Virginity: New & Improved!

Yes, I was a virgin on my wedding day. Then again, I was only 20. Yes, remaining a virgin until my wedding day saved me from some romantic heartbreak. Then again, I’ve had other heartbreaks. Yes, chastity is special. Then again, so are lots of virtues. Except, as a 20 year old bride, I thought virginity was extra-extra special and would win me lots of special prizes like: a happily ever after marriage.

It took me a long time to realize I idolized virginity. I kept saying I was just promoting virtue and chastity and purity! Nothing wrong with pushing purity, right? Nothing wrong with Being Good!

Like other Christians, I talked about the “sacrifice” of abstinence. There were princess-themed books about saving our first kiss. Some of us wore purity rings and made pledges to our Daddies not to have sex until we’re married.

Ultimately, we implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.

I understand why we do this. Christians are alarmed by what we see as a sexually permissive society. America no longer seems to share our values. This scares us. The less sacred sex seems to the broader culture, the more sacred we insist on making it among fellow Christians.

The intention might be good but over-emphasizing the specialness of virginity has unintended, harmful consequences.

We start by making ridiculous promises to our daughters. We tell them that “sexual purity” is a guarantor of a more intimate married sex life. We tell them that if they “lose” their purity, they will never really get it back. Oh, yes. They can be forgiven. But. You know. They’re damaged goods.

Christians say that the world objectifies women through immodest dress and a permissive sexual ethic. However, by idolizing sexual purity and preoccupying ourselves with female modesty and an emphasis on hyper-purity, Christians actually engage in reverse objectivization. 

Yes, we Christians say, we believe in the inherent dignity of all human life. But we especially believe in it if that human life is virginal, wears a purity ring and bleeds on her wedding night.

This is harmful and, dare I say, idolatrous.

Virtue is self-evident. It is virtuous simply because it is virtue.

Virtue doesn’t require a bunch of after-market purity rings and virginity pledges to make it more awesome. Virtue can’t be improved upon.

There is no such thing as New & Improved Virginity.

Whenever we seek to improve upon virtue, we are actually creating an idol. Furthermore, by elevating virginity to the ethereal realms of unicorns and angels, we place an unfair burden upon the shoulders of real, human beings.

And that’s what concerns me the most. The New & Improved Virginity places a heavy weight of shame upon women—even those who are virgins.

I was a virgin and I didn’t feel “pure enough”  because I’d kissed a couple boys before my husband. I was a virgin and I felt horribly defiled because I’d discovered this crazy, secret thing called masturbating. I was a virgin and I was disappointed to realize that my ‘sacrifice’ didn’t automatically result in a happily ever after marriage.

I was a virgin and I felt superior to “damaged” women. The purity culture showed no compassion for me so I had no compassion for myself or women who had “chosen” to “give away” their virtue.

So, here’s the thing. I absolutely reject the idolizing and fetishizing of virginity.

I refuse to sit down with my daughter and have a Purity Talk because I have this thing called a relationship with her. We talk everyday. Boys and sex and romantic relationships come up as casual topics, in the midst of daily, real-life together.

It would be just plain awkward—not to mention, harmful and distasteful—to make a whole scene out of it complete with marching bands, purity rings, pledges, purity balls and whatever else. 

And anyway, my daughter is inherently precious simply because she exists. Her worth and dignity as a human being have NOTHING to do with what she does or doesn’t do. Yes, we talk about virtue. But mostly, we live it. And when we mess up we have compassion for our humanity.

We are human. We are worthy. We are not ashamed.

What was YOUR experience with purity culture?
Did it have an impact on your married sex life?
How do YOU talk about sex and relationships with YOUR kids?
ANONYMOUS COMMENTS OK! 

 please read my followup post: Am I being soft on sin?

  • http://www.natureofaservant.com/ Andee Z

    My mother STILL won’t talk about sex with me. And I’m 42. I talk with my girls about it often. They aren’t afraid to bring it up and ask me questions. They are 12 and 10. I’m praying this will be beneficial for their future relationships – and that I’m not just causing them to seek therapy at an earlier age. :)

    • Dawn @ TheMommaKnows.com

      Yep. My mom had “the talk” with me in 5th grade when we watched the girls movie about sex and periods, and again when I was 14 and she found out I wasn’t a virgin any more. Her words were “You CANNOT have sex because I SAID SO!” Um. OK Mom. We have always had open dialogue with our kids about it. Not all of our grown kids stayed virgins. I still love them. ;)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Regarding “the talk”, my father always said he’d tell me “when you’re old enough to understand”. He died when I was 40, without ever telling me.

      So my sex ed was do-it-yourself, through books, locker-room talk, and exposure to porn. Add in pressure to “be normal — get laid get laid get laid” and stories about “women want one thing and one thing only” and female sexcapades and greedy gold diggers, plus bad experiences with RL women and…

      Now, as a 57-year-old male virgin with a deep deep distrust of RL women (I’ve always empathized with fictional characters more than RL people), I found a very charming version of “the talk” and why it’s so important — in a My Little Pony fanfic of the same name:
      http://www.fimfiction.net/story/2920/the-talk

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessicaanne698 Jessica Anne

    I couldn’t stand the constant “youth group police” that would take you on one side at parties or meetings and let you know if they thought you were being too familiar. I once got told “you really need to watch your physical boundaries”. I cried because I was so embarrased and ashamed. Virginity was the be all and end all of Christian witness, it was the one thing guarenteed to bring friends to Christ and to please God. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the pressure, let alone the horrific demonisation of sex which was a sure fire road to who knows where. It still makes me feel guilty.

    • Hope

      Good comment. Do you (and anyone else reading) recommend the use of the topic of “sin” when premarital sex is discussed with children? Or is that too shameful? Is there reason to still talk about sin? How do we talk about sins without dehumanizing sinners?

      • Retha Faurie

        I believe in using the word sin when talking of sex outside of marital commitment. But do it with both sexes, and do not include the state of the hymen, as being raped is no sin. And mention that being molested is not sin.
        (Ps: An engaged couple who do it with the wedding invitations sent out is not, IMO, outside marital commitment. And some cohabiting couples are more committed than some couples who marry and stay married for less than a year. But intimacy is really only suitable for permanent commitment.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jessicaanne698 Jessica Anne

        For me, marriage as we practice it today is kinda based on some idealised Victoriana and I think we need to rediscover what marriage means- commitment, partnership, faithfulness rather than just a “wedding”! I think the Bible preaches sexual responsibility and that’s the standpoint I’d take- that we have a responsibility to honour ourselves and eachother sexually throughout our lives, rather than go for a “sex before marriage is a sin” which really means “sex before a wedding is a sin” which isn’t the same thing.

  • Kristen

    I grew up Catholic and the whole idea of purity rings and pledges just started coming into mainstream Protestant sects en masse and bleeding over into Catholicism by a dribble when I was a teen. Thankfully, it never fully took over. I had not only great parents who did what you are doing in conjunction with talking about sex, boys, dating, marriage, etc but a great youth leader and priest who stressed you could have all the outward “symbols” but nothing mattered but viewing virginity and chastity as a gift God had given you and speaking to Him most about it. Between a teen and God you say? Well, it worked for a lot of us and I didn’t feel undue pressure and neither did most of my friends either.

    The whole idea of pledging ones purity to one’s father or a girl to her Daddy, really creeps me out. No, your earthly father is not the same as the heavenly one (which I know is the common response to that). And it appears just another way that women learn to be lesser than men in their worth. Not to mention, promising your purity or virginity to your earthly father almost makes it sound as if he is laying claim to it. And that could be a ripe excuse for a variety of abuses, not the least of which could be sexual.

    • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

      I grew up in a fairly lax Catholic background. We never talked about sex in Church. We didn’t talk about it much at home either, except “Don’t, until you are married. Because it’s a sin and you might get a girl
      pregnant.”

      Now that I am married and able to talk to my parents about sex, I know that they had a very positive view of sex, but thought they had a duty as parents to scare me into not doing it. They weren’t very strict or religious, they were simply uncomfortable about talking about it in a positive way because they didn’t want to encourage me to do something that might damage my future. Didn’t work.

      What was damaging was when we did get married and stumbled into the “Cult of NFP”. These are very conservative Catholics who take a very technical view of sex. Only specific sexual activities are allowed and all others are evil. There is little to no discussion of the relationship or making responsible decisions about sex. Just that making babies is good and sexual pleasure is dangerous. Because I had no frame of reference, I was very confused about what we should or should not be doing. I had little guilt about premarital sex, but we had all sorts of problems about married sex. “I want you and you want me. We don’t want a baby. What’s wrong with this? Why is this lust? I’m confused.”

      But the “Cult of NFP” was wrong: Wanting sex in marriage is a generally a good, relationally healthy, thing.

      There is a lot of good in Catholic teaching about sex. NFP/FAM is a fantastic and very healthy method of family planning, once you figure it out. But the “Cult of NFP” is teaching incorrect theology and spreading very relationally harmful views about sex.

      I am seeing “Purity culture” creeping into Catholic culture, which is unfortunate, but it’s not making the same inroads as it did in the Protestant world. Purity culture + Catholic sexual ethics is a toxic combination.

      (Shameless self-promotion) I will have my own post up about this probably later this week.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I just don’t think the “Purity” culture works with Catholic ethics. We see sex as a beautiful thing, created by God–to be enjoyed once you’re married. My parents did the whole “do not have sex before you’re married” thing, and it stuck. (Still waiting…) it wasn’t scary when they did it, it was just sort of “don’t have sex. Don’t do drugs.” (Course one of those I would be able to do…eventuuuuuuallllllyyyy….)

        • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

          For mainstream Catholics, no, they do not mix.

          The “Cult of NFP” is spreading bad doctrine. They are turning it into a series of rules, occasionally enforced with fear of hellfire. A lot of converts (especially evangelical converts) and poorly catechized Catholics get caught up in that because they don’t know any better. And the Bishops don’t know that much about sex in marriage for obvious reasons.

          There is also a LOT of Church politics behind all that as well. Contraception became a proxy for a whole host of other issues that had more to do with Church authority and governance than with sexuality.

          The official teaching is quite beautiful, although a bit idealistic. Approach the issue from a perspective of women’s health/fertility awareness + Catholic theology and it’s amazing. But that’s not always what is presented.

          • Anonymous

            One quibble: the part about Bishops not knowing much about sex. Well, OK, in the physical sense, yes, but Bl. John Paul II gave us some of the most beautiful teachings about sex and humanity (ie, Love and Responsibility, Theology of the Body). Celibacy doesn’t mean you don’t know about love and human relationships.
            As for idealism, well, Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

          • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

            I am well aware of JPII’s writings. They are very beautiful and well thought out, BUT there are still some sections where I can tell he has never actually been married. For example, he assumes determining fertility is relatively easy, when this is not always the case. How do you live an ideal lifestyle with a broken body?

            The problem with the Bishops is not in their ideals, but in their pastoral guidance. They don’t know how to guide couples toward the ideal, nor are they fully aware of how harmful the “Cult of NFP” can be. I think because they don’t feel comfortable in this area, they have delegated the responsibility to others, and this hasn’t always worked well.

          • Anonymous

            Well, all of our bodies are broken. Original sin saw to that.
            I agree the bishops could probably do a better job with this, or priests, or both.

          • Anonymous

            “Broken bodies” in this case refers, I believe, specifically to those of us women whose bodies didn’t/don’t follow the “normal” 28-35 day cycles or have other reproductive difficulties. NFP, with which I am only somewhat familiar, bases “contraception” on having sex when you are not fertile. But with that, you have an assumed premise that a) the woman is “regular,” and b) that she is ovulating nearly every month. Very hard to follow this joyous, “it will bring you so much closer together” program when you don’t fit the schedule. I have to say, I have never heard of NFP people suggesting that sex is only for procreation. Not saying that doesn’t happen, but I know a few people who have used it, and that’s not something I have ever heard from them.

          • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

            Sort of. But the problem isn’t irregular cycles (NFP can handle that) but reproductive difficulties that lead to long periods of abstinence or few available days.

            Short, regular cycles can be a lot harder than long infertile cycles.

          • Mel

            I have been reading these comments about “the cult of NFP” and just clued in that it is “Natural Family Planning”….I was reading it as “Not For Pleasure” hahaha oops

  • http://queenlucythevaliant.blogspot.com/ Lucy The Valiant

    I was raised in exactly this kind of purity culture, and it unfortunately had the opposite of its intended effect on me. The whole atmosphere surrounding the doctrine of purity felt horribly degrading to me and I turned my back on it. I was so sick of feeling that my worth as a young woman had to do only with the condition of my body and nothing to do with my mind or spirit. If my future husband thought the greatest, most precious gift I could give to him was an intact hymen, then I wanted nothing to do with him.
    I think abstinence is good. I wish I had been a virgin when I met my husband. I’m not sorry for rejecting that dehumanizing attitude, though. And when I talk to our daughters about sex someday I will NEVER reduce them pieces of meat that can be spoiled or unspoiled.

    • http://twitter.com/portofbyblos Tara S

      Me too!! I wish it were easier to just say that premarital abstinence is a very valuable thing that is hard to properly appreciate before you are married, but it is NOT a reflection on *personal* value.

  • JessieLeigh

    “Her worth and dignity as a human being have NOTHING to do with what she does or doesn’t do.” <–BOOM.

    This, to me, is so critical. Our worth, as women and as humans, is not determined by some checklist… "Virgin? Check. No exposed cleavage? Check. Never smoked a cigarette? Check. Never challenged patriarchal authority? Check. Congratulations, you have value!" It is demeaning– and damaging– to reduce our worth and dignity to such things. It's also an embarrassing over-simplification of our relationships with one another and with God.

    Thanks, EE, for having the courage to say it.

  • KatR

    The burden of this is totally on the women. I mean, yes, there is lip service given (pardon the pun) to men not having sex until they are married, but you don’t hear about purity balls where a teenaged boy puts on a suit and his mother pledges to Jesus to stand guard over his junk until she hands it over to his wife on the wedding day.

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy in this Journey

      “purity balls where a teenaged boy puts on a suit and his mother pledges to Jesus to stand guard over his junk until she hands it over to his wife on the wedding day.” SNORT!!! Seriously! I would LOVE to see that. Come on people – let’s be consistent here.

      • KatR

        Some consistency would be great. Why is it that it’s only the girl who is the bitten apple or the second hand necklace or one of the other horrid metaphors that reduce people to damaged property/objects?

        • Anonymous

          That’s ALWAYS the way it is, I’m discovering. Modesty, sex…it’s always on the woman. To this I say–NO.

      • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

        We need a “Hawkeye Initiative” for this.

        http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/

    • http://www.facebook.com/mary.guess.31 Mary Guess

      YES. =) (not that I’m advocating purity culture for either gender, but at least let’s be consistent!)

    • Anonymous

      I don’t see it as beneficial to mock the good intentions of a parent just because you disagree with them. I am certainly more moved and saddened by choosing this road with my daughter because of respectful posts like Elizabeth’s than I would be by your sarcasm.
      You are right, the men need as much responsibility as the women in this but making fun of parents who are trying what they know and what seems right is a poor path to take.
      Parents like myself who bought a ring for their daughter need as much grace as anyone. We are trying to forgive ourselves as we learn to do the most important task of our lives. Please respect that.

      • KatR

        Hi Anon,

        I’m not mocking your good intentions as a parent. I am mocking the load of guilt (not to mention books, rings, etc) that churches are selling to parents under the guise of godliness.

        I don’t come at this from an outsiders perspective. I was in a nightmare of a church during college, my twenties and early thirties where my every interaction with men was heavily policed. It was made very clear that sexual sin was just under murder (or actually, it might have been better to kill someone than to sleep with someone). I don’t think I had or saw one interaction between single men and women that wasn’t laced with control and anxiety. I deal with all of that by making fun of it. I’m sorry that I caused you pain. It wasn’t my intention at all.

      • Lisa

        Along with KatR’s response (below), I think it’s worthwhile to point out that parents’ “good intentions” in the purity culture are often loaded with double standards. Boys in all the churches I attended (my parents moved frequently, so it was a lot!) were allowed to do many more things than girls, because girl were considered “weaker.” We were constantly shamed into corners while our male counterparts had all the freedom — often under the guise of “teaching young women to be pure and keepers at home.” We had all the purity rituals thrust upon us, we were policed for every detail of what we wore, etc. Boys were not. While I undertand that my parents (and many others) had “good” intentions, their intentions still led to damaging, duplicitous double-standards. As a woman who’s almost 30 (and happily married now), it’s taken me a dozen years or more to come out of my shell (thanks to the patient encouragement of my husband and other fine men in my life) and start becoming the courageous, quietly confident woman I now understand God has for me to be in Him. All my parents’ good intentions didn’t help that. I’m not bitter at them. But I refuse to look at their actions through rose-colored glasses. Truth is still truth, even if it’s hard. Intentions do not erase the outcome of choices.

      • RedV

        You missed the point of KatR’s post. And you must be carrying a lot on your shoulders related to parenting your child with respect to purity. It seems like a lot of guilt spilled out unintentionally on another commenter. I hope you’re able to forgive the commenter, but more importantly yourself for whatever is really going on here.

    • http://www.heretichusband.com/ Heretic Husband

      That would give a whole new meaning to purity “balls”.

  • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy in this Journey

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as my kids are growing older and asking more questions. I think there’s another harm that we don’t talk about in the purity culture – that of the relationship in which one person is a virgin and one is not. We don’t prepare each other for that possibility, we don’t talk about grace and forgiveness and second chances. By elevating virginity to the point of idolatry, we do great harm to those who don’t have it to give to their spouse, and to the spouses who are unequipped for that circumstance. And what of those who were abused and had their virginity stolen? It’s just terrible all the way around.

    • Shannon

      Exactly!! I was a virgin and my husband wasn’t, and I had no idea how to handle that! No one told me that was a possibility! I thought that surely if I had saved myself for my husband, God would give me a husband who had saved himself for me. We struggled a lot as we tried to reconcile his past with my expectations. He felt guilty about something he did when he didn’t even know me and hadn’t been taught about “saving himself”, and I was mad at God for giving me someone “not pure” after I saved myself. I thought it would affect us for the rest of our marriage, but thankfully, 8 years later, it isn’t an issue. But I want my daughters to have a different perspective.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        And considering Purity Culture(TM) usually only applies to girls, “I was a virgin and my husband wasn’t” must be a pretty common occurrence.

    • Mistie Holler

      Yes, I think you’re right. I was in a relationship with a guy who was a virgin and who was horrified – I mean, really heartbroken and crushed – that I wasn’t. He said he wasn’t sure if he could handle being with me. At first I was angry with him for his reaction – as if I wasn’t worth any more than just my virginity. He insisted that it wasn’t about whether I was a virgin or not; it was about whether I would be able to forget the past experiences or whether they had coloured my expectations and experiences of sex, and whether sex could ever be ‘special’ between us. I recognised how hard that was for him to deal with and I wish that at some point in his life it had occurred to him that he might want to be with someone who was a non-virgin.
      Anyway, as time went on, whenever we talked about it I noticed certain words and phrases creeping into the conversation from his side. I was ‘used’; I didn’t ‘keep myself clean’; I was like a coffee mug that someone else had drunk from; I had ‘less value as a wife’ than a virgin. That killed my sympathy, along with any sense that this person actually loved me. He couldn’t see that someone who has had sex may be as ‘pure’ as someone who hasn’t, because the church defined purity as virginity. And as virginity can be lost but never regained, so must purity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        As a 57-year-old who saved himself for a marriage that never came, I think I know where your ex-boyfriend was coming from. Because I’ve been there.

        Probably a matter of trust involved. He was coming from the position that “She’s done it with someone else — how do I know she’ll stay faithful to me?” Or “She left one guy she’s done; how do I know I won’t be her next ex?” That was a major factor in killing trust with me.

        And since he was a virgin, he not unreasonably expected you to be, too. (Like me, he probably figured the guy had to save himself for marriage, too — all too often even in Christianese the guy sleeps around (as long as it’s hetero) but demands virginity from his bride when he finally settles down.)

        And I’m not even touching on the possiblilty-turned-paranoia of STDs.

        In my case, I was under heavy pressure from my family to be normal/get laid while dating a cuddly amazon who said she was a virgin, too. (The only other one in Cali, ground zero of the sexual Revolution!) Of course, her claim turned out to be bogus (I found out after the breakup), which compounded the issue still further. It left me with a deep deep distrust of women, a recurring crush on fictional non-human females (currently Twilight Sparkle & Fluttershy), and a soft spot for The Handmaid’s Tale and the Taliban. (At least under Shari’a you have virgin brides who WILL stay faithful…)

        • Mistie Holler

          I also see where my BF was coming from. I read an article recently in which it said that something like 70% of women admitted to having had better sex in a previous relationship than in their current one. I think that’s a horrible situation to be in and as far a I’m concerned it’s probably the best non-religious argument against sex before marriage. I’m a firm believer that when you’re with someone it should be because they rock your world, and you should be able to tell them freely, honestly and frequently that they are THE BEST in every possible way – especially in an arena as intimate and vulnerable as the marriage bed.
          Having said that, sex with someone you love and are crazy about is totally different and waaay better than casual sex. I know that because I’ve experienced casual sex, and it’s awkward and clumsy and embarassing and also great fun – but ultimately forgettable. I haven’t experienced loving sex, but I LOVED my BF and I can honestly say that I enjoyed making out with him so much that I would have rather shared one kiss with him than had all the sex in the world with all the hot, sexually experienced men in the world. Trust, communication and attraction are the hottest things in the world. My BF’s major beef with the whole thing was that I would be comparing him sexually to someone else. And that simply would NOT have happened, for reasons outlined above. Once I was able to explain that to him, he chilled out a lot and got a bit nicer.
          As for Sharia – I hate to break it to you, but even Saudi Arabians are having a hell of a lot of casual sex. They just have operations prior to marriage to make sure they SEEM like virgins. If you have trust issues with women, then Sharia states are not the place for you. That kind of culture will turn a decent woman into a master manipulator.
          I’m sorry if I sound harsh but the idea that someone who has had sex before marriage will be unable to stay faithful is divorced from reality.There are no guarantees of fidelity in this world, and virginity at marriage certainly ain’t one. Look at Waren Beatty and Anette Bening.
          STDs is a reasonable concern, until your partner gets checked out and is given the all-clear. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for guarantees that you’re not going to catch anything.
          It’s not unreasonable to HOPE that your partner will be a virgin, but it is unreasonable to EXPECT it – practically speaking, almost all Christians will have sex before marriage. Plus, you’ve got to take into account someone’s background. I’ve known people who grew up in churhch, didn’t talk much to boys, went to all-female schools etc etc. of course it’s not difficult for them to stay virgins. Me being a virgin in my 20′s was not realistic, though. I didn’t grow up with that expectation or in a Christian home. I had my first sexual experiences at 5 years old. They were some of the only times growing up that I felt like anyone noticed me, or wanted me around.
          It’s completely unreasonable, degrading, unfair, unchristian, unloving, primitive, objectifying, misogynist and graceless to use language referencing ‘damaged goods’ when talking about someone who has had sex. Even my ex BF knows that now. I only stayed with him during that time because I had an authoritarian church yelling in my ear that ‘JEEESUS DOESN’T WANT YOU TO DUMP HIM! THINK OF BABY JEEESUS!’. I kick myself for allowing them to influence me.
          There’s a saying that I believe comes from Jordan: ‘A young girl’s life is like a pane of glass; once damaged, it can never be repaired’. That’s why they have such a relaxed attitude to honor killing. That’s why I take such a strong stand against the language of ‘damaged goods’. Because I know firsthand that no consensual sex is even half as damaging to women as the ‘damaged goods’ mentality is.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            ” 70% of women admitted to having had better sex in a previous relationship than in their current one.”

            That’s another major reason. I grew up a fast-tracked kid genius, always being compared to someone else (and always better). No matter how perfectly I did something, it was never good enough (“Couldn’t you have done this? Better?”) And I would always be thinking she was comparing me to all the other guys she’s done.

            “If you have trust issues with women, then Sharia states are not the place for you. That kind of culture will turn a decent woman into a master manipulator.”

            I also grew up with a sibling who I’m sure is either undiagnosed NPD or flat-out sociopath. Either way, manipulating everyone around him was an obsession with him. And there was a lot of general passive-aggressive behavior in general. Nothing flips me into a rage like finding out I’ve been played/manipulated. That also gives you trust issues — how do I know he/she/it isn’t manipulating me further?

        • RedV

          “She’s done it with someone else — how do I know she’ll stay faithful to me?”

          Another farce perpetuated by the purity culture.

          Gotta say I’m a bit concerned about the mentions of Shari’a Law and the Taliban mentioned in your post. That’s frightening stuff. I hope the best for you and that God will release you from your deep distrust of women and anything else you may need healing of.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beatkins Beatriz Atkins

        Many have lost their virginity in front of a TV, said a teacher once. Your testimony is interesting and sad at the same time.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, yes, yes! I pledged to be a virgin until marriage and then in college I met my would-be husband who had done the deed. I was angry that he had “given” himself to another girl during his 2-year relationship with her. I felt it wasn’t fair, that she would always have a “piece of his heart” and I wanted payback. I think I even threatened to sleep with a random guy to “make things fair.” My then boyfriend was not part of the purity movement so he thought I was crazy.

      It took me the better part of five years to realize that I had his whole heart, that he didn’t think of her when we were together, that he didn’t need to seek my forgiveness for something he had done long before we had ever met. Come to think of it, I should seek his forgiveness for the years of punishment I placed on him and our relationship as a “consequence of his impurity.” My idolization of virginity was indeed detrimental to him, myself and our relationship.

      Even though I’ve finally released the imaginary ghost that is his ex, I still have some problems with bedroom intimacy and I suspect they have to do with all of that abstinence crap I was taught at youth rallies.

  • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/ Dani Kelley

    Ohhh boy.

    The emphasis on purity and virginity was really, really damaging to me. It was hammered home so badly that after my now-husband and I had sex, we were both suicidal. Don’t get me wrong – the sex was great. It was not coerced on either side. Totally consensual, in the confines of a committed loving relationship. But because of our upbringing, the guilt and pressure we felt afterwards was enough to drive us to the worst despair. The only reason I didn’t attempt suicide was because I was afraid I could be pregnant.

    Having grown up reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion & Purity, When God Writes Your Love Story, Boy Meets Girl, and various other books, magazines, articles, etc…my self-worth was non-existent. I had a sex drive, and that was wrong. I felt like I was damaged goods by the age of 15 because I’d told a boy I loved him and let him touch me (hug me, tell me he wanted to kiss me, put his arm around me). When I later developed a porn addiction, then was sexually assaulted…I don’t have words for the constant despair I felt. I thought God allowed the assault to punish me for the addiction (and I use the word addiction when perhaps OCD-like compulsion would be a better term). It was a very, very, VERY dark time in my life. I’m still not sure what else our Christian culture expected me to do with a seemingly-raging libido and no outlet whatsoever allowed. I’m sure I should have squelched all sexual desire the same way I was expected to squelch all negative emotion. But there’s only so much a person can squelch before they cease feeling human.

    • Kristy

      Dani~what you shared here resonates with me so much. Especially the last line. I’ll write more in a bit. Redemption is a powerful thing…but wow has it taken years. Thank you!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      But there’s only so much a person can squelch before they cease feeling human.

      At which point, they become Fundagelical pastors and/or Purity Ball organizers/promoters.

  • http://heathershodgepodge@blogspot.com HeathersHodgepodge

    In my upbringing, so much importance was placed on not giving something away that “belonged” to your future husband. Girls who kissed, held hands – or worse! were “stealing” from their future spouses and would one day have to confess what they had robbed their husbands of. The analogy of a used bandaid or used bubblegum was commonly used to describe a girl who had premarital sex, with the implication that no one would want used bubblegum, and a used bandaid will no longer stick, so it is worthless. This is damaging for anyone to hear, but especially someone who was sexually abused, like I was. I never considered dating a good Christian guy because I knew that I wasn’t good enough for them. Thankfully, God provided a good Christian guy to be my husband anyway, despite what my pastors told me growing up. I’m so glad they were wrong!

    • herewegokids

      Me too. As well-intentioned people often are. And I find it …..interesting that the used bandaid or gum always represents the girl. What of the no longer virgin GUY? Oh I forgot. He’s a stud.

      • Anonymous

        Not to mention–and this confuses me, as a total outsider to purity culture–how is it possible that a little fooling around before you get married renders you a used bandaid, but once you’re a married bandaid, you go on sticking and sticking for the next fifty or sixty years? I mean, presumably the couple will have sex more often than just on their wedding night…

    • Retha Faurie

      The whole “your virginity/ kisses/ whatever belongs to your future husband” can only take you so far.
      As a young women gets older, she may later be, say 35 and single. She may conclude that her “future husband” don’t exist, that she is keeping it for nobody. There is nothing wrong with giving something away if it has no owner. That is, for example, something my brother did with the curtains a previous inhabitant of his rented apartment left there.

