News Flash: You Probably Won't Marry a Virgin

by Joy

purity

Update #1: Clarifications added.

Update #2: Comments are now closed. 

We need to talk about sex. That much is clear from the response to recent posts on the damage done to individuals and couples by the purity culture. People have shared story after story of heartache, guilt, shame, and unmet expectations (or in many cases, flat-out unrealistic ones). Setting the merits of abstinence aside for a moment, this outpouring tells me that our inability to speak clearly and honestly about sex is hurting us and our relationships.

As with most challenges we face, it all boils down to unmet expectations about sex and intimacy. Many of our sexual problems stem from the purity culture”s flat, one-dimensional portrayal of human sexuality. This culture teaches an idealized and one-dimensional view of sexuality with three major flaws:

  1. Their obsession with modesty and boundaries borders on a call for asexuality.
  2. Their idealism glosses over the reality that most people (statistics say that only 4% are still virgins at age 25) have sex before marriage.
  3. They promise couples that if they follow the rules, sex within marriage will be phenomenal without any effort.

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. The Purity Culture denies that God created human sexuality, and that it is good.

Whatever strategies a person uses to control their God-given drive for physical intimacy, these strategies ought not aim to shut down one’s sexuality altogether. This suffocates healthy expressions of sexuality with shame and guilt, which in some cases can cause real and permanent damage. Both men and women have shared heartbreaking stories with me of being shamed for even experiencing sexual desire, whether directed toward a specific person or not. In a climate in which we are also forbidden to masturbate, the underlying message is “Your sex drive is evil; therefore, you must shut it down.” This denies our nature as physical and sexual beings. We experience pleasure and we desire to express our love for another in sexual ways. These are not sinful or bad things, but the purity culture has conveyed that very idea: that sex and pleasure are evil. This is an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism, which teaches that matter is evil.

2. The Purity Culture denies that most people engage in sexual activity before they marry.

This means that even if you avoid having sexual intercourse (if only on a technicality), you have no guarantee that the person you fall in love with will also have avoided it. But the purity culture implies (or states outright) that if you wait, your spouse will wait too. And only if both of you wait, will things turn out well for you, in marriage and in intimacy. These are all lies.

If you are still a virgin, you need to know that based on the numbers, you probably won”t marry a virgin. Don”t get me wrong – if you are able to wait, that is a beautiful admirable thing. But numbers don”t lie. You are a rare breed indeed and you need to start thinking realistically about this. Think about how you will respond when someone you love tells you that someone else was their first. This does not have to be a Big Thing or a deal-breaker or cast a pall over your relationship, if you prepare for it. Decide now to love them for who they are today and for who they are becoming, not for a decision they made in their past.

If you are not a virgin, and especially if you struggle with guilt or with fear of the moment when you must reveal this to a special someone, hear this: God is a God of second chances. Whether you made a mistake or made a conscious choice, you do not have to wallow in guilt. No mistake is too great for God to redeem, and no choice is unforgivable.

Let me say this clearly: you can have a healthy marriage and a fabulous sexual relationship even if one or both of you have prior sexual experience. I can say this because I have lived it. It takes time, it takes effort, but it can happen no matter what your history is.

Now, I”m not saying go out and be promiscuous. It’s best to save sex for committed relationships for many reasons, spiritual and otherwise. But I am saying that you need to be prepared to love someone who did not save their first time for you.

3. The Purity Culture promises that hot sex is easy, even (especially?) for the inexperienced.

To be fair, this is a myth perpetuated by Hollywood as well – the idea that two total strangers phpaide.com can fall into each other”s arms and know exactly what to do to have simultaneous orgasms just 20 seconds later. I”m going to say it again, in case you missed it the first time: this is a myth.

Intimacy in marriage requires courage, vulnerability, and a healthy sense of humor, none of which are mentioned in the current Christian culture. No one talks about what happens after the wedding. No one teaches how to learn to love a spouse, in the biblical sense. No one says out loud that those first sexual encounters (whether on the honeymoon or before) are often awkward, sometimes painful, and occasionally embarrassing. Fireworks? Not unless you count the stars you see when you bump heads trying to kiss.

Here”s the inside scoop: love-making is a skill you have to learn. Even if a person and their spouse remain “pure” (however they define that) before marriage, that purity does not guarantee that they will have any idea how to make love to one another after they exchange vows.

Love-making is not one-size-fits-all. It’s always custom-fit to the couple. Learning to make love to your partner takes practice; mastery requires intense study. That”s why sex can keep getting better the longer you are married.

Sex is risky (and sometimes messy). Baring it all for a lover is about as real as you get – you can”t hide or camouflage  Making love into fireworks requires patience and talking and listening. A couple must talk to each other, ask each other “Do you like this? Does this feel good? Where do you like to be touched? How do you like to be touched?” They must be willing to try something that goes poorly. They must be able to hear their partner say “That hurts” or “That didn’t do it for me” and not take it personally. Dare to try something new. Read a book on how to be a great lover. Download an app of different positions. Listen to a Christian sex podcast. By all means, learn!

Making love to the person who knows and loves you best can be beautiful and amazing and better than the most thrilling roller coaster. I highly recommend it. But this isn’t going to happen without frank conversations about how things don’t always work out perfectly, and how to work through those imperfections anyway. We celebrate our fifteenth anniversary this fall, and we are still learning how to love each other well, both in bed and out of it. (You can take that however you like.)

100 Responses to “News Flash: You Probably Won't Marry a Virgin”

  1. Joanna February 5, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    It is not just Christians who are talking about these issues and realising that something needs to be done and conversations need to start. In the UK there are serious questions being asked about the sexualisation of youngsters and the role that their new forms of communication have in this. This article explains the problem from a British point of view http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/9828589/Children-and-the-culture-of-pornography-Boys-will-ask-you-every-day-until-you-say-yes.html

    It does show we need urgent dialogue and not like you say, just from a purity aspect but how to teach youngsters to cope with the desires they do have, how to be normal about it all.

