I am loving what is going on this week in the Christian blogosphere. There is a conversation on virginity going on the likes of which I never expected to see. I think this is one thing that is so very powerful about the internet: it allows otherwise ordinary people to speak up and make a difference, one person’s words igniting another person’s words in a groundswell of change. There was a time when the power to influence people’s minds and shape their theology lay almost entirely in the hands of the local pastor, but that time has passed.
This week, female Christian bloggers have been speaking out about virginity, and doing so powerfully, explaining how Christian teachings on virginity damaged them or twisted their sense of self and arguing for a new, more compassionate, more whole approach. And these bloggers are not just progressive Christian bloggers, either. They’re more mainstream than that, and still they’re challenging purity culture and its emphasis on virginity. And the response in their comments sections has been almost overwhelmingly positive. Dare I hope that change is possible?
Now granted, I am no longer Christian. But that doesn’t matter. When an idea is harmful it’s harmful no matter who is preaching it or practicing it, and the more places that idea is countered the better. Evangelicalism’s fetishization of virginity, whether emotional, relational, or physical, both did harm to my sexuality and put strain on my marriage, and I am more than happy to see the number of people speaking out against these teachings growing.
This recent outpouring was ignited by Elizabeth Esther.
Yes, I was a virgin on my wedding day. Then again, I was only 20. Yes, remaining a virgin until my wedding day saved me from some romantic heartbreak. Then again, I’ve had other heartbreaks. Yes, chastity is special. Then again, so are lots of virtues. Except, as a 20 year old bride, I thought virginity was extra-extra special and would win me lots of special prizes like: a happily ever after marriage.
It took me a long time to realize I idolized virginity. I kept saying I was just promoting virtue and chastity and purity! Nothing wrong with pushing purity, right? Nothing wrong with Being Good!
Like other Christians, I talked about the “sacrifice” of abstinence. There were princess-themed books about saving our first kiss. Some of us wore purity rings and made pledges to our Daddies not to have sex until we’re married.
Ultimately, we implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.
Sarah Bessey took up the torch from there:
I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.
And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.
Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.
And so here, now, I’ll stand up and say it, the way I wish someone had said it to me fifteen years ago when I was sitting in that packed auditorium with my heart racing, wrists aching, eyes stinging, drowning and silenced by the imposition of shame masquerading as ashes of repentance:
“So, you had sex before you were married.
Really. It’s okay.
There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity – or lack thereof – and more than your sexual past.
Finally, Emily Maynard took the next step:
My most life changing realizations happen in weird locations.
I’ve now had dramatic and lasting plot twists on an airplane, in my car, in a taco shop, and now, at a gluten free bakery. I can’t decide if it’s more exciting or terrifying that redirection can happen to me at any time, in any average place, but here it goes!
On a lovely fall day I was sitting in that bakery, snipping at a gluten free ginger scone, and all of a sudden I realized:
I’m not a virgin anymore.
I’m not saying I had sex in a gluten-free bakery, you guys. Please. The scones are very good, but not that good.
I am saying that in that bright little place, I broke a barrier and gave up an idea I’d held onto as a “Good Christian Girl” for a long, long time. If you grew up in American Christian culture, you know that a statement like mine is one of the most life changing, socially desolating, parentally disappointing pronouncements you can make. Especially if you’re a girl.
But I don’t care anymore; I’m done with virginity.
I’m done with that word and that idea. I’m done defining myself, my past and my future, in terms of who’s what has been where, or hasn’t. I’m done with stories for virgins and non-virgins, promises and praises, and sentiments of “restoration” that just push forward bulldozer loads of this horrible twisted shame.
All three of these women grew up in the same purity culture I did, and all three of them have come to realize the cracks and holes and downright rot these teachings contain. I may not agree completely with where they stand now on what’s right and wrong sexually, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find much to praise in what they’re standing up and saying. They have already received pushback for their ideas, and they will probably be getting more of that in the coming weeks. (Elizabeth Esther has already penned a response to her detractors.) I can only hope their words will spread.