Monday, July 9, 2007

Virginity Fascination

I'm going to take a few minutes to rant about something that has really begun to annoy me in modern "christianity": the virginity fixation that seems to have crept into everything. I grew up in a Christian home. I attended Sunday School and church (I was even a Baptist for a few years, and I spent plenty of time in "open brethren" and a couple house meetings), and I went to a Christian school for several years (like, from grade four until half-way through grade eleven). So I got to hear the Big Talk any number of times.

You know, when Christians talk about either "morality" or "purity", they only mean sex. Apparently fraud, dishonesty, or physical violence is neither immoral nor impure. Has anyone else noticed this?

At any rate, I recall any number of exhortations to "wait until marriage" or "save yourself for marriage" or whatever. And frankly, some of it seemed rather laughable to my teenage ears. It sounded to me like the truly sex-obsessed were the adults, who didn't want to talk about anything else. I and the other teenagers I knew weren't nearly as interested in sex (or talking about sex) as the Christian leaders (teachers, youth leaders, pastors youth pastors) seemed to be. Interestingly, my parents seemed more three-dimensional too. They, like my teenage friends, could actually hold a conversation without having it denegrate into some sort of warning of the sexual dangers I was certainly facing. Perhaps having well-adjusted parents is the root of all my personality problems...

I eventually taught high school for several years (both public and private), and I still think I was right as a teenager. Teenagers are not nearly so hormonally motivated as pop Christian culture seems to think. But I get ahead of myself here.

A few years ago, I was at a wedding for a friend's daughter. Nice kid: I don't know her very well, but well enough to unflinchingly help her (and her husband) out if they ever need anything. Well, there was a speaker at the wedding, whom I (still) respect immensely. At the reception, he gave a little word, which centered on the bride's "purity". "She kept herself for marriage" was frequently repeated. Now, I'm not questioning whether she kept herself for marriage or not. But I just have to ask: how is it the business of all her wedding guests? Or to put it another way, if her husband's satisfied with her (and she with him), why does anyone else care? And if this were just an isolated incident, I'd dismiss it as a weird anomaly. I mean, you can't hang around Christians too long without seeing several of those. But it wasn't: I've heard similar comments on the radio (Christian stations), in print, and on the web.

I know this seems like a nit, but I suspect there are bigger principles working. Let's look at a couple:

First, this sort of thinking centers on the idea that life until marriage is a sexual obstacle course, which suddenly ends at the wedding. Would that such were the case! The fact is, I suspect there are more sexual tempations for the married (or divorced or widowed) than the teenager. I suppose celebrating small victories as well as big ones is not a bad thing, but doesn't this seem a little myopic? I can assure you with a straight face that I am much more capable of sinning sexually now that I have a decent income (and some worldly wisdom), than I ever could as a penniless, awkward teenager. (Because as is obvious from my blogs, I am suave, well-heeled, and filthy rich... or perhaps not so much.)

Second, this creates an idea of "purity" as a one-shot deal. Let's consider a rather innocuous (although perhaps not terribly common) scenario: Let's say a Christian man in his mid-thirties wants to marry a Christian woman in her mid-thirties. Suppose further that she was widowed young. For the "religious right" Dobson-listening, mainstream Christians (who no doubt frequent my blogs), let's assume her husband was a brave American soldier killed in Iraq. In fact, let's assume the bride has a child from this first marriage. Is she "pure"? More to the point, consider a young Christian couple who met ina Bible study a few years after she got saved. She has a child out of wedlock, but it was before she was a believer. Is she "pure"?

The problem is, purity and virginity are not the same thing; but this obsession about it would lead us to believe they are exactly equivalent. I remember when I was a teenager, the pastor of the Baptist church would talk in glowing terms of a high school student who made a statement to the effect "I'm going to wait for marriage, and I'm going to marry a virgin!" I used to Rah! Rah! with the rest of the congregation, but now I wonder why. Is it more holy to marry a virgin? Is someone "experienced" fundamentally less holy?

It seems to me this fixation with virginity is at odds with the fundamental message of Christianity: that God loves those who are worthless and broken; and has done the unthinkable in sending His Son to die for them.