    • Gunnar Tveiten February 5, 2013 at 6:25 am #

      You can’t be “normal” about it at the same time as you’re insisting that 96% of us are sinners, and the only good alternative would be to have no sex from puberty trough age 30. (or whenever people marry these days)

      Aslong as that is the christian starting-point for talking, people will continue to ignore them, and instead make their own rules. Which for 96% of all people mean, ignoring the claim that pre-marital sex is somehow wrong.

      • Joy February 5, 2013 at 8:10 am #

        Gunnar, after considering your comments, I have gone back and made some changes to the post. I’m not prepared to say that premarital sex is fine. I’m still working out in my own mind and heart what the Bible really teaches about human sexuality. However, I certainly agree with you that we are sexual beings and that expressing ourselves sexually is normal and healthy. Anyway, just wanted to let you know.

        • Dani Kelley February 5, 2013 at 8:36 am #

          Thank you for the revision. I love the spirit in which this was written, but my first read-through (before you made changes) did sting a little bit. It was similar rhetoric that was used to shame me when I had sex before marriage, and even to shame me for having a good marriage “despite all that.” Your willingness to change your wording means a lot, and makes me feel more welcome at the table (as it were). Thank you.

          • Joy February 5, 2013 at 8:39 am #

            Ugh. I hate that it even came across as rhetoric. :( Thank you for reading it again.

          • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:12 am #

            I’m with Dani – your willingness to listen and adjust is much appreciated. Thanks !

  2. Gunnar Tveiten February 5, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    You take the first step, but you’re not willing to keep walking. Thus this ends up as a half-story. 96%+ have sex before marriage, which implies that at best 1% or 2% of marriages start between two virgins. For all practical concerns, these marriages don’t exist.

    Yet instead of embracing reality, and the fact that God created us as sexual beings, you say this: “if you are able to wait, that is a beautiful admirable thing.” No it’s not. It’s a sad and perverted thing. If you wait, in all likelihood it means either that you where desperately lonely, or that you’re one of the tiny minority of suckers who bought into the bullshit. If you did, odds are that sex will suck for you. It’s a rare thing that someone buys into all the anti-sex nonsense that churches spout, yet are able to leave all that at the altar to join in a open, curious, shame-free, experimentative and loving intimate relationship.

    You go on: “God is a God of second chances, and no mistake” in other words, if you’re among the 96% who ignore the nonsense, then you blew your “first chance”, you did something wrong, but God forgives your mistake and gives you a second chance. Here’s the thing though: what if it *wasn’t* a mistake ? What if it was, as it often is, *deliberate* and *repeated* and with a person you love – perhaps even the person you end up marrying ? Do you imagine the 96% generally had sex once, or a handful of times ? That would again, be a rejection of reality.

    Then you come out and say it explicitly: “Now, I’m not saying go out and have lots of sex. It’s best to save sex for marriage for many reasons, spiritual and otherwise.”

    In other words, we all do it wrong. 96% of us. You, like most churches, live in a alternative universe where this is true. The overwhelming majority of us REJECTS that universe and substitute our own. In *our* universe, intimacy between people who love oneanother is a thing of beauty – the deepest expression of trust, love and compassion. Created by God himself. Glorious and wonderful.

    By insisting that celibacy has spiritual and other advantages, you become part of the problem: you contribute to the shame, instead of talking about love.

    • AlissaBC February 5, 2013 at 6:50 am #

      My husband and I are part of that 1 or 2% and we very much do exist. Our lives before marrying each other in our mid-twenties were neither sad, perverted, nor desperately lonely. I do not judge those who made the decision to have sex before marriage, and I certainly don’t proclaim that they are doomed to a life of bad sex. I would hope that they would afford us the same kindness, as we also made the decision we believed to be best for us.

      • Gunnar Tveiten February 5, 2013 at 7:05 am #

        I apologize. My intention was not to say that waiting *must* end badly. Only that it’s exceedingly rare to do so, and that we should go one step further than this post does.

        This post just says “you made a mistake, yet there’s hope for you”, my point was that it’s insulting and silly to assume that “everyone” is having sex by mistake – I see no evidence for that, and plenty of evidence that for most people it is the *right* choice.

        That doesn’t imply it is the only valid choice though, it’s indeed fine to wait if you do so from your own free choice — and not because of shame or because some old preacher has told you that the alternative is sinful.

        • brad February 19, 2013 at 12:46 am #

          As another of that 1-2%, I want to say that shame cuts both ways. People are made to feel shame (or undesirable, or just weird) for waiting, just as people are made to feel for not waiting.

          We don’t get away from coercive conformity to a norm by merely choosing a different norm.

          Finally we are having courageous conversations about all of this! Thanks to everyone who is taking a risk to be personally honest!

    • Joy February 5, 2013 at 7:07 am #

      Saying that something is best one way does not automatically mean that all the other ways are wrong. What I was attempting to convey is that because of the risks of STDs and pregnancy and because of the teachings of Christianity that monogamy (not celibacy – that’s a whole different thing) is God’s design, the ideal is for each person to have one sexual partner with whom they commit to marriage. Just because other choices bring with them risks, guilt, shame, etc., they are not necessarily WRONG, and they certainly don’t doom a person as the Purity Culture would imply. These are the people I’m writing to — the ones who are buying into the lies and myths perpetrated by the Purity Culture. It’s clear from your comment that you are not part of that audience, so it makes sense that little of this would apply to you. I certainly meant no offense.

