Christian Bloggers Pushing Back on Virginity

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.

It’s okay.

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.

  • Anne

    Yes. Yes. And again, yes.

    This.

    Like you I’m no longer religious, but I remember being taught again and again that a woman’s worth is based on sex. Maybe not a full 100%, but nearly. For all the talk about other virtues, the one thing that brought out the condemnation again and again, the condemnation without hope of redemption, was sex. A man may join the congregation as a repentant murder and be welcomed, but a woman who has had sex outside of marriage was forever ashamed. A woman who was in every way a model person was all but banished if she had non-marital sex, but the least pleasant person could be held up as a role model if she were virgin. Everything else that makes up a woman was treated like some of my friends treat veggies — garnish to the meat but not a real part of the meal.

    Despite my parents’ best efforts, I don’t think the church ever had a chance with me on this point. I think I started noticing and questioning by 5 or 6, because I remember being that young when my mom tried to explain it to me with the story of milk and cows. I believe I stuttered out “but I’m not a cow” before wandering off.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Yes! I’ve been following this conversation too in the land of Christian blogs- it’s great! Especially this quote from Sarah Bessey’s piece: “So you had sex before you were married. It’s okay.” I had NEVER heard a Christian say that- no, instead it was emphasized over and over how much sex (even once) will ruin your life forever.

    • Leigha7

      As far as I can remember, the only time I’ve heard anything like that was when a girl got pregnant. I’m not sure if it’s because she “got what she deserved” so she doesn’t need to be punished further or what, but it seems to (at least in some churches) soften the blow a great deal.

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    Virginity-shaming (see esp. the Bessey post) is the difference between saying: “You did something wrong, but you can pick yourself up and move on” and: “You can never recover from the mistake you made; you have to wear it for the rest of your life”[1]. And both the current atheist and the former Christian in me unhesitatingly affirm the former (quite aside from the fact that my views on non-marital sex have changed). The latter in this case is just a thin disguise for male sexual jealousy.

    [1] There are some “mistakes” that you I suppose you do have to wear for the rest of your life — say, having committed murder — but having sex, in itself, isn’t one of them.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred H

    This is awesome!

  • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

    I’ve been thinking about the phrase ‘waiting for marriage’ since your “Idolizing Inexperience” post. I came closer to that ideal than most Americans do, probably closer than many ‘good Christians’ do. I was older than average when I finally ‘lost’ my virginity, and I lost it to my future husband. I’m glad things happened the way they did, and I would never say that I missed anything by being inexperienced.

    But the thing is, I didn’t wait. I wasn’t holding back or looking for ‘the one’. I simply didn’t meet anyone I wanted to have sex with before I met my husband. And I never got much pressure either way. The closest to pressure on ‘staying pure’ I got was a sex education that emphasized doing it only when you were ready, and the most I got the other way was in high school when another student said–and the irony of hearing this from another high school student was not lost on me–that it wasn’t as good after graduation*. The way things did wind up happening was fairly freely chosen. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that I’m most likely to regret the things I do because I listened to other people, even the well-meaning ones.

    *People back then seemed to think that I was missing out if I wasn’t getting high, drunk, or laid. The appeal of intoxicants is totally lost on me, and given my social status I can’t help but wonder who the heck they thought I’d have sex with.

    • luckyducky

      I’ve been struggling finding a happy medium with a similar background. I did get the “wait till marriage” message but it was far more practical than anything (mom and sis were both teen moms) because, being Catholic I could always go to confession and my mom told me one time she didn’t get all wound up in the sinfulness of it because sex should about showing love, if that it was it is actually about, it can’t be *that* wrong even without the marriage certificate. That being said, I still grew up in the Bible Belt and my friends were founding members of our high school’s True Love Waits club — there is almost no escaping the effects the purity message in that environment.

      I married the only person I’ve had sex with but we did not get married to have sex or to make the sex we were already having “okay.” I wasn’t even considering marriage when I initiated it with him. And I also do not regret having waited (it was longer than average but not that long, I married fairly young) in part because, in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t have sex with any of my actual potential partners.

      That is where my trouble comes in. I was pressured and that “wait” message gave me the space and permission (people pleaser that I am) to say no to things I wasn’t ready for. I now have no problem with non-marital sex but I do think that it is uniquely intimate and you need to be emotionally prepared for it (even if you choose to have sex with someone(s) you are not emotionally involved with). I honestly think that most teens wouldn’t regret waiting, passing up an opportunity, being more selective in their partners.

