What's The Big Deal About Virginity?
The "Talk" from a Song of Solomon Preacher's Perspective
A religious speaker once spoke about “the talk” in one of his Song of Solomon lessons. The “talk” ranks right up there with sitting down with your kids to tell them about sex and drugs. Dad fidgets with his collar, turning red and doesn’t make eye contact. Mom says things like “because we really care” and “it’s only for your best” and Mom is also nervous and gives weird illustrations about “it.” The basics of the talk is “when two people are in love, AND ARE MARRIED….” You get the point. Well, anyway, the “talk” the speaker was referring to was the one where two people sit down and discuss their past histories. Ouch!
I will always remember his words. Guys, he said, some of these women have been involved in things so disgusting, so hurtful, and so immoral, that it will shock you, but your job is not to shrink away or condemn, but to hold her in your arms and assure her of your love. And I sat there crying, identifying, and feeling a little petrified. He said these women already had guilt and shame embracing them, and so they now need the hug of forgiving grace. Amen.
So, I ask, what is the big deal about virginity? And what happens if you don’t have it anymore? Let me get into the mindset of a virgin. A long time ago, when I was a little girl, my parents never sat me down to talk about sex, but I grew up in the church and my little ears took in a lot of what was right and what was wrong. I remember being in fourth grade the first time I even heard the word virgin. Lindsay Harris asked me if I was a virgin, and thinking it was a bad word, I said “of course not!” Little did I know the impact that word would have on the rest of my life.
In junior high, sex was something we’d just giggle about, a taboo that none of us wanted to participate in, but a topic that we each loved to talk about. All the little junior high girl rumors flew around as to what it was and who’d done it. In the church youth group, it was definitely a no-no. And we heard a little about purity, and waiting until marriage was a big emphasis. But no one ever told us why it was wrong and all. We just thought sex was some big terrible wonderful thing. Romance novels touted it as the be all and end all. And it was always okay if you were planning to get married anyway.
High school came around and sex was a major topic. My parents still hadn’t sat me down, but my dad gave me a book called Growing up Adolescent, that was about puberty and growing up and sex. All the book did was give me a good laugh and a chapter to pass around to my girlfriends and giggle and gawk over. But of course, it was never something I could discuss with my parents. My mom would just say it was great, but to wait until marriage, and my dad still to this day blushes over tampon commercials, so he was out as far as the parental authority on sex goes.
In high school, if you were having sex, then you were a slut. Only the very brazen would admit to it while the others would deny the fact. But more and more, people were losing their virginity and having sex. The boys in youth group were different. The boys in church put a high price on virginity, setting purity as some jewel of great worth. I was a virgin, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. I didn’t really feel pressured to stay that way or to change my status. I’d been in tempting situations, but never rode that temptation into trouble, until college.
So, I went to college and all of a sudden everybody was having sex. Or at least everyone I was hanging out with. My group of friends was the party crowd, the “get drunk and screw” crowd. The pressure was intense. Not only was everybody doing it, but all of a sudden my peers were pressing it on me. “C’mon, you’ll love it.” “It’s the greatest.” “you’ve gotta try this…” I had never experienced that kind of pressure before. In high school, I was popular and had lots of friends, but no one ever pressured me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I never smoke or drank with the crowd, never cared less about being a virgin, never cared less about being strange or left out. But all of a sudden, image was so important to me. The hormones were raging and all of my friends were glorifying the act. The pressure was intense.
Andrew and I started dating one month into our freshmen year. We’d both been raised in church backgrounds and had high ideals. I was wildly in love with him, one of the first guys who gave me his undivided attention and made me feel beautiful and wild and sexy and cherished. He made me feel tiny and girlie and I loved that feeling. I made him feel strong and manly. He’d wear a tux for me gladly and give me his coat in the rain. I can still feel the giddy glow of our first dates, of our cuddling on his bed watching a movie, of our conversations enveloped in the tension of young sexuality. The attraction crackled the atmosphere around us. Everyone felt the energy of our love.
Andrew sat me down one day and we talked about sex. We both wanted to wait until we were married. Neither one of us knew why we wanted to wait, but we both agreed to wait. Oh, but it was so hard. I wanted him so much! I thought that us together would be complete. I thought that sex would validate me as a person and the wait was killing me. Well, I started pressuring Andrew and made him angry. He said I was rushing things. His hesitance made me feel rejected, unworthy, unlovely. I remember pouting for days. But of course, we shortly made up and then one day lying on his bed, things started getting out of hand. The ringing of the phone put a stop to our cuddling and I fell asleep. When he hung up and woke me up, I made him mad because I then was the one saying no. I was too tired to concentrate on the task at hand. So, we fought. This was the scenario of every single encounter with this guy. Every effort was frustrated by circumstance, and eventually, but by the grace of God, my body remained pure until the day Andrew and I broke up for good. I found out that year Andrew had been sleeping around with several other people, and my refusing to sleep with him protected me from a sexually transmitted disease.