      But if she keeps sexually pure for herself and God, the two beings the Bible mentions she should keep pure for, her motives are immune to the disappointment (or relief) of not finding a husband.

      • Anonymous

        oh the kissing thing? DRIVES ME NUTS. “I Kissed Dating Goodbye?” Ugh that thing gave me the heebie jeebies! I mean, come on….

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Made a LOT of guys pretty gun-shy, too. Takes enough courage and motivation to come up to a girl; having her lecture you on “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” after you’ve gotten to her and said “Hi!” is NOT going to help.
          And then there’s the “How I Met My Wife” testimonies that make it look like one day God just teleported her onto his doorstep, hawt and ready. Handed right to him on a silver platter. Real encouraging to the rest of us.

  • Eh

    I wish I was STILL a virgin. I was so desperate as a young woman for a man to like me that I gave it away to the first man to pay attention to me. Reading part of JPII “Theology of the Body” helped me to reliaze that women and men are much more than a bunch of glands.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ Danielle | from two to one

    My husband and I both waited until marriage to have sex, but had somewhat realistic expectations about having Awesome Married Sex once we were husband and wife. The part we did not expect was that after years and years of conditioning, we basically had rendered ourselves asexual. Even though we had gotten married young (22 and 26), we still had 10+ years of shutting down those thoughts or associating goodness rather than shame with our sexualities.

    • http://www.lilyamongthornsblog.blogspot.com/ Rubi Ruiz

      That’s exactly what happened to me! We got so conditioned to the idea that sex was a no no and I got so used to being the goalie blocking every hand that attempted to creep up my shirt, that when we got married, it was hard to be intimate. The key, I think, is in having healthy conversations about sex and purity. It’s Biblical, but the purity culture has taken this and rolled with it to dangerous heights. I can attest to the truth of this article.

      • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ Danielle | from two to one

        Good point, Rubi. Purity culture also reinforces that guys are “only out for one thing” and that girls have to be the “goalies” as you described in upholding boundaries, which is completely anathema to developing healthy relationships, communication, and sexuality.

        • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

          Then there are the situations where the girl plays the “bad goalie”.

          “I’m officially blocking the goal, because I have to, but I don’t really want to so I’m going to leave the net wide open. I expect you and want you to use the open net despite my token resistance and if you don’t, I will take it as a sign that you are not interested in me.”

          Do I really need to explain just how unhealthy this is or how many problems this can cause in a relationship?

          • http://www.lilyamongthornsblog.blogspot.com/ Rubi Ruiz

            Hence why HEALTHY conversations about purity and sexuality are so important. Both are very negative views to adhere to.

          • Anonymous

            THANK YOU! Your description of the “bad goalie” is EXACTLY what I’ve been struggling with in my marriage of five years. I’ve never been able to understand exactly why I alternate between shame, passion and anger so very much in my intimate life with my husband. This would explain why I never want to be the one to initiate anything, why when he initiates it I work so hard to shut him down even though I really actually want him to keep going, why when I shut him down I feel unwanted and why when I “give in” I feel ashamed and dirty. WOW. Thank for your comment. This is a breakthrough for me.

          • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

            I’m glad that helped.

            I was thinking from the guy’s perspective about having to guess which goalie was tending the net. :-)

            Mixed messages are bad for everyone.

    • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

      I also wonder how much of this is biochemical: Good Christian girls often go on the pill before marriage. Unfortunately, loss of libido is a common side effect. To have your libido disappear right when sex is finally OK would be very distressing.

      • Megan

        This was actually an issue for me and my husband. I have never bought into the whole purity culture charade. As a preteen who experienced attempted rape, I had a much more thought out and frankly healthier approach to sexuality because I had to face it and understood from a whole different perspective the dangers of associated self worth with sexuality. My husband is just a wonderful romantic who wanted to only be with one woman not that religion ever really played a factor for him, so we entered into our relationship both chaste and decided together that we would make the moment special, but we didn’t want to get pregnant, so I started birth control and my libido bottomed out. It was very disheartening. Thankfully at the time I had a doctor who was very understanding and helped us find a solution that worked. However in the years since then I have moved and have had numerous issues with the way medical care professionals treat women in part because of the purity culture. They assume that because I live in the bible belt I would never be actually honest about my sexual history. It infuriates me that not only is this trend psychologically unhealthy, it is affecting the way we care for our bodies.

        • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

          We have had our share of birth control war stories. There is a lot that is wrong with women’s health and it’s not just the purity culture.

          It is a shame fertility awareness isn’t better known. It does take some effort to learn, but it’s a very healthy and effective method of family planning.

    • Mistie Holler

      A lot of pastors seem to go on and on about how great sex is when they give their abstinence sermons. “Oh, the sex you’ll have! It’ll be amazing! Look around at all the married couples here – they’re all having incredible sex!”. They do it to make the waiting seem worth it. So sexually, yeah, you’re supposed to go from nought to sixty in a day. I had a friend who was a virgin and was marrying a virgin (I think). She was certain that on their wedding night, they’d just leap on each other with pure animal lust (these people who’d only ever kissed). Turned out that he felt guilty for ‘robbing her of her innocence’, and she needed stitches.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jessica-Shifflett-Farrish/749846578 Jessica Shifflett Farrish

        I know it’s horrible, but I had to laugh at your post!! Seriously?

        • Mistie Holler

          Yep, seriously (and in keeping with the spirit of this comment thread, I won’t judge you for laughing!)

      • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

        She NEEDED STITCHES?!? What. The. Hell. :(

    • Marian

      “basically rendered ourselves asexual” Yes! There is such a thing as waiting in an unhealthy manner but, unfortunately, no focus AT ALL on teaching kids not only TO wait, but HOW TO WAIT, and with what attitudes! I married a 29 year old virgin, who was, in effect, nearly asexual. He is now becoming my ex-husband after many long, painful years.

  • Kate

    I didn’t hold hands with a boy until I was 15. I had virginity and purity and MASTURBATION IS DIRTY shoved down my throat. I rebelled when I was 18 and had a lot of sex with a lot of people. When I met my husband I wasn’t a good girl, but I’d also never know the intimacy of sex. THAT was what made it special and ultimately, I married him. And we’ve had issues but that was one thing our marriage has always been good at. I just want my daughter to grow up understanding the value of an intimate relationship and not the pure/impure on the eyes of God.

    And thank you for this post. I’m so grateful for finding you on the webs.

  • Kim

    My girls are 32 and 27….and I talked with them about sex WAY more than my mother talked to me about it. I also know that as I really had not begun studying the bible too much at that time, they got their religious training in their youth groups and I was always fine with what they were saying about purity. And my son, age 18 now, had the same experiences in youth group regarding purity and he’s fine as well. I guess what I did do was make sure that they knew that we all sin, and we all fall short of the glory, but that the instructions God gives are for OUR good, not for His. He knows we will fail time and again, but He loves us unconditionally. Being that society has really caved to “everything and anything is OK” I am fine with any programs that promote purity, because the kids are bombarded with all the other stuff on a constant basis, because as we all know, we cannot keep these images away from our kids anymore. They are just everywhere. So having a foundation in purity training at least a little bit, might make them think twice before engaging in sex at such a young age. As long as we let them know that no matter how we screw up, we are there for them, and most importantly, so is God.

  • Catherine

    I’m a new catholic revert, after 25 years as an evangelical. I was a virgin when I married at age 27 but now the church tells me I was never actually married, since we did not receive the sacrament from a catholic priest…For a girl who was really intent on Not sinning in that area, turns out I’ve been living in sin all along. God sure has a sense of humor and thank goodness I do too ;)

    • Susan

      Don’t despair. That’s all you have to do is talk to your pastor and have your marriage blessed in a ceremony in your local church. It is a simple and quick process. The Church wants you to be living in a “valid” marriage ( for lack of a better word) and has no intention of making you suffer. It is common for people to grow up a, leave the Church and then return after having already gotten married in another church. You are not alone. I have friends who have gone through this. Please talk to your pastor. It’s such a simple fix and it will put your mind at ease.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554685044 Stacy ‘Johannsen’ Henderlong

      No offense, but your marriage does not require a priests blessing for your marriage to be official or blessed.

      • Susan

        I only meant to offer her a solution. Unfortunately, Catherine is correct in her statement – official church teaching says that if she was baptized in the Catholic Church she was required to marry there and she is living in sin and IF that is something that causes her stress ( as it did for a friend of mine) she can have her marriage blessed. I think the Church can be really harsh in it’s language ( the whole living in sin language) and I am not a legalistic person, but if she is the kind of person who wants things done in the official sense, that’s all she has to do is get the marriage blessed. I meant nothing offensive by my suggestion. I just think back to my friend who became obsessed with the whole thing and was afraid to approach our pastor and then when she did she was completely relieved.

    • http://twitter.com/byzcathwife priest’s wife

      marriage ‘heals at the root’

      • katie

        Does it ever ;)

  • Deanna

    I agree wholeheartedly. One of the major problems with associating sexual thoughts with feelings of guilt is that those feelings remain after you are married. It has hard to feel sexy and alluring. The other issue, as Joy mentioned, is that many of these young people have already been molested by the time they make it to church youth group, and the shame that is placed on them is very unfair, as is calling out masturbation as a sin. As for me, I was raped as a teenager while wearing my purity ring and that is something that destroyed my faith in God, that He would allow that after all that I had sacrificed to remain pure. It destroyed that belief that if I obey God, blessings would follow in my life or that God would protect me.

    We don’t place that high virginity standard on other issues, like being an alcohol virgin who has never taken a sip or a cuss virgin who has never used the F word. With other “sins” (I am speaking of sex outside of marriage, not sex itself), if you mess up, you repent and “go and sin no more,” No lasting guilt, and no concept that you are now a defiled human being because you messed up that one time. That is what I want to pass on to my teenage daughters. It is little concept called grace.

  • http://leahielliott.blogspot.com/ Leah

    I grew up Mormon and was taught that sexual sins were second only to murder on the hierarchy of sin “badness.” I, too, discovered masturbation when I was around 11 and then later learned that it was against the church, and that sins that serious had to be confessed to the bishop. Mormon confession isn’t like Catholic confession. There’s no booth, no hiding. You sit in this man’s office across the desk from him and have to tell him what you did. Imagine a 13-year-old girl believing that she’s almost as bad as a murderer because she touches herself, and believing that she’ll be condemned to hell unless she goes and tells the male middle-aged bishop that she touches herself? And imagine her humiliation when a few years later, this man is her high school biology teacher and she has to go to class every day with the thought, He knows that I touch myself.

    I stayed a virgin until I was 22, but I had sex with the man I would marry three months before the wedding, for which I was excommunicated. Abusive, abusive, abusive.

    • LorieN

      After reading many of these comments, yours really touched me, and I’m so sorry this all happened to you. Yes, it’s horribly abusive. I hope you find/found a loving church family (or maybe you’ve “had it” with church.

      • http://leahielliott.blogspot.com/ Leah

        LorieN, I had “had it” with church for a while, but I’ve recently found a place to belong in the Episcopal Church. I blog about the journey, just like most of us here probably do :)

    • Anonymous

      Leah, this story just broke my heart this morning. Thank you for sharing it here with us. I’m so sorry for what happened to you. ((hugs))

      • http://leahielliott.blogspot.com/ Leah

        Thank you! I’ve healed and moved on and blogged, just like all of us! Important to share so others know they’re not alone.

  • anon

    I grew up Catholic and my parents never talked to me about sex, other than to offer some vague references to possibly ending up in hell if I did it before marriage. That was good enough to scare me while I was a in high school but as soon as I left for college, forget it. I wish I was a virgin on my wedding day. I kind of envy people who had the whole purity thing thrust on them. I can’t recall even hearing that word used much at all. Having multiple sex partners, getting pregnant and ending up with an STD, eh, not so hot. Those scars stay with you too. Very damaging. Is there even a happy medium here? What do we tell our kids ( boys and girls) No, really, what? I am at a total loss!! I have sons and I have no idea what I am supposed to tell them. I am honest about sex with them, they have great relationships with both me and my husband, yet my oldest son started dating and he and his girlfriend slept together after a short time. I found out by accident and told him I couldn’t approve of this as it was harmful to BOTH of them. For many reasons! I didn’t induce shame in him, only told him of course two teens being alone would probably end up in that situation. Have I created shame for him now? Will the girl forgive herself? Really , what the hell is a parent to do? Say okay, go for it, or NO , don’t do it you will go to hell, or well, I don’t want you to, but if you do here’s some condoms? As you can imagine from this comment I am at a loss. It should be noted, my husband is very respectful of me and women in general. I have never in my life heard him make lewd comments about women, we do not keep porno laying around, we ( my husband and I ) are quite loving with one another and have dates nights and everything. I thought I was living that whole, preach without using words thing. I worry about the girl my son slept with! Was he kind, did he talk her into something? Who is more responsible? Why did we leave them alone ( for twenty minutes!!! yes, that was all it took)

  • anonymous

    One of the great harms of *not* speaking about is that two well-meaning virgins on their wedding night can do it “wrong”. No one talked to my husband or I about it beforehand ever. He thought it was like the movies, where foreplay is optional or only lasts a couple of seconds. No one told him or me that going for it before the female is ready can cause actual pain and physical trauma. The poor guy was baffled and wanted to take me to the emergency room. I cried for an hour and thought God was punishing me, a virgin, for not being “pure enough”. The guilt and trauma plagued our marriage for years and we only recently figured out how to do it “right”. My best friend married a few years after me. I knew she was a virgin, too, so I sat her down and told her the stuff no one told me. She thanked me profusely after her honeymoon. I will be giving my daughters the same talk.

    • Anonymous

      Oh my goodness, that is so SAD!

    • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com Erin Adams

      :( Very sad! My husband and I were virgins. I knew close to nothing about sex. But, my mom sent me to see a midwife before the wedding who gave me an education. My husband & I were both very, very grateful for that. It made tons of difference for us, I think. (And the midwife had a great heavy German accent, which made some of the things she seem hilarious. My husband & I still quote her and laugh about it.)

