“Love Virginity”

I recently came upon post on the blog Forever in Hell (which I highly recommend, though watch out for language or snark there if that kind of thing bothers you). This post made me think about what I was taught about virginity, that it’s not just a physical thing but also an emotional thing. Here is an excerpt from the post, with my analysis and thoughts to follow:

You may not be aware of this, but there are many, many people in America, and other portions of the “Western world” who practice courtship. I kid you not. Girls are not allowed to be around boys, ever. In some families, a girl touching a male relative is forbidden, and touching unrelated males is completely out. The girls are never allowed to choose who will court them, which effectively means they are not allowed to choose whom to marry. Permission is granted by the father of the girl, not the girl. Some of these “girls” are of legal age. Like 25.

Why? These fundys have taken purity way beyond the hymen. They believe- I am not making this up- that love is a finite resource, and the more people you love, the less love you have. 

I think that with the mainstream popularity of abstinence only education, the fundys, in order to be speshul little snowflakes, had to figure out some way to go beyond mere physical virginity and so settled on love virginity. She’s right. She’s completely and absolutely right. I was taught as a child that sexual virginity was important, and that my virginity was the most precious gift I could ever give to my husband (which is bullshit), but it went way, way beyond that. It wasn’t just sex, kissing was also a no-no, and I’m not just talking about making out, I’m talking about any form of kissing, even a quick peck. Even hand holding was suspect. But it went beyond this, too. Not only was I to keep my body pure and unsullied, I was also to keep my heart and emotions pure and unsullied.

As a girl, I was told not to “give away pieces of my heart.” That meant that I was to make sure not to fall in love, because if I fell in love with someone I would give him a piece of my heart, a piece of heart that I would now no longer be able to give to my future husband. I would essentially be emotionally cheating on my future husband. In order to keep myself pure, I had to guard my heart and my emotions carefully.

Practically, what this meant was that ever time I had a crush on a guy I knew I felt incredibly guilty. I believed that I was giving away a piece of my heart, and I would never get it back. I was so afraid to love, too afraid to even want to start a relationship. I must, must, must keep myself pure! I thought to myself time and again. Turn your eyes away! Turn your thoughts away! Guard your mind! More chores, more homework, more searching for wild herbs and learning how to can – anything to stay away from boys and any thought of guy-girl relationships! I must keep my heart pure!  And it’s not like I came upon these ideas accidentally. Probably the most promoted book on relationships in the circles I grew up in was Joshua Harris’s I 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. Emotional virginity. What I gleaned from Joshua Harris was that I should only ever have a relationship with one person, else I would be giving away pieces of my heart and would end up with marital discontent and problems. I should marry the first man I loved, the first man I had a relationship with, for only then would my heart be intact and pure. But of course, this meant that I should guard my heart and not fall in love until I was sure I had found the man I would marry, and man who had wooed my father just as he wooed me. Some families, though definitely not mine, take these ideas to their natural conclusion and advocate arranged marriages.

When I realized, in my early twenties, that love is not finite, I felt lied to and betrayed. How had I never realized this? Love isn’t something you cut up and give away and then have nothing left of; love is something you can keep on giving, infinitely. I can’t believe I tortured myself for all those years, working my hardest to hold onto my love virginity, when the entire idea was a lie. Love is something we should encourage, not something we should fear.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I married the first man I had a relationship with, and I regret that. I waited all those years to kiss or have sex, and I regret that too. But more than that, I feel sorry for the girls who are still being told these lies, urged to maintain their physical and emotional purity while they wait for a knight-comes-riding courtship and a magical wedding followed by mind blowing honeymoon sex and a lifetime of wedded bliss. They have no idea that they’re being lied to and sold a fantasy that does not exist.