      My experience is “I regret the level of fear and guilt I felt” not “I regret not having sex earlier,” in my small, conservative town where there would have been some social blow back because my potential partners, firmly embedded in a conservative, patriarchal subculture, would have certainly boasted of their conquest. I cringe that I even dated some of those neanderthals, one of whom who literally told me — a National Merit Scholar, all state in track, full ride to my state’s flagship university, accepted to med school at 18, world traveler — that if we had a future, it involved me barefoot, pregnant, and at home (needless to say, we did not have a future).

      So how do I give my kids that same space without all of the emotional baggage? The “wait till you’re ready” feels just a little too vulnerable. I can see myself — people please that I am — being persuaded into thinking I was more ready than I was and I can see my own little daredevil being goaded into more than she is prepared for.

      • Steve

        Fundamentalist never see any kind of middle ground. It’s always extremes for them. So when they see people arguing against purity and for pre-marital sex, they imagine pure hedonism, promiscuity, sleeping with everyone at the drop of the hat and probably orgies.

      • luckyducky

        Steve, I am not sure what you are responding to…

        I don’t see rejecting the concept of purity or green lighting premarital sex as a swing to pure hedonism. Even then, I was pretty realistic about what pre-marital sex, particularly teen sex, was about. I was inexperienced, not totally naive.

      • Steve

        I wasn’t talking about you, but fundies. Whereas you can see some kind of middle ground, fundies can’t. They can’t even entertain the idea that there may be a middle ground they haven’t figured out yet. Not just here, but about any issue.

      • Rosa

        personally, in retrospect, I think “only if you really want to.” is better than “until you’re ready”. Because the girls I knew who were having sex for fun were the ones with enough care for themselves to not give in to pressure, or be careless of their safety or their futures. “Until you’re ready” meant “if you think you can bear the consequences” and I definitely had friends who took double damage – sex they didn’t really want, and the expectation (or reality) of solo misery if they got pregnant or were judged by the purity people.

        That said, my child is a boy and not very old, so I have no experience from the parent side.

      • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

        I got a variety of different messages from different sources when I was growing up (including a reeeaallly bad experience when I was 16 that later, with a bit more critical distance, I realize was actually straight-up sexual assault). The one that really stuck, ultimately, was what my mom said to me when I came home from school and reported that my health teacher had lectured us about how horrible being pregnant was, and how nearly all the girls in the class had immediately retorted “That’s not what my mom says!” (I was in grade 9, and IN NO WAY interested in sex yet but very interested in babies.) What my mom said was that when you decide to have sex, it should be because YOU want to — period — not for any other reason — and that you should use protection, because you should also get pregnant because you want to and not because you weren’t paying attention. (Not, as it turned out, a problem I was ever going to have … but we didn’t know that when I was 14.) She didn’t tell me to wait till I was married, or even, really, to wait until I was ready — she told me to make sure I was doing it because I wanted to, and not because I felt I had to, or ought to, or didn’t have a choice, or wasn’t in control of the situation. And I think that was a really, really valuable piece of advice.

        I don’t regret marrying the only dude I’ve ever had sex with. I also absolutely don’t regret not waiting until we were married to start having sex with him. I think I would regret not ever having had any other relationships, though, and there was that one boyfriend I really enjoyed kissing when I was 16 …

      • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

        Rosa, great point about “because you WANT to” – “when you’re ready” implies that it’s part of a maturation process and nothing teens love more than doing the adult thing, when the truth is that some people will never WANT to have sex and having sex is certainly not necessarily the mature thing to do.

      • luckyducky

        I hate to sound like a kill joy, but I really think it has to be a both/and rather than an either/or kind of message with regard to “ready to” and “want to.” Sex has consequences, some great, some potentially not so great. So it comes with responsibility: responsibility to protect your and your partner’s health and safety, responsibility to to respect your partner’s feelings, and responsibility to deal with some of the unplanned consequences (even the best birth control fails sometimes). Particularly if we’re talking teens, you can have a situation where they really, really want to but maybe aren’t so ready for all of that.

  • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

    I’m also glad to see mainstream Christians pushing back on the fetishization and idolatry of virginity and purity. But here’s my question: can you really push back on those ideas without coming out and saying that premarital sex is okay? For the record, I think it’s perfectly fine and I think going into a marriage inexperienced and not having test driven the car first is a bad idea. I was always told over and over that people who have sex before they’re married live to regret it. Only that’s a lie. I’m eternally grateful my husband and I slept together while we were dating. Anyways…
    I see no reason or justification, biblical or otherwise, for “saving” sex for marriage. The only way they can really preach that is by manufacturing a purity movement and putting a woman’s virginity on a pedestal and imbuing it with all this meaning that isn’t inherently there. If you take all that away, what’s left? How can you really tell people to wait until marriage?

