Wearing Your Virginity on Your Sleeve

A long time lurker on my blog just sent me a link to a Fox News opinion piece called Waiting Til the Wedding Night: Getting Married the Right Way. Here’s how it starts:

“As anyone who’s read my abstinence column here at Fox News Opinion could guess, my wedding is something that I’ve looked forward to for quite some time. After having tied the knot at the end of August, I can now say beyond all shadow of a doubt, that it was everything I’d hoped and prayed that it would be since childhood. …

Let me preface this column by saying this: my wife (I have to get used to saying that) and I not only waited sexually in every way (no, we didn’t pull the Bill Clinton and technically avoid “sex” sex,) but we didn’t shack up as live-ins and most importantly, we courted each other in a way that was consistent with our publicly professed values.

We did it right.”

In response to this article this article, my reader had a couple of questions. I’m going to address them one at a time, and then finish with some additional thoughts.

“How can people that there is only the One True Way (TM) to do things?”

Yes, evangelicals and fundamentalists do believe there is only one true way of doing things – God’s way. Of course, God’s way depends on how a given Christian interprets the Bible, but nevertheless, as the words of a song I learned as a child but can’t find online, “God’s way is the best way.” This is where you get titles like “Growing Kids God’s Way.” For evangelicals and fundamentalists, the goal is to do things God’s way. Always. Even little things. Everything.

A whole industry has grown up around figuring out and explaining just what “God’s way” is. Pastors help explain what “God’s way” is, Christian advice books and Bible study guides add their voice, and organizations like Focus on the Family or No Greater Joy ministries are eager to explain “God’s way” to devout and earnest evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Here’s another excerpt from the article:

I think it’s important to write this column not to gloat (though I’ll be glad to), but to speak up for all of the young couples that have also done things the right way. When people do marriage right, they don’t complain so much, and so their voices are silenced by the rabble of promiscuous charlatans, peddling their pathetic world view as “progressive.”

It just so happens that when it comes to marriage, dating, and courtship, the current evangelical and fundamentalist consensus on “God’s way” is that you must remain abstinent until marriage, and you certainly must not live together. Abstinence until marriage is God’s way, and therefore it is the only way. So to answer that first question, yes, evangelicals and fundamentalists do believe there is only one true way to do things. It’s very black and white, as is everything about evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

What I don’t think the author of that article realizes, though, is what is implicit in my reader’s question. See, most people don’t believe that there is only one way to do things right. Most people believe that couples should do what is right for them, not what someone else tells them to do. If a couple wants to wait for marriage, fine! I’m not going to tell them they can’t! I think, though, that because evangelicals and fundamentalists believe that there is only one right way of doing things and try to push that on everyone else, they project this on others and think that others must feel the same. But we don’t. We really, really don’t.

“Is the good and wholesomeness of a Christian truly based only on a person’s sexual inexperience?”

You know, it’s always interesting to note how people outside of evangelical and fundamentalist culture perceive those on the inside. Growing up, I was devoted to following God’s command to remain sexually pure until marriage. It was what God commanded, it was what was best for me (I was taught that if you have sex with a guy before he makes the commitment of marriage, he either leave you, having gotten what he had wanted, or if he stayed with you he would never respect you and you would never respect him, leading to a troubled marriage). What I didn’t realize is that many people saw my purity ring not as a sign of my devotion to God and his commands but rather as coming from a bizarre need to broadcast the state of my hymen. And what I didn’t realize is that people like the reader who sent me the link above would see my fascination with sexual purity and come to the conclusion that “the good and wholesomeness of a Christian” must be “based only on a person’s sexual inexperience.”

Short answer? Yes. Yes, the good and wholesomeness of a Christian, at least in the circles where I grew up, was based primarily on a person’s sexual inexperience.

I could have spent 60 hours a week working at a soup kitchen, or tutoring disadvantaged kids, or building homes for the homeless, and if I was sleeping with my boyfriend I would still be viewed as sullied and in rebellion against God. In contrast, I could do nothing for the poor or needy but maintain and broadcast my virginity and I would be viewed as pure and walking in God’s ways. Similarly, I could spend all of my free time in Bible study, prayer, and learning Greek and Hebrew to read the Bible in its original text and yet, if I was sleeping with my boyfriend, none of that would matter.

Whether or not someone is having sex should be irrelevant to their accomplishments, talents, and value. But that’s not how it works in fundamentalist and evangelical circles. For people who claim that the world is “sex obsessed,” evangelicals and fundamentalists are actually extremely obsessed with sex themselves.