      • Gunnar Tveiten February 5, 2013 at 8:02 am #

        Saying that “It’s best to save sex for marriage” and that “God is a god of second chances” seems to me to pretty clearly state that the “other ways” are wrong.

        When you explicitly say “Choice A is best”, then you are also saying that choosing any other way is a wrong choice.

        And that makes you part of “Purity Culture” – you’re saying precisely the same thing they’re saying, except you insist that even if we make the wrong choice, we shouldn’t live in eternal shame, we can still be forgiven. That’s a good first step, but it’s not enough.

        You support this claim by saying that the other choices bring risk, guilt, shame and STDs — which again, are precisely the same claims made by the rest of “Purity Culture”. The claims are true, of course. Having sex can indeed have those results. But it can also have positive effects that far overshadow these negatives. That’s why people do it, afterall: because the positive outweigh the negative.

        The alternative would be to claim that people are dumb: that the negatives weigh heavier, but people do it anyway – because they’re dumb. (or weak or whatever – but all of these things bring us directly back to being ashamed)

        I realize you mean well. And I *do* applaud you for taking the first step. I just wish you’d be willing to complete the journey to its logical conclusion.

        • Joy February 5, 2013 at 8:17 am #

          I think you are reading a lot of negative into what I wrote. But I went back and made some clarifications to try to make things more clear. Thanks for pushing me to be more precise.

          • Erin February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am #

            You are a saint. ;)
            Wonderful article. Thank you for writing it and sharing it here.
            We talked about sex over at Bevy Girls in November. You might find some of the articles worth reading. :)
            Erin

    • EMSoliDeoGloria February 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

      Joy has produced a sound and thoughtful piece. Those with Christian morality need to remember that holding out a standard that seems impossible has to be done with great humility. Using the standard to reinforce your own feelings of moral superiority or to manipulate and condemn others is wrong (in biblical language, we ALL falls short). Ignoring the standard because it isn’t popular is also wrong (in biblical language, people often choose darkness over light).

      Gunnar, I’m in the 4%. My spouse is not. We both believe in redemption. We both – like pretty much everyone else – came into marriage with certain strengths and weaknesses, certain baggage, if you will, too. And we are both the better for fully loving and accept each other, as we are and as God is making us to be. We don’t have to justify our poor choices to each other because we are free to forgive and be forgiven.

      I can understand feeling insulted when someone tells you that God disapproves of a choice you made that you like. You don’t have to share my beliefs about any aspect of morality, sexual or otherwise, but please know that for the Christian, life has a way of becoming more and more hopeful, because our future is not predicated on or predicted by our past.

      • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:27 am #

        Isn’t that the height of hubris ? To claim that you speak for God, as you do here ? Most christians do not share your idea about what God approves and disapproves of. Wen you say “God disapproves” what you actually should say is: “my personal, fallible and possibly wrong reading of the bible leads me to -believe- that God disapproves.” and that’s not the same thing at all.

        What does it say about church, when a tiny minority claims that they, and they alone, have authority on Gods words, and that anyone who reads the bible differently has it wrong.

        My bible is a book about love. Love is the highest and most important commandment I find when I read it with an open mind. Intimacy and sex is one (of many!) ways we express our love. I do not think that love among adult consenting human beings, can ever be a sin. This is my understanding.

        The difference is that I’m very much aware that this is my personal understanding, and other people can read the same book and reach different conclusions. You however, have the hubris to claim that your reading represents final truth, and the will of God.

        And “what you’re doing is wrong and disappoints God, yet you shouldn’t be ashamed” doesn’t cut it. That’s the message the medieval part of the church is sending to more and more people, almost EVERYONE in fact.

        It’s the message sent to the 96% who have sex before marriage. It’s the message sent to those who are gay. It’s the message sent to those who use contraception. It’s the message sent to mothers who work. It’s the message sent to essentially *everyone*.

        And that message has nothing to do with love. Instead, it directly cauces shame and pain, while acomplishing nothing good. It is, in the word of this blog-post “flat out unrealistic”. So what are you gonna do ? Continue to argue that the world is flat (and thus remove yourself from the debate), or join the rest of us in the real world, and start thinking hard about love ?

        What if the 96% got it right, and *you* are the one who disappoints God, by forgetting about love, and instead preaching shame ? Did you consider that possibility ?

        • brad February 19, 2013 at 1:04 am #

          Easy, Gunnar. If someone believes their approach is the best, safest and most God-honouring, it’s appropriately loving for them to preach it that way.

          We must be careful about imposing our own egocentric perspectives on others — I’m totally with you on that. But in our effort to see intellectual responsibility, we can easily overreach and miss each other’s best intentions.

        • Alyssa March 18, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

          Gunnar, I understand what you are saying; there is definitely a need for open-mindedness in our world, especially in Christianity. I do not deny that many Christians are too enforcing of their one idea when the Bible has more interpretations, (the Bilble is living and active and responsive to how the Spirit moves in us, it is not stagnant literature of old dead guys), however I do not find either of those above in this category. I see where you are coming from on the Bible being a book of love (in fact I find it quite revolutionary), and yet my (and perhaps the others in this conversation) definition and view of love, especially that of the Bible is not as you put it. The Bible is a book of *love*, but not *my love*, nor yours, but that of God’s Love flowing through us to those around us. It all originates from Him, none can be created by me, but I can provide this vast, incomprehensible, beautiful Love in a fragmented way for others. However I do not see how premarital (or even post marriage) *sex* is this flow of God’s Love. I show His Love, His undying, unearnable Grace through kindness and compassion, forgiveness and a listening ear, even a comforting hug. Perhaps I am naive, but in what way is sex an expression of God’s love for me that I can show others. Sex is a God-made, beautiful thing, but, in a way, a selfish thing. I will not take a stand on the morality of the issue, I just wish to suggest that you may be using your definition of the Bible to your own means, not that of those around you. Forgive me if I seem imposing, I just suggest another view that those above may be trying to say.

