A few nights ago I stumbled on a blog post that really broke my heart, and I’ve just felt compelled to write a response post. I’ve never done this before, but in this instance, I just don’t feel comfortable remaining silent. The original post, “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn’t,” was a particularly devastating account of a young woman, raised in a Christian community, who regrets her decision to “save herself for marriage” because of the mental anguish it caused her throughout her life, and especially in her marriage. In some ways, I can relate to her- I also joined a True Love Waits club (but in high school, not in fourth grade), and I’ve remained true to that promise that I made ten years ago. I’ve also endured comments that could have really damaged my sexuality, but I thankfully remained impervious to them. But for the most part, I’ve been shown a worldview that preaches the beauty of virginity and the beauty of marital sex, and this is the philosophy that I’ve clung to. It is the reason that I have chosen to wait until marriage, and the reason I am confident that I will never regret that decision.
This poor girl, whose name I believe is Samantha, was not so lucky. She was raised in a Baptist community that just didn’t have a full appreciation for the sanctity of marriage, the dignity of the human person as a sexual being, and the beauty of both virginity and marital intercourse. She took her pledge when she was ten years old, when she still thought boys had cooties and didn’t know the first thing about sex. Problem #1.
You can’t make a promise about something that you don’t know anything about. I’m not saying that you can’t make a chastity promise in fourth grade; I’m just saying that you should probably know what you’re promising beforehand. It’s no use to make a promise to abstain from sex until marriage when you don’t know what sex is. Or marriage, for that matter. Samantha was young, and she pledged to save sex for marriage before she even knew what that meant. Or why she was doing it.
Actually, that’s not completely true. She had been told why she was doing it. She was just told wrong. From the age of ten, she was taught that she “had a responsibility to [her] future husband to remain pure for him…[even though] he didn’t have that same responsibility, according to the Bible.” Now, I’m just a Catholic, so I’m no Bible expert, but I don’t know where the Bible says that. I do know that the Bible says that husbands and wives should “be subordinate to one another, out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) and that husbands should “love [their] wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her” (Ephesians 5:25). And last time I checked, Christ died for His Bride, the Church, on a cross. So even if the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that men need to remain pure for their wives, I’m pretty sure being willing to die for their wives encompasses anything else that might be suggested.
Not everything that Samantha was told was wrong. She was taught that sex was something that belonged within the confines of marriage, where its full beauty could be seen. She was taught that premarital sex was sinful in the eyes of God. Of course, she might not have been told that it was sinful not because God hates sex, but because He loves His children and wants them to be happy. He reserved sex for marriage because a married couple is able to give themselves fully to one another in a manner that unmarried couples simply cannot. But Samantha was not told any of this. If anything, what she was told taught her that sex was dirty. It was bad. It was only for those who just couldn’t remain pure their entire lives. Problem #2.
Now, in defense of her church, there is a very good chance that they only ever told Samantha that premarital sex was wrong. They probably never told her that all sex was wrong and dirty, but even if they didn’t say it outright, their actions definitely suggested that this was the truth.
As she recounted, Samantha was praised for her decision to save herself for marriage. It made her parents proud that she had chosen to refrain from sex until she was married. In reality, they probably were mostly just relieved that they wouldn’t need to worry about having a promiscuous daughter who could get pregnant out-of-wedlock. Because Samantha was right- “Gossip is the lifeblood of the Baptist Church.” People talk (and it’s not just Baptists who are at fault here either), and an unmarried pregnant girl would certainly have been a cause for scandal.
Samantha was lauded for her choice to save sex for marriage. She was even encouraged to share her decision with other people. She even enjoyed it. As she wrote, “for more than a decade, I wore my virginity like a badge of honor.” Her existence as a virgin became the core of who she was. Who was Samantha? She was a virgin. Who am I? I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, a woman, a human being. I am a virgin too, but that is not how I define myself. There are other qualities that are more central to my being. But for Samantha, who she was came down to one thing: she was a virgin. Problem #3.
