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virginity – it’s an illusion

the v card

I sometimes have friends come to me who confide feelings of intense brokenness, pain, and shame after they have illicitly hooked up with somebody.  Most of these folks are Christians, most of them are girls, and just about all of them have cherished their physical “purity” and “virginity” for their whole lives.  Now, feeling like they have lost a part of that status, they admit that they feel like they are somehow less valuable, less whole of a person.

Basically:

  • some friends feel like less of a human (or less of a Christian) because they have been sexually active before marriage
  • others confess that they feel spiritually holier or cleaner or more pure than their friends who have more liberally exercised their sexuality
  • but what I hear the most is that people think because they have been intimate with someone physically, they have lost some sense of moral righteousness or personal purity that they can never again regain

It seems clear that much of our own sense of worth is often deeply (and inappropriately) bound up in our personal “sexual purity.”  Each of the previous three ideas is antithetical to the gospel, and reveals a possible idolatrous view of sexuality, virginity, and purity, meaning we absolutely prioritize the wrong things and actually end up worshipping these impossible, hypothetical idols.

Because this next thing is important and true, and I really don’t hear it said all that often in the Church – in fact, it sometimes seems the exact opposite message we Christians are known for preaching:

You are not any less of a person (or any less of a Christian) if you have been sexually active before marriage.

Blogger Tim Challies writes:

God does not look upon his people as non-virgins and virgins, spoiled and unspoiled, defiled and undefiled.  He does not see two classes of people: those who have waited to experience sex within marriage and those have not.  So why do we?

It’s a good question.  Yes, Christians should strive for sexual wholeness and relational fulfillment, both before and “after” marriage, but (les-be-honest) not a single one of us is capable of claiming that we are sexually pure, that we may sinlessly pick up the first stone and condemn another for her blunter sexuality.

Rather, the scandal of Christianity is that the womanizer, the “virgin,” the adulterer, the physically monogamous…they “are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We all stand equally ashamed before a brilliant God.  We can cut the attempt to find all sorts of biblical technicalities and loopholes (LANGUAGE) here, because none of us are virgins.

What I mean is that only within Christian theology can we properly begin to understand the radical claim that the concept of possessing “sexual purity” (or “virginity”) is itself an illusion.

A friend sent me a similar thought the other day:

I don’t think the concept of virginity should even really exist in the christian world.  it connotes some idea of sexual “purity” and works righteousness, but the moment any of us ever lust once, we have lost our sexual purity.  and are no better than anyone else. being a virgin is just a label some use to try to declare their superior purity/righteousness to others.

[this] elevates one aspect of sexual sin — the act of having sex (or whatever particular act one deems ‘sex’) — over lustful thoughts (which are equally sinful) as somehow being worse and more defiling

what is the point in holding up one group of people who’ve committed X sexual sin as a special group who ‘made it’ or were ‘preserved’ while those who committed Y sexual sin were ‘defiled’?

There is absolutely no Christian basis for assigning different levels of moral blame for different sexual activities and discriminating against those who have crossed those abstract barriers.

As Christians, we are liberated from any sliding scale of sexual culpability.  The idolatry of virginity is extinguished, and we are no longer bound by the petty sexual-sin-ranking-system.  We must remember that there is no person objectively “more valuable” or “better” than any other, that virginity itself is a social construction, an idol we must either sacrifice or bow down to and derive our ultimate worth from.

on a rock

This is not to say that what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter – it matters plenty.

The physically-unshackled approach to sex and sexuality (that our earthly, material bodies do not matter, so we can go sensually crazy with them) was actually what some early Christians believed.

But they were wrong because they failed to understand that what we do with our bodies reflects something more than just our bodies.  As author Rob Bell says, “you have a body, but you also have a soul, a spirit – [and] sex is the mingling of souls.”  Sex is more than just the fusion of skin and blood and bones, it’s the flirting and the play of souls.

Sex is important, and it should be respected and valued.  But you are no better than your neighbor because you haven’t “had sex” and she has.  She hasn’t lost something she can never replace by not “waiting until marriage,” and she is not any less of a Christian for her sexual history.

Yes, we should seek wholeness, respect, and equity in our romantic relationships.  Yes, Christians should strive to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically chaste – seeking guidance from scripture, praying with friends, communing with our families, fleeing from excessive lust and licentiousness.

But when it comes to purity, or “virginity,” we’ve all lost it already.

Every one of us.

And God loves us not one ounce less.

That’s the good news.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Katie Dulfer #

    This is a great post. It fully supports James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails at one point has become accountable for all of it.” Sin is sin is sin; there aren’t ranks. None of us have kept a purity independent or without need of Jesus Christ’s grace. Solid stuff!

    August 18, 2013
  2. browneyedamazon #

    Ryan! This is fabulous. Thank you so much for writing it. We, women, so rarely hear it from Christian men and, though this post is for all people, women are so often the ones victimized by the purity culture.

    *Sharing this on BEA’s facebook today

    August 18, 2013
  3. You know, my first gut reaction to this was, “I hope my 18 year old sister doesn’t read this,” haha. I was sent back to that default, fear-based Christianity… “If my sister doesn’t think being a virgin is better, then she might just start having sex with whoever.” I suddenly realized that just like deciding to follow the way of Jesus in any other area, it’s ultimately destructive to the self if it’s only chosen from a fear of consequences (in this case, loss of reputation).