    • luckyducky

      It does kind of fall apart but the alternative I grew up with was far less about purity and it was more (not totally!) egalitarian was more about respecting the sacredness of intimacy. I vaguely remember someone making the analogy that you don’t tell the stranger you meet on the bus your most intimate secrets, you reserve those for the best and closest of friends. Similarly, sex is a very intimate act that is sharing part of yourself (not your virginity) and it is a level of intimacy that requires the protection of marriage. It makes a lot more sense and is a lot more persuasive in a sacramental world view — sex is the sacramental act of marriage so sex is inherently spiritual.

      • Christine

        It’s not just the sacramental view – it’s a less authoritarian one too. When the world is divided into the “Good Christians” and the “Sinners” it’s very important to have hard & fast lines. “Sinners” have sex outside of marriage. Therefore you cannot be a “Good Christian” if you had sex outside of marriage. The Catholic tradition still sees premarital sex as a sin, it’s just that it’s not as life-ending an event if you do sin.

      • http://www.fromtwotoone.com Danielle | from two to one

        Absolutely. I was raised Catholic and only exposed to purity/modesty culture in evangelicalism during my teen and college years. By then, my Catholic upbringing colored more of my worldview on sexuality, intimacy, and marriage. Plus, the Catholic argument of the sacredness of the marriage union just made so much more sense — it wasn’t NO NO NO until you cross the magical marriage line and it’s YES YES YES. Of course, Catholics are also against premarital sex, but in my husband’s and my premarital counseling sessions with the Church, it was more a “you shouldn’t be doing this” (Catholic guilt) rather than “your entire married life will be ruined forever because you had sex” (evangelical fire and brimstone).

    • anon.

      I agree with this. Some of the discussion has come very close to shaming those who do wait. Even your own post…I didn’t “test drive” my spouse and we are exceedingly happily married and have a great sex life because we have a deep and intimate relationship that is not all about sex. There is a hell of a lot about marriage you don’t get to “test drive” because a commitment to a human being is not the same as purchasing something.

      Setting that aside, however, we need to not only give grace and respect to everyone in this discussion. Waiting is not wrong and will not ruin your life anymore than not waiting will.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I just want to point out that not everyone who waits is happy that they did. I very much wish that I hadn’t waited, and I also think that my sex life would be better if I hadn’t. While I don’t think it’s a problem to point out the potential drawbacks and problems with waiting anymore than it’s a problem to point out the risks that accompany sexual activity, I do agree with you that shaming those who wait is a very bad idea, because choosing when to become sexually active is an individual decision and shouldn’t be made under pressure. That said, I didn’t see jwall915 engage in any such shaming.

      • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

        Anon – just to be 100% clear, no I was not at all intending to shame anyone who chose to wait until marriage to have sex. And I’m sorry if it came across that way. I firmly believe in empowering everyone, men and women, to choose how to orchestrate their own sex life, and if that means someone chooses to wait for marriage, then that’s perfectly fine. It’s simply my own opinion that it might not be so advantageous to do it that way; I grew up in the purity culture and I’ve heard too many stories of people who regret waiting until their wedding night. But, my own opinion certainly doesn’t dictate anything for anyone else, and I do not feel judgment for those who choose to wait. My problem is with the purity culture and slut shaming as a whole.

  • Anne

    That’s a good point that the pressure to wait can be helpful for women who would prefer not to have sex with a partner who is pressuring them otherwise, but the solution is not to remove a girl’s ability to say no, it’s to enable her (and him) to say no for the right reasons. But I think that runs flat into patriarchy again, because teaching a woman that it’s okay to make that decision on her own means that she’s, well, making decisions on her own. She’s not submitting. She’s actually thinking that her body is her own.

    The Botkin sisters seem to be pretty far down the rabbit hole, but they just distill what’s out there generally. Here their only advice on how to say no to a persistent guy is to go hide behind papa. It’s unclear if the Botkins don’t feel like they have the right to be forceful in turning a man down, or if they just don’t expect any man to take a woman’s word seriously.

    But the alternative to “purity culture” isn’t an orgy, it’s teaching people to figure out and appreciate their own limits and comfort, and how to work with a partner in a relationship so both are respected and no one becomes a parent unwillingly. If your religion says to wait, wait. Comparisons between the U.S. and other western countries show that less shame can actually result in people delaying sex longer and being more responsible once they start.

    • luckyducky

      Anne – in theory, I am totally on the same page. The gap that I fear, and maybe it is just one that I have to accept, is that time period when they are still figuring out their own comfort/limits and are more highly persuadable and are aware of their own sexuality (and have some unsupervised time).