  3. Nicole Joshua February 5, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    Great article. I loved the statement about the stars being s result of bumping heads!

    Thank you for your honesty and for continuing a conversation that my husband and I committed to having with our friends. We really struggled because for the most part, we fell into the trap of falling for the myth, and then struggling with the disappointment after. We also struggled because of the shame attached to sexual pleaure, which remained even after marriage. But praise God, we persevered and now we really enjoy each other.

    My prayer is that others will honestly reflect on this topic in a way that will be life-giving for them and for marriage.

    God bless.

  4. Jill February 5, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    I have loved reading every one of these posts about this issue since it is something I am very passionate about. I do take issue with your statements that “no one” is talking about these things. My husband and I have designed and teach the classes required to get married at our (very large) church.

    We talk a ton about what healthy sex looks like. How “sexual compatibility” as talked about in Hollywood is largely a myth. How important communication and experimentation is in marriage. And the realities of how difficult it is to maintain “hot sex” throughout marriage without a ton of work and intention. We also celebrate that God made and designed sex for our enjoyment.

    Perhaps it is a rare, but we have been supported and cheered on from leadership in our church for what we teach. And I am from a very conservative part of the country. It is being talked about and I agree it needs to be talked about more.

    • Joy February 5, 2013 at 8:08 am #

      Thank you for talking about it, and for sharing that you do. I’m very glad to hear that this is happening. I would love to see more.

  5. julia February 5, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Thanks for opening this very important conversation, and thanks to all the commenters for speaking up.

    My husband and I are part of the 1-2%. We had both “made out” with other people before we met each other, and the shame and fear of sliding down the slippery slope together resulted in our insistence that our relationship was not dating, and choosing to make our first kiss our public wedding-day kiss.

    Growing up fundamentalist, I knew all too well that the wedding night was the ultimate moment, the anticipated climax of my fairy-tale life. So I steeled myself and we put the pedal to the metal – 0 to 60 in a few moments, barely holding hands to full intercourse in one day.

    Looking back, my husband says he was surprised that I was so ready the first night. He was prepared to ease into things. And that would have been the more natural approach.

    The honeymoon was hot and heavy and fun, but the years after have been painful. I think I lived out my wedding night and my first few months of marriage like I was unleashing all the sexy “bad girl” stuff I had been bottling up all my life. Finally I was “allowed” to open up with this man I loved so much.

    But the shame set in with a vengeance after those initial months. I could have sex when I summoned up my “bad girl” persona (and, believe me, she was hardly “bad”). But I couldn’t get truly intimate with my lover because I was still hiding my whole self. My whole self couldn’t get involved with the evils of sex.

    Almost fifteen years later, we are still happy to be together. Working out our sex life together is a humbling and painful journey, but it’s growing us up. I wish we could have started sooner on it. And, honestly, the “making out” we did with others before we met each other was probably more helpful than harmful in growing us up into healthy sexual people.

    To conclude this mini-blog-post (so sorry) – my church leaders were so afraid that we young’uns might make a mistake sexually, so they drew harsh lines and built big walls. But I can tell you, I will not be advising my children to save their kisses for their wedding days. That would be a big mistake. (And to be fair, by the time my husband and I were engaged, our pastor was actually cautioning us about our lack of sexual affection – it took his words to convince us to hold hands.)

    As an aside to your first #1 above, I would note that there are people who identify as asexual, not because of any clinical problems or because they view sex as wrong, just simply as a basic personal identity. More info at asexuality.org.

    • Dani Kelley February 5, 2013 at 8:40 am #

      “My whole self couldn’t get involved with the evils of sex.” Absolutely. I broke down in tears on my honeymoon because I couldn’t get over the guilt of having sex. It had been wrong two days before, and it still FELT wrong, even though it was magically okay now. There’s GOT to be better teaching and discipling about this.

      • Shelley February 5, 2013 at 9:39 am #

        Your comment hit me where I live(d), Dani. Instead of being blissfully happy on my way to my ‘wedding night’–I was in tears for HOURS. So anxious–It was just too much! I didn’t know where the switch was–like this is ALL suddenly ok when I’ve been RESISTING any kind of temptation for the two years my husband and I had been dating? We’re still married 18 years later, but our road to ‘bliss’ continues to be rocky.

        And thanks, Joy, for continuing this SUPER important conversation.

      • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:31 am #

        *precisely* You simply CANNOT imprint on a person for 25 or 30 years that sex is evil, that being celibate is equivalent to being “pure”, that sex is a animal, horrible, sinful temptation that you MUST stay away from.

        And then expect that a simple “I do” is able to wash away 30 years of dirt in 5 seconds flat, to produce confident, playful, curious and trusting married lovers.

      • Amy February 6, 2013 at 9:18 am #

        I agree with Shelley–this hits me, too. My husband waited to have intercourse (and to be entirely naked with each other), but we had certainly done a lot of other things together (we were each other’s first). On our wedding night, it suddenly felt like a performance–like I was magically supposed to be ready to go because it was this special moment. We hardly had sex at all on our honeymoon because I found it so upsetting and unpleasant. It took years (like, maybe 10?) for me to be able to enjoy sex. It always felt completely wrong and bad, no matter what we tried. I still struggle with some aspects of sexuality.

    • LibertyBelle February 5, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Totally agree here. I won’t take such a hard-line approach with my kids. Husband and I were far from pure on our wedding night (before me, he’d only made out with one girl, none for me). But I think that, while I wouldn’t have gone as far as we did, our physical intimacy beforehand actually significantly helped our sex during the honeymoon and marriage. Though, the actual wedding night was still a huge flop (oh well!).