    • Cara

      For me, the guilt and shame has come from this. We had a very similar experience. Even though we did our best to “warm up” beforehand, sex was terribly painful for me… for YEARS. I was devastated, it was so far from my expectations, after we did it “right”, too, it was so unfair. I felt like such a horrible failure because everyone knows that good Christian wives are supposed to go from 0-60 on their wedding night and be sexually satisfied, initiating tigresses ever after (at least that’s what I was told– that was their idea of having a “healthy” view of sexuality). But I couldn’t be that wife, I didn’t love having sex, but I couldn’t tell anyone that dirty secret. After six and a half years, things are better, but to be honest we still suffer the effects of the habits, associations and attitudes created in that first year.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I felt like such a horrible failure because everyone knows that good
        Christian wives are supposed to go from 0-60 on their wedding night and
        be sexually satisfied, initiating tigresses ever after (at least that’s
        what I was told– that was their idea of having a “healthy” view of
        sexuality).

        In a culture where “sexually satisfied, initiating tigresses” is always associated with WHORES WHORES WHORES? Think about it…. And then look for someone who has Trey Parker and/or Matt Stone on speed dial, because this is South Park material.

    • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

      I am surprised about how often this happens. If sex hurts, you’re doing it wrong!

      http://realcatholicloveandsex.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-honeymoon-series-myths-and.html

    • Anonymous

      I believe that every couple should read the book “Intended for Pleasure” before getting married. My husband and I were both virgins when we got married and that book have very, er… specific instructions on how to prepare yourself for sex in marriage.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      One of the great harms of *not* speaking about is that two well-meaning virgins on their wedding night can do it “wrong”.

      This anything like a high school dirty joke whose punch line is (in Japanese) “Wrong Hole! Wrong Hole!”?

      I too never understood the “No Sex at all” then the night after you say “I Do” suddenly you’re expected to be Barn-Burning Dynamite in the Sack. (Which is also too much like the “Master Everything Perfectly The First Time You Ever Attempt It” expectation I grew up with as a Cold War Kid Genius.) Realistically, I figured that two virgins would probably take a few months to figure things out and get with the program.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      He thought it was like the movies, where foreplay is optional or only lasts a couple of seconds.

      Like a rabbit, where the male hops on the female from behind, vibrates for a couple seconds, then kicks the female away before any predators can home in on them.

      No one told him or me that going for it before the female is ready can cause actual pain and physical trauma. The poor guy was baffled and wanted to take me to the emergency room.

      So instead of rushing through it rabbit- or pornstar-style, it takes time and practice to work into the rhythm and get everything ready. Makes a lot of sense; I’ve always longed for the demonstrations of physical contact and enjoying-her-presence which we now class as “foreplay” and rush through to get to the Main Event as quick as possible. It’s like the story of the Italian priest explaining wine with breakfast to some Irish-American seminarians: “You’re like the Irish! You can only think of drinking as strong as you can and as much as you can to get as drunk as you can as fast as you can.” And I would find staying lightly buzzed with “foreplay” satisfying enough even if we never got to the Main Event.

  • IrishGirl

    I’m a 24 year old ‘virgin’, I even despise using that word because it suggests a pure state that is broken by ‘deflowering’. I discuss sex with my friends but have never had intercourse with a male because of my fear of sex, of intimacy. I was brought up in an Irish catholic house where sex and mental health issues were never on topic. With the fact that my family has/had its own issues I always felt like an outsider amongst my friends. I guess you could say i haven’t met the right man yet. I am queer, so I have had sex with a woman. But the fact that virginity is so tied up with patriarchy by society’s standards I am still a virgin. And in our sex obsessed culture I am embarassed by the fact that i appear to be the only one not having bountiful amounts of sex. I don’t consider myself pure – on the other hand, another group of people would view me as frigid. I guess my own anxieties around sex and intimacy (that were never granted to me in my childhood), make me view the world through the lens of the people who have, and those who haven’t. And i don’t withhold it for religious reasons, only my mother telling me when I was 13, that “men only want one thing and you’ll be left holding the baby”. Assuming then I wouldn’t chose abortion (currently illegal in ireland).

    I’m just rambling now. But tosh to all this “purity” culture. Saying that some girls are better than others, teaching your children to turn on “impure” girls. Developing a relationship with your daughter and having honest, open discussions about sex and intimacy is the best thing you can do. Its what I lacked and it hurts me to this day.

  • Shannon

    I was raised in a purity culture and proudly got my ring from my parents when I was a teenager. I never had a boyfriend in high school, although I wanted one (and my parents would have allowed it. They weren’t as strict as what you’ve experienced.) When I was a senior, Joshua Harris’ book came out. I LOVED it! It gave me an excuse for why I never had a boyfriend, even though I still struggled with it and probably would have thrown that conviction out the window had a guy shown interest. But because of that, every time I was interested in a guy, I just knew we would get married, even when they didn’t show any interested back. I had grand expectations of exactly what I wanted. I thought, “Well, if I saved myself from EVERYTHING until marriage, surely God will reward me with someone who has done the same! Or at least someone who is still a virgin!” God had other plans. I met my husband and, even though I know it sounds crazy, I know without a doubt that God told me he would be my husband, and he had the same thing happen to him. Long story short, a week after meeting, we revealed to each other what we felt God had told each of us, and we started dating knowing we would get married. However, my husband said he had come from a different background, and because of his past, he couldn’t kiss me until we got married. He didn’t want to push for more and he knew he would keep trying for more and more if we even started down a physical path. I respected that, even though I was disappointed. (My only commitment had been to wait until I was engaged to kiss.) I believed the lie that his past would forever affect our marriage. There were many tears as we worked through reconciling his past to my expectations. If it weren’t for the fact that I KNEW he was going to be my husband, I might have walked away, thinking that surely this isn’t what God had planned for me. (I’m so glad I didn’t!) Ten months later, our first kiss was on our wedding day. Now I look back at who I was and wish I could change so many things that may have saved so much heartache. Had I not had such a high value on the “gift of purity”, I would not have struggled so much (or at least I like to think that!) with his past. When we would do purity talks in our youth group when we were in youth ministries, part of me felt hypocritical when I would warn the kids against sex before marriage and say it would damage your marriage forever. It doesn’t have to! It wouldn’t have been so damaging had my expectations not been so unrealistic. (And it is now embarrassing every time my husband tells me that he tells his students our story.) It is crazy to put such a high value one what happens in the relatively short period before your marriage. It is what happens IN marriage that is important! And while his past isn’t affecting our marriage at all now, it is my past that is! It has taken a long time to get over a lot of the purity lessons of what is and isn’t allowed before and in marriage, as well as some other issues I don’t want to get into here. But we are working through them, and hopefully some day we won’t see any hang-ups from our pasts.

  • http://twitter.com/byzcathwife priest’s wife

    yes…and with this purity culture- can you get over the fact that sex is bad bad bad and then POOF you are married so have fun or your husband will rightly so go elsewhere.

    you might be interested in a post I published today- it is about priests in the Roman rite who were married Episcopalian priests in the past…a canon lawyer insists that they can’t have relations with their wives…I say that it is impossible for a married couple to not have marital relations…even if they can’t have intercourse (illness, age) http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com/2013/01/sex-married-priesthood-ceasing-marital.html

    • KatR

      “yes…and with this purity culture- can you get over the fact that sex
      is bad bad bad and then POOF you are married so have fun or your husband
      will rightly so go elsewhere”

      THIS right here! How can you be a woman who never has a sexual thought as a single woman, and then be a porn star after the wedding? It does not work that way…..

    • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

      Yes, there is a lot of sex is bad outside of marriage and tolerated inside of marriage (unless you are making a baby) in some Catholic circles.

      But at least this is consistent: You are never supposed to have a sexual thought before marriage or after!

  • Sarah

    I married a man with a checkered past, and it was while we were dating that I realized that I actually did idolize chastity more than any of the other virtues, and by the same token, regarded sexual sin as worse than any other sin. It was only when I came to grips with my now-husband’s sexual escapades before his re-conversion that I realized that one mortal sin = another mortal sin and one virtue = another virtue, and was able to move past that idolization and be ok with his mistakes. It dawned on me that I struggle with so many other sins, failings that I don’t have to admit to him, yet he had to come clean with me about some of the deepest, most regretful sins he’d ever committed. That humbled me incredibly, and made me love him all the more for it.

  • Dawn @ TheMommaKnows.com

    I was not a believer until I was 23, and I was a sexually active young teen. Faith was so far off my radar that I never heard of any sort of purity movement until I had my own young kids! I understand the push, the urgency, to encourage purity in teens. What I don’t understand is the singular focus ON virginity as THE standard of purity. But Christian teens mess up too. Purity rings guarantee NOTHING. Many kids are hooked on porn, do “everything but” with their girl/boyfriends and yet still claim purity because they haven’t done the deed. I’ve worked in youth ministry for nearly 10 years (and raised 4 teenagers) and so often I see the 50%– that’s how many teenagers are sexually active, within the church and without– completely ignored, or even vilified. They don’t need to be made to feel as if they are so damaged no one (especially Jesus) thinks of them as special in their own right. Virginity is special, and should always be considered such. But virgin or not, their wedding night should be something they look forward to rather than going to it with a burden of guilt and shame.

  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com/ Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    I could say so much about this growing up in a Baptist environment where having sex was the worst sin ever. Since I’d been sexually abused for several years as a child I all ready felt ruined before I’d made my own choice. I made that choice at 14, in part, b/c I thought God no longer wanted me or that it was no use “waiting” when part of me was all ready gone. That whole time was completely destructive for me. I agree with a lot of what your saying here. It seems things have swung too far in the other direction indeed. My sons are 7 & 3, I hope to have ongoing, healthy conversations with them about their relationship to and responsibility with the women they love, and date & court. I hope things are much, much different for them. Thanks for this post…it’s insightful & encouraging.

  • Anonymous

    Love this . . . so true. And I love the idea of sexuality being an ongoing conversation with our kids.

  • Anon

    This is such a great post. I grew up Catholic and I have a lot of anger towards the church of my youth (and my parents) for teaching me that I was essentially a second-class citizen and that who I am has to be validated by a man for it to be okay.

    I grew up terrified of sex… That it would hurt, that it was wrong, that it would ruin me. I ended up losing my virginity at 18 with someone I didn’t really care about just so I could “get it over with”. While I wish now it would have been different, I know that I did it hoping that it would release me from the fear so I could move on. (And it didn’t hurt and didn’t ruin me).

    With two daughters, I am keeping communication wide open. Nothing is taboo, nothing is wrong, no question is silly. And I am not telling them that they must be virgins when they marry. That will be their choice. I will, however, continue to guide them and reinforce the importance of he decision and the responsibility that comes with it.

  • JessieLeigh

    One other thing that has occurred to me is how this impacts the normal building and development of a relationship. I have “argued”/debated this on FB with a young woman before. She insists that, once a young man and woman decide they might like to be together, a speedy engagement of 3 months or less (her words) is essential so that there’s less threat of “impure acts” or “inappropriate behavior.” I find this frightening, to say the least. Who are we really helping by teaching our children that kissing, touching, or even more outside of marriage is so evil and damning that it’s critical they rush into the first possible relationship they experience? Quite frankly, I don’t want my daughter getting married at 18 because she feels compelled to based on the desire to kiss a boy…

    • Cara

      Well, speaking as someone who DID in fact get married at 18 (and have never had a minute of regret– I’m 25 now), I think your first point here is right on. My husband and I have talked a lot about how differently we will encourage our kids to be from what we were, even though we did it “right”… What we didn’t understand when we were teenagers dating was that relationships are SUPPOSED to have a sexual component, that’s a normal part of the package. So even if you plan to wait to have sex until you are married, you should expect the physical side of your relationship to progress, in some way, as the other (emotional, spiritual, etc.) aspects of it deepen and develop. Since we were steeped in the purity culture, we thought that while we spent years becoming best friends and soul mates, our physical relationship was supposed to stay somewhere around hand holding or maybe cheek kissing until that blessed wedding night. But that is impossible, and not real healthy either. And that shouldn’t be a source of guilt! Your other point, about young people rushing into marriage just so they can experience some of the physical benefits, is a good one too– I’m just prone to getting my dander up when people make jabs about young marriage. ;) but I know my story isn’t typical!

      • JessieLeigh

        Thank you so much for sharing your story and perspective here, Cara. I married at 24, so I was neither particularly young, nor particularly old, I suppose. I have absolutely nothing against people marrying young– I think people should take that step whenever they feel ready and it feels right. I just worry that young people who are told their desire to touch one another in ANY sort of “sexual” way is sinful outside the confines of marriage could, in turn, feel pressured to take a step they’re not necessarily ready for. If my daughters (or son!) choose to marry early? That doesn’t worry me. If they choose to marry so they can experience the thrill of making out? Yeah… that would concern me. (Sorry if I came across as critical of marrying at a younger age– definitely not my intent.)

        • Interested bystander

          I got married at 26 but met my husband when I was 18. We lived together from 19 on and have been happily married 22 years. Oddly, my parents told me they wouldn’t support me if I got married so we lived together without telling them.

          • Verity3

            Somehow there’s always a way around parental “control” — whether they know it or not :)

    • Melissa

      Wow! You just described my 18-year-old thought process. I rushed into marriage so I wouldn’t become “impure.” But I had “saved myself” so I was practically promised to be married “happily ever after.” My desire to be good and pure were taken advantage of by my controlling, abusive husband. Thankfully, I have been happily divorced for two and a half years while God is teaching my how to be the woman he created me to be–emotionally, sexually, and spiritually.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Who are we really helping by teaching our children that kissing,
      touching, or even more outside of marriage is so evil and damning that
      it’s critical they rush into the first possible relationship they
      experience?

      I have long maintained that Christians are just as screwed-up sexually as everyone else these days, just in a different direction. Such as “marriage-crazy Christian girls” instead of “boy-crazy secular girls”.

      I wonder if Purity Culture Christian girls are more prone to “Bridezilla Syndrome”, i.e. “I’ve Been Planning The Most Unrealistic Perfect Wedding Since I Was Six & Don’t You Dare Go Against My Script!!!”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Maybe that’s a factor in why Evangelical Christians have so high a divorce rate — rushing into “marriages of continence”, i.e. marriages entered into only to legalize the sex.

      Instead of boy-crazy girls trying to pop their cherry, you get marriage-crazy Christian girls trying to pop their cherry with a ring and a wedding involved, but the underlying dynamics are the same. Even the “We’re All Gonna Die! I Don’t Wanna Die a Virgin!” that led the entire student body of a Bible college to get wedded en masse before the date set by a famous 1988 Rapture Scare. Because with a lot of these church cultures, you’re not a REAL Christian or REAL adult until you’re married and are allowed to sit with the other grown-ups.

      I have long claimed that Christians are just as screwed-up sexually as everyone else, just in a different (and often opposite) direction. I have also wondered if Christian girls from a Purity Culture b/g are more prone to “Bridezilla Syndrome”, where the goal is to get married in the Perfect Wedding she’s been planning since age six and the guy is just the necessary piece of equipment.

