I was a member of a True Love Waits Club when I was in high school, as were many of my friends. Personally, its impact on my life was long-lasting. I honored my vow, wore my True Love Waits ring until the day that I got engaged, and wore a snow-white gown on my wedding day without the least bit of irony. I was a virgin on my wedding day, just as I had intended to be on the day that I first took my vow to wait until marriage to have sex. I think True Love Waits, and the confidence that the club instilled in me, had a lot to do with my fidelity to that vow. I also think that my friends’ support of that vow was invaluable.
The True Love Waits Club was fairly popular in my small, all-girls Catholic high school. For quite a few of its members over the years, participation in the club was just not enough. I know many girls who, for one reason or another, abandoned their vow. Some abandoned more than just their vow of chastity- they abandoned the Catholic faith, so adhering to mores as “old-fashioned” as virginity and chastity no longer made sense. Other girls broke their vows in much more confusing, difficult situations. They had been promised love and affection, but in exchange for breaking their vow of chastity, they had their hearts broken as well. Some girls were madly in love with men who loved them back with equal ferocity, but in a moment of passion, that ferocity led to a weakening of their perseverance. Other girls decided that chastity was just too difficult, that virginity was near impossible, and without proper support, they just gave up.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if more girls (and guys) break their vow of chastity than keep it. We live in a world that has all but lost any sense of virtue, and a virtue as challenging as chastity, or virginity, does not seem to have any place here. Our culture can embrace virtues like charity or compassion (even though it sometimes sells these virtues short), which have much to offer our society, but it has little room for a virtue like chastity, one that requires self-discipline and restraint, things that don’t fit well in our have-everything-you-want-and-more world. Our culture gawks at young men and women who suggest that they might be able to restrain their sexual desires, that they might be able to say no in the face of passion, lust, and love. Our culture claims that these men and women are naive, brainwashed, and worse. It’s no wonder that many of us fail in the end.
I was given practically everything that I needed in order to succeed. I spent three years attending weekly meetings of the True Love Waits Club. I pursued degrees in Theology from multiple institutions. I surrounded myself with people who had the same morals as I did. I only dated men who respected, and generally shared, my values. I had all of these things, and still chastity was still a difficult virtue to uphold. If I could be tempted with such firm support, what chance did my fellow True Love Waits Club members have?
Our culture does not understand chastity; neither does it understand virginity. Virginity has been reduced to a bodily reality. You are either a virgin or you are not. You have either had sex or you have not. Once you have had sex, you have lost your virginity, and there is no reversing time. There is no turning back. There is no do-over. Once you have lost your virginity, it is gone for good.
Virginity has been reduced to a mere bodily reality, but it is so much more than that. It is a virtue, a state of the soul. St. Thomas Aquinas defined the virgin as one who is “unseared by the heat of concupiscence which is experienced in achieving the greatest bodily pleasure which is that of sexual intercourse.” He goes on to say that “the integrity of the bodily organ is accidental to virginity.” That particular statement has huge consequences.
So what does he mean? By asserting this, Aquinas is arguing that two realities are possible: the bodily virgin does not necessarily possess the virtue of virginity, and one who bodily is not a virgin can still possess the virtue of virginity through repentance. In other words, the woman who has had sex, but who has repented of her actions, might be considered more virginal than the woman who has desired to have sex, but has never had the opportunity. The bodily reality of virginity does not require that the virtue be present. The bodily virgin does not need to be virtuous. On the other hand, a woman who has already “lost” her virginity can still possess the virtue through repentance, thereby seeking and finding what has been lost.
This is a source of hope for many women living in this sex-obsessed world, a world where girls and boys begin experimenting at younger and younger ages. By the time many young men and women graduate high school, they might think it’s too late for them. Certainly, during those tumultuous years of bad decision-making, Thirsty Thursdays, and weekend-long parties, many college students will make decisions that they will later regret. In the face of the infamous biological clock, women in their twenties and thirties might begin to lose hope that marriage will ever be in their futures, or they might just be in too much of a rush, so they take matters into their own hands. There are countless reasons that young men and women today might choose to give up their virginity, but now the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the reflections of a consecrated man who lived centuries ago, might offer the young people of today hope.
It is not too late. The idea of renewed virginity, or born-again virgins, or whatever else it might be called, is not just a convenient platitude that we can provide young men and women who regret their decisions and desire to recommit themselves to Christ. Renewed virginity has the support of hundreds of years of tradition, and the approval of a well-respected, renowned medieval theologian and saint. If virginity is more than just a physical state, if it is truly a virtue, then it can be restored. In the light of mercy and forgiveness, one’s virginity can be renewed. If the physical state is simply accidental to the virtue, then there is hope. Repentance, and the forgiveness that we are granted by God, has the power to wash us clean, refresh our soul, renew our faith. And with the grace of redemption, the virgin can once again be clothed in white.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!