Elena Scotti/FUSION

In our series The Pledge, we share first-person stories of young people who vowed to stayed virgins until marriage—exploring the motivations, benefits, and pitfalls of swearing off sex in our hypersexual culture. Omarr, who shared his story for our second post, is an 18-year-old freshman at Mississippi College.

I was born in New Orleans, but my family moved to Mississippi when I was 6 years old. One of the main reasons we moved is because my dad had a vision from God that told him he needed to build a church near where my mother grew up. About a year after we moved, my parents created a church—a black Church of God in Christ in a building that the white Church of God in Christ had abandoned. My parents both pastor the church.

I took a formal virginity pledge when I was about 10 years old. Someone in the church came up with the idea of having a virginity night, and my mom and dad were both on board, so we had it. There were a lot of different speakers talking about virginity, talking about abstinence, things of that nature. I got an actual purity ring at the end of the night. The ring was silver. I can’t remember what it said on it—I think it had a little cross.

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I was young, and I didn’t exactly know was I was doing. My parents wanted me to take the pledge. They had started teaching me abstinence when I was really young, so it was already engrained in my mind. My mom would say, “If you a get a girl pregnant, you’re kicked out of this house.” I didn't want to be kicked out of the house, so I didn't do anything to disobey her.

I only kinda knew what sex was when I took the pledge because my mom is a nurse—that's what she calls her "worldly trade." But my mom didn't really teach us about sex, she just taught us not to have it and that being abstinent was the Lord’s way. So really, I didn’t know what was happening, I was just following the directions of my mom like I usually do. I only wore the ring for a while, only because I'm bad at keeping up with little things like jewelry and sunglasses.

I was into the idea of waiting until marriage because it was a parent thing, and I always have respected my parents and their wishes. But my beliefs changed as I grew up. I still believe in abstinence until marriage for myself, but I believe that’s the choice for me—not for everyone.

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The real turning point for me and my beliefs came when I attended the Winter Institute, a summer program that teaches high school students how to become activists in their communities, at the University of Mississippi. The institute took place shortly after Mississippi passed its new sex education law, which requires schools to teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus classes, but doesn't require any information about condoms or birth control.

At the Winter Institute, they taught us about advocacy and ending discrimination, and they sent us home with specific projects to focus on in our communities. I chose sex education for my project, because I grew up surrounded by the effects of bad sex ed in my high school—there's a lot of teen pregnancy and STDs in my community. There is also a lot of peer pressure, and really no virginity at all. Some of my friends lost their virginity probably at age 10.

So I wondered, “How come we have so many teen mothers, how come we have such a high STD rate?” All they were teaching in the sex ed classroom was something about gonorrhea, and then showing this birthing video from the `70s. I thought that was wrong, and that only teaching about virginity was wrong, because people are already out here having sex, and I’m like—if they’d only had protection. That's why my views changed.

I don’t want to impose my views onto other people. I use a Bible verse for this: “My people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Knowledge is education, education is key, education is power. If you don’t have education, you are going to fail. It doesn’t matter what kind of education it is—you are going to fail in life if you don’t have education. And if we deny people the education about other options—about abortion, about LGBTQ health—we are denying people, and we are making people perish. We’re going to see more HIV and AIDS. We're going to see STD and unintended birth rates going up. History is just going to repeat itself if we don’t start educating our students.

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I believe your choice is your choice, but I want you to be smart with your choices. I wouldn't judge somebody for not choosing abstinence, even though I chose abstinence. My mom always told me that choices afford you to make more choices. When I chose abstinence, I told myself it allowed me to afford a few more choices. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, because if you don’t have experience, sometimes you can’t even find a girlfriend. Especially where I come from.

I've never kissed anyone or been in a relationship. In the past, it's happened that I had a crush on someone or wanted to date someone, but they weren’t interested because they knew I believed in abstinence until marriage. I’ve always been a religious wonk—that's how I put it. In being that, and in always sharing my beliefs freely, it kind of drove people away, especially if they’d had sex before. It was difficult for me, but I’m steadfast in my beliefs. I wasn’t always okay with abstinence because I felt lonely, but then again, I’m a Christian and I do have strong faith. I don't know, hopefully it turns out good. If me being abstinent and finding someone else doesn't work out—whether they’re abstinent or not—then staying abstinent and getting married probably just wasn’t meant for me.

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Maybe I won’t be abstinent after college, but throughout college I probably will be. Along with my beliefs, I’m restricted on this campus, since it is a private Baptist college. I don’t know how they do it at Ole Miss or Mississippi State, but here, girls can only be in your dorm room for about three hours. You also have to prop the door open, and they cannot lay down on your bed or on your floor. The resident advisors are constantly going around checking. I don’t know if they have those rules at any other school, but it happens here, and it’s strictly enforced. There’s ways around the rules, probably, but I haven’t seen any.

I expect the first time I do have sex will be pretty sloppy or clumsy—I won’t really know what I’m doing. I don't need my future wife to also have chosen abstinence, though. I would even date a teen mother, as long as she’s driven and she has character and she has class about herself.

But my mother hopes my wife is also abstinent. My mother a praying woman. She already knew I was a boy before I was born. Seriously, she didn’t go to the hospital. She said, “I already know this is a boy.” It turned out she was right. She prays for a virgin woman for me, and it kinda came true because it kept all the girls away!

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— as told to Hannah Smothers, lightly edited for length and clarity

Hannah Smothers is a reporter for Fusion's Sex & Life section, a Texpat, and a former homecoming princess.