  • Emily Floyd

    THANK YOU.
    I grew up in a completely non-religious household and my mom was very open about sex with me. Almost to the point where I needed her to shut up about it! She did tell me repeatedly to get birth control, but I was in no way, even remotely sexually active at that time and it almost had a weird effect on me. I was like I was expected to have sex, so why aren’t I? I did “mess around”, but I actually never had sex even before I was a Christian. I hated to be vulnerable and that was the ultimate vulnerability in my eyes. Once I embraced evangelical Christianity, I realized what a HUGE emphasis was placed sex and sexual purity. And that was the time I was most experimental!

    While I had never had intercourse, my husband had before we met. I see the way his parents treated the subject (as completely taboo) and how he was effected by it. He had a huge porn addiction and really had a hard time controlling himself when a partner was willing. I think acting that way as parents (sex is taboo, not to be talked about AT ALL) is one of the most dangerous things you can do!

  • Anonymous

    Hoo boy. This issue has been bothering me for years now. I grew up Southern Baptist, steeped in purity culture. I read all the books, I signed the True Love Waits pledge, the whole shebang.

    My husband did not. He grew up Catholic but his family is pretty liberal so he didn’t have the same emphasis put on sex as I did.

    He wasn’t a virgin when we met and I was still one, uh, “technically.” I was wracked with guilt about it and he could not have cared less! I was SHOCKED. He couldn’t understand why I felt bad about it or why I was annoyed that he WASN’T a virgin and it caused quite a bit of discord. Anyway, we wound up not waiting and I was, again, wracked with guilt once we married. And still am….5 years later. I can’t shake the fact that I have failed because I wasn’t pure and sexually immoral and…we are MARRIED. I feel guilty pretty much every time we have sex. Yes, you read that right. I can’t fully enjoy our sex life because I feel like we ruined it before it even began and I still think of myself as sexually immoral. Still! Even though I only have sex with my husband. Needless to say, our sex life has been effed up (heh) because of this. And I realize it sounds ridiculous even as I type this out, but it’s true.

    I have NO IDEA how we’ll handle it with our kids. My daughter is only 1 so we’ve got some time but I don’t want her to grow up feeling like her virginity is the only thing that matters. There has to be some middle ground between a free for all, anything goes attitude and the DON’T EVEN KISS ONLY SIDE HUG OR YOU’RE SINNING!!!!! attitude. We have a son as well, but as someone already mentioned, no one gives a crap whether or not he has sex. Chick Fil A doesn’t have a Mother-Son dance because if he can’t control himself. I mean, it’s ok, right? He has a penis and those things just think for themselves and the onus is on the girl to say no and protect her heart and her vagina. :sigh:

    I’m kind of rambling, I know. But I cried a little reading your post because I’m struggling with this issue so so much right now. Thanks for talking about it. It helps so much to hear of others who have dealt with similar issues.

    • pleschke

      I’m so sorry you’re still dealing with this — any chance the two of you would consider talking to a counselor or therapist about this? If your husband won’t go or doesn’t feel as affected by it, maybe you could go on your own. I just hate the thought of something so awesome and amazing being a continuing source of pain or shame for you. Hugs to you from the interweb . . .

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      There has to be some middle ground between a free for all, anything goes
      attitude and the DON’T EVEN KISS ONLY SIDE HUG OR YOU’RE SINNING!!!!!

      According to an online slang dictionary I saw on the Web a couple years ago, “Christian Side Hug” was slang for “oral or anal sex done to preserve technical virginity (i.e. intact hymen)”.

      • Verity3

        LOL, so THAT explains the seemingly random snickers the term “Christian Side Hug” can sometimes inspire. Thanks for clearing that up!
        This highlights an important point, though: there’s A LOT of “middle ground” that can be unhealthy, at either end of the spectrum. (And this goes for moral/ethical issues in general.) When I feel I’ve struck a nice “balance” …it’s time to examine it again — comparing it with health, not with the next-step-removed-from-some-extreme.
        (And when someone tries to tell me anything along the lines of, “Don’t worry, our church/study/teaching is nice and BALANCED” …I just stifle my laughter and look more closely.)

    • Jes

      This was similar to my husband and I until about 3 months ago after 10 years of marriage. We were…. technically… waiting… until about a month before our wedding… then we let loose…

      and I have just been loaded with baggage afterward.
      Honestly, what helped in getting over the guilt was aknowledging that we did not completely live up to what we had planned in waiting, but also aknowledging the power that sex has in bonding us together, and that it had the same power even then, before the technical application of rings and the cutting of a crappy cake, and it was OK to have enjoyed it then. THAT was what my guilt was really about; those first encounters were loving and tender and fun, and to think back on them and try to make myself feel bad for them just ruined sex now.

      Talking about my feelings helped. Reminising about those early encounters helped. I don’t know what would have happened if this breakthrough hadn’t happened; I was starting to question many things sexually about myself.

      I hope you and your husband can find your way through this.

  • Katharine

    The Catholic Church has always considered holy purity an essential virtue. Thankfully it’s honored in a more sacred way than fundy Evangelicals…
    I pray one day you’ll accept and cherish with your whole heart what God helped you preserve…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11018683 Elizabeth Larson-DiPippo

      so God didn’t help the rest of us preserve it?

  • Guest

    I sometimes wonder what my parents managed to do right, because I grew up in the middle of all the purity culture (though we never did the formal stuff) without this kind of baggage.

    • http://twitter.com/elizabethesther Elizabeth Esther

      You never did the formal stuff. That probably made a big difference. :)

  • http://carrotduchy.blogspot.com carrotqueen

    I sometimes wonder what my parents managed to do right, because I grew up in the middle of all the purity culture (though we never did the formal stuff with rings and things) without this kind of baggage. (And as far as I know, my siblings also seem to have done fine with it.)

    Maybe it was because they really did mean it both ways, not as a girls only thing. Maybe it was an off-hand comment my mother made to me once when I felt I had to confess a racy dream, “You know, it really isn’t wrong to be thinking about what things might be like once you’re married.” So sexual desire and interest was not automatically evil! Maybe it was that we all felt valued enough for who we were as individuals that we didn’t need to go hunting elsewhere for validation.

    I guess I always got the impression that it just wasn’t worth sharing your whole body with someone you weren’t ready to share your whole life with. And as for waiting for the wedding, well, that was more on the line of not opening your Christmas presents until Christmas day–the anticipation is part of the fun. So even though I went through courtship and it did create some emotional/relational issues, the physical part was never a problem.

    It seemed to be a pretty healthy attitude and has served me well. I hope I can pass the same on to my kids. But I’m still not entirely sure how.

    • IrisSmith

      This is me to a “T”. I, too, grew up in a Christian household where I could ask any questions about sex I wanted, and my parents’ answers always seemed very gracious and Christ-centered. They made sex seem thrilling, special, something to look forward to, and also very meaningful. I knew that if I made mistakes that I could be forgiven because my parents were honest about the fact that they hadn’t waited to have sex before they married, but they had a great marriage. At the same time, they instilled in me an awareness of how powerful sex is in solidifying relationships. It just seemed worth it to wait until I was married. More importantly, it was what God wanted. I didn’t feel guilty for having sexual desires or temptations, I looked at it as normal because that’s how my parents looked at it. I didn’t feel ashamed for being curious and excited about sex. And now I have a great marriage, and my husband and I both waited. I think there can be a healthy balance here. It’s not bad to talk to your kids about sex and about waiting and being honest about how great it is to just know your husband in that way, and no one else–without making an idol out of “purity”. There is nothing wrong with passing on wisdom. There is something wrong with making sex or sexual desires seem taboo or dirty, and for intertwining the idea of sex with guilt and pressure to be a culture archetype of “purity”.

      • Handsfull

        Wow. HOW did your parents do that? Because that’s pretty much exactly what I want my kids to think! For real, if you have any tips, please share!

    • Gina

      Hurray for sensible Christian parents! Mine also have always had a sane, healthy, open, “ask me whatever you want to know” attitude. (Sometimes I think it actually helped that they grew up Catholic and came to evangelicalism later, so that they missed out on a lot of the evangelical Protestant trends and fads.)

    • DM

      I grew up in evangelical churches and both my husband and I were virgins when we married. It wasn’t easy but I value that still. I still occasionally have a bad dream where we are sleeping together NOT MARRIED though and we have been married over seven years! Oh the guilt and horror! I’m just now seeing how the fear of “messing up” really hounded me. The sex is good, though, & we both enjoy it with no hang ups.

  • LaurenR

    Amen!

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    YES I KNOW. That IS what we’ve implied.

  • A Nonny Mouse

    I talked to my 21 Year old daughter this morning after reading this post. I asked her forgiveness for taking part in this whole charade. I told her that I wished that I had read this a few years ago.
    She told me that the worst analogy she was ever given was “Once you put the chocolate in the milk, you can’t get it out.” She told me that she and her friends mocked that whole concept away for youth group. She noted that it was completely contradictory to the nature and ministry of Christ who is all about second chances.
    She had a purity ring that was a heart wrapped as a gift. The week before her wedding she told us that she didn’t want to do the whole taking it off and handing it over. How sad i am now that she felt shame but proud of her that she wasn’t willing to be who she wasn’t.
    Another sad casualty is the youth pastor and his wife who introduced our church to “purity doctrine” in the late ’90s and didn’t kiss until their wedding day. They held the youth to a high standard of behavior. They left the minsitry and are both bartenders. She works in a “girly” bar in The OC. What saddens me most is the emptiness I see in their eyes when I look at their photos. I barely recognize them.
    When we make our faith about our actions instead of our actions about our faith, we try to produce fruit apart from the vine. The whole point of our faith should be about abiding in the vine and letting the fruit be a natural consequence rather that the fruit being the conquest.

    • http://twitter.com/elizabethesther Elizabeth Esther

      I just want to thank you for your courage in apologizing to your daughter. That requires great humility. Thank you.

    • Katie

      what a wonderful last 2 sentences to think about in every aspect of life

    • anna see

      Wow. Thank you for sharing your own experience here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beatkins Beatriz Atkins

      When we make our faith about our actions instead of our actions about our faith, Good one.

  • http://twitter.com/beautythrurain Jessica

    I totally bought into the “True Love Waits” fad. My parents insisted on purity, my youth pastor and his fiancee/wife (I can’t remember if this was before they married or not) talked about how they had both “given themselves away” years before they met each other, and how much pain that brought to their relationship. And from the late 90s-early 00s mainline protestant viewpoint, that was all kinds of logical. I was set on remaining a virgin for my husband (who, I was certain, I would meet by the time I was 21).

    Fast forward to 2007. I was in my first serious relationship, with an older and much more experienced guy. We talked about sex, we talked about waiting until we married. We talked about getting married. But C was one of those guys who believes it’s entirely the responsibility of the woman to put on the brakes and prevent sex (and therefore, pregnancy) from happening. I wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t say no to him or ask him to stop. Afterward, he was angry at me for not stopping him, and i felt ashamed and guilty. Towards the end of our relationship, we had another accident, and I found out a week before he broke up with me that I was pregnant. I miscarried the day he broke up with me, and I was convinced God was punishing me for giving myself to a man who had just left me to find out if he’s gay.

    Then the nightmares started. Within 6 months of our break-up, I was having flashbacks and recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse. At the time, I thought this was further proof of my guilt, but now I think, “Thank you, God, for using my poor choices to bring all this horror to light now, before I’m married.” I’m certain my relationship with C was the trigger for releasing long-repressed memories, and equally certain that my abuse history is why I could never tell him, “no, stop.” And then, I think, what if I hadn’t had sex before I was married, and my husband had to watch as memories of simple sexual abuse, and then sadistic, violent sexual abuse, and finally ritual sexual abuse surfaced? If someone had to share a bed with me through all the nightmares? It’s bad enough that I have to deal with these memories and the people I love who love me have to watch from a distance. If someone else had to live in and with my flashbacks on a daily basis, I don’t think I could ever forgive myself for the pain it would cause them. Ultimately, I think the fact that I had sex before I was married will make me a better wife whenever I do get married, because I have the chance to work through this stuff now.

    • Marie

      I am just so very sorry for all you have been through…((hugs))

      • http://twitter.com/beautythrurain Jessica

        Thank you, Marie. ((hugs)) to you, too.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Amen! Wow, this is so good. I was actually just working on a post today about how “purity” is “the idea that God and my hypothetical future husband care a lot about the list of things I have NEVER DONE with a boy. The shorter that list is, the better.” As if I am a better potential wife because my body has never experienced certain things. I’ve only recently realized how harmful that teaching is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.guess.31 Mary Guess

    Good post!! Here’s the thing- virginity and purity are NOT the same thing. Honestly, they’re not even remotely related. Just finished a bit about that myself- (http://lyricalpolyphony.blogspot.com/2013/01/virginity-vs-purity.html) Basically, you can be a pure virgin, and impure virgin (who objectifies, lusts, does “everything but”, etc) or not-a-virgin and completely pure- whether that’s because you did not lose your virginity of your own volition or because you were involved in sexual promiscuity but repented and decided to quit, etc.

    As for my own experience- I got the “this is why you bleed” talk when I was 12. (no sex details) and then on the eve of my wedding, my mom asked me if I wanted to know how sex worked. Ummm… really??? When we got engaged, I was terrified of it, had never even kissed before, etc so my then-fiance-now awesome-sexy-hubby and I studied, researched, and worked through how stuff was supposed to work. If we hadn’t been so dead set on being able to talk through everything and get physically comfortable with each other before the wedding, my experience could have been awful! I rejected the idea that we should have no physical contact before the wedding, as I knew I couldn’t go from “0-60″ in a night without experiencing things that I’d never want associated with a healthy, married sex life. My advice- either get it out of the way while you’re engaged, as much as you feel you morally can, or do NOT expect to go all the way on the first night, or even the first week. There can be a lot of physical pain/trauma if you expect a virgin to bow to the pressure and do everything at once without being into it and completely ready. Of course, some people are fin with the “0-60 in an instant” idea, but I’d council assuming it won’t happen like that and then if it does… whee! Bonus! =)

  • Michelle

    I will never forget the feeling of worthlessness the day after I lost my virginity (at a young age and NOT to my husband). I don’t think I have ever gained that worth back. Thanks for posting :)

  • http://www.badmenproject.com/ talking figleaf

    And of course what makes it particularly idolatrous is that the real value of a daughter’s “virginity” accrues not to her but to her parents. Particularly her father — mothers are usually held responsible but are rarely given the tacit credit fathers get for “giving away” a “pure” bride.

