Ophelia has been digging up so much horrifying misogyny and abusive teachings about the roles of women and love and sex in various contemporary fundamentalist, evangelical, explicitly patriarchal communities that my jaw hits the floor and my heart sinks to my stomach just about every time I read her indispensable blog.
Last night she highlighted the concept of “love virginity”, wherein young evangelicals are encouraged not to “give away pieces of their hearts” before marriage but to “save their whole hearts” for the one they will marry, Libby Anne explains:
Probably the most promoted book on relationships in the circles I grew up in was Joshua Harris’sI Kissed Dating Goodbye. I surely can’t be the only girl who had nightmares after reading that book. You’ll see what I mean from this excerpt:
It was finally here. Anna’s wedding day, the day she had dreamed about and planned for months. The small, picturesque church was crowded with friends and family.
Sunlight poured through the stained-glass windows, and the gentle music of a string quartet filled the air. Anna walked down the aisle toward David. Joy surged within her. This was the moment for which she had waited so long. He gently took her hand, and theyturned toward the altar.
But as the minister began to lead Anna and David through theirvows, the unthinkable happened. A girl stood up in the middle of the congregation, walked quietly to the altar, and took David’s other hand. Another girl approached and stood next to the first, followedby another. Soon, a chain of six girls stood by him as he repeated hisvows to Anna.
Anna felt her lip begin to quiver as tears welled up in her eyes. “Is this some kind of joke?” she whispered to David.
“I’m…I’m sorry, Anna,” he said, staring at the floor.
“Who are these girls, David? What is going on?” she gasped.
“They’re girls from my past,” he answered sadly. “Anna, they don’t mean anything to me now…but I’ve given part of my heart to each of them.”
“I thought your heart was mine,” she said.
“It is, it is,” he pleaded. “Everything that’s left is yours.” A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek. Then she woke up.
Anna told me about her dream in a letter. “When I awoke I felt so betrayed,” she wrote. “But then I was struck with these sickening thoughts: How many men could line up next to me on my wedding day? How many times have I given my heart away in short-term relationships? Will I have anything left to give my husband?”
This scene isn’t talking about sex or physical contact. It’s talking about “emotional entanglements.” This isn’t about physical virginity, it’s about love virginity.
I never quite had that concern. (And it was a good thing as I was painfully in (almost always unrequited) love with a different girl every year and a half or so from ages 11-21 when I stopped worshiping God and, as part of that, stopped idealizing and putting women on ridiculous pedestals to be worshiped like unattainable goddesses.)
For me, unrealistic fantasies about the divine were connected to equally unrealistic fantasies about the divine marriage and unrealistic, counter-productive expectations of physical purity from myself and all-around perfection from the women I fell for (who I would, therefore, make perfect in my mind to match my faith that it was possible and expected that they could really be perfect).
And as part of all this was the attempt to remove the dialectical interplay between body and mind in love. The goal was to lopsidedly turn love into something that did not need physical expression, which could only be tainted by physical expression if there was not an eternal, marital commitment in place already.
First two disembodied spirits had to prove they could truly love each other and only then could they bind together as one flesh and anything physical before that was a betrayal and adultery to that future marriage. The whole philosophy is naive, twisted, and emotionally stunting. It is a recipe for self-loathing, jealousy, hatred of your body, and disappointment. And its psychological damages may never fully heal.
Some young Christians do well with it because they meet a truly right person for them young enough and they just marry young and quickly and, given their utter faith in their values, they never regret missing out on having other lovers, other experiences, or a freer period of experimentation.
The rest, especially those who leave the faith, risk a lot of torment, unnecessary loneliness, discomfort in their own bodies, and a long delayed loss of virginity which can be humiliating, exasperating, frustrating, angering, and alienating. It saps confidence, undermines attempts to form relationships, and leaves people feeling like they are in arrested development. I’ve had depressingly too many friends messed up in these ways for a lot of years by having Evangelical attitudes and behaviors with respect to sex while they were teenagers and college kids. That’s why I think everyone should just listen to Chef:
More from Camels With Hammers on Evangelicals, sex, and the struggles of ex-Christians:
Read posts in my ongoing “deconversion series” in order to learn more about my experience as a Christian, how I deconverted, what it was like for me when I deconverted, and where my life and my thoughts went after I deconverted.
How I Deconverted:
When I Deconverted:
The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:
After I Deconverted: