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?