      We, as parents, do all sorts of things that protect our children’s space to be children. I don’t let them watch certain TV shows and movies or read certain books, refrain (most of the time) from using certain language in front of them, don’t talk about certain things in front of them. It can be a battle — recently, my daughter and I went head to head over a certain series of books that I think are too mature for her (she reads above grade level) but some of her classmates have read. I know it was just the beginning ;) .

      Sex is an issue already in a certain sense — it is insane that I am rejecting clothing for my 7yo because it is “sexy” — ahhhh!! Hypersexualization just moves the bar on what is perceived as “normal” in terms of sexuality, sexualization, and by extension, sexual experience. How do you help protect that space for your kids to be kids when cultural forces threaten it AND you’ve given up on the black-and-white rule “wait till marriage”?

      • Rosa

        one of the benefits of a consent-based instead of sin-based system is, if you say yes to something and then wish you hadn’t, you’re totally free to just start saying no – you’re not soiled or broken or permanently changed, you just tried something and didn’t like it for whatever reason.

        The whole “restoration” thing, where people declare themselves to be virgins again, is an attempt to do that inside purity culture, but it’s still such a big deal. I’ve seen it really help girls, especially those who were raped or who were acting out really unhealthy emotional issues through sex, but it weights the issue so much, it doesn’t seem to allow for as much learning.

      • Anat

        My experience with kids reading books that are too mature for them is that they arrive at the conclusion themselves. My daughter would say ‘this was boring/confusing so I skipped to the end of the chapter’. This was also my experience as a child and teenager when I snuk my parents’ books.

        How about instead of arguing with your daughter discuss with her what she is reading, find out what she likes and dislikes, and go from there. Trust her own powers of discernment.

      • luckyducky

        Nightmares, months and months of nightmares.

        I would actually be less concerned if the material were about sex/relationships — she has tapped out of books that were too mature on that front because they are “boring” and I am sure that we can talk through most of that. However, the scary stuff gets through pretty well and she is very sensitive to this. She still doesn’t like to watch the scary parts of Disney movies. It is a tricky age where kids still have some difficulty separating reality and imagination or at least emotions about imagination and reality.

        I view my role as holding her hand in traffic… she is capable of running but doesn’t recognize all of the dangers of the road or know how to deal with them. Now, I am holding rather tight; as she gets a bit older, I’ll just walk with her; later on, I’ll let her go by herself.

      • Anne

        One thing that is very interesting, when comparing the US shame-based culture and other western societies with less shame, is that shame cultures undermine the ability of parents to discuss sex, healthy sexuality, and limits with their children. It’s a lot more complex than “just say no or go to hell” and if that’s the only conversation kids can have with their parents, they’ll seek information elsewhere. The only “talk” I had with my parents was when they explained that pregnancy would get me kicked out of the family. That, combined with the general church teaching that fornicators go to hell, meant I was really on my own when it came to figuring out healthy limits. My friends with more accepting parents had many more conversations with them, had healthier relationships generally, and still waited.

      • Anat

        luckyducky, I had more nightmares from Snow White and other fairy tales than from any adult-themed book I ever read. Which is why I hated traditional fairy tales and tried to delay my daughter’s exposure to them – not that it’s possible when kids attend preschool. But at least I wanted her to know I did not approve. (Also, she developed her worst fears after reading a story about a child overcoming fear of ‘monsters in the dark’ type. Kids can be weird.)

      • luckyducky

        Anat – I think we are more-or-less doing the same thing. I told my daughter that I didn’t think that she was ready for those books. We talked about how we encounter scary or complicated things in books and it is good because it gives us an opportunity to practice but we still need to work up to it and I didn’t think she was there yet with these particular books. I made her a deal we would find other, just as interesting books and she could come back to those books in a year or two. She is just 7…

      • luckyducky

        And for the record, the earlier “sex” comment is really about middle grade crushes and holding hands stuff… it is perfectly appropriate and interesting for many 5th, 6th, and 7th graders but not so much for someone who is still years away from puberty.

  • Steve

    The problem is that the people who agree with these bloggers in the comments do it for all the wrong reasons. Hardly any of them care about the rational reasons against that kind of teaching. It’s all about “god’s grace”, “forgiveness for our sins” and similar BS.

  • Christine

    My upbringing was not one which encourage pre-marital sex, although I have no idea why. My mom wasn’t that comfortable talking about sex with my sister and me. (I got the talks when we were driving to piano lessons, and my sister got taken to Cinnabon – captive audiences. What I remember most from what my mom taught me (to the point where I found it a little over-the-top) was that there’s nothing wrong with getting pregnant before you’re married. It’s a side effect of doing something wrong, but it’s really messed up that people make being pregnant into what’s wrong. I believe that she started that even before I really knew where babies came from.

