior on two occasions requesting the community “as women of the 20th Century” take a stand and issue a statement on behalf of political issues congruent to their new Rule and the request was refused both times.  Up to this point she had not become sexually active except in the emancipation of her personal pleasuring because she said her self esteem was still so damaged from her childhood as to make her feel unlovable.  By the end of her final year as she said she was
     …pretty much what you would call a political activist nun, I was marching and
     boycotting and leafleting and masturbating and loving it all.  Still not sexual, the
     men around were EuroAmerican and I just didn’t turn on to them.  They weren’t
     juicy to me.  I’ve grown since then and I stopped relating to men by their race
     anymore, but when I would see Latinos or brothers who were political I would
     wonder, yes, yes, definitely, but I was in the convent and I was in my worrier self.
     My inferiority complex would get in the way if I felt anything.  I was going to be
     thirty-three and I began to know my body and be comfortable with my body when
     I was thirty.  January 1st of 1970 I woke up in a park in LA with $3.00 in pocket.
     I told my family I was leaving and no one said “come home” so I left and spent my
     first night in the park.

  I asked for clarification here, wondering if her community actually let her leave with nowhere to go and no money?   She answered:

     Yes, yes, but let me explain.  I didn’t want to be beholding to my
     community.  I had entered from a very poor family so I had no dowry.
     My older sister had already left and my political self could not accept
     anything.  So for me I was totally free.  I stayed with different
     friends until I went to Cuba to cut cane.  What it is to be young, to
     be worrier and to be women totally unto herself, and feeling okay with
     it.  Six weeks later I was en route to Cuba where I had my first sexual
     sharing with a man.  The inferiority complex was still there but I was
     riding high on my political self.  I was older than everybody else.
     This was the time of the progressive youth of America and I was 32, so
     that kind of put out of my mind any possible encounter with any man
     that fit the old conditioning.  The political part of me was very
     affirming and my trip to Cuba was all for that, the sexual part of me I
     just put away until my last week there.  I just thought I’m too old
     now, my time has passed and besides I know how to take care of myself.
     I remember a Cuban brother coming on to me and my response to him was,
     I didn’t come to Cuba to fuck, I came to learn the revolution.  So
     there I was, that sentence said it all.  My first experience sexually
     was fairy tale like, very romantic.  Not orgasmically as it would be
     today or what it was like when I masturbated by myself, but the whole
     experience of being with a man who wanted to be with me who didn’t know
     any of my history.  I remember saying to myself, he doesn’t know you feel
     inferior, he is just seeing you right now.  It was just really
     wonderful.  I remember Fidel was there that night and he had spoken and
     we were dancing and the man that I had attracted was this beautiful man
     from Haiti.   He was political escapee and had come to Cuba as I had to
     cut cane.  This was the first time that I ever allowed myself to feel a
     man come on to me and he had to tell me very clearly, he had to ask me,
     because I didn’t get it.  I think a couple of things were going on, one
     I think my worrier self was so vibrant that it didn’t let the other
     part of me come out, up front like. We cut cane and this Cuban had
     wanted to bed me all night long and I had resisted because I wasn’t
     turned on to the guy.  So now in the morning I’m tired and I’m paired
     with this beautiful Haitian to cut cane. He asked me why I was so tired
     and when I told him about the Cuban wanting to make love to me and
     keeping me up late he threw back his head and laughed.  He asked me
     “why didn’t you make love, because you were a teacher?”  And I said “no
     not because I was a teacher.”  Finally he kept asking questions until I
     told him I’d never made love to a man because I had been in a convent
     for 12 years.  And all of a sudden he turned and he said “what, you in
     a convent, why?”  I was too tired to talk. So we walked back together
     for lunch and we worked together in the afternoon and we talked about
     our lives and he asked me what I’d learned. I told him, “I learned the
     most subtle nuances of racism, so I know when I’m being bullshitted by
     anyone, and I learned about sisterhood and nothing on this planet is
     more important except the revolution and sisterhood.”  He said, “I’m
     glad you said the revolution first!”