Third, it further mythifies sex in the mind of Christian young people. I mean, if the leaders and role-models all talk about it non-stop, it must be worth obsessing about, right? I recall once being in a "college and careers" get-together, and some of the older people made a couple double entendre jokes. They were frankly pretty funny. Someone said, "Guys, we need to tone it down, there are single people here!". While I appreciate his good intentions in trying to keep us singles "pure", the fact of the matter is, an off-colour joke or two was much more innocuous than calling attention to the matter. In fact, my respect for him would have been much higher, had he made some comment about off-colour jokes in mixed company. The whole idea of "not tempting the singles" seems more aimed at maintaining some mythical status for sex than at actually maintaining some level of "clean" conversation.

Fourth, it intrudes on what's no one else's business. Let's be honest: it's none of my business how big a whore Mrs. X was before she was saved. In fact, it's none of my business what a whore she was after she was saved. It is my business if she's a whore now, but only in the sense of church discipline: and fornication is listed alongside slander in that list (1 Corinthians 5): which is suggestive.

Don't misunderstand me: sexual sin is sin. But where there has been confession and repentance of any sin, there is the need to let it go. I wouldn't dream of commenting in a church gathering on whether a wealthy fellow-christian got his money honestly. So why would I feel free to comment on whether a sister in the Lord "kept herself pure?". I mean, if someone were to introduce a sister to the assembly by saying "This is _____, and she made a fortune; but it' a beautiful fortune: she didn't actually rob any banks to get it," they'd (rightly) be considered off their rockers. But when that same person talks at someone's wedding and says "_____ is very beautiful in her wedding dress, but she's even more beautiful because she kept herself pure", then that's accepted calmly.

While I'm sure most of the Christians who make much ado about purity mean well, I can't help but think they're barking up the wrong tree. And I can't help but wonder what the fallout from this one might be in a generation or two.


Shan said...

Please tell me you got that big long comment I just posted.

If you did, I have a big AND ANOTHER THING!!!

Making such a big deal about premarital sex gives those Christians who don't manage to withstand temptation a HUGE guilt complex. That TOTALLY undermines the message of grace. It's like sex is the Sin Against The Holy Spirit or something.

I can't count the number of times I heard, as a Christian teenager, "you only have one First Time" and "once you've agreed to that, they think you'll agree to anything" and other such guilt- and shame-based crap.

In my (lost?) comment I said I felt sorry for that poor bride standing there in front of everybody, probably ready to sink when Joe Pastor starts blabbing on about her purity - after all, that's bound to make her feel guilt over the heavy makeout sessions she no doubt had with her fiance. Plus how does he know what really happened? Best to stay away from the subject altogether.

So will I be teaching my daughters to wait until marriage? Well, like everything else I'll teach them what the ideal is. But there's no way I'm telling them that it's the Big Bad with life-ending consequences. That way lies secretiveness and unhealthy curiousity.

I think this is one of the main ways this puritanical society of ours has infected the church. There's more shock and scandal surrounding sex than there is about anything else. OF COURSE the young people are going to get the idea it's pretty freakin' fantastic. Who wouldn't? Forbidden fruit is awesome.

You're right, too, when you say the wedding is just the beginning. There's not much preached to young people about the sheer agonizing difficulty involved in Year After Year with your spouse while you becoming increasingly sexually aware and all the freedoms of marriage and independence are opening up before your eyes. It's like, if you make it to "I Do" without having sex, you're home free. Not so.

clumsy ox said...

Nope, never got it.


Stace' said...

I thank the Lord for the Woman At The Well!!!

Love Shan's thoughts!
There is good reasoning behind your "Mum" telling me she had your siblings "approve" your dates, and not your parents. SMART!!!

Having been a young, unwed Mother, I never understood the shameless ability of well meaning christians to so casually strike up a conversation about "secondary virginigy". I always wanted to ask with a very witty bite just how they knew it was only secondary. I didn't dare. You can exhale now...

I would love to know what sparked this blog. I'm confident I never will. 'Tis okay.

I give a loud AMEN!!!