      My parents would always hint about how wonderful it was that so-and-so waited till the altar for their first kiss. And I used to agree. But after I dated my husband, I’m glad I didn’t wait to do things like kiss, hold hands, cuddle – even make out. I think it prepared us for being comfortable with each other, allowing us to explore the physical aspect of our relationship gradually instead of going from barely holding hands to completely naked and sticking your private things into mine…. O_o Which I’m not sure I would have totally enjoyed.

      Anyway, thanks Joy for the post. Definitely encouraging. The fact that for a long time I struggled about him having made out with a girl before me means I’d definitely fallen prey to the oppressive, not-scriptural Purity Culture.

  6. Beth February 5, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    I feel there maybe a bit of a misunderstanding. I have read countless times out is a God given desire to want to be loved and to desire what God has made. Desire is not a a bad thing its what you do with it that can cause some serious problems.

    Often as well physical intimacy is portrayed as something that God has made for us to enjoy. I realize that unfortunately there are some wrong signals being sent about what purity is, but as a whole I see very good biblical reason to save myself.

    You do not have to look very hard into our culture to see how that lack of purity is affecting things in ghastly ways. Pornography, adultery, and so many other things have virtually ruined the lives and marriages of so many. There is a lot of hurt out there that needs the hope and love of Christ.

    No I do not know if my future husband will be “pure”, but God’s grace is not above working in that. Though it would be hard road of baggage to deal with.

    • Coral Rose February 5, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      As someone (from that 4% – married at 27) who has dealt with that “hard road of baggage” – I would urge you to begin forgiving your future husband now. I wasted time in my relationship viewing my husband’s mistakes as tough baggage, when I could have been working on myself and my part in the relationship.

      My husband’s mistakes are a part of what has made him who he is, and he has graciously forgiven so many things about me, I finally realized I needed to stop obsessing about something that was not (as I was acting) a direct affront to me.

      • John February 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

        Really? We should begin from a position of assuming guilt? Maybe I’m alone here, but that seems like an incredibly condescending position. “Don’t feel bad for being weak, I assumed as much. I already forgave you.” Everyone makes mistakes, that’s kind of a given of human existence. You don’t go around pre-forgiving everyone for things they may or may not have done before you meet them, do you? And to assume such a specific mistake and work to forgive them when you DON’T EVEN KNOW THEM YET is pretty terrible and sets an incredibly poor precedent. If we’re just playing the odds on this, why even get married when statistically the odds are in favor of divorce?

        • Melissa February 5, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

          I think what she is trying to get at is just accepting the fact that your not your husband/wife’s one and only ahead of time. Forgiveness tends to affect the forgiver more than the forgiven. I fell into this trap in my own relationship, expecting that I would marry a “good” christian guy and we would figure out the whole sex thing together. And it broke my heart a little to come to realize how unlikely that really is. If I had prayed for a forgiving and open heart towards this matter beforehand, it would have saved me a lot of pain.

        • Coral Rose February 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

          I must not have expressed myself well. I agree with what Melissa says below. Forgiveness does have such a huge impact on us as the forgiver. Letting go of my anger about my husband’s past has allowed me to see how many things he has forgiven me for without me ever noticing. I am a blessed woman because I am married to a Godly man, regardless of *MY* many mistakes.

          And maybe more to the point of this post – marriage is about forgiveness 70 times 7. My marriage is a daily testament to my husband’s forgiveness for me, and my forgiveness for him. If I go into a relationship expecting a particular sin to be a “hard road of baggage” what will I do with the everyday grievances that so quickly build up on top of that?

  7. Elizabeth February 5, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I think that you are painting people who believe and practice abstinence before marriage with a very broad brush. Choosing to remain pure before marriage and prudish, frigid marital sex are not part of the same teaching in any circles that I know of and the one is not a natural, inevitable consequence of the other. In counseling people for many, many years I have NEVER counseled a person who was dealing with regrets or issues about remaining pure before marriage, but have counseled dozens and dozens who are dealing with emotional brokenness over having shared their body and soul with numerous partners.

  8. tanya @ truthinweakness February 5, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    short on time, so had to skip to #3 (for now). but giving you a standing ovation over the truth you shared that waiting does not yield instantaneous ecstasy.

    couldn’t help but think of the article that circulated this fall about a reporter who waited ’til marriage & said, “Our wedding was perfect. Our wedding night was nothing short of amazing.” well, i’m happy for you (& the four other people on the planet who would say the same), but the implied promise of perfection made me angry.

    looking fwd to reading the rest, & thx for starting the conversation.

  9. John February 5, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I understand you’re trying to encourage folks to accept and love those who haven’t saved themselves, but to me this really comes off as “96% have already jumped off this cliff and God’s forgiven them, so it really shouldn’t be a big deal if you jump too because then you’ll be just like most everyone else.” This is incredibly discouraging for me because I have waited. I am 29 and in that 4%. I have removed myself from situations where I might slip. And yet I am “a rare breed and need to start thinking realistically”. Gee, thanks.

    • Jackie Lea Sommers February 5, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      John, I felt the same way when I read this! I am 31 and in the 4% … and this post (although I love the heart behind it) basically sounded to me like, “Well, golly gee, how nice for you. But face the facts, sister. He’s not waiting for YOU.”

      I love my God of grace who redeems situations, and if it is in his will that I marry someone who has not saved himself for me, then I know God can smooth out all those rough edges and make things fine for us.

      But I think my God is bigger than ALL of this, and “facing the facts” seems rude and also like removing God from the picture.

      • Joy February 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

        Jackie, I’m so sorry that my words came across as rude or dismissive of God’s ability to work in and through all of it. This is a difficult subject. Perhaps in my desire not to add to the shame and guilt of those who did not wait, I fell too far the other way.