    On one hand, yes, practically we should encourage anyone who isn’t in a position to raise a child to avoid sex (married or not!). On the other hand, if you stop there and don’t seek to understand the depth of all that sex means and is, I think all our entreaties will eventually be rendered void. Like Coach Carr from Mean Girls said, “Don’t have sex! Or you will get pregnant…and die…..alright, everybody grab some rubbers.”

    This is a tough question for me overall though- when should people trust themselves to have sex? And why? I think the latter part of that question is buried underneath this nation’s superficial conversation (slash argument) on abortion policies. I know you only alluded to this briefly in this whole post, so I’m sorry I chose that one spot to write a paragraph on haha.

    August 18, 2013
  4. Hey Ryan. As a fellow writer, I have a few questions about your choice of words (more so than the content of your post), if that’s okay. I’m wondering why you say that “virginity” and “purity” are concepts that imply a legalistic ranking system, whereas “chastity” seemingly does not (as you use it at the end in a positive way). For ME, those concepts all mean the same thing, and it is by no means negative (they all just mean “not sexually active” or “never before sexually active,” depending on the context).

    But I want to use my words in a way that respects others, and if some words have negative psychological effects on people because of our culture then I’d like to avoid them when I can.

    Also, putting your claims here into action, how am I to understand Scripture’s use of the term “virgin” (e.g., the virgin Mary) given the truth of your conclusions? I’m sure you’ve thought about this yourself, but I couldn’t tell that you spelled that out to us in this post.

    August 18, 2013
  5. Bounds #

    I’m sorry but virginity is something. You think of it in terms of the lack of something.

    https://sunshinemaryandthedragon.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/evangelical-women-also-known-as-covert-christo-feminists-rail-against-slut-shaming/

    You say that all sins are equal, but they DO NOT have equal effects on our lives. Just because Jesus died for our sins and we can be forgiven of them, doesn’t mean they still have negative effects of our lives.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.00444.x/abstract

    August 18, 2013
  6. FerdThePenguinGuy #

    I’m sorry but the bible does say that not all sins are equal. “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18

    August 18, 2013
    • No need to apologize! As a Catholic, I definitely agree with this. “not all sin leads to death,” has made an impact on my thinking. Certain sins tend to have more destructive, darker consequences than others (duh!). However, my main point is that perhaps we all stand rather equally ‘impure/defiled’ before a transcendent, ‘Whole’ God.

      August 18, 2013
  7. In my opinion, virginity isn’t even a “thing.” It’s a negation.

    If someone gives to their neighbor, they have the virtue of charity.
    If someone looks towards a good future, despite a foul present, they have the virtue of hope.
    If someone is draws, plays music, or creates art, we say that excercise the quality of creativity.

    What is virginity? It means they *do not* have something. They *do not* do something. It is so strange that we have a word for it. I don’t have a word for “not having been to Paris” or “never having been baptized” and then cherish it while at the same time saying that we should all be Baptized and visit Paris someday.

    Metaphysically, virginity is not a thing. It is not a quality. It is a best, UN-actualized potential.

    August 18, 2013
    • my man, this is exactly what I am trying to get at here. We don’t applaud people for not murdering or stealing or give them a special title or status, but we do this for those who have not completed the “physical” act of “sex” with another person.

      We have become obsessed with abstract “levels” of virginity, purity, and sexual “cleanliness” and it fosters an environment that encourages fear and shame instead of openness and healing.

      I have personally felt the results of this, and it hurts!

      August 18, 2013
  8. Yes, exactly. The over-emphasised concept of virginity is another harmful bi-product of purity culture. Excellent post!

    August 18, 2013
    • We who have been raised in the Christian church are sometimes infected with purity culture. We’ve often been good at building up a culture of sexual shame and silence, one in which our worth is assigned to us based on whether or not we have committed a specific series of physical acts with another person instead of our standing forgiven by God’s grace.

      Thank you for your words. Would we all be able to be a little bit better about this. May God hear our prayer.

      August 18, 2013
  9. Boris #

    On the other hand, it is Traditional and Biblical not to have sex before marriage, and for those of us that actually face the music / bite the bullet and resist the temptation, it is difficult and there is emotional pain involved in that too. The culture has a very elitist stance towards virginity, virgins are constantly mocked. It is especially hard because young people like us are surrounded by a culture of (degrading) pornography and have ever more access to the avenues of sexual immorality than our parents. This extreme has bred the opposite extreme of ‘purity culture’ – something which I have never actually encountered in real life, by the way.

    While I respect that it is difficult being in your shoes and being a Christian, I want to share that it is difficult being a Christian who wants to follow tradition and the teachings of Jesus.

    August 19, 2013
    • Welp…I am an orthodox Christian who is also technically still a virgin (again, not that this means ANYTHING in terms of holiness, purity).

      And it IS difficult following in the teaching and tradition of Jesus. Your implication that I am not doing so is puzzling!

      August 19, 2013
  10. David Farmer #

    Well done Ryan!

    August 19, 2013
  11. TryingToUnderstand #

    I’m a bit confused. Does your our liberation from a “sliding scale of sexual culpability” make rape as much a sin as lust? Does it mean dressing ludely is as bad as adultery?

    August 25, 2013
    • I think you are mistaken in calling rape a “sexual sin.” Rape is a sin that involves sex, but from speaking with my friends who are victims of rape, I have come to understand it much more as a sin of disgusting pride, violence, twisted ego, power-crazed selfishness, self-hate, and often misogyny.

      Are you not familiar with Jesus’ equating of lusting after a woman in your heart with an act of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28)? Honestly, do you really think my point in this article was “rape is just as bad as lusting or dressing ludely so we might as well do it all?”

      August 26, 2013

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