Purity and perfection.
I could be the poster child for the merits of abstinence before marriage: I am a member of the US evangelical Christian community and remained a virgin until my wedding.
I’ve been happily married to the same man for almost 15 years. We’ve seen a lot in our marriage: conceived four children, cared for two with severe medical conditions, buried one of them, started and quit jobs, moved houses, changed churches, grieved, and battled depression. We have hurt, misunderstood, under-estimated, and annoyed each other. We’re still learning to become good lovers.
On more than a few days, we have barely held it together. So what’s our secret? It’s that we love each other no matter what.
To give my dearth of sexual partners credit for our marriage’s success is a ludicrous oversimplification. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking characterizes a significant portion of the US evangelical church’s approach to sex and marriage today.
So begins Joy Bennet’s post at The Guardian about the church’s fixation of fornication. She also writes:
The stories coming out of the so-called evangelical “purity culture” demonstrate a deep-seated distrust of human sexuality, and especially of female sexuality. As Elizabeth Esther wrote in her post Virginity: New and Improved!, making virginity the goal “implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her”. Meanwhile, Preston Yancey pointed out how the evangelical church often casts men as predators: “I was but 13, a near decade to today, the first time I was told that by nature I was a rapist.”
Many in the church today have mistaken virginity for the goal, forgetting that the goal really is becoming a mature healthy individual with mature healthy relationships. It isn’t working: most young people have sex before they are married.
These stories reveal how the over-emphasis on virginity heaps shame on those who fail (for any reason, whether a person consented or not) and conceals the reality that those who succeed are not likely today to fall in love with someone who is also a virgin. The “purity culture” promises phenomenal sex for those who wait until marriage. By so thoroughly squelching the sex drive up until marriage, many virgins find it incredibly difficult to “turn it back on” once the ban on sex has been lifted.
A person is more than their sexual experience or lack thereof. Christians find our identity as adopted children of God, not in our virginity. We believe that God works in and with us to make us mature and whole: to learn ourselves, identify our strengths and weaknesses, and develop the strength of character to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Most important, Christians believe that God loves us and can even bring good out of our mistakes and pain.
For the past few years, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable withmany aspects of the Purity movement, despite having waited to my wedding night to lose my virginity. There is a definite overemphasis on virginity, as if it is the golden ticket to future marital success. Which is ludicrous. Also, even as a teen, my heart would hurt for those who did have sex without the vows… which is the majority of people. There seemed to be an implicit message that God can forgive all, or almost all. Lying, cheating, stealing, fighting, okay fine. But sexing? Ahhhh! The horror!
There’s also the very weird views of male and female being taught, like the Preston Yancey quote above, that men, just for having natural attraction, are really ravenous sexual wolves. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be pure little vessels of little to no sexual desire, always ready to say, “No!”. It’s so very strange.
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