    In other words as an object that embodies a worshiped social or domestic ideal, a “virgin” is made into an idol.

    A family and community idol not least because her “purity” is valued regardless of her own attitude towards it — she herself may have had no interest in her virginity beyond resentment of her confinement and/or recognition that her (too-often literal) survival depends on compliance.

    And then meanwhile virginity’s not only religious idolatry, it’s a category three sexual fetish, requiring extraordinary compliance by the giver in exchange for only momentary gratification of the recipient. All the more so by the degrees of purity beyond genital virginity — did she masturbate? Spoiled goods. Kiss a boy? Not good enough. Think about a boy? Still no good. Never met, seen, or even about men? Better. Never seen or touched herself better still. And on and on with more degrees of “purity” beyond anything ordinary humans could experience.

    What’s particularly tragic, and galling about this is similar to the problem you spoke of. The benefits you were indoctrinated to believe would come your way if you retained your virginity are similar to those men are given: certainty of unqualified fidelity, eternal happiness, ideal fulfillment, and (for too many men) some genuinely creepy ideas about how much extra-special one-time-only pleasure intercourse with a virgin provides compared even to the second time, let alone later times. None of which, including the last, are any more true for men than they are for women.

    Idolatry and (clinical) fetishism! Uggh!

    figleaf

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      And then meanwhile virginity’s not only religious idolatry, it’s a category three sexual fetish, requiring extraordinary compliance by the giver in exchange for only momentary gratification of the recipient.
      “Category Three”? Not familiar with the context.

  • http://thesoulstepford.com/ Denise @The Soul Stepford

    You can’t see me right now, but please know I’m giving you a huge standing ovation! Funny… I thought the belief that only the blood of Jesus could purify and justify was central to Christian doctrine. Who knew rings and an aspirin betwixt your legs could accomplish the same end? So much for the cross…

  • Anonymous

    I was raised in the purity culture, too. I signed the True Love Waits pledge, but later discovered that I’m probably asexual, because I’m in my mid 20′s and have never seriously dated or kissed a man. Which is kind of ironic, because if you’re that age and refraining from kissing or sex because you’re dating someone you’re held up as a standard of purity to aspire to, but if you’re that age and refraining from kissing or sex because you’re simply not interested, you’re regarded as a possible lesbian which is even worse, in their eyes, than maybe having had premarital sex.

    Anyways, despite that, I became very well-educated when it came to sex and reproduction. So I always was the girl that the other girls came to when they had questions about birth control and stuff. And, in church, I was the girl that the Christian girls who were “abstinent” came to after they’d had sex with their boyfriend for the first time and realized that they needed birth control from then on.

    And the thing was, because if they don’t get pregnant before marriage or break up and end up disclosing to their future boy/girlfriends, nobody would know. So the adults in the church would hold them up as “examples” to the youth, to show everyone that yes, people could successfully abstain until marriage! And so these people would be preaching one thing, while living a completely different life.

    And it was that, more than anything, that turned me off of purity culture – at the very least, after the first incident or two, I ended up not believing anyone who said they were abstinent until marriage, because even though I’m sure that there are some women who are, I can’t know who’s telling the truth and who isn’t unless they actually start talking about it in the context of deconstructing purity culture.

  • Anonymous

    I am grateful that your daughter has a mother who has bought out of this crap. Not only does this make women feel guilty in their marriages, but it also puts us in the position of staying in really bad relationships just because we’ve had sex. We assume that we’ll need to turn it into a marriage somehow, because the lie of a perfect marriage will not happen without our purity.

  • http://twitter.com/insertwittyquip Marie

    My parents didn’t push the purity issue with me, but I went to a private Christian school where you’d get in trouble for holding your boyfriend’s hand, so I completely understand the culture.

    This is about so much more than intercourse. Nobody taught me that having sexual urges was a God-given part of growing into womanhood. Nobody taught me how to deal with all the feelings and all the hormones. it didn’t take long for me to start doing “things” with my boyfriends because it felt good – despite the intense guilt.

    My husband and I were not virgins when we married, and we’ve had trouble with intimacy. The emphasis on virginity is such as to cause me to struggle with believing that God forgives me. I’m the “damaged goods,” as you wrote. Surely I shouldn’t enjoy sex with my husband now?

    Purity is a good thing. Teaching young people how to navigate through the changes of growing up is a good thing. Telling them to not “do it” without any reasons and without the assurance that God can and will forgive anyone who sincerely repents just doesn’t work.

  • Eva

    As a mom of a 3 year old,I have already had to confront the teachings of my youth many more times than I would have imagined. I try to moderate my language to not just use the words husband and wife when talking about who is intimate with each other in a sexual way. Instead we use the word sweetie which includes many kinds of healthy relationships.
    I also try to be very open(in a developmentally appropriate way) because if I am too uncomfortable to talk about it at all, that is a clear signal there is something “wrong” with the subject.
    In my own personal experience, the “don’t wake the sleeping giant” philosophy of no touching caused me to hurt a very dear friend who I was in a relationship with and turned my naturally low libido into almost asexuality which has been a major challenge to my marriage since the “new love” chemicals have worn off :-)
    How sad for youth leaders, parents and other shepherds to be promoting a philosophy that can be so damaging to people and relationships everywhere along the continuum of love and life.

  • Rachel

    I was shocked at how piercing your words hit me this morning
    –>and I feel victimized on a new level. :-/
    I have struggled in my marriage with pre-marital v. post-marital sex with my husband…and the pre-marital me was a lot more fun than the post-marital/post-child mommy. The “pre” me was also racked with control & daddy issues…oh, and a good dose of guilt thrown in for good measure.
    Your take on “The Princess Kiss” is interesting…I used it as fuel for discussion on self-respect and modesty and didn’t take it so, well, so LITERALLY. I’m going to re-read it, and undoubtedly need to throw it out.

    Thanks for the perspective and always making me think…or need therapy…or just a glass of wine and chocolate!

  • November

    Yes. Thank you for writing this. I grew up in an uber Catholic environment. When my husband and I had sex before we got married I thought we had permanently damaged our relationship, but now that we’ve been married for a while I have dealt with guilt that our relationship is so good! Seriously, although in some ways I wish we waited, I also think that we learned a lot about each other before getting married by having pre marital sex and by having a baby :)

    It’s like I feel like we don’t deserve a good relationship because we didn’t ‘do it right.’ The conclusion we’ve come to is that chastity is only one element of a relationship, and being bad at chastity is only one fault. We are awesome at communication, and showing love and a whole host of other things, but we would be considered a ‘bad’ relationship before getting married simply because we had sex. A couple who had never had sex, but were terrible for each other in every other way would be considered a ‘good’ relationship. Super messed up.

  • Anonymous

    Where to start? I am basically asexual. Not sure if that is because of the purity movement or because of something deeper that the purity movement helped me mask for so long. At this point, I’m a 40yo virgin. A few years ago, I finally went online and got myself some very basic education. At this point, I still have far more questions than answers.

    I know that when I first heard about the idea of not having romantic interests until it was time to get married, the idea was actually a relief. I didn’t have to try to figure out how to communicate with guys. I could just have my friends be all girls and that would fix everything. Sigh. Right. Wrong, rather.

    • Anonymous

      There’s nothing wrong with being asexual, if you feel like that’s your natural orientation (as opposed to being just a reaction to the purity movement and bad messages). I have asexual friends who have very happy lives, friends, even long term relationships with much, non-sexual affection. There’s a large and welcoming community of asexual and demisexual people online and perhaps talking to them or reading their resources would be useful to you.

  • Connie

    I grew up in the church, read every book about waiting/purity that I could find. I still ended up having sex before I got married, with a married man at that. Here’s the deal-I think we need to discuss the issue of purity but within the context of full discipleship, not as a separate entity. I didn’t lack knowledge when it came to issues of purity, etc.-I lacked a solid relationship with Jesus. I didn’t know enough about my precious identity as a daughter of Christ. I daresay we need to talk more about that with young people than anything. A tree cannot grow firm and strong if it is malnourished at the roots.

    • Ky

      Connie, I identify with this comment a lot. I grew up in a Christian home where sex and sexuality were almost never mentioned – it was so taboo my mom would get fidgety and hyperanxious anytime it came up on tv (even when I was in my twenties) and you can be sure it almost never came up in conversation. But while there was no talk of sex at home the church I grew up in was deeply immersed in the purity culture. My parents’ discomfort seemed to insulate me somewhat from the effects because they refused to talk about it. Even said, though, I still have huge regrets about how the purity culture has affected me. While I was a virgin when I married, I was a virgin out of fear. I was so fearful of being pregnant and looked down upon for not being “pure” that, as EE, has described so eloquently in previous posts I had to shut down all my emotions. I married several years later than most of the church friends I had growing up and am glad I did because it took me a long time as a single person to learn how to feel anything, including sexual attraction and longing. But I still wish that my reasons for staying a virgin had been different, that it had been for love of Christ and not for fear of shame. As the Scriptures say, perfect love drives out fear. It would have been nice as a young girl to have someone explain that to me instead of all the talk about pregnancy being so bad and embarrassing. When I married I did not have feelings of guilt associated with sex, but I still can’t imagine being pregnant without some shame. I’ve communicated these thoughts to my husband (he didn’t grow up in the purity culture) and they seem strange to him, but he’s been very supportive and I have been attempting to work through these thoughts as much as possible before we do have our own children. His love and my growing understanding of Christianity as a relationship with Jesus based on love, forgiveness, healing, and NOT fear has been what has helped more than anything so far.

  • http://www.jessicaclemmer.com/ Jessica Clemmer

    Thank you, Elizabeth for you honest and candid post about this. I can so much identify with your story…the weight of striving to guard that end-all-and-be-all virginity…the guilt over the “did that actually count?”…the intense weight of feeling like surely I must be the only one struggling since everyone else was so on board with ‘purity’…

    And, I guess, still struggling to some degree to find my way as an adult and mom who does *value* purity, and while it didn’t give me a ‘happily ever after marriage’, I can definitely say I know that we, (struggle as we may have), are blessed to have been spared some effects/consequences/baggage to deal with after we were married as many of our friends with differing experiences. There is still something to be said for striving for ‘saving it’, even if our identity doesn’t rest on it. Abstinence isn’t perfect, but it does have perks… And so, trying to find the balance in teaching my kids is now the next hurtle… I don’t want them to walk in fear or shame, but I also want them to know that God has set ideals to shoot for because they are in our best interest. It’s challenging to teach that delicate balance that you spoke of of virtue and compassion…

    Bravo on your post. Very courageous of you to allow yourself to be so vulnerable. Blessings.

  • Emily Wierenga

    love that you have such an open relationship with your daughter friend. that’s something i always wanted with my mum.

  • http://twitter.com/frognparis Rebecca Erwin

    My mother told my three sisters and myself that if we had sex before marriage, no boy would ever want us. We would be unmarriageable.

    When I told them about a date rape situation, my mother’s response was, “If you had gotten pregnant, I would have to quit playing the organ and we would have to leave the church.”

    My pregnant sister, in the delivery room in tears. When asked why, she responded that no one would want to marry her because she wasn’t a virgin. Her tears had nothing to do with giving birth as a single mom.

    My response with my kids has been the same. It is a life conversation. It started when they were little and continues today. I’ve tried to communicate the why it is important: their bodies belong to themselves and they are to be good stewards with them. Keeping sex in marriage creates a certain amount of simplicity and freedom in adult life and relationships.

    Thanks for being a healing/safe place for all of this.

  • anon

    I was raised Baptist and there were many teachings on purity and the like. They never went overboard with the purity culture-isms, but I don’t know if it was a combo of my shy personality and this teaching that has been wired into my DNA, but it negatively affects my marriage. That and past usage of birth control and I basically have no sex drive whatsoever. And no sex life. My sexuality was castrated (if I could use that word)…there is something deep down that makes me pretty much impotent (if I could use that word, too). I think if it wasn’t this extremely negative view on sexuality in the Church (I did idolize virginity and still kind of do), I might actually be normal.

  • Jamie

    Thank you for posting this. I was raped when I was 17 and I was saving myself for marriage. I was so ashamed for no longer being a virgin that I didn’t tell anyone for quite a few years. The whole topic of sex was (and still is) extremely embarrassing for me and the thought of telling my mom and police about what was done to me seemed like the worst thing in the entire world. As an adult, I now realize keeping it in was the worst thing in the entire world.
    Talk to your children about sex. Don’t let it become an embarrassing or shameful topic. Be honest about mistakes that you made and hope that they learn from yours and don’t make them on their own.

  • B

    This is such a good, important post. I married at 21, to the only man I’d dated. We both grew up in a church where abstinence was the topic our youth pastors most often preached on, and couples who didn’t kiss till they were engaged or even married were lauded as the ultimate in relationships.

    We dated for about 2 years before going “all the way,” though like many young Christian couples we toed the line for much of that time. We finally had sex a couple months before he shipped off to war, and just before we were engaged. And while I felt guilty, part of me was also glad we’d experienced sex together, just in case he did not come back.

    When we did marry, just after that deployment, our sex life did suffer from the guilt and conflicting emotions that surrounded intimacy. I was so used to trying to be the “good girl” that being open and intimate was a struggle. And that just led to more guilt. I remember reading a Dr. Laura book (a whole ‘nother issue) during the early years of our marriage, where she ripped women apart for being “withholding” about sex, and just weeping, feeling like an utter failure as a wife.

    But 10 years later, I am so glad we didn’t go 0-60 on our wedding night. And, given the circumstances, I’d be hard pressed to say I *regret* having sex before we were married.

    If we have children, I don’t know what I’ll say to them about sex. I believe it’s sacred and holy and good. But I don’t want them to feel “damaged” or “less than” if they do have sex before they are married. And I especially don’t want my daughter, should I have one, to feel the imbalance I felt as a teenager– that should she “lose her virginity” she’ll be forever damaged in a way that a man would not.

  • Bee

    Yes, yes and yes again. I had a purity ring, gave it to my (also-virgin) husband on our wedding night, and was mightily confused when I didn’t actually enjoy sex all that much. (As another commenter noted, it stinks having your libido squashed by birth control right when you finally get to have sex.) I had bought fully into the myth that sex will be Wonder And Delight as long as you keep everything in the package until the wedding day, and that was about seventeen million miles from the truth.

    To further complicate matters, my husband brought in all manner of problems I was completely unaware of until many years later, which led to a relationship that skated right on the fine line between unhealthy and abusive. I, of course, assumed everything was my fault – he “worked fine” sexually, so if I didn’t, then of course I was to blame.