Note: Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye remains wildly popular in conservative evangelical circles today. World Magazine, a conservative Christian news magazine, published an article a few months ago called Christian Boy Meets Christian Girl, in which a reporter explored the effect of Harris’ book. The article revealed that evangelical college students are afraid to start relationships, extremely afraid of “giving away pieces of their hearts.” As a result, boys don’t ask girls out; when a boy does ask a girl out, it’s the essentially seen as the equivalent of asking her to marry him. Similarly, when a girl starts dating someone, she’s expected to have a ring on her finger ASAP, and if more than a few months go by without a proposal this is seen as a problem. The result is, apparently, that evangelical youth are afraid to form relationships at all, and indeed, many simply aren’t. The author of the article ties this phenomenon – which is new – to the influence of Harris’ wildly popular 1997 I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and especially his teaching on what I call “love virginity” or “emotional virginity.” Read the article here.

Note: For an excellent analysis of some of the problems with Josh Harris’s courtship teachings by a fellow daughter of Christian Patriarchy who grew up with these teachings just as I did, see this article.

Bob Jones University Rejects Key Recommendations of the GRACE Report
The Modesty Rules---Not So Simple, Really
What Courtship Was for Me
Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00916063114745954018 Vyckie

    Isn't it ironic that the same parents who teach their daughters that they are giving away pieces of their hearts which can never be recovered (finite love) are the very ones who will defend their decision to have lots and lots of children by arguing that as their family grows, so do their hearts. The Duggars encapsulated this idea in the title of their book, "A Love That Multiplies."Oh the contradictions!!

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/5b20d3b0-9d71-11e0-a6d0-000bcdcb8a73 Fina

    Love does indeed multiply – it would be sad if i had spent my life so far without ever loving anyone (well, aside from the love for my family members), because that would mean i would have missed so many opportunities to love. And i also think that love is a skill – if you had previous relationships, your emotions will be purer and clearer – you will know better what you want, you will be able to read your partner better etc. Mind you, you can catch up on those missed opportunities.However, TIME does not multiply. If i love two people at once, i can spend less time with them as if i only loved one person – more so for three, four or more. That goes for partners as well as for children. That is an argument against too many children.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Vyckie, that dichotomy should be obvious but I never thought about it until you wrote it out. Excellent point.I grew up in the seventies, had many romance/hook-ups, and became very dissatisfied with my lifestyle, to put it mildly. I had regrets, sure, but I also have some good memories and I learned a tremendous amount about human relationships, that's for sure!That's why when the whole courtship thing came out, I was very skeptical. I confess to having bought the book, not because Josh Harris was my guru, but for consideration and discussion. I considered his point of view and felt it was hopelessly idealistic on one hand, and extremely condemning and unfairly judgmental on the other.I'm really glad I came of age in the seventies, and around the people I was around. I still have regrets about some things, but over all, if I hadn't known the people I did, I would not be the person I am today. And I like who I am today.What Harris advocates- isolating yourself from relationships with the opposite gender and for girls, a lifetime of waiting to be discovered by Prince Charming, is a nightmare for young girls and boys alike. I feel so sad for all the Christian women, made ugly by sack dresses, no makeup and no style, dutifully squelching all their ambitions and desires, waiting for a prince that will never come. :'(

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Oh, and for the men? No chance to get to know a variety of girls, to discover what traits they share and how very many they do not. The pressure on them to marry the first girl and only girl they seek- and the possibility of being turned down by her father- and then of being stuck forever with a girl who turns out not to be all who he thought she was-yikes! What a mess America has made of Christianity.

