A friend and I recently talked about how virgins, especially those of us out of our teens and getting further past our early 20s, sort of need a support group. Whether you’re practicing chastity for religious reasons or waiting for your first time to be in a committed relationship with someone you love, you’re part of a rather uncomfortable minority. It’s not particularly cool and certainly not easy to be a virgin in this culture.
I had a friend in NYC tell me that being a virgin was a problem that I needed to fix. She gave me a book about how women should liberate themselves and take control of their dating lives by learning to ‘have sex like men.’ (I can’t say I wasn’t a little tempted, though his arguments really weren’t that compelling). It certainly felt like a big obstacle to dating in that city, where meeting someone at a bar and going home with them tends to be the standard definition of dating.
Dating in Michigan is less daunting as a virgin but I still know a number of women here who’ve had guys break up with them when they stated that they were virgins and either waiting until marriage or a commitment to have sex. It’s pretty intimidating to live with the knowledge that the average 16 year old has more sexual experience than I do.
Awkward as it can be to be a virgin, the true challenge is chastity. In that, our struggle is mostly with ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times one of my good friends has called me up to say that she’s ready to just throw in the towel and pick up a guy at a bar. Another friend told me that she said to her ex-boyfriend a few times, in frustration and impatience, “Once I get my merit badge for waiting until I’m 25, I’m done with this!” I’ve had many similar moments myself. There have been numerous times when good friends have said to me, “Lindsey, you don’t get to give yourself a get-out-of-jail free card when you feel like it. “ (Something I need to hear most around my birthday when my impatience is hitting its peak and I’m feeling entitled to a reward for another year of good behavior).
If we want to have sex too, why wait? I think that’s a question that all of us practicing chastity/abstinence come back to over and over again. The refrain my friends and I repeat the most is “If I wasn’t a Christian, there’s no way I’d be doing this!” (Though I do have one friend for whom this isn’t a factor at all since she’s not religious). At least for me, that’s not all that’s stopping me from having a casual one night stand or sleeping with a boyfriend.
Growing up in evangelical Christian churches, I’m sure I heard all the trite messages you see in the media. I can’t say that I listened to any of them. They were about as memorable and affective as Christian arguments against swearing (which obviously never sunk in since the f-word plays a prominent role in my vocabulary). I had a friend or two who took purity pledges and had purity rings. I never made an official commitment and would never wear one of those rings.
The Christian women in my life, who honestly shared their stories with me, have had a stronger influence on me than any message I heard in church. Starting at a young age, my mom began gradually having frank conversations with my sisters and I about sex. By high school, we were well aware that she and my dad had both been virgins when they got married. They enjoyed the pleasure and intimacy of learning the art of sex together. Like any parent, she wanted this for her girls as well. While she shared her positive experience, it was contrasted by other married Christian women we knew who expressed their regret for having sex before marriage. They shared ways in which they felt it had a negative impact on their marriages. Like the unnecessary wounds they and their spouses could give each other, when angry, by bringing up past lovers. Or how they found themselves at times comparing their husbands’ performance to past partners and bemoaning having married a man that wasn’t their best lover. Etc. My mom often emphasized that marriage is hard enough without bringing other people into your bed with you.
As someone who responds to the wisdom imparted through stories, these women’s experiences played a large role in shaping my understanding of the value of waiting to have sex with your spouse. Though their power has waned through the years as I’ve heard more women’s stories, and as I’ve accepted that my husband (if I have one) most likely won’t be a virgin, they continue to stay with me.
Also, growing up immersed in the Bible and in some very healthy Christian communities shaped my understanding of sex in a particular way. I grew to understand sex to be not only a beautiful expression of love and passion but also a binding activity. A physical expression of the entangling of two people’s emotions and lives. As an act that carries a great weight of responsibility towards the other: responsibility for the potential consequence (such as a baby) and the emotional responsibility of carrying the burden of someone else’s love (which excludes the option to play ignorant to the fact that someone might become deeply attached to you as a result of having sex). With such a dynamic and weighty definition of sex, I am unable to reduce it to simple physical gratification (though, of course, I think that’s an important part of it).
All of this has played a role in my decision to practice chastity but I also have more personal motivations.
After reading my post about the sense of control I felt that my extra weight used to give me, one of my readers aptly pieced together that I was molested as a child. I was. While being molested jump started my sex drive (I honestly can’t remember a time when my body didn’t crave sex), it also resulted in a fierce possessiveness of my body. For over a decade, I was unwilling to let any man have any privilege with my body, beyond maybe a hug. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve begun to dismantle some of those boundaries. Still, it is very important to me to affirm my body’s sanctity and to place a justifiably high cost upon enjoying and sharing in it.
Having told you that I was molested, I think it is important to make it clear that I have not chosen to practice chastity because I’m afraid of men or sex. I am very comfortable with men, as long as they do not set off my finely tuned creep-dar. Having dry sex* on a dance floor with a stranger, around my 21st birthday, confirmed for me that I’m a deeply sensual person at ease with my body and someone else’s (as long as I sense he’s quality and he plays by my rules). Like many women similar to myself, having casual sex would come very naturally to me as a result of my past. In fact, casual sex is more tempting to me than intimate sex because it is much less emotionally threatening. To date, the only men I’ve let myself be physically intimate with were strangers whose names I was hardly interested in learning (I don’t state that proudly but I do think I deserve a little pat on the back for keeping the number down to three, especially when you remember that I lived in NYC for two years, and for not letting any instance get too out of hand).
The boundaries I have set have not only been to reclaim my body for myself and prevent a man from “taking advantage of me.” They are there to prevent me from crossing a line I know I shouldn’t.
As much as I’m sure I would enjoy casual sex, I respect myself too much to cross that line. When I state that, I don’t mean that I respect myself too much to be perceived as a “slut.” Frankly, I’d be amused by being a source of gossip. What I mean is that I respect myself too much to allow myself to divorce my body from my emotions. To let myself participate in a game that’s rules don’t permit me to fall in love with the man I’m sleeping with or expect him to be there the next morning, and every morning after. I respect myself too much to pretend that my physical desire for sex is more important than my deeper desire to belong to someone physically and emotionally, and have him belong to me back. While having sex with someone I love will be more emotionally threatening than having sex with a stranger, it will be infinitely more meaningful. While limiting myself to one man that I’m married to can sound confining, it will also be more freeing because I won’t have to restrain my desire to love him with my whole being.
When I’m in a committed relationship with a man I want to have sex with, I know it will get harder to remain chaste. I know that, if I trust him, I’ll be seriously trying to convince myself out of waiting until my wedding night. But I also know that I’m not really capable of giving both my body and heart away lightly. And I tend to think that all relationships with men come with an expiration date. It’ll most likely take a covenantal ceremony to convince me a man intends to stick with me for the long haul. That’ll probably help.
Now I’d love to open the floor to other virgins out there, what’s your story? Why are you waiting?
*I wasn’t using dry sex as a euphuism for dirty dancing. That’s how it started but we progressed much further. I know, I know, classy Lindsey. I’m the first to admit, it wasn’t one of my finest moments.