    I am no longer married to him, and I am frankly enjoying another run at celibacy. I hope some day to have a husband who has a more healthy attitude toward sex – I know I certainly do, after all the thought and research I’ve put into it in the last several years. I am seriously rethinking my approach to this with my 13-year-old daughter, I’ll tell you that much!

  • Anonymous

    I read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” when I was 15 and promptly began to berate myself for having liked, and corresponded with, a boy. I felt the need to “confess” my crush to my mom. I had dealt with scruples when I hit puberty, and so I basically shut off my sex drive because I had determined that sex thoughts were automatically bad – even thinking the word “adultery” made me feel the need to go to confession (I’m Catholic).

    Now I’m in a relationship with a man recovering from a porn addiction, and I’m in a twelve-step program for friends and families of sex addicts. I’ve been learning to feel my feelings, and since I didn’t have sexual feelings, the result is that the past six months have been a tumult of sexual temptation – it literally feels like the last 10-12 years of sexual temptations have caught up with me this year.

    I’ve also struggled with guilt my whole relationship with him, because we held hands! We kiss! (though not on the lips because we both are pretty sure that would be way more than we can handle!) We lay on the sofa and cuddle! He kisses the back of my neck! And we communicate, and we are trying hard to learn what being pure looks like for us in this stage of our relationship.

    Thank you for a beautiful, much needed post, and thank you to all your commenters. I have learned so much in half an hour of reading all of them.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      …we held hands! We kiss! (though not on the lips because we both are
      pretty sure that would be way more than we can handle!) We lay on the
      sofa and cuddle! He kisses the back of my neck! And we communicate…

      Do you have any idea how much I would give to have someone to hold hands with, to kiss, to lay on the sofa and cuddle, to enjoy her presence and share lives, to fall asleep cuddled up to where you could feel the other’s breathing and heartbeat?

      • Anonymouse

        I hope that you find it. I’ll pray for you this morning.

  • queen_penelope

    This is a very difficult comment to write, but I feel as though it is time to release the shame. I was raised a Mormon, and purity, virginity, chastity, and virtue were all equal qualities. I was molested, and according to my leaders after I told, I should have told the first moment he touched me. I was 7 when he first touched me, and 13 when I told. He abused me for two years, then we moved. He was not a member, and my parents didn’t press charges. He was a good ole boy, and I was expected to simply move on. At 21, I was raped. I never reported it because I assumed it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter as a kid, why should it matter as an adult? When I did tell (a year and a half later), tge first response was, why did it take so long to tell? Second, what were you wearing? Third, well, you shouldn’t have opened the door.

    I’m now in counseling, and I no longer attend Mormon church. I’m Christian now, and I attend an Assemblies of God church, occasionally. I still have major trust issues…

    Regardless of my opinions of church and the people in it, I still love God. I recently read Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Although I disagree with some of his opinions, I love his concept of LOVE! Especially the LOVE God has for us. This is in spite of what we have done, what has been done to us, or what others have done in His name. His LOVE is universal, and is extended to everyone. His book, and the song, God is not a White Man, also has helped, along with reading the Bible for myself. I only attend church services, too. I refuse to attend midweek services; too much hypocrisy.

    Faith, Hope, and Love!

  • ANONYMOUS

    I have to comment anonymously, even though I usually use a name. The Purity Culture was so, so damaging to me. I had an on-again/off-again secret boyfriend through high school and my early 20s. We broke up and got back together and snuck around for years. We didn’t have actual sex until I was 21, but it was “everything but” until then. And I had to confess it to my parents over and over. When I worked for a particular ministry that heavily emphasized purity, I was still sneaking home to sleep with him. We did sexual things I never would have done if I hadn’t been trying to stay a “virgin.” And then I had to tell my mom. I wanted to die so many times because I had ruined “God’s plan for my life” by my responsiveness to a man’s attention. It drove me into deep depression. And yet I kept going back because I just wanted to be loved. And he kept taking me back because he just wanted to be loved, too.

    When I married, the man I married (who’s a wonderful man) was my ex’s best friend. He hadn’t grown up in the same culture as me and had had a few partners. I was fine with that, since I was “damaged goods” and figured he knew more about me than he should anyway. We waited to have sex (although again, the almost everything but) and when we first got married, it was great. But I have never been comfortable with sex. For a few years, we did role playing type stuff and I was into bondage. I think I felt I deserved to be raped and I made my husband do it. I look back and think, how could I do that?

    Now we’ve been married almost 13 years. My sex drive disappeared this last year because of major stresses in our life and marriage. It’s slowly, slowly returning. But we have so much baggage. We don’t communicate about sex at all. We don’t communicate about much of anything, even though my husband thinks we do. My husband used to be my best friend and now… I honestly don’t know how to have a healthy perspective about sex. I find myself getting all prudish about things and then I think, why? I do believe that sex is for marriage, but premarital sex is no longer the unforgivable sin to me (which puts me at odds with my parents – they were original hippies, the whole “make love not war” type, and then they became Christians, and man, did they have some sexual baggage they handed down to us kids). As my kids enter the pre-teen years, I am terrified. I want them to have a healthy and Christian view of sex, but I don’t even know what that is. My husband doesn’t either. I want my sons to respect themselves and to respect women and to know how to control themselves and see the beauty in every woman. I want my daughter to respect herself and to respect men and to know how to control herself and see the beauty in every man.

    The man I fooled around with as a teen and young adult was very damaged by our relationship, as was I. Weirdly enough, we’re still friends. I managed to get married and find love. He didn’t. I want to spare my children his and my experience. I pray that God gives me the grace to guide my children while I can, and to always love them, no matter what their choices are.

  • Orion

    Wish there was a bit more in this blurb about the effects on men instead of singling out women. Also, the sentence “Her worth and dignity as a human being have NOTHING to do with what she does or doesn’t do” is confusing. What do you consider to give worth/dignity? Because apart from the things we do, there are just the things we’re born with, the things we don’t choose. And, well, it’s politically incorrect (to say the least) to assign worth/dignity based on things like gender, race, class, etc.

  • Emily

    May I respond to the idea that both husband and wife being virgins will result in a “happily ever after” marriage?

    When my husband and I got married I was not a virgin. He, on the other hand, had never kissed anyone but me. We have an awesome marriage. Seriously. I look at other married couples around me and think, “How did we get so lucky? No one else seems as happy as else.”

    Here’s the thing – when my husband and I first starting dating I sat down and told him I wasn’t a virgin. That was SO hard, but I knew it was what I needed to do. I knew he deserved to know. I knew I needed to be honest with him from the get go. And he was amazing. He told me that it was in the past, it had nothing to with us, and if my previous actions had in any way hurt him, he forgave me.

    I think the reason we have such a great marriage is illustrated in how we dealt with my “baggage.” I was honest. He was gracious and kind. We dealt with an issue that needed to be dealt with instead of sweeping it under the rug, and we did it with great consideration for one another. These are the things that make a marriage strong and wonderful. We are all sinful people and bring our sin into our marriages (whether by premarital sex or something completely different). It’s how we deal with that sin as a couple that results in the kind of marriage we have.

  • Anonymous

    I was raised in the “purity culture”, where merely talking about sex was taboo. I never dated, never did anything, and my identity was locked in my virginity. I’m 21, and God brought me the love of my life. My best friend. And we blew it.

    What I’m struggling with now, is yes, our mutual loss of virginity, but the feeling of impending doom that I’ve always had preached at me, that our relationship will fizzle out because of one mistake. We are dealing with this mistake, the toll it will inevitably take on our future, the possibility of pregnancy, and we are happy to be walking through it together. We’ve asked for accountability from some close friends and our pastor, but I feel like if I am open about this with my family, and some of my other friends also swimming in the purity culture, we will be slammed with judgement. I can already hear the comments of “well if he truly respected you, this never would have happened” or “your relationship is clearly not deep enough or spiritual enough if this is a struggle for you”.

    I’m here to say, it takes TWO to tango, and I made the choice just as much as he did to have premarital sex. We LOVE the Lord, and have a relationship centered on him.

    And we are tempted by sex.

    These things aren’t mutually exclusive. But I can’t shake this impending doom that I feel hung over my head by those who insist it is.

    • Laura

      There is no impending doom. I promise. You are going to be ok. You are ok.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ann.magno.98 Ann Magno

    My daughter and her (ex) husband were both virgins when they married. She was 26 and he was 31 so this was a vey conscious choice on their parts. As you can see from the “ex” part, this union was anything but a fairytale. I raised my daughters save their virginity for marriage and I never thought I’d say this, but I think she could have avoided a lot of heartbreak if she had “known” her future husband a little better before she made this huge mistake.

  • Holly

    I’m with James in claiming hurt and guilt as a result of the Catholic NFP cultists. All I’ve ever gotten from them is: make more babies or risk hell, and anything but intercourse is an additional trip to hell.

    I can highly identify with many of the stories here; I have my own sad marital sexual problems. The issue with using Catholic teaching as the “answer” is that the teaching doesn’t recognize or even care to look at the real problems of intimacy that are affected by sexual abuse, guilt, rape, sexual confusion, previous sexual relationships, sexual misinformation, and God knows what else. People deserve to have these often scary and debilitating issues dealt with PRIOR to having children. In a way, it’s the process of being open to your own life and the new life you have with your spouse before you can be open to another life.

    The Catholic Church has failed in this regard. This is the reason most Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception and birth control. In this life and culture, marital sexual relations are difficult, but the Church asks people to ignore these deep hurts, wounds, and worries in lieu of being open to more babies no matter what. Sadly, the Church hasn’t yet realized that we now live in an age where there is virtually no one left alive who hasn’t been affected by something negative in the realm of sexuality. I’m waiting for the Church to figure it out, but have decided to solve my problems in my own way while I wait.

    • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

      If approached from a non-legalistic way, women can find Catholic teaching to be quite liberating and healing.

      http://nowealthbutlife.com/nfp-liberator-of-women/

      BUT, if you try to do it all when your relationship isn’t ready for that, it can be quite damaging.

      http://nowealthbutlife.com/hate-nfp/

      I guess I see the problem as the legalism and the “Cult” surrounding it, not the teaching itself.

  • Barb

    Purity is just what God wants. Why does this author not even mention the most important reason why we tell our daughters to remain virgins until marriage. He wants us to abstain from immorality – that is His will for us! 1 Thess 4:3.

    I don’t know anyone who “idolizes” virginity. And yes, research says someone who remained a virgin until marriage will have a better chance at remaining married than one who has not. So she’s wrong here too. And for whatever this is worth, sleeping around has consequences and I wouldn’t want my child to experience them. And this is important–I became a Christian at 30 and was sexually active prior to marriage, I would take it all back, in an instant to know what it would be like to only have had sex with my husband. Sex bonds you to the man you are having sex with. This is just the way God made us. Maybe the writer needs to do some more study before writing such a shallow, unmerited and factually errant article!

    • Sara

      Sex before marriage does not automatically equal “sleeping around.” Tons of people have pre-marital sex with committed partners and many of them go on to marry said partners. Even if they don’t, lots of people are able to move on from said relationships without any problems or issues. The only reason people feel guilty about sex is because they’re told to by the church, not God.

    • Miriam

      Citation(s), please!

    • Verity3

      If you think you don’t know anyone who idolizes virginity, you might want to rethink your definition of “idolatry.”
      Yes, sex tends to bond you. But it doesn’t Bond You.
      Bad doctrine is not always 100% inaccurate. Sometimes it takes a grain of truth, sometimes a lot of truth… and then AMPLIFIES it.

  • http://twitter.com/portofbyblos Tara S

    Purity culture is weird. It’s like, instead of explaining the Christocentric reasons why chastity is probably a good ideal “…and let’s talk about what that might mean for you, and practical tips, and blah blah blah…” instead of that, people are trying to recreate sections of the most graceless, worldly, societally-based scare tactics of yore. That is Bass-Ackward.

  • MMM

    Frankly, the marketing of purity culture – especially the daddy-daughter emphasis – always gave me the creeps. Smacked of ownership for me. My husband felt the idea crossed a boundary for him and he said once he had too much respect for our daughter to pressure her and not trust her with her own decisions. I never advised my daughter one way or the other but we talked openly about values and consequences and all manner of related issues. We talked about waiting until it was HER choice and how to know if she was ready to make that choice. And – this may shock some of you – I didn’t share it with her but I hope she doesn’t/didn’t wait until marriage. Sexual compatibility is important. My mother’s view is that you won’t miss what you never had but I disagree. I have a couple of friends who did wait and still struggle with knowing and owning their sexuality. I think the pressure they felt to remain virgin until marriage is responsible. I don’t want that for my daughter. I don’t want her to feel like her body is a commodity. Any man who is concerned about her “purity” isn’t someone I’d respect.

  • Rebekah Devine

    Thanks for your words. I wrote a blog in response to this and Sarah Bessey’s recent post, if you’d care to read it: http://rebekahmgiffone.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/when-christians-idolize-virginity-a-gnostic-heresy/

  • jezzika

    I feel there is something even more hauntingly dangerous about this when it comes to girls/women who have been sexually assaulted. If you didnt already feel defiled, the Christian church makes it feel like your worth has been taken away. Damaged goods. This is something I am still trying to sort out in my own head. I wish there were more positive messages out there, especially from a church that I thought was a loving safe haven for everyone regardless of their background.

  • Monica

    It took years to get over guilt. Being molested and then raped (by my boyfriend) made me feel wrecked, ruined, no good for a good Christian guy. I figured screw it if I’m already wrecked then I might as well have a good time (of course it didnt’ matter how many one was ruined as was 10). I had a purity ring and I was raped the day after I recieved it. I almost married the guy because I was told nobody would want me and after growing up in the church it was easy to believe this. Once I got married it took forever to not feel guilty about married sex. Then he had an affair. I was told I needed to have more sex (I did the whole time during the affair to try to win him back). I healed and learned and grew and got grace. Then I got remarried and really learned that things can be good. I wonder how my life would have been different had I believed I could talk about what happened to me. I believed that God hated me and my church and family would too. I don’t know, but I know that I am parenting different. I’m open. I want my kids to know grace and that actions come with consequences, but grace.

  • mid life mama

    i’ve taken to calling it “the cult of virginity “. yes, i think waiting is probably best -but practically no one tells young couples Not to spend too much time alone ! it’s only natural ,after all !

  • http://turquoisegates.com/ Genevieve Thul@Turquoise Gates

    My parents modeled healthy sexuality (within boundaries thank goodness!), didn’t shame us for masturbation or sexual thoughts, and focused on our redemption. That has been my saving grace as a married woman of the “pre-worn” variety.