    I have to agree with what a lot of people above said – I think that part of why I (and I believe my sister) waited for marriage was because we were never pushed to be “pure”, we were never told that our worth was tied up in virginity (or even, since we’re Catholic, in not having sex). We were never told that there would be a constant struggle to maintain this worth, or even that there would be a constant struggle to not have sex. My husband also didn’t have sex before we got married, and came from a similar background – his parents trusted him and his sister (although the “of course I’ll let them go camping, if they wanted to have sex they’d have managed by now” joke may have been as much literal truth as a joke). It’s a lot easier to not have premarital sex if it’s just something you don’t do, rather than some sort of prize you should strive for. (No one I know found it difficult, which was helped by the fact that all the women I know were comfortable identifying boyfriends as complete jerks if they tried to apply pressure, rather than “just how boys are”.)

    • Carys Birch

      As a girl who pressured her boyfriends, I’d really love it if we could dispense with this myth that boys push and girls give in. PEOPLE enjoy sex*. TEENAGERS are especially uh, well horny. It’s not a gendered thing. It’s a healthy developmental thing.

      *Most people anyway, I’m aware some people are asexual naturally.

      • Christine

        Whoops, I hadn’t even noticed that I reinforced that myth. The gendering of that statement was more from the fact that it’s mostly women that I’ve really discussed this with. And the only people I’ve talked with who had pressure to do more than they wanted to do where women. The one guy friend who I’ve come closest was most likely the one who was doing most of the putting the brakes on with his girlfriend, but she wasn’t pressuring him, just has an odd way of looking at the world.

        There are lots of reasons I’d like to get rid of that myth myself.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    This is great news! Hopefully the next generation of children raised in Christian families will not have the same issues with sexuality that so many from our generation have had to deal with, thanks to the I Kissed Dating Goodbye phenomena, which brought the Purity Culture into mainstream Christianity.

    I also found this article on a Catholic blog this week. It provides a male perspective on this issue:
    http://vox-nova.com/2013/01/31/sin-and-safe-religion/

  • anon.

    Libby Anne, my educated guess is that the REASONS you waited have way more to do with your regrets and the issues in your sex life, not waiting in and of itself.

    When I taught high school, I had conversations with teens who were worried that there was something wrong with them for wanting to even just wait until they felt ready. There is a sane and rational middle ground in this conversation where we tell people that they can and should make the choices they feel are right for them. When you write about the issue, you barely, if ever, acknowledge that. Your theme is always “I waited. It screwed me up. Everyone should have premarital sex to guarantee future happiness”. Elizabeth Esther came close to the same message this last week as well. The bottom line, in both of your situations, was not that neither of you made truly made your own choices. That is the problem with the purity culture. Not the idea of waiting or not waiting. The problem is that young adults have their agency in matters of their own sexuality taken away from them by parental control and cult-like brainwashing. Write about that instead of telling me that I can’t possibly have a happy marriage because of a choice I freely made for myself.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I absolutely agree that what caused me the most trouble was not waiting or not waiting but rather all of the messages I received about sex. And it’s those messages that I spend the vast, vast majority of my time on when I blog on this topic. However, I disagree that none of my regrets have to do with waiting specifically. Namely, I wish I had had other sexual partners before my husband so that I would have a greater variety of sexual experience.

      Next, if the message you are taking away from my posts on purity is “I waited. It screwed me up. Everyone should have premarital sex to guarantee future happiness,” you are seriously misreading me. I’m not sure how you could have taken this message from Elizabeth Esther either, given that in both of her posts on the subject she clearly states that she believes premarital sex is wrong and shouldn’t be engaged in. I usually spend the majority of my time blogging on this topic directly critiquing the toxic ideas of the purity culture, but if you’ll look at this post, you’ll see that I am deeply committed to allowing young adults to exercise their own agency and make their own decisions. I’m really not sure how anyone could read my inveighing against ideas like rape culture and the notion that giving sex to her husband is a wife’s duty, which is laced with insistence that women be allowed to make their own choices regarding sex, and come away thinking that I’m trying to take away people’s sexual agency.