  On the way back to the camp this “beautiful” man proposed sex to Lua Xochitl.  He asked her three times how she felt and each time she gives him a brush off answer saying “fine, really fine.”  The fourth time he asks her “how do you feel about you and me?”  She answers almost coyly “I said oh this is so wonderful, this is an opportunity of a life-time. and he stopped me and he said, “Querida, I am asking you as a man would ask a woman, how do you feel?”

     I was blown away.  I looked at him and I said, “I feel wonderful,
     easy;” and he said “do you feel excited” and I said, “yes;” so he said,
     “good we will go to dinner tonight.”  Of course going to dinner meant
     going to dinner with a thousand other people, but from that moment on
     was when Lua Xochitl opened up to being looked at as a woman, as a
     sexual woman to another person.  It was wonderful, all the tapes were
     put away for that time because he was a beautiful looking man and there
     were all these beautiful African sisters on the brigade.  I always have
     and had this bad body image and here he was choosing me.  Everyone
     around was aware of it and was happy about it.  That night at dinner he
     wore black pants and a red cummerbund; the brother looked fine.  In the
     middle of the dance he said “let’s go walking” and so we went and I was
     just open to whatever would come.  I was so aware that we would make
     love but I didn’t know what to do.  He was so careful and caring.  He
     cut off these two palms and lay them down, took off his sash which
     covered the whole thing.  I said to him, “I don't know what to do” and
     he said to me “Querida, what I know is that you know how to play.  We
     are going to play, and you’re going to tell me what you like and I’m
     going to tell you what I like” and I said “Oh, okay,” and I got
     undressed.  I remember that this was like a fairy tale, it was a full
     moon, just fairy tale.  I had never had anyone touch me, he combed my
     body.  He asked me if I had ever made love and I said no, and he asked
     me what I knew about my body and I said I know I can make it vibrate
     and he said “I think I can do that too.”  We played and he asked me
     “What do you like?” and I asked him “what do you like?” and I did it.
     I remember he asked me “how was it?” and I said you’re pretty good,
     you’re pretty good, this is okay, and he said “just okay?” and I said,
     “well I’ve been doing this for two years and I understand you just
     don’t know my body.”  I was just totally fresh.  Orgasmically it wasn’t
     what it would be like with other men later, but at that time I didn’t
     have it in my head yet that a man could make me feel great.  I already
     had the experience of me making me feel great.  I think it saved me a
     lot from putting it on men.  I remember people talking about sex being
     bad and dirty, but we had oral sex, I didn’t even know that existed,
     isn’t that amazing?  I led a very sheltered life but once I learned
     that this is my body and I can do whatever I want with it, there was
     never any guilt anymore.

  Caroline had a problem remembering when she first recognized having sexual feelings.  She identified a time after she took her vows:

     There was this older nun, much older than me, she was about my Mom’s age
     who really took a liking to me.  When I look back on it now and it was really
     mothering.  She was someone who would listen to me, someone who was
     physically loving to me, not sexual, all the things my mother wasn’t.  Stirred up in
     all that I began to have sexual feelings.  But again it was very interesting, I
     couldn’t have named those feelings.  They frightened me, and I swear to you, if
     someone would have said, are those sexual feelings? I would have said “no,” I
     don’t know what they are.  There must have been a part of me that recognized
     what they were because then I began to worry that I was homosexual.  Oh, this is
     interesting.  I remember writing in my journal about it, and I was really worried
     and I stayed away from this nun.  I went to talk to a psychologist in our
     community about this and she asked me who I was talking about and said,
     “Oh no, she’s not homosexual.”  But she didn’t give me any information, I was just told
     don’t worry about it.

  In many different areas of Caroline’s story she complains about a lack of knowledge and a perpetuation of ignorance which seemed to restrict her quest for sexual information.  She began to suffer from bouts of depression.  When she became aware that by staying in the convent she was hiding from her deep fear of men and her fear of sex, she decided she did not want to do it anymore.

