I am not against virginity. Or abstinence. In fact, abstinence from sexual intimacy is still the best way to avoid pregnancy. So I want to be clear about this from the beginning – I am not opposed to virginity or abstinence. These are personal choices. But they are private personal choices. I am opposed to making a public spectacle of someone’s virginity. It’s not a prize to be given to that one special someone. It’s not what makes someone pure. Virginity should not be what defines a person – particularly a woman. We are no longer living in the Ancient Near East.
I attended a wedding once in which the minister made a big deal about the bride’s purity promise that she’d made as a teenager. She’d pledged to keep herself pure for her husband. So here, on her wedding day, she was going to give her special gift – her virginity – to her husband. It was all for him. And then there was a great show of the bride giving her purity pin to the groom. There was no such return gift from the groom to the bride. I felt a little sick.
The Ancient Near East was an honor/shame culture. People didn’t marry for love – marriage was an economic arrangement. Extended families were very important, and you could either bring your family honor or shame. Women’s value was in their ability to produce heirs – to reproduce. But fathers wanted their own heirs. A few thousand years ago, the only way to be sure that a woman’s child belonged to her husband was to be sure that the woman was a virgin when she married him. There were no DNA tests then. We’ve moved on.
Today, most of the world doesn’t live in an honor/shame culture. Women don’t need to be virgins in order for us to be sure that children have been sired by their fathers. Yet some folks have clung to the idea that women, in particular, must be virgins, and that virginity is some sort of prize to be given to the groom on the wedding night.
In ancient times, and up into the Age of Enlightenment, there were wedding night rituals that included showing the bloody sheet to the gathered guests, or even gathering in the bedchamber to witness the deflowering of the bride (in the case of some royal marriages) – to confirm consumption of the marriage. There was a ceremonial deflowering at the wedding reception that I attended. The bride sat in a chair and the groom went up under her dress to remove her wedding garter with his teeth while the d.j. played horribly inappropriate music.
Why are we still doing this? Why are we still telling girls that their only worth is as an untouched receptacle for semen? And if we’re telling girls this, why not boys?
Perhaps some of this has to do with Matthew’s mis-translation of Isaiah. To be fair, it probably wasn’t Matthew’s mis-translation – but it was a Greek mis-translation. The passage in Isaiah says a young woman (alma) shall conceive and bear a son. But when it was translated into Greek, young woman became virgin. And Matthew picked up on that. And Jesus’ mother became the Virgin Mary (instead of the Young Woman Mary). But the Hebrew is very clear: Young Woman.
Perhaps we are wanting all our girls to be the Virgin Mary. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t we then expect all our boys to turn out like Jesus? It only seems fair.
There is great danger in setting up our girls in this way. When we tell a girl that her only worth is as a virgin, that if she “loses” her virginity she’s damaged goods, what happens to her self-esteem, to her self-identity, if she is no longer a virgin? What happens if she’s raped? In the case of Elizabeth Smart, we know what happened. Elizabeth Smart was raised in a Mormon family in Utah and was taught abstinence-only sex education. She told of a teacher who compared virginity to chewing gum, and she said she thought she was a chewed-up piece of gum after being raped. She thought she was worthless, so she passed up opportunities to escape. She was 14 years old.
Here’s the thing. your self-worth isn’t tied up in your sexual experience. Jesus didn’t spend all his time just hanging with the virgins who made a big deal out of their purity pins. Jesus was really big on noticing the worth of every person. Jesus made himself known to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26) – she had been married five times and was currently with a man who was not her husband – but Jesus did not judge her. He made himself known to her. He spoke to her. He promised her living water. He didn’t care about her virginity.
If Jesus didn’t care about virginity, why are we still making such a big deal about it? If you want to be a virgin – be a virgin. If you want to wait to be sexually intimate until you have deep feelings for someone – well, that’s not a bad idea. If you insist on being married first – well, I think there are some good arguments against that, but hey, it’s a personal choice. If you’re getting married because you’re horny and you want to have sex and you’ve sworn to save yourself for marriage – hoo-boy! That’s just a recipe for disaster.
Do what’s right for you – but don’t be pressured by someone else’s idea of what purity is. And if what’s right for you is waiting – well good for you! But that’s a personal decision – please don’t make a public display of your virginity – because then you’ve told the rest of us that all you have to offer the world is a maiden semen receptacle. And I just know that you’re so much more than that.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.