There are huge advantages to being a 31-year-old virgin, says writer Anna Broadway, whose popular blog “Sexless in the City,” ultimately led to a book contract with Doubleday. You don’t have to worry about pregnancy or diseases. You don’t invest too much in relationships that only go halfway. You never have to suffer through bad sex. You get the security that comes with grounding all your decisions in your principles. When Broadway (not her real name) does a cost-benefit analysis, she often comes out ahead of her sexually active friends.
But there are downsides, too, like when your blind date turns into a cross-examination. It happened to Broadway recently, when she agreed to go out with a guy she’d met on Chemistry.com, even though he didn’t share her religious views. “I had put on my profile, ‘I’m looking for people who, basically, have the same religion. Not that it means we’re gonna be on the same page, but I’ve dated enough people … to realize if that’s not there, they will never even be willing to consider the no-sex-unless-you’re-married thing.” Chemistry.com guy didn’t fit the bill, but took it upon himself to contact Broadway anyway. After a few e-mails, she agreed to meet — not expecting the date to become a sparring match. “I thought I had been pretty clear for initial communication, but maybe guys don’t read things as closely as I like to imagine that they do,” she said. “Somehow it was sort of made more clear early in the date, and I think he was just taken aback by that.” Broadway then spent two or three hours defending herself. It was exhausting, she said, but nothing she hadn’t experienced before.
Broadway has a long narrow face and charcoal-brown hair that reaches the small of her back. She’s shrewd, pretty in a classical sort of way, and not the type of woman who would suffer for lack of suitors. Yet Broadway seems to have acclimated to a spinster lifestyle — for the time being, at least. She works at a medical nonprofit in San Francisco, lives in Richmond with three like-minded Christian singles, attends church every Sunday, and likes to knit on her spare time. When she does go on dates, Broadway makes no bones about being a virgin. But she doesn’t usually let on about her biggest claim to fame — a three-hundred-page “memoir of reluctant chastity” that’s inspired its own cult of fandom.
The book started with a blog, and the blog started with Broadway’s misadventures as a young temp worker in Brooklyn, with an abortive quest to find Mr. Right. Broadway was 26-years old and had recently earned an MA in religious studies from Arizona State University, where she edited the school paper. After one year of working for a textbook publisher, she found herself broke, unemployed, overeducated, and looking for love — albeit love without sex. Dates with various romantic prospects — “the Talker,” “Ad Weasel,” “Slobberguy,” “Sarge,” “the Captain,” “5 Percent Man” — had left her with a bad case of the single-girl blues. Still, they made grist for some terrific stories. “I started to realize, ‘Gosh, I keep telling these stories of random things with men to my friends, and they seem entertained and amused, or whatever.’ Somehow that led to thinking of doing this blog.”
In 2004, blogs were just starting to catch on. To Broadway, the format was ideal. She didn’t really know how to write without an audience, but she also didn’t have thick enough skin to blind-pitch a bunch of publications. Up until then, her main outlet had been a weekly e-mail update sent to family members and friends, with fairly upbeat tidbits about living on $50 a week, or singles life in New York. Broadway launched “Sexless in the City” on Blogger and began posting about four or five times a week.
Never underestimate the power of a jilted blogger with a little marketing ingenuity. Within a few weeks of starting the blog, Broadway began a guerrilla publicity campaign. She advertised “Sexless” to the personals section of Craigslist, in cities throughout the US, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Her ads were fairly cryptic, always including a hyperlink to “Sexless” without actually mentioning the word “blog.” (Craigslist eventually preempted this type of marketing by restricting use of hyperlinks.) Thus, she got a lot of one-time clickers who realized they’d been duped and then left. But some people got sucked in by the subject matter and the quality of the writing. Broadway emphasized “chastity” as a theme but didn’t use “the ‘V’ word,” or explain her reasons for being sexless. She had a way of leading people on. In the first month, her blog garnered 10,000 page views.
Sheer doggedness eventually led Broadway to a book deal. Undeterred by her first unsuccessful meeting with a New York agent — he told Broadway she’d have to get a job at Condé Nast and work her way up through the ranks, comparing the process to Dante’s Inferno — Broadway eventually found someone to promote her work, and landed the Doubleday contract through a friend of a friend. By then, “Sexless” had existed for less than a year, and Anna Broadway had already been cited in Rolling Stone as a credible source on chastity. She was a 31-year-old virgin with a certain sort of cachet.
Broadway’s memoir, Sexless in the City, provides a full backstory for the blog, with hardly any overlap. It qualifies as intellectual chick-lit but contains an underlying message about faith and accountability. Somehow, Broadway manages to put that message forth without proselytizing. In fact, there’s a disconnect between the real-life Anna Broadway — who enjoys wagging her finger at our lascivious society — and the shy, self-conscious, sensual Anna Broadway who emerges in Sexless. In the memoir, Anna grows up in a house with lots of Bible reading and no TV until her sophomore year of high school (at which point she promptly falls in love with a Diet Coke commercial featuring a shirtless construction worker). She spends her teenage years reading Harlequin romance novels and swooning over Etta James. In college, she threw a whole wardrobe of tight-fitting tops in the Dumpster, just to show her commitment to God. In adulthood, she occasionally gets seduced by the idea of being useful to somebody. Her shortcomings and insecurities are the book’s saving grace because they help humanize Anna Broadway for a non-Christian audience.
In high school, she aspired to be the world’s best virgin writer of romance novels. Fifteen years later, she’s become a reluctant poster child for chastity: i.e., Erica Jong in reverse. Broadway admits she’s a bit flummoxed by modern hook-up culture — she can’t understand why most women are more protective of their bank accounts than their bodies — but she’s not necessarily trying to foist her views on everyone else. “Do I think people would be healthier if they ate more vegetables? Yeah. And I’m gonna encourage some of my friends who don’t eat vegetables to eat vegetables.” But virginity is an entirely different sales pitch: “You talk about it the way you’d talk about using a Macintosh computer, or something. It’s not like Amway. It’s not like you have an investment in the other person making the choice that they will.” Broadway is well aware that few people will ever glom onto her world view, whether or not they like the book.
But she wants her friends to stop having bad sex.
Find Anna Broadway at AnnaBroadway.blogspot.com