     That was the beginning of the decision that I wanted to leave the
     convent.  I did base my decision on that. After the decision to leave
     the convent, while the process was taking place, I called up another
     psychologist that was on the faculty of my college. She had been a nun
     but had left.  When I went to see her I wanted to talk to her about the
     fact that I’m leaving the convent and I’m scared to death, and what I’m
     really scared to death about is men and my relationship with them.  I
     remember going in to see her and it was terrible.  She was sitting at
     her desk and I was standing in my trench coat.  She never asked me to
     sit down and just said, “well, what are you here for?” and I said,
     “well I’ve made the decision to leave the convent and there are things
     that are scary to me and I want to start dealing with them.”  She said,
     “what’s scary to you?”  I said, “one thing I know is sex and men,” and
     she said, “what are you afraid of?”  I said, “I don’t know where to
     start.”  So she started this exercise where she said a word and I had
     to answer with the first thing that came into my head.  She got to the
     word, I think it was “penis,” but what I heard was “pubic hair,” and I
     said, “Oh I’m scared” and she said, “okay, if you don’t want to do the
     work you come back when you want to work.”  So I left and I thought
     wow, how am I going do this?  I look back on it and I hated her for
     that.  I felt really alone.  I was in 41/2 years, so I was 22 when I
     left. I remember, going out on dates and felt like I was out with a
     Martian.  I was very stiff and I always thought what is the fun of
     this.  I’d try to neck and I put myself through it but it never felt
     fun.  I don’t know how to describe it, I wanted it but couldn’t do it.

  Caroline talked about one date where the man put his tongue in her mouth and she said

     Again I was so naive and inexperienced, and here I am at 22 years
     old thinking I’ve done something wrong.  Rather than let my body feel
     what it was feeling, it was this sense of always being on guard.  I did
     feel a lot of sexual feelings toward him but he was not very strong in
     pursuing me.  We eventually went our separate ways and a few years
     later after I had had a couple of relationships with men, I ran into
     him again and we were talking.  I asked him, “Are you gay?” and he said
     “yes I am” and I was dealing with that at the time.  So it was this
     wonderful piece of information, to put the pieces together.  I decided
     to get into therapy to seriously explore my sexual issues.  Just at the
     point in my life where I was about to get myself on track my young
     brother committed suicide and that catapulted me into space.  I didn’t
     know which end was up.  Just at this time a woman, a lesbian came into
     my life.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t attracted to her, physically,
     she wasn’t beautiful.  Fundamentally I think, again I needed someone to
     mother me.

  Again in these narratives I was aware of hearing a common theme, one of a woman who was flattered that someone was interested in her.  But also one who needed to be mothered, listened to, touched, and loved.  It took Caroline a long time to break this relationship and she ended it when she was 30.  Up to that time she had not yet had sexual relations with men or women except for petting.  She met a woman who was a lesbian and she said there was an awareness of wanting to get to know her own body with another woman who really appreciated a woman’s body.  When they established the relationship she said

     It was from my place of integrity. I did not want to make love with this woman
     because I didn’t want to make a life with this woman and again it was like
     wrenching myself from a motherly relationship.  When I look back on the way I
     was with men, if one should like me I didn’t get it, I really didn’t get it.  I’d say
     later “god, he really liked me!”  What I learned really well was to put up a lot of
     protection.  It is going back to my relationship with my father, you’re not going to
     appreciate me as a woman, therefore, I’m not going to put myself in a place so that
     you can make me look stupid.  I realize that’s what I’ve always done with men, I
     won’t relate on that level, I’ll relate as your good buddy.

  After years of profound depression and treatment she finally found some resolution on medication.  She was 38.  This was the age when she had her first truly sexual experience.  He was her “Zorba.”

     We just had the best time together, we had so much fun.  One night we had been
     out together and when we got back it was obvious he was coming on to me.  I
     couldn’t do anything but a few nights later I told him I’m scared to death, I’ve
     never been with a man.  He was wonderful, it was the most wonderful experience.
     All he wanted to do was give me pleasure.  In fact we did not have intercourse
     for a long time.  First of all there was a fear of AIDS and secondly there was the
     fear of pregnancy, I was clear I didn’t want a child at my age.  We started smoking
     dope together and I didn’t realize our relationship became more and more
     dependent on the dope.  He began to experience bouts of depression due to issues
     in his family.  The more depressed he became the less present he was in our
     lovemaking, he was no longer really there, I didn’t like it.  I felt more and more
     like an object.  I can look back on it now and know the truth, at the time I thought
     there was something wrong with me.  I think I was falling in love with him but he
     was not loving me.  He didn’t know how to do relationships, I see that now.