        In my marriage, one of us had saved ourselves and one of us had not. The one who did not also did not bring that into our relationship — it was in the past and has stayed there. The one who waited loved the other unconditionally. That’s what love is, right? It’s in spite of all our weaknesses and failures. I hope that you find someone who also waited, but you’re right – God is bigger than all of it.

        • Jackie Lea Sommers February 5, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

          Oh it’s fine, Joy! And actually this post inspired a GREAT online conversation between me and one of my college friends today. I wish I could post the whole transcript!

          I think the title “news flash” already put me on edge because it’s kind of a combative and is usually a phrase used to insult people who are too dumb to realize some fact or another.

          I do so appreciate your heart.

    • Joy February 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      John, I’m so sorry that this post discouraged you. As I wrote to Jackie, it is incredibly difficult to talk about this without either shaming those who did not wait or discouraging those who are still waiting. I do think you should consider the possibility that the woman you eventually marry may have a sexual history. Maybe she won’t — I hope that for you.

      In my marriage, one of us had saved ourselves and one of us had not. The one who did not also did not bring that into our relationship — it was in the past and has stayed there. The one who waited loved the other unconditionally. That’s what love is, right? It’s in spite of all our weaknesses and failures. We have to be willing to face those things that aren’t our ideal and love the person anyway, or quite honestly, the relationship is sick.

      • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:38 am #

        Do you see why you do here ?

        “Maybe she won’t – I hope that for you.”

        How does a statement like that feel for a woman who’s among the 96% ? I.e. for essentially every woman ?

        To me, it sounds as if you’re saying she’s less worth, it’d be *better* for John to marry a virgin – thus it’d be *worse* for him to marry a sexually experienced woman. In other words: If you’ve had sex, you should be considered damaged goods, and less desirable as a wife.

        You *really* can’t keep saying stuff like this, yet complain about the “shaming” from “purity culture”. Because as long as you’re willing to say such things, you’re part of the problem.

        • Katie February 6, 2013 at 4:24 am #

          Gunnar! Do you see what YOU do here?

          John is a virgin who would like to marry a virgin! I hope that for him too, because it’s what he wants! It WOULD be better for him, because that’s what HE desires!!

          Gunnar, I’ve read through all your comments on this post and it’s obvious you have a passion against shame and judgement that I totally applaud. But I think you slipped over the line here into judging the 4%.

          Can you concede that there could be people out there who desire to marry a virgin but don’t consider non-virgins “damaged goods”. There’s space in-between.

          Could you also consider that having a preference doesn’t automatically condemn all other choices? I prefer vanilla ice cream. I will even go so far as to offer the opinion that it’s “the best”. That does not mean I think strawberry, chocolate, and rocky road are “wrong”. It also doesn’t mean I will reject them if offered.

        • John February 6, 2013 at 9:59 am #

          Dude, you can ease up with the White Knighting. I think your heart’s in the right place here, but you’re the only one seeing the shame that you think Joy is pushing. If you were a woman in the 96% that actually felt shamed by her words, that’d be one thing. But coming to the defense of someone who’s more than capable of defending themselves (and, coincidentally, not here as far as I can tell) is a bit over the top.

          WE’RE ALL DAMAGED GOODS IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. My desire for a virgin bride is not based on some kind of measure of her worth as a person. Her worth is not based on a binary condition of virgin/not virgin. If God decided to set me up with a woman who was not a virgin, I’d trust His choice for my life.

          My discouragement does not stem from the statistical probability that my bride will not be a virgin (though I question the statistics, but that’s another topic altogether). It stems from the seeming acceptance that this is an inevitability, that the value I have placed on saving myself for my bride is not as valuable as I had thought. It is not a reflection on her, but on me. If this one thing I can preserve against all odds – that I have fought for – does not mean as much to her as it does to me, how then am I to show her how much I cherish her? This is not something that I can do without knowing her, without knowing what she treasures. It was my assumption that I could one day say, “This I have done for you, without even knowing you” and it would be appreciated. That this does not seem to be the case is heartbreaking.

          • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 10:27 am #

            You’re right. The women on here, don’t need rescuing, they’re perfectly capable of talking for themselves.

            The thing is though, shaming over sexual behaviour is something that in practice is directed disproportionally at women. Sure, in *principle* the same critique should apply to men, it’s just that in practice it seldom does. Women who “sleep around” are judged much more harshly than men who do the same thing.

            I think it’s an odd claim to be doing something for someone, when you’ve not even met them, and as you correctly point out – you don’t even know if they’ll appreciate it.

            How can you show that you cherish her ? In a relationship, I can promise you that you will have a million chances of showing that, every week. Ultimately, how you interact with her, and how the two of you cooperate, is going to be a million times more important than what happened long before you even met. It’s not any one thing: it’s the sum total of a million things, that tells her that she means the world to you.

            There’s no reason to be afraid that you won’t have opportunity enough to express your love. You will.

          • Joy February 6, 2013 at 11:08 am #

            John, this is the limitation of words and screens. It is so hard to discuss everything, to tease out every nuance. I think that any woman, no matter her history, will receive what you offer as a valuable gift. And if she isn’t able to give you that same gift, she will receive your love and acceptance of her for who she is as just as valuable. I know this from personal experience. It makes me sad that I came off discouraging to those who have chosen to wait. It is difficult to encourage both those who have been shamed for being sexually active, while at the same time also encouraging those who chose/still choose to be chaste.

      • John February 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

        I know it wasn’t your intent, just how I took it. And I do appreciate your encouraging words. Thanks for taking on this topic, even if balancing things is not easy.

