I have spent a lot of time studying the Bible on the issue of sexuality in the context of relationships. I have also spent a great deal of time studying the importance of virginity from a biblical point of view. I did this as a side discussion in my series on The Bible and the Sex Industry and in the end my conclusions were that the value of female virginity in the Bible was more a product of Biblical culture placing an economic value to that virginity for the father of the virgin. The issue of virginity, and this only applies to females, is that the future husband wanted a guarantee that the children fathered from the wedding night onward would be only his. This had economic value for the father of the bride as he was the one who would be paid a dowry for his daughter. You see this in both testaments of Scripture, first in the Law of Moses and then in 1st Corinthians chapter 7 under Paul. The idea that female virginity has some sort of inherent spiritual value is really not there. It is all economics of the culture of marriage at the time. It should also be noted that male virginity is not even give a single remark at all.
The reason I am revisiting this topic is two-fold. I have in recent days been made aware of a post on Thought Catalog called I Waited Until My Wedding Night To Lose My Virginity And I Wish I Hadn’t. I subscribe to them but must have missed it earlier because I didn’t notice until I saw a friend comment on it on Facebook. His contention was that there was so much wrong with the article about the facts, I disagreed because this is a testimony of a woman as to what she experienced so for her the facts were true although she might have drawn some bad conclusions at the end. Secondly, I have a lot of friends that have been involved sexually long before their wedding night, some have even been involved in adult entertainment (sarcastic gasp) and faced the rough and tumble of Christian reaction to them personally because of the inability of some beloved believers to realize that grace and forgiveness is not reserved for the sexually pure.
My contention now for some time is that a person’s sex life is not the business of the church. It is actually no one’s business but the individual. I base this on the basic idea presented by Paul In 1st Corinthians 6:18:
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.
I want to note very carefully that last part. Immorality of all forms is not a sin against society, it is not a sin against the church, it is a sin against self. It also should be noted in all of Paul’s talking about fornication and immorality, he never talks to about the church’s responsibility to deal with except once and then only because of the extreme nature of the case. It was basically a Christian being more immoral than Corinthian society at large, a truly impressive achievement given that the patron goddess of Corinth as Aphrodite. The majority of time both Jesus and Paul place the responsibility for sexual sin directly on the believer who is practicing it.
The implication is twofold. 1) We can only do as Paul did with people engaged in sexual immorality: Tell them that they are sinning against themselves, support them in their struggle and not be judgmental when they fail. 2) We need to understand that sexual impurity does not rub off on the rest of the church and make us impure by association. I don’t know what it is about people in church who discover that someone has been less than sexual perfect (is anyone sexually perfect?) that we distance ourselves like they have some horrible disease. I see more hugs in church for murderers than the prostitute. Odd considering that the murderer does sin against someone else and the prostitute does not.
It wouldn’t be so bad but this while notion has gone incredibly overboard when it comes to young girls in the church. The virginity cult is in full force in some places. Now, I want to be clear that I do not use the term ‘cult’ lightly. I reserve it for groups that seek to control a person through a religion, doctrine or theology. Now many pastors sing my praises about this when I am talking about cult leaders who take over people’s finances, behaviors and life in general. Most experts will tell you that there are two areas that cults seek to control the most – personal economics and sexuality. Here is my problem, in a perfectly good church there might be a cult in your midst – the virginity cult.
The reason I say this is that the pressure these days for girls to take some sort of virginity pledge is high and like it or not the church has not escaped sexism enough that the pressure is very much higher on girls than boys to maintain this purity. Even so purity pledges are showing themselves to be ineffectual (only one-third of girls who make them keep them) but more importantly it creates a distinction that causes people to think that it is more spiritual to be a virgin than to not be one. There is no passage from the Bible that supports this idea. The problems that arise from this Virginity Cult are more trouble than they are worth and are many: .
1. The belief that your virginity makes you better than others who are not. Sorry, virginity has no special spiritual benefit over not being a virgin. You still need of repent of sin to receive Christ’s grace like anyone else. Virginity is not some special magic shield that keeps you free from sin. It is simply the product of not having sex yet.
2. Virginity can become so much a part of your identity that it becomes difficult to transition when you are no longer a virgin. The woman in the previously mentioned post from Thought Catalog, is a classic case of this problem. She had her virginity and made a big deal of her virginity so long that on her wedding the loss of her virginity was like losing a piece of her self and it caused her to spend time mourning over its loss instead of discovering the joy of her new marriage and sexuality. Part of the problem was this there was a large amount of reinforcement of this idea from her church which happens far too often. Virgins are given special standing in the youth group while the non-virgins are looked down on. This is cultic jockeying for position.
3. There are mixed results as well. It can be argued that those who take virginity pledges do experience a lower rate of teenage pregnancy, the difference is only by a few percentage points. The other problem though is the sexual purity that is trying to be achieved may be suspect. USA today did poll of 1500 girls who took purity pledges at 15 and found that only 34% of them were virgins three years after making the pledge. Non-pledgers were at 42% by comparison. The fact is polling data is all over the place on this issue depending on who takes it. Pledging organizations have polls that show its success; skeptic organizations have polls that show its failure. The one thing that can be said is the issue was maintaining virginity, I don’t see that a purity pledge does this better. The pledger may wait a little longer to lose their virginity but they still lose it just the same before their wedding day. The may have less pregnancy but that could be attributed simply to the fact that the pledge does nothing more than cause them to be more cautious about birth control because of the pressure to maintain appearances.