  Since her Zorba she had one more relationship which ended in disappointment; he wanted a family and she didn’t.  She told me that she still had problems being freely sexual and needs to be under the influence of dope before she can relax enough to orgasm, which was a concern for her.

  Hilary was sent for therapy after being in the convent for 10 years.  She left her order after 14 years.  The primary reason she was sent into therapy was because her Superiors thought she was “too quiet,” and that she was also possibly anorectic.  She had her first intimate experience with the priest who had taken over for her lay therapist.  After he left the group she said

     I wrote letters to the people in my group, one of them to the
     priest I’d had a relationship with and he responded to the letter,
     which triggered me off.  My relationship was sexual but not sexual, for
     a couple of years.  I was just nuts, crazy about this guy, and I had
     never been this way before over anybody.  He was kind of stand-offish.
     He would come close and then I wouldn’t see him for a long time. I’d
     call him on the phone or write him letters.  He went away to another
     country and when he’d come back he’d come to visit me and I’d be all
     googy-eyed over him again.  We never had overt sex but just petting,
     hugging, and kissing.  I was 32 when I first met him, just when I was
     on the verge of coming out.  I didn’t leave because of him but he just
     was around at the time.  Most of these things happened in the last four
     years that I was in the convent and I was in for 14 years.  I left when
     I was 32 and stayed in my therapy group for a year with the priests and
     nuns even though I’d left.  I was attracted to almost all of the
     priests in the group. At that time there were three young priests and a
     gay priest.  Over a period of time I had feeling for all of the
     straight guys so I guess I was becoming more outgoing and healthy.
     There was one situation with a therapist I was seeing, sometimes there
     is a thing that happens called “transference,” where clients like their
     therapist. Well this guy took advantage.  You know? I was so naive, I’d
     one experience basically with the one priest and this therapist kissed
     me one time and I was really put off by that.  It was a couple of years
     before I left the convent and he introduced me to oral sex.  That
     shouldn’t have happened, I realized it later, at the time I didn’t
     really know it.  I developed a feeling because of my relationship with
     him and my ignorance, that it was an okay thing to do and intercourse
     isn’t because that would break the vow.  After I’d become more sexually
     experienced, having oral sex to me meant not going all the way. When I
     was involved with other people I never quite felt I was going all the
     way if that happened.

  Later in the interview Hilary clarifies that the therapist had her perform oral sex on him, it was not reciprocated.  He led her into it, she knew nothing about oral sex at that time, and in her own words was completely naive.  He encouraged her to pose nude on other occasions.  It took a year for her to appreciate that this was not mutual and she ended it.

     When I was out of the convent and was dating, I had to deal with
     the guilt.  I remember talking to myself and saying “I don’t think God
     would give us all these feelings and then care if I went all the way;
     because what’s the point?”  It wasn’t as if it was should I be married
     or should I not be married, it was should I do it?  It seemed to go as
     far as this oral sex thing but not the whole way unless there was some
     more of a commitment involved. Although I did eventually but at that
     point I realized guilt is something that’s not controllable, it’s
     something you have or haven’t because of your past like being brought
     up Catholic.  When I decided to have sex I planned it and even talked
     about it in the therapy session.  It was the right time, I really liked
     him and had feelings for him.  The actual sex was not that great, he was
     uncomfortable with a virgin or something.

