Two weeks ago, online women’s magazine XO Jane published an article by a married woman named Samantha who had taken a pledge of abstinence at the age of 10. The article detailed her overall struggle with her decision to wait, from the guilt she felt doing anything remotely sexual with her boyfriend (now husband) to the lingering feelings of shame she carried into her wedding night and two years into her marriage, despite having remained a virgin until “I do.”
Samantha, who grew up a Christian, faults her church environment for instilling her with such guilt:
“The church taught me that sex was for married people. Extramarital sex was sinful and dirty and I would go to Hell if I did it. I learned that as a girl, I had a responsibility to my future husband to remain pure for him. It was entirely possible that my future husband wouldn’t remain pure for me, because he didn’t have that same responsibility, according to the Bible. And of course, because I was a Christian, I would forgive him for his past transgressions and fully give myself to him, body and soul.”
After describing the two years she spent in therapy trying to unlearn the shame of her “purity culture” and the toll it took on her married sex life, Samantha concludes her article by stating she is no longer religious, choosing sex over faith because she did not believe the two could exist together.
On a feisty note, I want to tell this girl that she clearly actually doesn’t know God very well if she thinks this is how God designed us to approach sex, and neither did whoever was feeding her this load of bull-honky.
On a less feisty and hopefully more understanding note, this is mostly just heartbreaking.
It’s heartbreaking that for what has appeared to be decades (I don’t know, I’ve only been around for about two) the church has often made Christians and non-Christians alike feel their worth is determined by sexual status and that premarital sex is the ultimate sin.
Women in particular face the pressure of this lie. We gentle, sugar-filled creatures supposedly have less of a sex drive and therefore should be able to control ourselves around our sex-crazed male counterparts (a double-standard already well-known in our culture). In Samantha’s case, she was made to believe that her ultimate responsibility to her future husband was to remain sexually pure, regardless of what he did. And, if she didn’t, she would pretty much screw up her entire life and Jesus himself would stick a postage stamp on her non-virginal butt and mail it straight to hell.
I get why Samantha (and so many other women) believe this lie. I really do. I myself struggled with this idea for a long time. I get that sex has been put on this pedestal and therefore works its way into the foundation of our identities. It becomes the decisive goal, the promise in marriage, and the thing that supposedly determines our status as a sinful failure or a really good Christian girl. For Samantha, who grew up learning sex was dirty and shameful and would make her dirty and shameful, these ideas colored her perspective of sex even after her wedding night. Viewed through the lens of a distorted theology, she believed sex would only ever make her impure, submissive and less valuable. So she removed the theology altogether.
This is where the real heartbreak comes in. Though Samantha’s perspective may have been a product of her environment growing up, she clearly was capable of thinking for herself as an adult woman because she made a decision to break away from her faith. So I have to think that while Samantha may have adhered to a religion, she had not experienced what it really means to know Christ. If she had, I doubt she would have believed faith and sex could never be compatible.
God invented sex. Period. He wants us to have it, and he wants us to experience it in the most life-giving, beautiful way possible: marriage. Who would want to walk away from something as good as that?
Purity culture, which unfortunately is the product of (what I believe) mostly well-intentioned Christians, has fostered this idea of “remaining pure” and thus equating virginity with a holistic identity of purity. It is no wonder women like Samantha feel incredible pressure to never cross any sexual boundaries; their worth as a person, wife and Christian apparently rests on this one aspect.
If I had sat down to coffee with Samantha while she was wrestling with being sexual vs. being a Christian, I would have told her four things:
- Sex and spirituality cannot be separated. The coming together of two people who have chosen each other in marriage is something God absolutely wants. He designed sex for us as a sacred way to literally make love and create a bond illustrative of his own incredible intimacy with his people (for an amazing explanation of this, check out Loveology by John Mark Comer).
- Your purity is not based on your virginity. What is purity, anyway? When I think of purity, I picture myself filled with this weird glowing white light and I’m walking around with this angelic gentleness toward all (FYI, on most days I am filled with chips and any gentleness is overshadowed by my overall tendency to be loud and obnoxious). Even if I’m an ultra-virgin, I will always carry a certain “impure” quality (sorry, future husband). I may lie, get jealous, resent others, hold onto anger, etc. My virginity doesn’t cancel out the very real sins I will always carry. Maybe my future husband should be more concerned with whether or not I’m actually a good person instead of the condition of my virginity.
- Premarital sex is not a one-way ticket to hell. It does not make you less of a person or unworthy of being someone’s husband or wife. Can premarital sex result in difficult emotional and physical repercussions? Yes. But if we believe Christ is who he says he is, then don’t we also believe he is able to renew all things for our utmost good, premarital sex included?
- Ditch this crap about your future husband being off the hook when it comes to premarital sex simply because he is male and supposedly can’t control himself. That’s bull-honky. You are both held to the same standard. An excess of testosterone doesn’t change that.
The ongoing conversation about sex, from both a Christian and a cultural perspective, will always be convoluted. But our status as virgins or non-virgins does not have to so control our identities and worth. Because it certainly does not control our identities and worth in Christ’s eyes.