  10. Jessica February 5, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Amen!

    My husband and I were not, ahem, “pure” on our wedding night (as evidence by the bun in my oven). But the one thing we had going for us is that, because we married so young, we didn’t have the past partners thing hanging over our head. And it didn’t make the sex one iota better.

    The sex is great now, btw. 13 years later. ;)

    • LibertyMama February 5, 2013 at 11:35 am #

      Hahah that made me laugh so hard….

    • the Blah Blah Blahger February 5, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Oh, Katherine…I followed the jump and am laughing so hard, I nearly peed myself! That is SO my life!!!

    • Joy February 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      I AM CRYING FROM LAUGHING SO HARD!!!! (Levity is totally fair. I was kinda hoping someone giggled at my last line…)

    • carrie February 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Becky February 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

      That was fantastic. B’s face was great, but I loved E in the background… :)

  11. James February 5, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    I have been looking at this issue from the Catholic perspective. Catholics don’t have the same obsession with virginity as evangelicals. Sex outside of marriage is a sin, but Catholics believe in the forgiveness of sins and not waiting doesn’t doom you to a bad marriage.

    Instead, in the Catholic world, the obsession is with procreation and the physical act of sex.

    This is not about the ban on contraception: Catholic-approved natural family planning (NFP) is a healthy and effective form of birth control. The leading secular book on the subject has over 1000 5-star ratings on Amazon. Many women use it for health reasons. There are no side effects or unpleasant chemicals or devices and the fertility charts provide an excellent record of the woman’s health.

    Instead, the problem is a micromanagement of what couples can and can’t do in the bedroom: All sexual activity must end in completed intercourse where the man finishes inside the woman. No masturbation. No oral sex or “fooling around”, unless the couple continues to intercourse. If the couple chooses not to do this, this is considered perverted and sinful. Couples are taught they are using each other for sex, no matter what their subjective feelings on the subject.

    Possibly procreative sex is pushed as the most loving form of sex. If a couple wants sex without procreation, they are viewed as selfish and unloving and, occasionally, responsible for the decline of western civilization.

    Some couples do find this rule to be beneficial. Usually these are more “experienced” couples who are already comfortable with each other physically before trying NFP. They may be looking for boundaries in their relationship. Also, older couples have declining fertility and shorter periods of abstinence. They are likely to be more mature and better able to handle the possible difficulties. Couples with regular cycles find that the patterns of abstinence and sexual activity keep their relationship from getting stale.

    Likewise, some couples find the positive view of procreation to be liberating. It gives them “permission” to have a larger family, which is often condemned as irresponsible by secular culture.

    However, these strict rules can cause problems for other couples. Couples may find they have long periods of abstinence or short periods of availability due to cycle issues. The couple is at the mercy of the charts. They may starve their marriage for intimacy out of fear that closeness will have an inappropriate encounter or will have sex that can lead to pregnancy.

    Couples who are inexperienced may find that they have trouble learning about sex in marriage out of fear of breaking the rules. They may think they HAVE to go 0-60 in one night or else they are committing a terrible sin.

    Couples may feel like their desire for each other is sinful and wrong. Or they may think that their desire for each other is a call to procreate, whether this is prudent or not.

    I do see the value in Catholic teaching as an ideal for married love, and there is a lot of good there, but it should not be presented as a universal moral law. The idea that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” for couples to express their physical love for each other can be extremely psychologically damaging. It puts up fences and walls in the bedroom. “We can’t do this” is no way to have a marriage.

    This is so bizarrely contrary to so much of the rest of Catholic teaching, that most Catholics reject it to some degree or another. But because this is the “official teaching”, no other conversation is allowed. This means that many people are left without any guidance on a very important issue.

    • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:41 am #

      Bravo James ! That was beautiful !

      • James February 8, 2013 at 7:54 am #

        Just to be clear, I am not advocating throwing any or all Catholic teaching out the window. I am merely advocating a less legalistic approach.

  12. carrie February 5, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Joy:

    What are your thoughts regarding the Bibles take on sex before marriage? Not passing judgment, just want different perspective/thoughts.

    I was a “virgin” before I got married (I use quotes, because after studying the Bible I am not sure many of us are anymore!), and I so appreciate your statements here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Joy February 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Carrie, I am still sorting this out. The Song of Songs, if taken at face value, sounds like a couple enjoying intimacy before their wedding. It portrays love and intimacy as beautiful, for sure, and I love that we have this in our Bibles. But we also read prohibitions against “fornicating” and I haven’t done the research to know what the context and semantic range are on that word. So, I don’t know yet.

  13. Lisa at HomeSpun Life February 5, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    I’m one of those who grew up ‘in the world’ and was later (after marriage) introduced to the purity culture. The teaching of the purity movement condemned me and my husband. It caused us to think less of one another and of ourselves. And prior to coming into that culture, we never had bad thoughts about our past. We never held it against one another. Until… we were TOLD how “evil it is” to have sex prior to marriage. We were TOLD that couples who didn’t wait were destined to have marital problems over it. And only then did we have problems…from the condemnation.

    And we were faced with having to keep our past hidden because of the judgmentalism we saw in the church. One couple I know, asked the pastor what they should do about it since their son was getting old enough to do the Math. The pastor told them to lie about the year they got married. The same pastor who preaches from the pulpit “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.

    The purity culture is riddled with hypocrisy. I’m amazed we were suckered into it for so long.

    Here’s the truth… show grace and mercy. Not everyone marries as virgins. Your life is NOT over if you find out after the wedding that your spouse lied about being a virgin. Kids raised in that culture face the same pressure to lie. Otherwise who would marry them? Whose parents would allow their teen to court them if they knew?

    And most of the teens in a church know if each other is a virgin or not anyway. They all know each other’s stuff and hey cover for each other too.