  Later in the interview she talked again about her priest friend who she said she loved very much.  She would see him occasionally when he would come to town.  They would have extended dinners and would pet on the sofa but she knew nothing would happen because he was a priest.  It was a relationship that couldn’t go anywhere because he was a committed priest.  Then several years later she had oral sex with him and that destroyed the relationship.  She said

     It just wasn’t that great and it shouldn’t have happened. I guess it lowered him in
     my eyes to have let it happen.  He was also talking about other relationships that
     he had.  I presumed they were just friendships but then I started getting the feeling
     that he was really, really close to other people.  I picked up on two other nuns that
     he worked with and I started feeling that he was as close to them as he was to me
     and it started to feel not so special.  This was seven years into the relationship.

Her relationship with the man she is now living with was unsettled for some time; they have now been together for a number of years and remain unmarried.

  Another woman who was exploited by a therapist priest was Miriam.  She had been held back in her novitiate because of childish behavior and breaking the rules.  Her superiors gave her the option of having six visits to a particular therapist in order to take final vows with her group.  She agreed.  On each of her visits to this man he encouraged her become progressively more intimate.  Although he pressured her to do more, sitting closely with his head on her breast was the furthest this situation went before she complained to her superiors.  Although her visits to the therapist were halted, her superiors made it clear to her that they doubted the validity of the complaint.  Later, Miriam told me, the priest was found to have fathered a child.

  Chibnall et al. (1997) looked at the incidence of sexual exploitation and found approximately two in seven nuns reporting some type of sexual trauma after entering religious life.  They found the most common perpetrators of this exploitation to be the clergy, most often a spiritual director.  Other common roles were retreat directors, pastors and counselors.  “Most of the sisters reported only one experience of exploitation, but that single relationship may have lasted for months or even years.  Almost 16% of those reporting sexual exploitation said that it occurred during formation.”  (p. 6).  Of particular interest to the previous story is the finding that the aftereffects of sexual exploitation at the hands of a therapist are “guilt, shame, anger, depression, confusion, distrust of therapeutic relationships, sexual maladjustment, feelings of abandonment, suicidal ideation, and exacerbation of the problem for which therapy was originally sought.”  And finally that the victim may for many years protect the exploiter and even see the relationship in positive terms.  Only after it ends does the victim truly experience the full impact and see it for what it was, not a mutual relationship but one sided.

  The final story from the group who never married is that of Kate.  She entered at age 18 and had been in the convent for 30 years.  She left community in order to live her own life, to have her own money.  When she was in the convent she fell in love with a priest.  She told me

     I had a sexual relationship on a regular basis with him for about
     three years then off and on for maybe four or five more.  For the three
     years I was a nun.  It was at that time I really changed, emotionally I
     left when I started that relationship because it was so far outside of
     what I had promised to do; but I didn’t physically leave until three
     years later.  He left the area and went in a different order of
     priests.  We just didn’t have that much time together after that, he
     intended to go deeper into the priesthood. When I was about 35 I knew I
     wanted a relationship.  I was about 39 when I met him; I didn’t pursue
     him.  I’ve had two huge love affairs and in both cases the other person
     pursued me, it doesn’t enter my mind to go look for somebody.  I sort
     of wait to be discovered, which is not very productive sometimes. When
     I was in the convent I admired some of the nuns I lived and worked with
     but never had an attraction toward anyone.  So then I left, I think I’m
     still afraid to try and meet people.  I went to some places like
     dances, and I joined a type of dating service, but I didn’t like any of
     them.  So I wish I knew an easier way of meeting people, other people

  Kate had mentioned having “two huge relationships” in her life.  She described the first as being with the priest and then went on to discuss her life once she had left the convent.  No further mention was made of the second “huge” relationship.  I therefore pursued the topic.  Three times in our interview I asked if there was anything else that had happened of a sexual nature since she left; on the third questioning there was a little pause and an excitement in her voice.  But this time instead of moving onto another tangent she told me,