I've never heard the "Purity" message at the church I now attend. They're far too honest for that. Not good, not bad. Just what it is...

clumsy ox said...

If I knew what sparked this blog, I would probably tell you: I can't actually remember. But it's been in the back of my mind for several years now...

freedomnan said...

"Perhaps having well-adjusted parents is the root of all my personality problems..." I think that is likely true. The trouble is, if one THINKS, examines, or considers, one is in the unenviable position of seeing things which are not as they should be. I have often wished that I could sit in a pew week after week and 'go along with' the garbage. It would be easier to just accept the norm and live a half-baked existence than to understand that our Lord has more and ever-so -much-more of grace and life for us. Then, when one teaches one's children to THINK - ah, me.

Chuck Hicks said...


That'n was so dang good I'm swapping links to you from my blog.

Keep it up.

clumsy ox said...

But the title is exceedingly lame! I couldn't come up with a good one, so I used "Viriginity Fascination". Now, a day later, I realize the correct title is "Are You Experienced?"

I might have to go back and change that...

KingJaymz said...

Mark, this is nothing short of brilliant. You and I need to form our own movement. We'd be called the biggest heretics from here to next Tuesday! I resonated with every last thing you said here. I might try to give you a call about this later tonight. Then you can yell at me about what I blogged about today (LOL).

The Family Jewels said...

My marriage ceremony happened between God, myself and Hubby quite a while before the church ceremony that was put on for my mother. Our wedding was for us and between us and God...the church ceremony was for everybody else to see that we were making that commitment. The church ceremony only made it official to others and on paper.

We did have our "sexual" struggles early on and I made some monsterously bad choices, but it had nothing to do with the church ceremony happening after our personal wedding was Satan picking in there and making me question things on my own.

I also feel sorry for the young woman being put out on a "meat market" display. Her "purity" is between God and her and her husband. NOT her, her husband and the guests in attendance.

Great post!

Niki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Niki said...

Great post Ox! And I loved Shan's comments too. Gee, maybe you should join us over at my sex, love, and marriage blog.

THANK YOU for pointing out that purity and virginity aren't the same freaking thing. There is no such thing as a "born again virgin" and I'm quite fed up with the whole True Love Waits movement as well. That's a post in it's own. One's purity should NEVER be discussed at a wedding feast. Aren't we past the whole bride wearing white or ivory to tell whether she's pure or not on her wedding day? Give me a break.

July 10, 2007 4:41 PM

Stace' said...

Not Secondary VIRGINIGY, that would be Virginity. It was late!

clumsy ox said...

Niki, I actually requested my wife to wear off-white at our wedding, because I thought white bridal dress looks insipid. Whether I was correct is, of course, a matter of opinion.

Am I correct in assuming the "secondary virginity" Stace' mentioned is the same as the "born-again virgin" concept you mentioned?

That has got to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.

Shan said...

"Whether she's pure or not..."

All right, look. There's no such thing as stainless anyway. The simple matter of whether or not you have had sexual intercourse is almost completely outside of the issue of purity. Is the victim of rape any less virtuous than her luckier peers? What about those who fool around in every possible way except vaginal intercourse...they are technically virgins, right?

Plus let's not forget that for the purposes of Sin, "whosoever looketh". And everybody....eeeeeeverybody.....looks.

Chuck Hicks said...

well...not exactly eeeeeeverybody,. There are the vision-impaired...:-)

It's fairly safe to say that all have been guilty of lust of one variety or another. However, I just read F.F. Bruce's excellent study, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (1983) in preparation for a study at church. A renowned textual scholar, Bruce notes that the language Jesus employs to discuss "looking on a woman" stresses something to the effect of "keeping the image in your mind and developing it into lust."

In this day it is virtually impossible for a man not to see things -- unless he gouges his eyes out. The question is what he does with what falls into his field of vision.

I'm not suggesting (nor is Bruce) that it is possible to have never once been guilty of the sin of visual lust; but if the Lord's teaching is taken correctly, it is possible to cast aside what one has seen and not allow it to fester into lust.

"With every temptation He will provide the way of escape" (or something like that, the RD Version).