      Finally, I never told you that you couldn’t possibly have a happy marriage because you chose to wait. Let me repeat exactly what I said in my previous response: “I don’t think it’s a problem to point out the potential drawbacks and problems with waiting anymore than it’s a problem to point out the risks that accompany sexual activity.” I’m not sure why you felt the need to read into this the idea that I thought you were lying about having a happy marriage, an idea that most certainly was not there. Do I think people should be aware of the potential drawbacks of waiting? Yes. Do I think people should also be aware of the potential drawbacks of early sexual activity? Yes. Does that mean that I think people who do wait can’t be happy? Not anymore than it means I think people who don’t wait can’t be happy! It simply means that I think people should be able to make informed decisions.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    I wish I had gone on dates. :(

  • http://beholdconfusion.wordpress.com/ Sara

    This post is very encouraging. I’m really proud of these women for taking a stand for sexual autonomy in a culture that slut-shames women who can bring themselves to use correct terminology for body parts, let alone who are not virgins.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com Retha Faurie

    I, and my commenters, weighed in on a part of this issue here, if anyone is interested: http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/what-is-wrong-with-girls-staying-virgins-for-their-future-spouses/

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I’ve been thinking a bit about how the Christian purity ideals can be reformed without ditching the idea that premarital sex is wrong. Now obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with premarital sex (so long as it is consensual, of course!). But still, it’s been an interesting thing to think about.

      I think, along the lines of what you wrote, that the first step is getting rid of the obsession with *female* virginity and the idea that virginity is some sort of gift go give your spouse. It ought to be more about an ethic of life.

      I also think the scare tactics need to be ditched—there should be no need to lie about STD risks, or withhold information about (or lie about the effectiveness of) contraception, or give teens the impression that if they have sex it will somehow ruin their lives or change everything or make it so that they can’t someday find true love or have a happy marriage. The shaming needs to go too, along with the idea that if you have had premarital sex your are damaged goods, impure, gross, second-rate, etc.

      I think it ought to be possible to treat sex more like any other sin rather than putting virginity on a pedestal. Let me explain. First, do we try to get young people not to lie by engaging in scare tactics and shaming? Nope. Same with stealing, acting out in anger, etc. Second, do we talk about people who have never lied or stolen anything having “falsehood virginity” or “theft virginity”? Nope. Third, if someone lies or steals something, do we act like that somehow fundamentally changes them, or damages them in a permanent way? Nope. But we do all that with sex. Why? Why that issue only? I think you could easily argue that the answer is because early Christians retained ideas about supreme importance of female virginity that were ingrained in the traditional patriarchal society in which they lived and tied all that extra baggage together with Christian teachings,

      Finally, I think there is way too much emphasis in many parts of Christianity on what not to do and not enough emphasis on what to do. Sure, some megachurch pastors seem to think they’re correcting this now with the books they keep putting out on the beauty of sex in marriage. Unfortunately, those are all too often still colored by patriarchal ideas. Besides that, it’s more than sex. Christians ought to work on developing both positive relationship ethics and positive conceptions of sexuality (that don’t teach young adults to see their sexuality as some sort of enemy to be defeated, or to despise their natural impulses or view their newly physical mature bodies as dirty).

      Right now it seems like the messaging many Christian young people are getting is “just don’t XYZ until you marry, and that’s all you need to know to live happily ever after.” And that’s just bonkers, especially when combined with messaging that suggests they have to turn off their sexuality completely until marriage and then some sort of magical switch will turn it all on just like that. Without a healthy sexual ethic, earlier self-loathing and earlier emphasis on sex making one impure can carry over into marriage. Also, the messaging Christian young people are sent about relationships needs to be realistic. The fairy tale stuff isn’t helping anyone.

      Wow, that got long and rambly. Anyway, those were just some thoughts I was having. :-)

      • Leigha7

        “I’ve been thinking a bit about how the Christian purity ideals can be reformed without ditching the idea that premarital sex is wrong.”

        I know this is an older post, but if you’re still reading the comments, I wanted to suggest something I’ve thought of along those lines.

        A large portion of the mainstream idea of sex in our culture is that you should be able to do it with whomever you like, even a complete stranger you’ll never see again. (Mind you, nothing I’m saying is my actual opinion or personal moral judgments, but approaching it from a “sex before marriage is wrong” perspective.) But thinking about what sex involves–taking off your clothes, being naked (at least partially) with another person, being as physically close to that person as possible–does it make sense to do that with a stranger? Most people would never think of being naked in front of a stranger under other circumstances, aside from maybe a locker room (which is people of the same sex, just to note that in passing, though we aren’t assuming heterosexual sex).

        So you could combine it with teaching about modesty–not as it is now, but a lighter version, one based less on “dress modestly so you don’t tempt men” and more on the idea that your body is your temple, and an understanding that people will judge you for how you’re dressed, right or wrong. If being naked around people you don’t know, or barely know, is wrong, so is having sex with them. There should (from this point of view–remember, thought exercise) be some sort of standard for who you allow to see you naked and, therefore, have sex with.