Andrew and I had broken up, but alone, I found myself with a reputation. He had spread rumors about me, rumors that I couldn’t live up to, rumors that I couldn’t scrape the bottom to find. I didn’t even try to defend myself because no one would have believed me anyway. Everyone had assumed by the way we’d acted and talked as a couple that we were, of course, sexually active, and the only two who knew the truth of the matter were Andrew and me, and Andrew wasn’t admitting anything. My self-esteem was low enough, that I let everyone believe what they wanted, and pretended I couldn’t care less what they thought of me. I just went with the flow, regardless of how hurt I’d be in the interim or how stained my reputation would get. Also, somewhere in the midst of it all, I had turned my back on God, shutting my ears to his words, and numbing my brain with alcohol.
My heart hardened, my personality took on an edge that would cut glass and that would tell everyone to back off, get lost, and leave me the hell alone. I squared my shoulders and faced my reputation head on. Let them believe what they wanted! Inside, I was shriveling into a little ball of self-hatred, wishing that I was as big as I said I was. On the outside, I was a calculating, deceitful, big-mouthed talker. The comments rolled off of me, the insults bounced off, the advice was brushed off like dandruff on a blazer, and I could laugh at anything and rebuff anyone. In a poem, I once described myself as a roaring lioness shouting with all her might from the inside of a quivering mouse’s heart. I labeled myself a little girl trapped in a woman’s body, not ready to grow up, but ready to be grown up, and wearing a series of masks, never totally being honest with anyone. A musician friend of mine composed a symphony that I was a character in. He called the section “Masques” and introduced it by saying he was waiting to see who the real me was. He said the masks I wore are all of pretty and polised people, but he’s waiting for the beauty of my soul to be revealed when I finally take off the last mask and stare out at the world through naked, vulnerable eyes. It was a beautiful, haunting melody with lots of hidden harmonic facets, and it made me cry to hear it. But I digress.
I thought, in sex, I would find my significance and I threw myself into the arms of several boys, rejected one by one. Finally, when I met Matt, I was a frustrated virgin living the life of a wild harlot. I went a little crazy over him. He was an attractive guy, nice, clean cut, all-American, of strong moral character, but he had a flaw. He thought I was a princess, and I took advantage of his blindness. I boasted to my friends that my goal was Matt. I set a time frame and made my plans. I set my trap. He had no idea what was coming. Really! He actually liked me for me, but I needed something more. I needed to lose my virginity once and for all. I just wanted to have it out of the way. I was overwhelmed by the pressure.
This was an event that circumstances did not hinder. I brought him to a cast party for a show I was in. My roommates had planned to be out of our dorm room that weekend. I had sexy pajamas, a supply of condoms, an empty bedroom, a willing boy, what more could I ask for? I lost my virginity that night, along with my integrity, pieces of my soul, and some self-worth. When we were finished, and he wanted to cuddle, I instead went to the bathroom to lean against the shower wall and cry as I washed him off of me. I cried for a long time, and once the tears were spent, I was able to toughen up, laugh about the event to my friends, and break up with him the next day. He said goodbye, said he’d call, and leaned down to kiss me. I turned away and just said “don’t bother.” Like Tamar’s brother who hated her when he was done with her, I hated Matt and left him to himself. He lost his virginity the same day I lost mine. And he lost me the day after.
I now need to skip ahead to the mindset of a non-virgin. I had done “it,” a part of me was proud, a part smug, a part of me upset, and the other part torn into little pieces at what I had done. But the pride in me tamped down any wrong feelings and moved on to the fact that I was finally no longer a virgin. I had no regrets, made no apologies. I held my head up high and admitted to any accusations that came my way. Whatever! I no longer cared what was said, what was thought. I wasn’t the nice Christian girl who’d gotten a little carried away with her boyfriend and felt terrible. I was a scheming temptress who knew exactly what I was doing. The situation had been in my control entirely from start to finish, until the aftermath. Until I found myself pregnant. I planned to abort the baby, even knowing that choice was wrong, but ended up miscarrying in my third month.
