A Support Group for Virgins, Part 2

Discussion Time

It’s ironic that in our culture being a virgin is something of a disgrace. While many cultures around the world value purity, in our culture it comes with stigmas that few of us want attached to us. If you’re male, being a virgin practically means you haven’t entered manhood yet (since losing your virginity seems to be one of the last rites of passage we have left for men). You risk opening yourself up to others condescension and disrespect by letting it slip that you haven’t yet had sex. If you’re female, it means your naïve, repressed, or brainwashed. You open yourself up to being seen as an ideal instead of a person: the simple minded, untouched, libido-free, ultra-submissive woman of every chauvinistic man’s wet dreams and every feminist’s nightmares. No wonder most of us keep our status as virgins private.

Of course, the Christian community is more than accepting of virgins. In fact, we are practically their poster children. But, again, they idealize us to an extent that is as offensive as it is ridiculous. (The virginity obsessed “Purity Movement” has especially made us both a joke and an obscenity).

All of the fuss that’s made about virginity really isn’t justified. For most of us, it is a temporary state of being. One that the majority of us will happily move beyond eventually. Therefore, too much value or significance shouldn’t be placed on virginity itself (especially since it is a state of being that isn’t always as much in our control as it should be due to the reality of rape).

At the same time, there is no good justification for looking down upon virgins either. Sex is undeniably loaded with potential emotional and physical repercussions (while the risk of getting pregnant may be at an all-time low the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease is at an all-time high). Whether motivated by practical, personal or religious reasons, there is nothing foolish about being patient and choosy when it comes to physically uniting your body with someone else’s. Remaining a virgin until you’re in the right relationship, or married, is neither ignorant nor shameful.

An important distinction needs to made, for ourselves and our culture, between being a virgin and practicing chastity. While the one is a very changeable state of being, the other is a spiritual disciple that one decides to practice. Despite what you might be led to believe, chastity isn’t about the repression of one’s sexuality (though it is certainly grounded in the theory that there is much more to us than our sexual desires). The purpose is to abstain from sex for the sake of pursuing something else. The practice of chastity it is not confined to just people who have never had sex.

That last statement might be kind of radical or new for those of you whose understanding of chastity has been entirely shaped by the standard dictionary definition: “The state of being chaste; purity of body; freedom from unlawful sexual intercourse.” While that definition may suffice to capture its meaning in many novels and articles, it is not an adequate definition of the religious practice. Chastity is a spiritual discipline that anyone can practice. The purpose isn’t to keep yourself untouched, it is to grow spiritually. To view the world, and sex, through the lens of faith, and develop a closer relationship with God.

Viewing chastity as a spiritual discipline, among other spiritual disciplines like fasting and solitude, helps to normalize it in a healthy way. For starters, it reminds us that abstaining from sex is not meant to be seen as the only way nor most important way to have a deeper relationship with God. (In short, you don’t have to be a nun to be close to God). Also, by seeing the connection between chastity and fasting, it helps us to retain a healthy view of sex. You don’t abstain from food during a fast because it is necessarily dirty or perverse, you do it in order to become more aware of your hunger for God and to help you pursue Him more (as hunger pangs become a reminder to pray or read the Bible). Similarly, one doesn’t abstain from sex because it is necessarily dirty or perverse, but “in order to remember that God desires your person, your body, more than any man or woman ever will.” As Lauren F. Winner points out in her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity (which I very much recommend).

I also like how calling it a spiritual discipline implies that it requires practice as much as self-discipline. You may not be perfect at it from the start. You may slip up a lot in the process. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth committing to nor that the whole process, failures and all, won’t be beneficial. Personally, I’m terrible at fasting from any type of food. I’ve never managed to complete a Lenten fast without breaking it a few times along the way. Even so, participating in Lent has almost always been beneficial for me. While assuming failure isn’t a good idea, with any discipline, realizing that an imprudent decision or two don’t nullify your commitment is good to keep in mind.

Clarifying what chastity actually is helps to dispense with some of the stigmas attached to virgins. It dispels the idea that “Purity culture is rape culture” (a growingly popular feminist slogan) because this type of purity culture doesn’t support the idea that women’s bodies are solely for men’s pleasure. It reveals how much the Christian Purity Movement is not only detached from reality but blind to the reality of chastity itself. From their ignorance of its actual purpose and value to their idiotic understanding of how to practice it (as if “purity rings” and “purity pledges” are actually useful let alone beneficial).

Adequately understood, chastity isn’t a rejection of sex, it’s an affirmation of it. It just affirms a view of it that’s somewhat counter-culture. It’s also an affirmation of our sexual identity but it’s rooted in the belief that we are fully spiritual and fully sexual. Therefore, the two can’t be divorced without splintering ourselves. (As Rick McKinley says in his wonderful sermon series Love, Sex & God, which I also recommend). All of which grows out of a conviction that singleness serves a greater purpose than promiscuity. That our lives can be fulfilling and enriching even without sex.

8 thoughts on “A Support Group for Virgins, Part 2

  1. I really liked reading this. For women, seems sex is either THE BEST MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD and you are LAME for not being in on it (see: cover of Cosmo), or its BAD and FILTHY and DEGRADING and a way for men to use you and take advantage of you and cheapen you. I hate both, because neither one is anywhere near the truth. Sex is just a regular part of life, like eating and sleeping. If you make poor diet choices it will have a negative effect on you. And if you make poor choices about sex, it can have a negative effect on you. Its as simple as that. I dont see someone who chooses not to have sex any different than someone who chooses to eat a strict, healthy diet. You’ve weighed the pros and cons, and made a personal choice. Doesn’t make you better or worse than the person eating potato chips. What more is there to it?

    I don’t like the thought of women placing their personal value on sex at all, whether that means having it, or not having it. Your personal value as a human being has nothing to do with what you eat or how much sleep you get, and it has nothing to do with sex.

    Issue I have taken with “religious virgins” in the past, is there seems to be some imaginary line in the sand, set by themselves, about what is or isn’t sex. I have had girls tell me they have done EVERYTHING but intercourse, and my question then is, why? If it is really about god or spirituality, how are you making that justification? This is a real question, I am not being rhetorical. For some I think they just want to save that last one thing for their future husband/wife and if that’s your choice, I support it. There just seems to be a blurry line. On that show 20 kids and counting, they practice waiting until marriage to so much as kiss! Which seems radical of course, but then again it raises the question where is the line?

    And if the line for one person can be kissing, and for another person the line is miles up the road at full-on intercourse, can another person draw the line even further? Sex only with the lights off? Only with a condom on? I know I sound like I am trying to be funny but there is something I really dont understand about that, because it seems the rules are set around each persons own justifications in their own head.

    Sorry this is so long! Wish we could sit down and talk.

    1. Angel, don’t feel bad about leaving a long comment! Though I wish we could talk face to face too, I love your response!

      I really like how you talked about sex being a normal part of life, like eating or sleeping. I agree! It would be helpful if our culture started to talk about it and viewed it that way. All of the hype, both negative and positive, surrounding sex isn’t good for any of us. And, as you said, it doesn’t reflect reality.

      Though I’m a religious virgin, I have a lot of issues with many religious virgins myself. Though mine is different than yours. The problem you brought up is somewhat unavoidable. The Bible doesn’t go into explicit detail about what does and doesn’t constitute sexual purity. So everyone striving for it has to use their own judgement. I don’t think that’s entirely problematic. I think it’s good for us to use our own discernment to determine what we think is healthy for us, within boundaries. (Maybe that’s because I’m someone who thinks that guidelines are healthier than rules).

      The problem to me is that too many religious virgins are focusing on holding onto their virginity instead of striving for purity. The two things are very different. When your focus is just on staying a virgin, it means that you’re trying to hold onto something that your body is ready to move beyond. (Like someone unwilling to accept how growing out of childhood changes you-changes how you see the world, how you react to it, and what you want). When your focus is on striving for purity (or to put it in a way that I like more – remembering to honor God with your body and in your relationships), then your focus is on making wise choices that are consistent with your character and values. Your decisions about what are and are not appropriate physical acts before marriage isn’t determined by how you define sex but by what you think God would smile at. You’re trying to both respect your relationship with God (and the standard he has set for you), while also letting your relationship grow. Instead of berating yourself for your sexual desires, or trying to pretend they don’t exist, you’re learning how to become the master of them. That’s what it means to really practice chastity.

      All of that to say, in my view, the line isn’t what matters. What matters is why someone is waiting. I don’t think it’s healthy to just try to hold onto your virginity, as if that’s all that matters. What’s sad to me is that American Christian culture isn’t doing a good job of articulating a case for chastity. It’s just arguing for abstinence. That’s among the reason I felt like I needed to write about this topic. I wanted to bring out a different side of the religious argument for saving sex for marriage.

    1. I think that this article for NY Daily News captures pretty perfectly what I mean when I say that the Purity Movement is out of touch with reality: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/purity-balls-girls-hooked-thrill-chaste-article-1.337606. In it you can very obviously see the troubling (and irrational) presuppositions this movement is founded on:

      1) Women don’t have sex drives only men do which is why females must be protected from them.
      2) A woman’s virginity belongs to her father until she is married off. (ew!)
      3) Saving sex til marriage is the only way to have a happy, healthy marriage.

      Isn’t it interesting that, while they might claim the Bible as support for this, they don’t even touch on the actual religious/spiritual value of chastity. They seem completely clueless to the fact that it is a spiritual discipline and that it has a much greater purpose than safeguarding women’s virginity.

      1. I can see what you mean by the purity movement really missing the whole picture. I think some of the rules are…certainly carried out to far. I really didn’t know this was what you were talking about when you meant purity movement. so clarifying really help.

        yeah, that is a little gross sounding to say the daughter’s virginity belongs to the father (almost implicates incest). the daughter’s virginity belongs to her.

        I wonder if such rigid constrains hurts the child more because when they get freedom the child doesn’t know what to do.

        once at my grandma’s church the new pastor was saying something about his son and how he hopes he only has to date one person and made is sound so righteous to only date one person in your life. I thought that sounded ridiculous because it implied God only wants you to date till you’ve found the right person, but dating is how you find the right person, or; better said that person becomes the right person.

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