Miss America Explains How and Why She Says No to Sex

updated 11/26/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/26/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

After the Vanessa Williams affair, the Miss America Pageant officials were understandably delighted when Utah's Sharlene Wells won the crown. After all, the 20-year-old daughter of a banker-turned-church-leader is a devout Mormon. Currently on leave from Brigham Young University, Sharlene crochets, plays the harp and collects soap—250 bars at last count. She wouldn't even look at a naughty picture, let alone pose for one. In a candid conversation with assistant editor Deirdre Donahue, Wells reveals why she resists the temptation of premarital sex and explains how others can learn to say no. It's not easy, the attractive blonde admits: "People look at me and say, 'You're 20 years old and still a virgin—what's wrong with you?' "

Isn't it awfully old-fashioned to wait until you're married?

Marriage is very important to me, so I'm saving myself. I am not a person to be taken lightly, especially when it comes to dating. I'm normal: I enjoy boyfriends and I enjoy kissing. But as I grew up, I realized I was a private, modest person. I'm keeping myself to myself until there is someone so special that I want to be one with him in marriage.

Have you ever been tempted?

In the middle of the night, in certain situations, it seems so easy. I've asked myself, "What's the big deal?" Afterward, though, I am so glad that I didn't. Everything—TV, movies, commercials—makes sex seem easy, but it's not. So often girls think, "I have to do it to please him," but later they feel awful, particularly when he runs off with another girl. I never have to worry about seeing old boyfriends because I have nothing to look back on with shame or embarrassment.

But don't you think the sexual urge is a normal one?

Certainly. I think sex is important, and I do think about it, but I also believe that people don't think about sex 900 times a day, which is how television and a lot of movies present it. I think that degrades people; it lowers them. To me it's vulgar. I just don't see life that way.

Do you ever feel you're missing out on all the fun?

Not at all. You haven't seen my life. I don't need fantasy, I don't need drugs, I don't need alcohol. I can have fun hiking or playing sports—just getting to know people. I party to have fun, not to escape from problems.

When did you start dating?

I was asked out once when I was 13, and I wasn't asked out again until I was 17. I had crushes on all the guys but they never asked me out, in part because of my background. It hurt when a guy I liked didn't ask me out, but in other ways I was glad. I never wanted anyone to use me for all that "I want your body" stuff.

What's your favorite first date?

Playing racquetball, particularly if it's a blind date. You're sweaty, you're natural, you're normal. I want guys to see me as down-to-earth. I also love it when a guy takes control—opens the door, helps me with my coat, leads me around.

What if he tries to control you right into bed?

No boy has ever treated me with disrespect. I'm affectionate, believe me, but a guy can tell. If necessary, I just say, "Hey, you know my religion. I don't have to spell it out. You're too intelligent." That says it all. I also avoid revealing clothing and low necklines. The way I carry myself tells men that I am not a person to be played around with.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Yes, he's a student at Brigham Young and a fellow Mormon, although I have dated non-Mormons. Our similar backgrounds help because I don't have to sit there going no, no, no, and he doesn't have to tell me no, no, no. He also dates other girls. We both believe that it's good to know a whole range of people so that when it comes down to marriage, you know you've picked the right person.

Would you date a man who wasn't a virgin?

Well, I believe in the power of repentance, so I guess so.

What advice would you give a teenage girl or boy about to start dating?

Look way down the road. Make up your mind before you go out on a date. Don't just flow into things you don't want to do. So many girls forget they have minds; they think they have to sell themselves on the basis of their looks. Most of all, think of the consequences.

Do you think men should refrain from premarital sex?

Absolutely! I don't believe in the double standard. The guys in our church certainly refrain. Men can and should. Maybe one of the reasons Mormons get married fairly young is because we've bottled things up, but we do wait for marriage. It's hard, but it can be done.

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