        In that way, even if it’s not something everyone agrees with, it’s a NATURAL reason (at least at the beginning, though it doesn’t necessarily get you to marriage explicitly), not a “God says so” one. You can add that to bridge the gap from “some sort of standard” to “only in marriage,” I suppose, along with some practical discussion of physical and emotional consequences (real ones, not crazy nonsense like they currently use). I don’t know, as an atheist who doesn’t care who people have sex with as long as it’s consensual and not hurting anyone, I’ve pretty much reached my limit on that thought exercise for the moment.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    Rather than focusing on a woman’s virginity, I would like to talk to my daughter more about relationship and how sex might fit into that.

    I want my daughter know that she has the right to make demands in her relationships: demands for both pleasure and to be treated with respect. That she and her body are valuable and worthy of respect, and that she should make decisions ahead of time and in clear mind, and she has a right to stop a sexual relationship or encounter if she is not being treated properly. That she should offer and receive equal measure love, loyalty, honesty, and pleasure. That sex is fun but should be taken seriously and measures taken to mitigate possible social, emotional, reproductive, and medical risks associated with it. That it is a mature act for mature people who care about each other. That marriage provides a framework which attempts to provide a measure of the above things, but, like most things in life, cannot be 100% relied upon to actually do so.

    I don’t give a hoot if she has sex before marriage per se, but I want her to internalize the above. The blog “Stuff Christian Culture Likes” complains that Christians “do things and ignore relationship” and this is a great example of exactly that–the fixation on sex (or virginity) removes the goal of developing healthy relationships.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      I love what you want your daughter to learn about sex. I think that is an incredibly healthy lesson to learn.
      I hope to teach my future children the same kinds of lessons.

  • Mary

    I’m a Christian myself, (though NOT a fan of purity culture) and for me, I see purity as a good thing and a healthy thing. I also think that purity has absolutely NOTHING to do with virginity. Purity entails not being promiscuous, having loving and respectful relationships and learning to respect others’ boundaries and see them as people, not sexual objects. It is never gender specific, and it is not a thing that can only be lost once. It is also not a black/white state of being- sometimes I can do things that I would consider impure, like objectifying and fantasizing about someone with whom I am not in a committed relationship, for instance. This does not mean that I AM impure. It means that I did something that I would consider a sin, according to my faith, and that I need to not do that. That’s it. This whole “damaged goods” stuff is hooey. =) I think it is quite possible to believe that sex before marriage is wrong and still reject the damaging teachings of purity culture, though I do not believe that “sex before marriage is wrong” is the only biblically precedented view. I mean, were the lovers in Song of Solomon married? =) I actually do think, myself, that there is a place for sex before marriage, even for Christians.

  • http://www.elizabethesther.com Elizabeth Esther

    May I just admit that I have a HUGE crush on you, Libby Anne? Yes. I do. It’s true. I read you religiously and you have helped me understand and process so much of my past. Even though we have landed in different places, I just want you to know how much I respect and admire you. Thank you for your support. It really means the world to me. ((hugs))

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Aw, thanks! That means a lot, actually. One thing I really like about the “survivor” blogging world is that even as we’ve often, as you say, “landed in different places,” we are still generally able to come together to support each other, listen to each other, learn from each other, etc., even across those differences. So, thanks for that, and back at you. :-)

  • Amy Kohn

    I live in New York City and make documentaries for a living. I’ve just finished production on a documentary about Christian Courtship. This was a new world to me which I had never encountered but which I explored for the past year and a half. I’d love to get your thoughts on it and also the thoughts of others who read your blog.
    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/205428/emal/1031039

    • wren7

      This documentary sounds fascinating. I can’t wait to see it.

  • A Reader

    I’m so happy this might change for girls in the future! I can’t even say how happy this makes me :D
    Also, I love the humor Emily put in her post:
    “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 might need to go check out her blog.

  • Judy L.

    The fact that so many religious people regard women who have been penetrated vaginally by a man (whether she consented or not) as ‘damaged goods’ just shows plainly how they think of women: as goods, as a commodity to be bought and sold and valued according to a standard that men aren’t similarly subject to.

    This video by educator Karen B. K. Chan discusses a way to think about and talk about sex in that doesn’t commodify or judge it (or the people having it). She wants people to recognize that pleasure “is a renewable resource…[and that] it’s not better when it’s rare.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bgd3m-x46JU

  • emily

    I am interested to see evangelical men enter this push back against purity culture conversation. In my experience the guys got a pretty heavy purity message that focused on not lusting and masturbating. Books like Every Man’s Battle sum up the message. While the guy experience of purity culture was different than the girl experience I think it still has the same shame element. Somebody should write.

