There is more than enough banter online, in supposedly Christian circles, debating the topic of purity, sexuality, and chastity—that ever-elusive rabbit everyone is so ready to define but so few actually know.
But what about for those whose choice didn’t matter?
Ready to condemn for falling into delicious passion, chastity talks and the discussion of virginity fall woefully short of sexual assault victims—of all ages, situations, male and female.
I didn’t remember until my freshman year of college that it had even happened to me. Too small to understand its evil, my mind protected me from it, and only broke forth with it after watching a short film detailing the life of a girl living in an abusive household.
I wept, nonstop for days.
I slept in my best friend’s room, unable to stand the thought of even being left alone for any period of time. I spoke with a therapist and a religious sister, sat weeping at the foot of Jesus in adoration, horrified at the reality that that which was my alone to give could be so viciously torn from me without my consent and, for so long, without my memory.
I eventually learned to live with it.
I cried myself to sleep thinking that the purity ring I wore held none of its former meaning, yet I didn’t have the heart to remove it.
I learned to heal, and to forgive. Days of hatred and longing for finality still crossed my mind, but thinking about Christ’s flesh stripped bare from His back and the tears that fell down His blood-stained cheeks gave me solace, to know I was not alone in such bitter throes of agony and violation.
I found catharsis in film, and music, and literature, and found a surprising healing balm in the quiet companionship and silence of prayer.
Reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, when the main character Jamie describes the state of his heart and soul after being repeatedly raped and violated, I wept hysterically at his poignant understanding:
” ‘It’s…difficult to explain. It’s…it’s like…I think it’s as though everyone has a small place inside themselves, maybe, a private bit that they keep to themselves. It’s like a little fortress, where the most private part of you lives–maybe it’s your soul, maybe just that bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else.’ … ‘You don’t show that bit of yourself to anyone, usually, unless sometimes to someone that ye love greatly.’ … ‘Now, it’s like…like my own fortress has been blown up with gunpowder–there’s nothing left of it but ashes and a smoking rooftree, and the little naked thing that lived there once is out in the open, squeaking and whimpering in fear, tryin’ to hide itself under a blade of grass or a bit o’ leaf, but…but not…makin’ m-much of a job of it.’ ”
I tried to find solace in such discussions of chastity and purity, in the discussions of Theology of the Body, but found nothing in regards to rape.
“Oh, well it didn’t really count.”
The beauty of God in His reflection and image of unity in the unity of the marriage bed are discussed at length, and with good reason. It is fantastically, erotically, magnificently beautiful, the sexual relationship between man and woman, and how God chose that way to reflect the love of Christ and His Church. What on this earth could possibly be more beautiful than that?
But that one night when you were six, that didn’t really count.
That one night in the back of a car didn’t count.
That night behind a dumpster when you were unconscious didn’t count.
You can get your virginity back. Just ask for it.
Ummm, excuse me?
The state of virginity is brought to an idolatrous level of perfection and state of grace. Bearing within your female body the hymen that defines you as pure is seen as a great sacrifice if preserved, and a sad loss if it must be sacrificed for the good of marriage and the propagation of the species.
But if you’re raped, what about then?
Especially if you saw this as something worthy to be saved for that one special person?
And this thought is not just narrowed to Christian circles. Reading commentary of Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, the subject of whether or not Tess is indeed pure after she is pinned to the ground by her cousin and thereafter conceives a child is still discussed to this day, in hot literary debate. Never mind that she declares more than once that she did not give consent; she must have done something to seduce him. It was her fault. Her disastrous marriage to Angel (a name most ironic considering his reaction to her lack of virginity) merely capitalizes this fact. He wasn’t a virgin, but it was all in good taste. She wasn’t a virgin, therefore she must be a whore. But if she gave her consent? That doesn’t seem to matter here.
A whore is a whore is a whore, I suppose.
I sojourned on, barely able to function reading through Tess, and weeping as I read the young woman’s struggles to understand herself after what she has been told is her inherent identity has been stripped away.A solace I looked for but had difficulty finding was a solace in the arms of the Virgin Mary.
As the Blessed Mother? I can lay in her lap and cry until her lungs are sore. As the Virgin Mary? It is difficult to even picture being in the same room.
Should she be honored for her life, and her unfailing and unerring devotion to Christ as her Son and her Lord? Absolutely. But should her physical state of virginity be equated to that same level of importance as that of her faithfulness and her devotion and her love? No. It shouldn’t be. And if it is, we need to fix it. Because a woman’s hymen shouldn’t matter more than her love for God.
And what about the women that stood so faithfully at the foot of Christ’s cross? Were they virgins? They were faithful in blood and sweat and death, tearing their hearts out with their souls as they stood helpless and watched the Man they love die. But must that not be discussed? Aren’t their acts tarnished by their lack of purity or virginity? They followed Him from the moment of His utter defeat and butchery and even followed Him into His tomb, to clean Him for His long rest.
Then why does it matter elsewhere?
Countless examples of women in history who stood for purity are trotted out, as though those who have “lost” their purity, whether by consent or not, need to be reminded of what they no longer possess. St. Joan of Arc is one such example, but what if you found out that while she was imprisoned, she was threatened with rape by the guards under the charge of the corrupt French Bishop? How on earth do we know they didn’t succeed? The answer is, we don’t. And if she did lose her virginity under such circumstances, would it change how we looked at her? Should she be less revered for her bravery and courage and ignored for no longer being innocent? We all know the answer to that.
We cannot equate someone’s value, to each other or before God, as having ANYTHING to do with sexuality, virginity, or purity. Christ not only mingled with whores and prostitutes and all manner of the wretch of society, He preferred their company even to that of the supposedly devout Pharisees. He gave His time, His attention, His tears to those who fell at His feet and begged for life beyond their sin, consensual or not.
But let’s keep hammering into the ground the utter importance of chastity beyond any other virtues, to the point that those who gave themselves in a mistaken heat of passion in the arms of those they love, or in the violent manipulation of assault, equate the value of themselves before our Father as dependent on such a physical state of being.
Never mind your hearts, never mind your souls, never mind your prayers and your interactions with those around you and with God. What lies between your legs suddenly has the grander voice than the rest of life that occupies the world.
God condescends to fall from Heaven into a Host held between our teeth, to be devoured and digested and become diffused with the lowest of creation, those who spat on Him and pierced Him through and through, but we do not trust His judgement in loving those beyond their state of virginity.
Praise the Blessed Mother for her virginity above her devotion and her love for Christ.
Praise the chastity talks that equate a woman’s virginity to the tearing of wrapping paper on a box and where male virginity isn’t even a topic that’s addressed.
But then He enters, brushing the tear-drenched hair off your face, looking deep in your eyes and saying, “I make all things new.”