She defined herself by a characteristic that was not intrinsic to her being. She was a virgin, and then one day she wasn’t anymore. And at that point, she was left with the proverbial question: who am I? And she didn’t know how to answer. Who am I? I’m a Catholic. I’m a Christian. I’m a woman. I’m a human being. Those things will never change. From the moment I was conceived in the mind of God and throughout my entire life, I will always be these things. I will always be a Catholic, a Christian, a woman, a human being. There is nothing that can happen that can change these things.
But Samantha did not define herself as I have. She defined herself according to her virginity, and ascribed to it the same innateness that I acknowledge in my existence as a female human being, or a person purchased by the blood of Christ. She tried to make the changeable immutable, and the effects were devastating.
Samantha was a virgin, and then she wasn’t anymore. She no longer could claim this trait that she had always been praised for. Her claim to fame, so to speak, was ripped from under her. One day, she wore it like a blanket, and the next morning she was suddenly naked. And the entire world saw her nakedness.
In reality, there was a great deal of truth to her experience. Her virginity was like a blanket; it was something that she could remove. It was not intrinsic to her being. But because she had always defined herself as a virgin, when was ceased to be thus, she was suddenly naked. She’s been stripped of her blanket, and naked as she was, she could not look people in the eye anymore. She did not know who she was, but she did know what she was not. She was not a virgin, and somehow that was a bad thing. Virginity had been good; it had been praised and applauded, and now she had given that good away. No, she had lost it.
Frankly, I really hate that phrase. We do not lose our virginity. In rare, devastating cases, it can be stolen, but for most of us, our virginity will not be lost. It will be given away, as we give ourselves to another. In a perfect world, when Samantha had sex with her husband for the first time, she would have known that she wasn’t losing anything. She was gaining an entire person. She was being given the gift of her husband. And she was also a giver. She was not losing her virginity; she was giving herself to her spouse. Marital sex is never supposed to be one-sided. It is meant to be the mutual gift of two people to one another. It is meant to be the action by which two individuals become one. In giving of ourselves, we receive. And even if we insist on this language of losing, St. Paul says that in losing ourselves, we gain our lives. Now, I know he wasn’t talking about sex when he wrote that, but I think it’s applicable, particularly if we insist on this language of loss. In losing our virginity, we gain a life as a married woman (or man) and the graces that come by way of the consummation of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We who are called to marriage become more ourselves when we give ourselves to our spouses. Even if we insist on the term “losing our virginity,” we all must acknowledge that in losing our virginity, we are gaining so much more.
But losing her virginity was not a good thing for Samantha. In a real way, it was proof that she had failed in life. If her virginity was what made her a good person, a praiseworthy Christian, then by losing her virginity, she could no longer make those claims. She couldn’t call herself a good person, or a good Christian. You might think it’s too far-fetched for me to make that claim, but that is exactly what happened to Samantha. She had a beautiful, white wedding, and she left the ceremony a virgin. And everyone knew that she was not a virgin when she returned from her honeymoon. Yes, everything changes when you get married. It’s not just you anymore. It’s ‘you’ and ‘me.’ It’s ‘we.’ It’s ‘us.’ You cannot simply continue to live your life like you did before you were married. You had lived the life of a bachelor(ette). Now you must live the life of a married man (or woman). Life changes, but these changes are good.
For Samantha, the changes that came with marriage were awful. They were all evidence of her absolute failure as a person. Her personhood had been intimately tied to her virginity, and now she wasn’t a virgin. She’d had sex. She had lost everything that had mattered. She had lost her virginity.
As she writes, “I lost my virginity on my wedding night, with my husband, just as I had promised that day when I was 10 years old. I stood in the hotel bathroom beforehand, wearing my white lingerie, thinking, ‘I made it. I’m a good Christian.’ There was no chorus of angels, no shining light from Heaven. It was just me and my husband in a dark room, fumbling with a condom…for the first time.” She thought she had done everything right, but as she continued in her blog post, despite all her affirmation, she cried in the bathroom after they were done. Even though she had always been taught that sex is fine as long as you’re married, she still felt like she was doing something sinful, dirty, and wrong. It was not the beautiful thing that she had expected.
Sure, someone probably should have told her beforehand that the first time is rarely “beautiful” in the typical sense of the word. They didn’t tell her that it takes time to get to know each other’s bodies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She wasn’t told that the beauty will be found in the union of these two persons, these two bodies, no matter how “smooth” or “awkward” that first time might be. There is still beauty to be found in that moment.