  • Lk

    I grew up in a very catholic house w a mom who made it to her wedding night at the ripe young age of 22. We never talked about sex and it didn’t take me long to figure out that God wasn’t sending me to hell if I went all the way. What did keep me from having sex until my first serious relationship at 21 was fear of pregnancy. Bc of my sex Ed classes in high school I knew exactly how it worked. And I did not want to ruin my life or the life of a baby. So after that I was extremely careful. Maybe more teens and young adults need to understand exactly how sex works. I have many very Christian friends who got pregnant in high school bc they believed myths like if u use x position u can’t get pregnant etc. because no one taught them how sex and their reproductive system actually works. And that is very dangerous.

    • BLUE EYES

      I agree with you ….

      But the problem is sex does not make some one happy….

      Fidelity and a lasting marriage does … plus it is a very safe and wise way to live

      • Anat

        Sex can be part of what makes people happy, whether in or out of a marriage, if people are aware of their own bodies and are respectful and considerate of their partners. Some people have fidelity in marriage yet are still miserable. People are different and have different circumstances.

  • BLUE EYES

    Frankly i dont think waiting until you find the right person for love and marriage is wrong …… in fact, many of today s problems come from too much permissiveness and desacralising marriages and families ….

    And also it allows men in particular to have all the sex they want without having any of the responsiility and committment … plus with all the diseases, unstable familes and the rest that is prevailing everywhere i think many people have understood that if is better to be wise and sensible about things

    That said, condemning women because they lost their virginity is going too far …. plus why should women be condemned and more focus be placed on their virginity and not men’s

    fidelity in a marriage is even much more important …

    Anyway, i dont believe in love in this world …. so i stay away from men …

    But a marriage that holds together throughout life .. and men and women waiting till marriage to save themselves for the one they will true love the rest of their life ….. is still a very wise thing and something to be treasured in this time and age where all is falling apart

    • Anat

      For some people waiting is right, for others it isn’t. Sex can be part of a relationship of love, but doesn’t have to be. A relationship of love can be one that leads to marriage or not. I personally am glad I did not wait.

  • Christine

    One problem I have with this pushback is the assumption that I shouldn’t have cared at all about if a potential boyfriend had been sexually involved. It’s one thing to be less judgemental, it’s another thing to use bad statistics to say that we should expect our future spouse to have had sex before they met us.

    As a metaphor: some of my friends have cars. I’m fine with this. In fact, in some of their cases I would have thought it stupid of them to not have cars. But it would be stupid to expect me to have been ok dating someone who owned a car. (And this goes beyond the fact that there would have been the possibility of being half saddled with the stupid thing in the future).

    • Anat

      Christine, I’m not sure I understand your example. Why would it not be OK to date someone who owned a car? I mean anyone can have any odd preference. Someone might not want to date people for all sorts of reasons. I suppose your preference was for carless men with no sexual experience. It’s just as legitimate as a preference for people with a particular taste in music, but I don’t see why it should be so obvious that thinking otherwise were stupid.

      At some age it becomes more likely that any single person that age you encounter is sexually experienced than not. It is up to anyone seeking a relationship with people in that age group to decide whether to limit their options to the inexperienced minority or not.

      • Christine

        I was using owning a car as the first example I could come up with of something unpleasant that lots of people do. My point being that there is a lot of space between saying that someone is a horrible person for making a choice, and being fine with someone who is obviously working from an entirely different worldview as a potential life partner.

        Saying “Oh, lots of people own cars, you’re limiting yourself too much” to someone in their twenties in an urban environment is abusing the statistics just as badly as saying “95% of people have had sex by the time that they’re 29, so you’re unlikely to marry a virgin”. The numbers are so badly out-of-place that it would be *more* convincing to not use them. (And don’t get me started on the difference between marrying a virgin and marrying someone who has chosen to not have sex.) And in the circles I’m moving in (urban, Christian, well-educated) that age happens in the late twenties/early thirties, after a majority of people are married.

  • Brad

    This post makes absolutely no sense. I dont know who has been teaching these girls but that is not the heart of Christ. Watch this
    http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=bLgIecL1IdY&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DbLgIecL1IdY

    • Uly

      I am so glad, Brad, that we have elected you as the arbiter of what is and is not appropriately Christian. Why, I am certain that every word from your mouth is a veritable pearl of wisdom.

  • Brad

    Uly, it is not about what is or is not appropriately Christian. It is what is and is not appropriately biblical. I am sorry for the arrogance in my first response. That was not appropriate. That is not my heart.