“Do they all hold this attitude towards those who are different?”

In the article, the author exhibits an obvious condescension for those who don’t wait until their wedding days to have sex. There’s a whole lot of judging going on, and it’s not at all veiled:

Do yours the right way.  If you’re young and wondering whether you should wait, whether you should just give in, become a live-in harlot/mimbo and do it the world’s way.  If you’re wondering whether all of the mocking, the ridicule, the incredible difficulty of saving yourself for your spouse is worth it, let me tell you without a doubt that it is. Your wedding can be the most memorable day and night of your life… or just another party.

Oops. Did I just make a “judgment?”  You’re darn right I did.

I can’t speak for everyone, but as an evangelical I definitely felt this way about those who were living “the world’s way.” I knew that I had things right, I was following God, and I looked at those who were following “the lusts of their flesh” with a mixture of condescension and pity (more of the first than the latter). They were worldy. They were sinners. I mean my goodness! I even thought that people who weren’t Christians weren’t capable of truly loving another person, because they were so obsessed with themselves!

Of course, I believed that it was Jesus’ job to judge, not my job. I was just supposed to love others. Somehow that sounds good in theory but doesn’t work out well in practice. I suppose that in the moments when I was feeling more humble (reminding myself that all my accomplishments were God’s, not mine, and that on my own I was a worthless sinner) the emotion I felt was pity toward those “poor lost souls” who lived lives of utter debauchery because they didn’t know any better, and when I was feeling more proud (I was, after all, working hard to keep myself from sin and from sexual impurity, and it’s hard to put all the effort into that without sometimes feeling proud of it) the emotion I felt was condescension toward those “worldly sinners” who were rebelling against God and rejecting God’s commandments.

Conclusion

I want to take a moment to point out that in my experience evangelicals and fundamentalists are extremely bad at interpreting the actions of those “in the world.” This passage is an especially good example of that:

Feeling judged? I couldn’t care less. You know why? Because my wife and I were judged all throughout our relationship. People laughed, scoffed and poked fun at the young, celibate, naive Christian couple.

We’d certainly never make it to the wedding without schtupping, and if we did, our “wedding night would be awkward and terrible,” they said.

The author obviously feels that he was persecuted. Judged. But I have to ask. How did people even know that he and his bride were waiting until marriage? One could only “poke fun” at this couple’s determination to save sex until marriage if one knew about it. So, clearly, this couple was broadcasting their celibacy. No wonder people poked fun at them! The couple could have kept their choices regarding sex private and simply waited until marriage before having sex. This wouldn’t have been that hard! But, of course, they didn’t.

Also, let’s get this whole “judging” thing clear. Is saying “you’ll never make it to your wedding night without having sex” judging? Um, no. Is someone saying with a smile that you’re “naive” judging? Again, I don’t think so. Is telling the couple that their wedding night is going to be awkward so they shouldn’t expect too much out of it judging? Nope. Let’s turn things around, then. I don’t think it’s a leap to think that in broadcasting their celibacy, this couple also spoke of how this was the only correct way to do things, and that the way everyone else did things was wrong. Now that is judging.

Looking back, I think that the women saying those things felt like the floozies they ultimately were, and the men, with their fickle manhood tied to their pathetic sexual conquests, felt threatened.

The author honestly thinks that the reason people laughed at him for waiting isn’t because they saw the idea of waiting to have sex until marriage as outdated, unnecessary, and potentially unhealthy but rather because they were feeling guilty that they hadn’t. And the author sees women who have had premarital sex as “floozies,” but he doesn’t call men who have had premarital sex that. Instead he says the men felt insecure because they had “their fickle manhood tied to their pathetic sexual conquests.” In other words, these men felt unmanly because the women they married were so “easy” that they put out before marriage, and that his own “conquest,” because she said “no” to sex until he married her, was somehow superior. This is so messed up I don’t even know where to start. And I’m out of time, so I’m not going to. Feel free to have at it!

I want to finish with an excerpt from an excellent blog article by a young woman who grew up in a fundamentalist family:

It’s not just purity that’s turned into a contest. It’s all of it. Who’s the purest, who has the most godly, most proverbs-31 house with the beautiful stuff in it, who has the best husband, who has most blessings from god.

It Took This for People to Listen?
Why Josh Duggar's "Teenage Mistakes" Matter
Sexual Purity and the Pool Battle Plan
How Christian Culture Excuses Sex Offenders
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.


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