  • http://foreverinhell.com personal failure

    I am so sorry you were raised that way and felt that you could run out of love. every failed relationship led me to my husband by teaching me what worked and what didn't, what I could accept and what couldn't. each love was different and special and necessary. also, thanks for the mention.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I find this view to be very disturbing, more so because it seems to be trickling down to more mainstream abstinence "education." I had a gender-segregated abstinence ed "workshop" in high school and I remember the workshop leader focused a lot on how if we had sex and broke up, we'd be emotionally damaged goods, and how boys who want to have sex are just out to use us and we'd be psychologically compromised forever etc. Of course, this approach isn't exactly the "emotional purity" teaching because it is focused on sex and its effects, not love, but the attitude that emotional experience and even emotional pain are this damaging, evil force that must be avoided if you want to be safe seems highly reminiscent of it. As opposed to old-style abstinence ed, which was basically all about making kids fear pregnancy and STDs (and telling them that birth control doesn't work), this new variety is about making kids fear feelings. It really jumped at me at the time and it was only later when I started doing research that I discovered this was a widespread attitude and not just a quirk of that particular workshop. Yuck.Personally, I hate the term "virginity" in all contexts. How can we ever be a sex-positive culture when we still equate sexual inexperience with purity and the choice to have sex with "loss?" I don't even use the word any more.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    I came over to say what Vyckie said. It's mind boggling.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Melissa and Vyckie – I think Fina's comment adds an excellent point to your critique. We have infinite love, but finite time. For that reason we (generally!) date one person at a time. If you dated, say, three people at a time, you could love all three but you'd have to split your time. You don't have to do that if you have three successive relationships, one after another. You DO however have to do that if you have a large number of children. I'm not questioning Mrs. Duggar's love for each of her kids, but the reality is that she simply can't have much individual time for each of them. Anyway, "a love that multiplies" should be partnered with "but time is finite." Also, Petticoat Philosopher – I'm with you on throwing out the term "virginity." The entire idea is bullshit. I mean, it's not like having sex suddenly makes you so different or anything – it doesn't!

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    lol, while we're at it let's throw out all associated expressions like "giving it up," "giving in," or, my favorite "deflowering." I mean, YUCK! A word for having sex for the first time that equates to the act to having all your flowers picked off–being stripped of what makes you beautiful. Not just being made different, but being made worse.If Martians came to earth and heard the way we talk about this thing called "sex," they'd probably think it was a violent and degrading act.And yet we wonder how sex and violence became so linked in our culture.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Petticoat Philosopher – Absolutely! This idea that sex is something women give and men take is extremely problematic. In the Middle Ages people saw women as sexually promiscuous and men as the ones in danger of being taken advantage of. Weird, huh?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Yep, they thought something similar in the 18th century too–that women are "Eves" who are naturally more sexual than men, as well as more frivolous, vain, and materialistic. Men, on the other hand, because they are endowed with reason, are able to rise above such earthly desires and be more virtuous.Than in the 19th century, the thinking switched so that WOMEN were considered to be innately less sexual because THEY were endowed with more innate virtue, which was defined in contradistinction to the ability to reason and be logical, which is what men had.So no matter how things change, a few things seem to stay the same: Sex is icky and corrupting and women can't think! *sigh* :-P

  • http://openid.aol.com/finam87 Fina

    To elaborate on my comment – you can certainly love a person while spending less time with that person than you "usually" would. It's perfectly possible to love each one of two partners as much as you would one partner.However, if you love a person, you will want to spend time with that person. More importantly, that person will want to spend time with you. A person you love deserves that you spend some time with that person.That's even more true for children, who NEED that time and attention, because, well, they are children and incapable of taking care of themselves and in need of assistance (to a degree depending on their age).As for abstinence-education, i have the impression that it was mostly pushed into the mainstream with the argument that it prevents pregnancies and STDs better than teaching the proper use of condoms and birth control. Oh i am quite certain that the people who pushed it did so out of religious, "purity"-related reasons, but i don't think that mainstream society is buying into it – yet.Mind you, i might be totally wrong, not being from the USA and all that.

  • Exrelayman

    A neat musical comment regarding the limited nature of love:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB5Z_30xSe8

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Another great eye-opening post. Such a great formula – live in a cocoon until you marry someone as cocooned as you are, then have 20 or 30 children. What could possibly go wrong?!

