Elizabeth Esther has been writing some excellent pieces about the purity culture and virginity recently, and others have joined in. Obviously, I’ve written about this sort of thing a lot myself, but there was one thing in particular Elizabeth Esther’s post got me thinking about, and that’s just how much I was taught to prize my virginity, and not just my physical virginity but my relational and emotional virginity as well.
By the time I was halfway through college, I hadn’t so much as held hands with a guy and I hadn’t been in a single relationship. I had also worked hard to protect my emotional virginity, meaning that instead of having crushes on guys I tried to channel all of my emotional energies onto the blank image of my future husband. My physical and relational virginity were completely intact, and my emotional virginity was almost as intact. And I was extremely proud of this.
In fact, I honestly saw my virginity — physical, relational, and emotional — as one of the most important things about me. But it was more than that. I saw my virginity as one of the most valuable things about me, even as one of the most attractive things about me, to both God and to a future husband My virginity was a sign that I was holy and set apart, a sign that I was godly and devout, a sign that I was pure and undefiled. I envisioned myself offering my virginity as a priceless gift to my husband, who would be eternally grateful And of course, martial bliss would follow.
And here’s where I start having all sorts of unpleasant thoughts. What is so important about keeping women emotionally immature, relationally inexperienced, and sexually ignorant? Could it be that the less maturity a woman has, the less likely she is to upset the apple cart and the easier she is to manipulate? I read somewhere that one reason fundamentalist Mormon sects marry off their daughters underage is that that way they end up saddled with several children before they get to a point where they’re mature enough to truly introspect and question. In the Victorian era physicians argued that women should avoid book learning so as to avoid damaging their fertility. In many parts of the world today, keeping young women inexperienced and ignorant continues to serve as a form of control.
I entered my marriage with precious little in the way of physical, relational, or emotional experience, and let me tell you, that lack of experience, which often manifested itself in the form of immaturity, did not help me. It’s taken me years to make up for what I didn’t learn as a teen and young adult about things like relationships and emotions. The odd thing, looking back, is that I was taught to see immaturity, inexperience, and ignorance as not a bug but a feature, not a con but a pro. And I bought it, I bought it hook line and sinker.
When I think about it now, it appears to me that the opposite of “virginity” is “experience,” and in most areas of our life, we consider experience to be a positive thing. Experience is how you learn, how you grow, how you gain skills and abilities. And yet, all those years ago, I honestly thought my lack of experience was the greatest gift I had to give my future husband. Thinking now about the value I was taught to place on my physical, relational, and emotional inexperience, at the expense of my interests, skills, abilities, and quirks is just so incredibly sad. My value became locked to all the things I hadn’t done—all the things I wasn’t—rather than to the things that made me me.