In the latest episode of So Totally Relidge!, we’re talking about the hot topic of the week: virginity. Specifically, the evangelical emphasis on virginity by way of things like Purity Balls, promise rings, and True Love Waits seminars. Unfortunately, we recorded this episode last week before the topic hit a fever pitch, culminating in The Gospel Coalition responding and then The Guardian covering the topic as well. Let’s review: First, several women wrote about their experience with the purity movement, suggesting that perhaps it was more shaming than positive. (Excerpts below the video). Then, The Gospel Coalition criticized them for their flawed ‘underlying complaint”, which, according to The Gospel Coalition, “seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret”. The Gospel Coalition also indicated that these posts were advocating commitment-free success. (I’ll let you peruse the links to see the original posts, but suffice it to say that’s not what anyone said. But somehow, I had a hunch that it would be construed that way, and I even joked about it with Esther in the video. Little did I know a large evangelical group would prove my point by twisting her words). Anyways, here are some of our thoughts on why the hyper-focus on virginity is problematic: And here are some great reads about it from this week: Carolyn Custis James: Why Virginity Is Not the Gospel
A message of purity and abstinence, as important as this is for young women (young men too) comes too late for huge numbers of young American girls, including those in church pews. It is utterly devastating to the one-in-four girls who is sexually abused before she reaches her 18th birthday. We live in a world where by the age of 18 an estimated 70 percent of girls have had sex at least once and not always by choice, where globally countless women and girls are in the grips of sex traffickers, where an appalling 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, where within our own borders sexual freedom has opened the door for young women to be as sexually promiscuous as men, and where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation. I grieve all of this, but do not for a second imagine that any of this means a woman has less to offer a husband or that in any sense it diminishes her worth.
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.
I’m done splitting my sexuality into pieces, tying my identity to a word that has no medical definition but devastating social implications. I’m done with conversations about “technical virginity” and couples who “win the race to the altar.” Virginity is just another way that people in power talk about who’s in and who’s out of favor with Church, that we set up winners and losers in a Kingdom supposedly of equals.
I am a woman. Not being a wife or mother does not make me less of a woman. My sexuality is not defined by those roles. Nor am I defined by my virginity or my past. I am a unique blend of beauty, character, and imperfection. I am enough. I have tasted my power, I have chosen chastity, I have learned what lies behind these desires. There’s nothing passive now in this decision to wait.
Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You threw away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve ruined everything. No one honorable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged goods, Sarah.” If true love waits, I heard, then I have been disqualified from true love.
A person is more than their sexual experience or lack thereof. Christians find our identity as adopted children of God, not in our virginity. We believe that God works in and with us to make us mature and whole: to learn ourselves, identify our strengths and weaknesses, and develop the strength of character to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Most important, Christians believe that God loves us and can even bring good out of our mistakes and pain.
What are your thoughts on the issue? Did you attend church as a child? Was there an over-emphasis on virginity, and how did that effect you? Do you think it is over-emphasized now?