  • Anonymous

    Another excellent post, Libby. I've always thought that it was ridiculous that anyone would think that they could give pieces of their heart away. Did you ever notice that these Christians never apply that belief to widows and widowers? I mean, a widow would have obviously given her heart to her deceased spouse, but I doubt these Christians would say that she'd be unable to love a future spouse with her whole heart because she'd already given a piece of it away. It's totally inconsistent. Another thing that makes no sense is the whole concept of emotional purity. It seems like people in this movement view emotional purity and sexual purity as being morally equivalent. They believe that the Bible completely prohibits lust and physical contact before marriage, and some of them have even gone so far as to suggest that one should refrain from emotional entanglements before marriage. Some are inconsistent, though, and think that emotional attachments are okay after the engagement. The thing is, who someone is on an emotional level — and especially how they relate emotionally and romantically — is a big part of who they are as a person. If that's off-limits during courtship, it's like they'd be going into the marriage blindly. They say that courtship offers protection against broken hearts, but I'd rather break up with a guy I was dating if I wasn't particularly compatible with him than be stuck unhappily married to a guy that I never got to know emotionally during courtship. Being stuck in a difficult marriage with someone I wasn't compatible with would hurt so much more in the long run.

  • http://failure4life.wordpress.com/ Canada

    I Kissed Dating Goodbye doesn't just tell you that dating is bad, or tell you courtship is the only way to go. It doesn't tell you to avoid the opposite sex entirely. Joshua Harris instead encourages "a new attitude toward romance and relationships".

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Amelia

    OMG that frickin book.

    I was devoutly agnostic until I got to Uni. I had an epic conversion.
    Then I started getting involved in Uni-student focussed life groups. We spent ages talking about that book. And yes, people really DID take it as seriously as suggested above. I’m ashamed to admit that even I did.

    In my church though, not only was dating seen as only a prelude to marriage, if you weren’t engaged by the end of your time at University, there was a subtle feeling that something was wrong with you.
    That said, I do wonder how friends who raved about that book felt when they dated the same guy in consecutive years and one wound up marrying him…

    Looking back, its actually one of the main reasons I left. This feeling that I could never be good enough, all the good men were taken and if I couldn’t snag one I was a failure, that if I wasn’t willing to go in to debt to support the church then I couldn’t be involved. Well, that and the paranoia about witches that came out in my last semester there. I actually think the church I was in scared me out of a town I loved – I couldn’t leave the church without leaving town because they would do their darndest to drag me back (saw that first hand too)…

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    Libby Anne, if you don’t mind, I thought I would share what I wrote in my blog post responding to your post about the concept of love virginity, as it stimulated a lot when I read it (back when you initially posted this). I wrote at that time:

    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

  • shuying

    Libby Anne,

    Just about every post of yours I read is like throwing off one more set of chains. The world is looking sunnier and sunnier.

    Joshua Harris’s book was practically my second bible when I was a teenager. The purity culture and the concept of love virginity were cornerstones in my world, some of the most important things about me and my life. And you’re exactly right– I learned nothing, absolutely nothing, about how to get close to someone, how to get to know someone. I believed fully that every time I had a crush on someone or even a fantasy about someone, I was sinning against myself and my future husband, and diminishing forever who I was as a person.

    As a 19 year old, I had never been on a date, never been kissed, never even been alone with a guy. Then a guy asked me to go somewhere with him, but I didn’t understand that it was a date, and it certainly never crossed my mind that he might possibly, possibly want to have sex with ME. I didn’t understand any of his cues, any of his innuendos. And when he started touching me, I froze inside. I couldn’t even say no, even though I was dying inside (“no” was not something I ever learned to say in my family, especially not to men). To make a long story short, I was date-raped. After that, I believed that everything of worth that I’d had was now gone, and it was my fault, because I had agreed to go with him. I even felt so guilty, I wanted to apologize to him!

    The pain I felt was unbearable. The only way I knew how to make it better was to go out and try to sleep with as many people as possible, to prove that I was fine, that nothing mattered, that it didn’t hurt, that sex meant nothing. I screamed at the world that I didn’t care, fuck you all– but deep down inside I knew that I was worthless and dirty and bad and evil, and that I would never ever be able to have a happy marriage now, and that I was doing more and more and more irreversible damage to myself.

    I’m 27 now, and I have been trying to learn how to function in this real world for the past 8 years. I’ve had many relationships, some long and many short, and I thought that I was “over” this purity culture thing. But reading your posts over the past few days, I realized that actually, I’ve never dealt with it at all. Until I read this, I literally had NO IDEA that some people viewed former dating relationships as positives in their lives, as good experiences that help them become better people. I thought everyone looked back with sadness, guilt, and regret on every single ended relationship. My whole life (until yesterday when I read your post), I have believed that I am extremely damaged, that I have given away so much of my heart that there is practically nothing left, that I am essentially a worthless disgusting female on clearance at the dollar store.

    I guess I am just in the right place to be able to finally, finally hear such a positive message. Positive is such an understatement. The truth of your words resounds in my head, the clarity and sense and healing of them have somehow wiped away so much of my shame and regret and pain.

    I feel this way with practically every post of yours I read. Thank you again.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I’m sorry you had such awful experiences. I hope the experiences of Libby Anne sierra, Melissa, Joe and the rest of these great ex-CP/QF bloggers help you deal with your past and solve your issues. Good luck!

    • Rosie

      I’m also sorry…sorry you bought into that virginity = worth trope so thoroughly. My first sexual experience was also date rape. By my “good Christian” boyfriend. I’ve been lucky to since realize that yes, sex can be enjoyable. I not only feel positive about my dating experiences, I also feel positive about my sexual experiences outside of marriage. And about my husband’s sexual experiences outside of marriage, with people other than me. Here’s a blessing poem that expresses how we see each other now:

      “My love, you are a river fed by many streams.
      I bless all who have shaped you,
      The lovers whose delights still dance patterns on your back,
      Those who carved your channels deeper, broader, wider,
      Whitewater and backwater lovers,
      Swamp lovers, sun-warmed estuary lovers,
      Lovers with surface tension,
      Lovers like boulders,
      Like ice forming and breaking,
      Lovers that fill and spill with the tides.
      I bless those who have taught you
      and those who have pleased you
      and those who have hurt you,
      All those who have made you who you are.”
      (From The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk)

      It’s a much different view of things than the one I was raised with, for certain!

      • shuying


        Thank you so much for the poem. It brought tears to my eyes, and I read it over and over. I copied and pasted into my journal.

        Why have I only been able to find hope and healing on the blog of an atheist? People told me that only God was the healer, only he could heal me from my pain and “redeem” me. But it was always empty, it never meant anything to me, even though I wanted it to so desperately?

        Why do people believe in something that only tells them how worthless they are? I can’t understand it, but I can hardly understand what a different life might look like.

        Thanks so much for your encouragement.

      • Rosie

        Shuying, I’m glad that poem speaks to you as it does to me. You’re not the only one to have been hurt by religious ideas, and to find healing not in the church, but outside of it. I also used to think it was weird that all my healing seemed to have come from my “sins”, and that obedience to “god” brought me only pain, but that’s how it’s been for me. Recently I’ve joined a secret FB group (as in, it doesn’t show up on my profile, even to my friends) for ex-religionists. Most of us consider ourselves atheist or agnostic at this point. And it turns out my experience isn’t so unique after all.

  • smrnda

    I find it strange that they think boys and girls can grow up in different universes and then, somehow, meet right before a wedding and make things work. I guess instead of authentic relationships they think if everybody just follows the gender stereotypes, things will be fine.

    • Rosie

      I’m pretty sure they think that the only real authenticity IS the gender stereotype. But delineating all that’s wrong with THAT assumption is a complete blog post, or series, in itself. Because pretty much everyone in the world is proof that it’s not true.