WAKING on her 30th birthday in August 2017, was the day Jessie Shedden had been waiting for since she was 18.
Finally, a dozen years after the average Brit, she would lose her virginity.
Jessie has spoken about her experiences in the churchCredit: Jessie Shedden
Jessie, 34, from Gwent, South Wales, opted to have sex for the first time aged 30 – rather than the UK average of 18 – after being born what she sees as a controversial ‘cult’ that outlaws birthdays, pop music and women wearing trousers or make-up.
When she finally did have sex, to a local lad who she had reconnected to from her past, she was actually still a member – and terrified of other people finding out.
But ultimately she says it was one of the best things to happen to her. “It freed me,” she says.
Now, speaking about losing her virginity for the first time, she says: “It wasn’t sexy or romantic – it was in the back of a second-hand Honda HR-V – but it was brilliant.
Jessie, pictured as a child – possibly around fourCredit: Jessie Shedden
“It was pretty teenage in a lot of ways. Just 12 years too late.”
And she told how she was so paranoid about falling pregnant, despite using condoms (she wasn’t able to access any other contraception), she fretted for days.
“I sneaked away on my 30th birthday and had sex with him as a present to myself. “It wasn’t earth-shattering or even particularly good – it certainly wasn’t romantic – but I felt the most free I had done in years.”
Growing up in Somerset, Jessie was the youngest of eight children.
At one week, she – like her brothers and sisters – was inducted into the evangelical Christian organisation called the Exclusive Brethren which is now known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
“My parents’ families had been in it for generations,” she says.
Jessie when she was about 18Credit: Jessie Shedden
“From the outside, my childhood home looked normal. But inside, we didn’t have a TV or radio, and there were no story books allowed, only religious pamphlets. Pop music was banned and I had no posters on my bedroom walls.
“We followed a strict interpretation of the Bible and our lives were set up to avoid contact with ‘evil’ outsiders.
“Each family saw itself as a self-contained bubble of purity, with women covering their heads in public and forbidden from wearing trousers, make-up and jewellery, or cutting their hair. Our lives were lived for God, and anything ‘frivolous’ such as birthdays, holidays or pets were outlawed.”
The lifestyle meant Jessie, who describes the organisation as a “cult”, was taught at home and so didn’t know anything about sex.
“I was homeschooled so I missed out on all the playground talk of kissing and boys,” she says.
“I never saw hanky panky at school or public displays of affection. There was no sex education, changing for PE or gossip with fellow girls over lunch and break times.
It wasn’t earth-shattering or even particularly good – it certainly wasn’t romantic – but I felt the most free I had done in years.
“The concept of contraception was completely alien – for years I didn’t even know it existed.”
Aged around 11 she asked her parents how babies were made.
“I asked if God gave people babies and it was briefly and fleetingly explained with scant detail,” she says. “There was a lot of shame surrounding it and I was left in virtual ignorance.
“The same explanations surrounded key events like when I got my period.”
But Jessie was curious and desperate for more concrete information she used money from her part-time job at her dad’s business, to get to her nearest town Yeovil and bought a scientific text from Waterstone’s about sex.
“I studied it secretly under the covers at nighttime for hours, desperate for information about how babies were made – anything really,” she says. “I had older sisters but didn’t feel I could ask them about it.
Jessie, pictured today, is happy in a relationship with DaiCredit: Jessie Shedden
“However, the book was discovered by parents and I was told off so that put an end to that.
“By 14, I was beginning to feel aroused and wanted to know why I was.”
Jessie, who says she believes that the church viewed her as “trouble”, described her encounters with males as limited.
“All socialising was with other Brethren families, and we’d often have meals together after church,” she says. “There was no option to meet other boys. I wasn’t even allowed in close proxemity with members of the opposite sex unless it was my father or brother.”
But aged 18 everything changed when she met a 42-year-old local lad, not a church member, through her dad’s work.
“It was strictly forbidden for us to be friends, but we grew closer and would secretly meet up,” she says.
Jessie told how she lost her virginity in the back of a carCredit: Jessie Shedden
“This went on for four years until in 2008 I was followed by someone from the Brethren who saw me with him and told my parents.”
They forced the relationship to end, causing her much distress. But it also made her realise she wanted a much different life.
“But I also knew that meant never seeing my family again,” she says. “Despite everything, I loved them too much to consider leaving. It was suggested I marry a man from the Brethren in Australia, but as arranged marriages weren’t enforced, I refused.”
In February 2016 Jessie’s mum, then 66, was diagnosed with colon cancer, dying in June 2018. This made Jessie realise how short life was and how unhappy she was.
And she also realised how desperate she was to experience a sexual relationship.
It was in the back of a second-hand Honda HR-V – but it was brilliant.
“In December 2016 I reached out to the only man I’d even felt sexually attracted to – the bloke I’d known when I was 18,” she says. “I approached him via his workplace. I was still in the cult so it was clandestine.
“We met for walks and I quickly realised I wanted to have sex with him.
“It wasn’t a case of ‘getting it out the way’ but a desire to experience things most people my age already had.
“But, of course I was also hugely out-of-touch.I wasn’t on contraception.”
On her 30th birthday, the couple drove to a country lane and got down to business.
“It was decidedly not mind-blowing,” she says. “We were in the back of the car and I was so, so paranoid about getting body fluids anywhere.
Jessie has been open about leaving the churchCredit: Jessie Shedden
“But I was so glad it was over. It wasn’t romantic, nothing to write home about. It was really awkward and I couldn’t get away for very long. But I was beaming from ear-to-ear.”
After a few months the liaisons ended but it made a huge impact on her. “I left the Brethren,” she says.
“I bought a new mobile phone that I hid and secretly put a deposit on a rented house nearby. But just before I was due to leave in early December 2017, the Post Office wrote to Dad, who owned our property, to confirm the redirection I had set up for my post. When I admitted everything, my parents were heartbroken. The church leaders tried to persuade me to stay, and mum stood at the door, pleading with me not to go, but I knew I had to stay strong and I made myself drive off.
“When I arrived at my new home, I was in shock. It was scary, but exciting too. From the age of 31 I had many firsts.”
In December 2019 she met her now-fiance Dai, 63, when he came to sort out a pest problem at her farm where she keeps chickens.
“We just hit it off,” she says. “He’s my soulmate.
She says Dai is her ‘soulmate’Credit: Phototrinity.com
“I associate more with older people, I wasn’t around people my own age and I found them immature so I have always fancied older men.
“I moved in with him in March 2020 which I know sounds mad but it works. We’re getting married and I don’t think we’ll have kids.
“When I look back at my life I am so glad I am where I am now. Dai is wonderful, I can have sex freely and I am much happier.”
A church spokesman said: “Ms Shedden’s decision to no longer attend our church is a personal choice and we wish her the very best.
“We strongly refute any allegation that Ms Shedden’s experiences are linked to the lifestyle and practices of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
“The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church is a mainstream Christian Church, which follows the teachings of the Holy Bible. Our 18,000 members have been proud to live and work in communities across the UK for nearly 200 years and we fully embrace the British values of individuality and mutual respect.”
Meanwhile, this woman lost 15 years of her life after joining a cult.
And learn more about the Children of God cult – where brave survivors have shared their disturbing stories.
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