  • Crystal

    Just a few weeks ago I was trying to talk about this with my husband of 8 years. I was trying to express my thoughts looking back at our sexual pasts.

    I was a virgin when we got married after our 2 1/2 years of dating, my husband was not. We had skirted this boundary in every way possible, i.e. my hymen was intact, but my soul was crushed with the guilt of the “other things” we had done.

    We met as a part of a baptist campus ministry, where we were both leaders and for the entirety of our relationship had been hiding behind closed doors the “dirty” secrets of our physical relationship with each other. Surrounded by those who proudly declared their policies of just holding hands, group dates, no kissing before the altar, etc… we felt alone in our struggle.

    Though I never expressed it to him, the knowledge of his sexual past haunted me. In one way I was completely insecure and obsessively compared myself to this girl I didn’t know. What she looked like, who she was, etc… But also, the how, when, how often, etc…. of it all. In another way, I was completely frustrated and even angry that someone else had gotten to experience the intimacy with him that I so longed to have.

    Our close encounters left us in a constant battle of setting boundaries and then crossing them, which led to disappointment and shame in ourselves and each other.

    Once we got married, I think for my husband the pressure was off. We could finally just have sex – so there was no issue.For me, I was haunted by our prior sexual “mistakes”. I was unable to “let go” of the shame.

    While I was supposed to stand proud because I had mastered my desires and maintained my white knuckle grip on my virginity, I was ashamed, confused, and insecure about the sudden shift in our relationship. One moment it was forbidden and defiling and impure, but a few hours in a white dress and I was supposed to suddenly feel free and open and wildly passionate?

    Even know there are times that I am hesitant and embarrassed to talk about sex, desires, etc… with my husband. I am not sure about how our intimacy has been affected by continued view of sex as something “dirty” that is wrong to think or talk about.

    When discussing this with my husband a few weeks ago, he asked, “so do you think we should have had sex before we got married?” Honestly, that is not really what I think, nor do I think God intends for us to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage. But where is the grace?

    Acknowledging attraction to your partner and the desire you have to be with them is not wrong. It is built in us to desire a sexual connection with a person as much as it is to desire good food. But placing my virginity on a pedestal, an idol desired by my would be husband and a constant reminder of my constant failure to be pure, only set us up for shame and disappointment.

    We stand completely defiled before our Savior, the one who created sex, and His blood covers us and makes us as white (and pure) as snow. My wedding night was amazing, but it did not save me or sanctify me, the grace of God did that. The grace that covers all of our sin, sexual and otherwise.

  • Verity3

    Preach! :D

  • Ollie

    This really made me think! I was going to send my daughter to one of those Purity events but decided not to after reading this. I knew they have been proven to be ineffective (based on studies) at preventing premarital sex, but I thought to myself, “What’s the harm in her going?” Now I *know* the harm. A *relationship* with her that involves talking about his stuff (as scary as that sounds!) is what matters–not sending her to some event. Thanks for writing this.

  • Stacy Bailey

    I wore the ring and felt SUPER guilty about making out all throughout high school and college. Especially going to a private Baptist college where many girls were also saving their first kiss until marriage!! Seriously?? I felt like a whore even though I had never had sex. As a 23 year old virgin, my dying mother admits to us that she and my dad didn’t actually wait until marriage to have sex! Even though they were only 17 and 19 when they did marry, and even though they both guilted us and preached purity and the whole ring thing to us as adolescents. What I realized is, when you are in love, sex doesn’t feel wrong at all. It feels completely right, and makes a relationship so much more meaningful and closer. Trying to put labels and limits on something so closely related to love is ridiculous. After all that, it turns out, I’m a lesbian, never having been able to go through with sex with a boy. So, as it turns out…according to my gyno, I’m still technically a virgin. So, maybe I found the “purity” loop hole! lol!!! ;)

  • Lucie

    While reading through the comments I was reminded of something I’d read about a while back, that startled me considerably – a sort of “secondary virginity” sought by some married women who had NOT married as virgins, but who wanted to give their husbands that experience, in the sense of at least FEELING like they were with a virgin. (To the best of my memory, most if not all of the women profiled were not doing it for any religious reasons.) So they went to their doctors and had them sew a fake hymen in. I swear I am not making this up. You can find it with a Google search. I felt then as I do now that there is something grossly wrong about this.
    One question that I was left with – and have never had answered – is was that cheap thrill really so worth it to the husband/partner?

  • Tao Yun

    I agree with parts of this article

  • Sooz

    My first husband and I were both virgins when we married. Our sex life was so idealized, it was impractical in reality. He felt that he had waited and deserved sex whenever he wanted it. That made me feel like an object, and combined with my naivety and inexperience, I desired sex even less. Given that sex was a taboo conversation topic in our ultra-Christian world, we suffered alone until he resorted to pornography and extra-marital affairs to satisfy. It destroyed our marriage. We were married 6 excruciating years and the damage took years for me to recover from.

  • vifitmom.wordpress.com

    Great Post– I think the main thing I realized after I got married was that once I found my husband (even though I thought other guys were “the one” when I was younger) it was disappointing to have not shared that special-ness with just him. There may also be issues of jealousy in the beginning of the marriage from past relationships, but in my case this jealousy faded with time. I think you will have issues with the relationship and the sex portion whether you abstained previously or not. I do not regret my prior decisions because they are part of me and I learned things from each experience. I just try to share this with younger girls in my life if the questions comes up. I think, like you, honesty is the best route.

  • uberd00b

    The entire reason there are prohibitions on sex before marriage in religions is because they are born of primitive and barbaric societies. Societies in which a daughter was the property of her parents and worthless/unmarriageable if not “pure”. These atrocious morals have no place in modern society.

  • amanda

    This is THE BEST post you have EVER done. Please keep them coming! Or even set up another blog or site that we can all go in deeper for this topic. This is something the church (all followers of Christ) should openly discuss.

  • Nenya

    And anyway, my daughter is inherently precious simply because she exists.

    Amen, amen, amen.

  • ashley

    I read your response to the anti-ee post first–then had to go back…

    I’ve been reading all these purity posts from Sarah, Ann, Rachel and now you…and my hubby and I have been chatting a great deal in our house.

    On another similar note..In our “True Love Waits” group (yeah weve known each other that long), 17 kids age 12-16 took the pledge….it was just my hubby and I that kept it. What happened to the others? they went sexually crazy when they hit 17-19 when they moved out of their parents house. Know what the difference was even despite our SIMILAR virginity culture? our parents talked to us all the time not about virginity but about decisions, choices, natural consequences. We had an open relationship where we talked about respect for each other and respect for our brothers and sisters in Christ and that being in a relationship wasn’t the highest calling. Serving and lOVING jesus was and finding the freedom to live life without sex was just as important as giving in to the tidal waves of lust (lol).

    that being said…we were totally UNPREPARED for sex and thought that being a virgin was going to make the stars align sexually, spiritually, and it was our last and final stage to the beautiful relationship we had had over the last 6 years (pre marriage). MAN…were we WRONG! By night two of our honeymoon we were swearing off sex for the rest of our lives. We had placed so much value on virginity that it really was our idol. Then when it was gone..we just had a long road ahead.I’m not saying I wish I was not a virgin, but I can relate to the virginity culture and how we idolized it so much and valued it so much that it led to a big disappointment when the “waiting” wasnt as magical as we thought it was going to be. I wish we had been better equipped to dealing with that. I think in some ways…because of the “Christian Culture” depite what our parents taught us…we believed the lie and became self-righteous about it. Sad :(

  • Anon

    Wow. Thank you for posting this! Coming from the ‘purity culture’, ‘kissed dating good-bye’ culture, and ‘sin in masturbation’ culture, I find myself at 31 and seeking healing from shame, confusion and fear. I wish that there was more authentic writing like this to read on the topic. I’ll just have to take some time to finish reading the responses. Again, thank you for your boldness in facing this issue head-on!

  • Unashamedly God-loved.

    Keeping myself pure until the day I could say “I do” was never something I imagined would be difficult. Would be a struggle, or such a grey area. And so I traveled the road gone down by so many other girls, of ‘just a little farther’. And no, I didn’t do the dirty, but I was so ashamed. We are sexually created beings, and we NEED to start emphasizing pure living above a black and white virginity line. I started dating the most amazing boy, but he would always push a little farther. And it became such a all-out battle every day, we went physical every time we were hanging out. Eventually I gave in, because honestly on the one hand it just felt so good. On the other hand, I knew that if I didn’t give in I would just be fighting him and myself every day. I had sold myself on such a twisted lie of love, I couldn’t see how much I was ripping my heart into pieces in the process. And the craziest part is that I knew God was with me every single step of the way. I cried to Him. I ran to Him. And then I would give in again.

    For me, I had the most traumatizing wake up call a woman can have. I’m pregnant. And it wasn’t until that happened, and a very long process later that I walked away from the guy. Where I had to start valuing myself again. And I have learned so much about how much God loves me, passionately, unequivocally and unconditionally. Some may say I am more ‘damaged goods’ now that I was before I had sex. But I disagree. I have experienced such healing because of the pain I went through. I’m not saying that you as a girl need to get pregnant for that wake up call. But I do need you to know that you are not less valuable that anyone else because of choices you made. You are not soiled. You are not damaged goods. You are passionately loved EXACTLY for who you are, and the path that you’ve walked. The choice of whether you want to walk with God every day or not is up to you. Find your value in Him, not the guys around you like I did.

    • Corita

      Unashamedly: I am there with you. I had a similar journey, but I didn’t know it as well as you seem to. I felt *very* alone, partly because of the cult of virginity (which is not the same thing as the call to physical/emotional/sexual integrity found in Christianity.)

      I will keep you in prayer.

  • anonymous minister

    I’m afraid to post this for fear of bringing wrath down upon my head, but the dynamics found in the fantastic blog post don’t just apply to women. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian congregation and everything Elizabeth said about herself applies to my past as a young man. I especially resonnated with:

    “I was a virgin and I didn’t feel “pure enough” because I’d kissed a couple boys (girls in my case) before my husband (wife). I was a virgin and I felt horribly defiled because I’d discovered this crazy, secret thing called masturbating.”

    I tried my best to live up to the expectations of sexual purity that had been placed on me by my church, and from the outside I had succeeded, but internally what the church had truly created was a dynamic of self-loathing. I couldn’t be good enough for God, or anyone else, because I had that unchaste thought about the science teacher with the ankle tatoo….

    For me, that dynamic eventually played itself out by me turning my back on the whole system. Since I was already defiled because of my secret sins, why turn a gorgeous married woman away when she wanted to sleep with me at 19? Of course, after six months with her Ihad only added real reasons to hate myself on top of the rediculous imagined reasons before.
    Long story short, that was fourteen years ago. I’m married to a wonderfully loving wife, and we have two great kids. I’m a ordained minister who knows unquestionably that my worth is based on the love of God through Christ, not my sexual behavior (good or bad). I hope that in the years to come I teach my children and my congregation that what makes us loved by God is God. We are his children. He has called us worthy in his Son, and we have no reason to be ashamed. He knows us by name and all will be alright.

  • Alexandra

    Thank you so much for this. Saving myself didn’t save my marriage (he was cheating on me from the beginning). No one actually considers me damaged goods (except for me). While I strive for a life of purity in all areas I often fail in all areas. When I choose not to sin (any any area) I choose for God and sometimes me. Not for rewards or because I made promises or because I think it makes me a better person. I know none of that is true. Sometimes I see clearly how it benefits me but mostly I stay strong for no other reason that God has called me to. And that is why I want my kids to choose God’s way. I want them to desire to please Him and trust Him in all things including his plan for sex and marriage. I also want them to understand how this benefits them and choose wisely. I don’t want to use fear tactics or shame. That never works anyway.

  • Ty Alexander Huynh

    Elizabeth, you’re right on with squelching the sexual purity culture taught by the church. Most Christians don’t realize how many false beliefs are being perpetuated by the church. There are serious errors in doctrine ranging from divorce to eternal salvation and yes, sexual immorality and what it truly is. The church cannot correct herself without listening to anointed servants who’ve been taught how to get the correct interpretations for everything from God directly. God does not teach us to abstain from sex before marriage. Some people have gotten guidance to not kiss their fiance until they are wed, but knowing the full truth about these things, I can see that these people jumped to conclusions and now run with their misinterpretations with “purity rings” and the like. God was teaching them the yearning of true love when He told them not to kiss their partners. It is an important part of knowing true love. God was not teaching them that abstinence was a legal requirement or required to be sinless. Sin is the breaking (transgression) of God’s law, not man’s law or whatever man may think is God’s law (1 John 3:4 KJV). It is very important to understand that and what actually is sin and God’s legal definitions for breaking it, as well as how to understand God’s Word as a whole, because translation does affect and skew its understanding. That is why I referred to the King James Version for the true definition of sin. The KJV is more accurate in its translations of Scripture for many things because of its closeness to the times when Scripture was first written. This confusing landscape of understanding God’s Word (both written and live Spoken Word) can only be sorted out by learning the correct principles of following God’s Spirit right so that we get God’s interpretation without errors coming from our minds or the enemy. Interpretation belongs to God (2 Peter 1:20, Genesis 40:8).

  • MrsC

    Ok then what is some good sound advice for a mother that just found out her 14 year old has had sex with her boyfriend? We have always been honest and open, I have shared with her the risks, heartbreak, etc. we are devasted! She truly believes she loves this boy, etc. I remember all those feelings as a teen too. I grew up Catholic but also had sex at a young age with my older BF. Have been praying for the cycle to end but it has not. Just confused and disappointed.

  • Heather

    The purity culture I was raised in made me completely unable to have sex. I was so obsessed with my virginity that I didn’t even want to have sex once I was married. I felt like virginity was a prize, and once I lost it, I’d be forever changed. I’d be forever lacking. Because of this, I waited until I was 26, still unmarried, and decided I needed to have sex just to break free of those bonds. So I had sex before marriage, even though I had waited and obsessed for years. Having sex made me feel free of the “burden of virginity.” I could stop worrying about what I would become once I lost my purity, and I was surprised to find out that I was still the same person — caring, compassionate, and beautifully flawed. However, the psychological impact of my years of obsessing was so cutting that even once I became sexually active and even got married, I still feel a deep sense of shame whenever I experience intimacy with my husband. Because of the purity culture, sex EQUALS shame in my mind. Even as a married woman, I cannot fully enjoy sex, and it’s very difficult for me to relax and let go — even with my own husband.