Do Christians idolize virginity?

'IMG_6071sala-urcu' photo (c) 2010, Jorge Mejía peralta - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Several recent posts from some of favorite bloggers raise this question in powerful ways. I thought today would be a good day to share them, as we continue our series on Sexuality & The Church.

The first is from Elizabeth Esther, who writes:

“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. Read the full post.

The second comes from the always-brilliant Sarah Bessey, who wrote a post for A Deeper Story entitled “I Am Damaged Goods”:

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 honourable 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.
In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.
And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me – and, according to this research, 80% of you are like me –  as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.
We, the majority non-virgins in the myopic purity conversations,  feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.  In this clouded swirl of shame, our sexual choices are the barometer of our righteousness and worth. We can’t let any one know, so we keep it quiet, lest any one discover we were not virgins on some mythic wedding night. We don’t want to be the object of disgust or pity or gossip or judgment. And in the silence, our shame – and the lies of the enemy – grow.

She concludes:

No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.
Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie. You never were, you never will be, damaged goods.

A-freakin’-men is all I have to say to that. You really must read the entire post.

Similarly, Carolyn Custis James recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled “Why Virginity is Not the Gospel,” to which Dianna Anderson added a helpful critique.

I wrote about my experience with "True Love Waits" in A Year of Biblical Womanhood. As you will notice, this is the context in which the infamous v-word appears! 

I signed my first abstinence pledge when I was just fifteen. I’d been invited by some friends to a fall youth rally at the First Baptist Church, and in the fellowship hall one night, the youth leader passed around neon blue and pink postcards that included a form letter to God promising to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. We had only a few minutes to add our signatures, and all my friends were signing theirs, so I used the back of my metal chair to scribble my name across the dotted line before marching to the front of the room to pin my promise to God and my vagina onto a giant corkboard for all to see. The youth leader said he planned to hang the corkboard in the hallway outside the sanctuary so that parents could marvel at the seventy-five abstinence pledges he’d collected that night. It was a pretty cheap way to treat both our bodies and God, come to think of it. Studies suggest that only about 12 percent of us kept our promise.

I have a feeling this is going to be a hot topic in the months and years to come, and we will be discussing it at length as part of series, though later in the year. 

What do you think? Does the Christian culture idolize virginity? How should our narratives surrounding sex, virginity, and purity change, particularly as they concern women? 

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