A long string of consequences and circumstances led me back to the Lord, back to a place where purity is once again a jewel of precious worth, and my lack thereof a fatal flaw. I know, I know, the pat answer that Christians give each other for those who’ve made mistakes. “The Lord has forgiven you. You’re pure in his eyes.” Ladies who’ve heard this, does this response cut it for you? Regardless of how you confess, these things still hang over you. A shadow of shame, a cloud of fear, the worry, the secrets, the stress of it all… And now you know why I cried when that religious speaker mentioned “the talk.” There’s a line from a Bebo Norman song that says: “But, my greatest fear, is that you’d leave me here, stranded in this water so deep. So, don’t you turn away from me, because my heart and my soul are in your hands. And if I don’t seem certain, it’s just the common fear of a common man. I’m in your hands.”
I’ll paint the scenario. It all starts with a church group where every one is fantasizing about their future spouses. I can remember the list we made in ninth grade. It was something like honest, nice, pretty, and the ever-present purity word. In college groups, a happy couple glows as they share how they’ve waited. Special speakers talk about the value of purity. Men talk about how they’re waiting for a virgin. “She needs to be pretty and pure to be perfect for me.” This new pressure pervades the Christian atmosphere. The non-Christians are exalting sex, while the Christians are glorifying virginity. Guys have this high standard, which they should have, but it leaves those of us out, who are less than perfect. Even under a cloud of confession and grace, where the Father has forgiven all, it’s hard for a mere man to hear the truth and to carry your burden like Christ would, to give abundant grace, and still love you all the more. Sex comes between the happy couple. Always.
I walked away from that Song of Solomon religious speaker's sermon with the more recent past clouding my hopes for a perfect Christian match. During my three year involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ, I encountered a plethora of young men who subscribed to the perfect and pure wife syndrome. A guy I sang with “gently” explained to me that God had called him to marry a virgin and though we made beautiful music together, he couldn’t lower his expectations to settle for someone like me. On a mission trip, I had the opportunity to share my story with some girls on the beach. My partner in evangelism looked askance at me as I talked, without shame, about sex, sexual assault, alcoholism, and forgiveness. The girls I spoke with asked to contact me again and as my co-missionary colleague and walked home, I asked for his discretion. He replied that he was sickened that I was a slut and if he had known, he wouldn’t have agreed to accompany me that evening. He also informed me that he felt honor-bound to let the other men know that I was impure.
The sex issue followed me relentlessly. Applying for missions with Campus Crusade, it was one of the red flags. Even being sexually assaulted was considered a sin. Moving on to missions with OMS, my honesty opened me up to a proposition from a filthy old man in leadership who told me I was a whore who had “tasted the fruit” and would always want more. In the College and Career group at church, the men gave each other the “heads-up” that I was soiled goods. My first post college relationship led to “the talk”. I had already had the talk in college with one boyfriend, who also let me know I wasn’t his kind of girl. This “talk” led to greater intimacy, I thought, as this man and I pursued an open, honest relationship. He was a virgin. He said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t. But as the relationship progressed, he admitted he was dating me because I might agree to be a “Friend with Benefits” type of acquaintance.
And years later, I know I am supposed to be living in regret, but I just cannot compel myself to. I am not a virgin. I had sex willingly. I had sex unwillingly with someone who used force. But, I cannot bring myself to lament my experiences that have shaped me into the person who understands, empathizes, and cares about the many women and girls I have the chance to connect with. Turning back the clock would scrape off the carapace of compassion that has enveloped me. I used to feel the need to forgive myself, explain myself, and declare through actions and words that I was worthy. That need is gone. The “talk” doesn’t fill me with trepidation anymore. And although I am dating a man who knows and accepts every aspect of my past, I am confident that if this relationship ends, I don’t end. My confidence doesn’t end. My ability to relate to others and help them doesn’t end. My compassion doesn’t end. And what I have learned in this most recent relationship will be carried with me into whatever future ministries I participate in.
If I ever have to have “the talk” again, as the man holds me in his arms and assures me of his love, he will also show his worth when he says that my choices have made me an amazing woman whose wisdom and experience benefit those around her. He will show his worth by being grateful my path led me to him. I don’t have to prove my worth or show how penitent I am. I don’t have to grovel or cry or lower my eyes in submissive shame and surrender. I made mistakes but they do not define me, they shape me and teach me and bring me to who I am in this journey. He will show his worth when he doesn’t expect me to placate his sensibilities. I choose thanksgiving for my past and I choose a man to “talk” to who will be able to co-carry my burden of empathy for others. And if “the talk” never happens again in my future, see my shrug. I am living without apology.
I don’t write this wishing for affirmations or condemnations. I may seem abrasive, but I want to be honest about this experience and my lack of regrets. I don’t care if you find me sluttastic or beyond redemption. God sees me as I am and still loves me. For those of you who have walked similar journeys, use those experiences to reach out to others. Learn from mistakes. Bless others, and overall, be blessed. May the God who gives grace, good things, and love shine his face upon you as you live in this world of choices, talks, and the expectations of others. Peace.