Her Baptist community could have told her all that, but they didn’t. They also might have told her that using a condom will inevitably take away from the experience, but they couldn’t. Suggesting that sex without a condom is more fulfilling than sex with one would be a betrayal of what our society, Baptists included, holds most dear. There are very few people who could have told her the truth, and somehow I don’t think she knew many, if any, devout Catholics. They could have told her that it’s just impossible to give yourself entirely to another person while you are simultaneously holding a part of yourself back from them. By using a condom and holding back the possibility of procreation, of conceiving children, you are holding back something essential, and you can’t hold back and give totally at the same time. It just doesn’t work, but no one told her that. And as a result, Samantha found herself alone in the bathroom crying while her new husband slept in the bedroom just beside her. She had been told that she should save herself for marriage so that she could give herself completely to her spouse on her wedding night, but then she didn’t do that. Problem #4.
Samantha was fed lies throughout her entire childhood, and she suffered terribly as a result. It prevented her from seeing herself as the beautiful creation that she is, a woman worth waiting for, a woman possessing a gift of immense value that any man would have been lucky to receive. Instead, she clung to her virginity like a blanket, and when she was stripped of that, she didn’t know who she was anymore. Because of those lies, sex became something dirty and sinful, and it was proof that she just didn’t have what was required to remain a spotless, unblemished virgin for her entire life. She was never told that only some women are called to perpetual virginity, while most women will be called to marriage, and that’s okay. We are each called to a particular vocation, and when we answer that call, we give glory to God. We make Him happy. And we make ourselves happy. God does not call us to a vocation that will make us miserable, but calls us to that state of life that will help us to love to the best of our ability and will bring us the greatest happiness. But Samantha was never told any of that, or at least, no one stressed it. Instead, she was told that being a virgin was her greatest asset, and inevitably, when she ceased to be a virgin, she no longer knew who she was.
The ramifications of these sufferings were far-reaching and incredibly damaging. She had been promised a fairy tale happy ending for her good behavior, and instead she woke up to a nightmare. She had been promised that if she waited, God would bless her with a good husband and a happy marriage. She had been told that God would love her if she saved herself. As if God would stop loving her if she had sex, when she had sex. As a virgin, she was assured of God’s love for her. As a married woman, she wasn’t sure of anything. The lies caused terrible wounds that have not yet completely healed. It destroyed her relationship with her own body, and it destroyed her relationship with God. And obviously, it destroyed her vision of sexuality, and particularly that idea of waiting until marriage. As she concludes, she regrets her decision to wait because of the pain that she suffered.
It is devastating to read such a story, and my heart goes out to Samantha, and to any woman who has suffered as she did. That being said, I do not agree with her conclusion. It was not her decision to wait until marriage that caused her this pain; it was the lies that she was fed. It was her church, which made her feel that she was only of value as long as she remained a virgin, and taught her that her body, and sex, were dirty. It was our society, which teaches that we can somehow simultaneously fully give ourselves to another person while holding an integral part of ourselves back. These were the factors that caused her pain, not her decision to wait until marriage to have sex.
Her experiences have led her to revolt against virginity, which is understandable considering the suffering she has endured, but I don’t believe that it’s logical. It’s not right. Virginity is not something bad. Neither is sex. They are both good, and they have both been given to us by God. Yes, Samantha’s decision to wait until marriage caused her pain, but that was only because she had never been given the full vision of human sexuality. She was never given the full truth, but instead was fed lies about herself, human sexuality, marriage, the Church, and the world. These lies wounded her, not her decision to wait until marriage. Had she been given the truth from the beginning, she would have chosen to wait, and she would have been glad that she had chosen thus.
If you want to give yourself entirely to the man (or woman) you love, wait until you’re married. Wait until you have the graces of the sacrament to make the impossible possible. Some time ago, a very wise person told me that God gave us marriage to make the impossible possible. We all want to love forever. We all want to give ourselves entirely to the one that we love. We want these things, but we can’t do it by ourselves. Forever is something beyond us, and only God can bring us there. If you want the kind of love that will last forever, that involves a complete exchange of love, wait until marriage. I promise that you won’t regret your decision.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!