     About a year and a half ago where I work we had a new director
     who’s a lesbian and she totally fell in love with me; which is really
     bad when your working together and she’s the boss.  She was always
     raving about me so everybody knows she’s nuts about me, I don’t think
     they know we’re involved.  Everybody knows we’re really close, we’ve
     been in a relationship now for about a year and a half.  We just
     started talking about it one day and she was freaked out that I knew
     she was pursuing me, it was like, am I deaf, dumb and blind?
     Unfortunately she’s moving to another job, again she’s a person I don’t
     think I could have a permanent relationship with her because she’s so
     impulsive, she’s eighteen years younger than I am. She’s tons of fun
     and that’s why I fell in love with her, because she’s very funny, very
     smart, very extroverted and way out there and I’m way reserved and
     that’s where I think I was pulled to her as an opposite. When I’m with
     her and she does weird things I think it’s fun but I’d never do those
     things on my own.  But she’s loving, incredibly romantic.  But she has
     her problems, she always gets involved with straight women so that
     stops her having a permanent relationship.  So now I consider myself
     bisexual.  I can’t imagine being attracted to another woman.  I’m
     totally head-over-heels with this woman.  It’s made me more open to
     being in love with other women but I feel rather than think that my
     basic orientation is to men but now I had an experience with both which
     were really wonderful, very fulfilling, the woman more than the priest
     because she’s way more available.  I see her every day, we spend a lot
     of time together and spend nights over at each other’s house, we go to
     the opera or the ballet, she loves the same sort of things.  It was a
     huge risk for me, but I let my feelings take over.  I told her that
     when we started seeing each other and I said, I’m not going to act on
     it.  Famous last words.  She seduced me, she really did.

  There are those in the group who left the convent and tried to establish themselves as quickly as possible in the “normal” world.  Most of these women, June, Ruth, Stephanie, Sophia and Hazel, all maintained their virginity until their wedding night.

  Hazel has had a long-term marriage and has five children. She had no sexual contact before her wedding night.  She had known the man before she went into the convent and on leaving the friendship was re-kindled.  This time however, she was aware that there was “more.”  They married within the year.  I asked Hazel how important was sexuality to her once she became sexually aware?  She told me she would tell me with a story.

     Our first sexual encounter of course was our wedding night.  It wasn’t terribly
     satisfying to me.  I didn’t fear it, I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect, that’s
     what it was.  Some of the problem was the absolute fatigue of the wedding, and
     the stress newly married people had to go through.  I’m not sure I can come out
     and say I’m in favor of pre marital sex but there is something to be said for it.
     At least not having to go through all that as well as saying good-bye to family and
     everything, and stepping off into the unknown, as well as this experience of sex.  It
     wasn’t until the second or third night, [laughs] WOW! I had my first orgasm.
     Then it became a very important part of our lives.  Nobody was there to tell me,
     but I think I made a smooth transition into owning my own sexuality.  Which is
     really kind of neat, when I think about all the obstacles in my way prior to that.  I
     choose to and want to give J credit for that.  Making love and sexuality was very
     important to him but he was very patient and attentive.

  While Alison was still in the convent she was sent on a mission to Alaska and there met a young man, she described as:

     A handsome hunk of a guy, and I immediately fell in love with
     him.  That’s when the seeds really began to be sown that maybe
     religious life was not working.  I always said that if I ever was to
     leave I wanted to do it in time to have a family and have a life.

  Alison and her future husband met at the wedding of a friend while she was still in the convent.  No relationship developed at that time.  It was a year after her departure from religious life that they met again; they married within 18 months of this.  The couple did not have sexual intercourse before the wedding because of fear of pregnancy and because they were both devout Catholics.  She became pregnant very soon after the wedding. Alison stayed in the convent for 10 years and left because she said

     I could not stand to have someone tell me what to do every time I
     turned around.  I could get around the chastity thing, I guess I didn’t
     think of it as something unnatural.  Having sex with someone is natural
     but that’s what you give up.  But is that all you give up when you take
     a vow of chastity?

Alison had more to say on the vow of chastity and spoke about masturbation in this context.  Her comments are included in Chapter 7.

  I do not intend to minimize the importance of the stories not included in this chapter. I have attempted to give a representative view of enough stories to illustrate the diversity of this group.  It has been a difficult task to choose, because the personal moment of transition from elective celibacy to being sexually active is of course such a profound moment in everyone’s life.  Each of the 29 contributors deserves her moment on the page.  However, unfortunately, this is not possible due to space constraints.

Continue to Chapter 7

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