4. The nature of the pledge has some faulty elements. Allow me to deconstruct one.
“Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship. As well as abstaining from sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions that are known to lead to sexual arousal.”
“Believing that true love waits” – Oh boy. Is this about the biblical standards of marriage or some romantic jargon that has infiltrated the church. True love is got to be the biggest pile of BS that has ever been perpetrated on the world. Long term marriages do not depend on finding true love but developing and growing true love. The biggest thing that stands against this phrase in regards to Biblical marriage is that most marriages in the Bible were arranged. In fact, the only ones that actually involved choice as we would know it is when a widow is involved. I would point out for those who need to know this that there is a petty good chance that a widow no longer has her virginity. Virgins in Biblical society had no choice in who they were going to marry and thus this notion of find ‘the one’, one’s soul mate and life partner had little to do with discovery. True love had little to do with marriage in the Bible. Love often develops after marriage not before it.
“I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children” – I seem to remember someone in the bible saying this –
“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
I know this pledge tries to get around this by not saying ‘I swear’ but the fact is a pledge is a form of oath, why can’t you just make your commit to yourself and yourself alone to be sexually pure? The other problem I have with this based on what they said before is that the only people in this pledge would apply or would be their business is God and myself. The rest of them are not affected by your sexual purity. You family’s purity will not be affected by whether or not you keep your virginity. The same goes for your friends and church. Your future mate will only be affected by your pervious sexual activity if they choose to have an issue with it and your future children actually depend on you giving up your virginity at some point. Your virginity actually keeps your children from happening.
“to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship” – What Biblical marriage relationship are you planning on entering? Are you going to let your family arrange your marriage? Are you going to be a concubine, true wife, handmaiden to another woman so if she can’t get pregnant you become the next womb in line. Polygamy? These are all in the Bible. What if you end up losing your spouse for some reason down the line, does the oath still apply as you wait for the next one? Is your second marriage somehow of a lesser value because you don’t still have your virginity? There is a lot of bad theology and presumption in this line. So much for ‘that true’ love thing again too.
“As well as abstaining from sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions that are known to lead to sexual arousal.” – Here is the real problem now, if many pledgers don’t make it to marriage with their virginity intact, how much is this line an absolute stumbling block to success of this oath? I would like some statistics on this one as to how many pledges are successful in this part of the pledge. I mean how many of you made it without sexual thoughts or masturbation? I bet the percentage is really, really low especially on the thoughts part. (zero maybe) I hate to break it to all you Christians out there but sexuality is not evil in and of itself, it is what you do with it. Sexual thoughts are not only natural in young people but healthy. The real thing we should be teaching children at this point is how to handle their sexuality responsibly not repressing it. This is the double edge sword of pledgers which not only do you exalt virginity to some special spiritual status that it really does not have, you absolutely repress sexual exploration so that the person is completely unprepared for sexuality in marriage. That is exactly what happened to the woman in the article above. It cost her, perhaps wrongly, her faith, but I understand why it happened.
5. By repeating this over and over, carrying it around with you and wearing ring about it, you are dangerously close if not over the line in engaging in cultic indoctrination. I want to state for the record that you are trying to control something that dos not belong to you to control. This technique is the same thing cults do to get people to think a certain way. You are also doing this in regards to a person’s sexuality which you are not responsible for. If the person does this on their own, that is fine but when you put church, societal and peer pressure to do it is wrong.
Someone might ask how I handled this with my own children. I tell you what I didn’t do first. I didn’t make them take a virginity pledge, nor did I keep them from any information on sexuality. I let them go to the public schools sexual education classes when they came up. I told them all their birth control options and then what I did next took a large amount of courage. I let them be responsible for their own sexuality from that point on. I will not be there when they make any decision about their sex lives, so this is simply a reality but I came to peace about it and let them navigate the waters themselves. Not my issue, it is theirs to come to terms with before God. If they fail they only sin against themselves and God. It doesn’t taint me, my church, my faith or my society. It is their sexuality, I expect they will be responsible for it.
“Yeah, and how did that work out for them?” Honestly, I don’t know about much other than this, the only grandchild I have was definitely born well after my daughter was married so from a pregnancy issue so far pretty good. Whether she and her husband were sexually active before their marriage is between them and God. I know that my one son lives with his girlfriend and probably have sex. Other than that though I don’t really know about the sex lives and I would consider it rude to pry. It is their business not mine and I expect the same from them regarding my sex life with my wife. I actually doubt they want to know, however. 😉
My point is that I do not think that ignorance or setting our kids up for failure and guilt is the answer. I think purity pledges and isolation are part of the things that promote both ignorance and guilt because like all cultic oaths, they are too hard for most people to achieve.