    If we brainwash people into being offended before anything happens to offend them they will have a harder time showing grace and mercy, not to mention they run the risk of battling their own bitterness.

  14. Julie February 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I was a virgin on my wedding night but my husband wasn’t. Didn’t bother me at all. Part of me thought, “Of course he wouldn’t be. He in his mid-20s.” I was told that if I waited our sex life would be amazing, all of the time. Also not true. I get frustrated over that. I was told over and over that God blesses the sex life of those who wait.

    I look around me at all of my friends now and not one of them waited. Some may have only been with their husband but that happened before the wedding.

    And although I was a virgin on my wedding night, I was only 23. What if I didn’t get married until my 30s? I am not sure I would have waited then.

    I wish the message was more about how waiting can prevent disease or pregnancy and less about trying to make your post-marriage sex life better.

    • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:48 am #

      Me too. But the problem is, to send that message, one would have to engage with the real world. One would have to admit for example, that two people in a monogamous relationship have limited risk for disease – and that this risk can be further lowered by submitting to STD-test, or by using condoms. Pregnancy is also a *lot* less likely for someone using contraception, and there’s no automatic rule that says unmarried people are unprepared for kids.

      Thus, many feel that talking about these things means it’s sometimes OK to have sex before marriage. If STDs and pregnancy are the main reasons not to, then surely it’s OK if those risks are managed to an acceptable degree. (nothing in life is 100% risk-free afterall)

      And we can’t be having that ! Reality is nuanced and in color. That’s inacceptible to those who prefer binary thinking.

  15. rachel February 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    My hubby and I were both virgins on our wedding day. 11 years later and we are happy, having sex 3-4 Times a week, not using porn or erotica to get aroused… God will absolutely bless your marriage regardless of your purity, but why not take Him at His word? I was also able to count off 8 other virgin couples from our peer group and another handful where one had waited. People are still waiting and that’s not something to discount.

    • CPM February 12, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      I’m so happy for you, but what makes you think that if you had made different choices pre-marriage things would be any different today? It is likely that someone reading this could say, “we had sex before we married, we have sex 3 to 4 times a week, don’t use porn or erotica to get aroused, and God has most certainly blessed us.”

  16. Melissa February 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! I wish that I this 2 years ago, as it would have saved me a lot of heartache. While I understand everyone’s concerns with this post, people need to hear this, especially in the 20 and under crowd. That is where these expectation are built.
    At the same time though I’m still kind of disappointed by the reality. The bible, from my perspective anyway, has a very clear message about sex. If you can’t wait, then get married. If you can’t get married and you can’t wait, maybe this relationship isn’t the right situation for you right now. The ideals laid out in the bible are for our benefit, and any deviation from that results in consequences. We can’t have our feet in both the life that God calls us to live and the culture that we are surrounded by. Very few people (apparently only 4%) have the self discipline to wait until its culturally acceptable to get married, so maybe we should look at the dating/marriage culture as well as sex.

    • alyssa | all things beautiful February 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      I’d like to push back on a few of your statements.

      “The bible, from my perspective anyway, has a very clear message about sex. If you can’t wait, then get married. If you can’t get married and you can’t wait, maybe this relationship isn’t the right situation for you right now.”

      Does the Bible say this? Does the Bible say that if you can’t wait to have sex then you should get married? Frankly, this seems like a terrible piece of advice to tell young people. Sex is ONE aspect of your marriage. To get married young just to have sex does not feel biblical or wise at all.

      “Very few people (apparently only 4%) have the self discipline to wait until its culturally acceptable to get married, so maybe we should look at the dating/marriage culture as well as sex.”

      I think it’s pretty judgmental to imply that people’s decisions to have sex before marriage are simply a result of a lack of self-discipline. Similarly, I don’t think it’s fair to act like everyone who is a virgin is still a virgin because of self-discipline alone. The reasons that people have or don’t have sex before marriage are complex.

  17. Alise February 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    For those who say that the Bible has a clear message about premarital sex, could you lay that out here? Because I have to admit, I don’t think it’s all that clear.

    • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      [ insert sound of crickets here ]

      • Joy February 6, 2013 at 11:03 am #

        Ok, that made me laugh. :)

  18. Rachel February 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    My husband and I were both virgins when we married. We were each other’s first kiss & first … everything. After 7 years of marriage, I think we were foolish. We bought into the idealized purity myth. It caused us to rush into marriage at a young age and as a result, our lives are more difficult than they could have been if we had just let ourselves have sex. DOn’t get me wrong, I married a wonderful man & I am incredibly grateful he is my husband, but I just wish we had waited to marry. We will not be advising our children to wait for sex.

    The problem we fell into is a huge problem in purity culture – it elevates sex to the be all end all. As a result, people make huge life decisions based on hormones.

  19. Bobby Ray Hurd February 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    When discussing issues such as sex, I think its helpful to establish that “sexuality” is not Christian language but is a modern invention that removes the practice of sex from any theological and thick communal traditions. It assumes that what is ultimately healthy is justifiable in terms of our mission before G-d as people of G-d. Let’s get that straight first. (smile)

    The practices of the Church and the ethical choices it makes are birthed out of a long tradition of being exiled, oppressed, and persecuted people. Whenever you are on a spiritual journey with G-d, the church ended up committing to lifelong, monogamous relationships because of their understanding of spirituality as its birthed out of lowliness, oppression, and objectification and its commitment to seeking that voice of G-d as it speaks to us throughout history in that lowliness. Therefore, the call for Christians in their relational mode is to “not throw what’s sacred before dogs; do not cast your pearls before swine,” because there is a certain suspicion toward the consumer tendencies of the human being because, as people of G-d, we are called to a life of singleness before G-d that guards what G-d gives us the piece of G-d revealed in our lowliness. A consumer of human aesthetics (no matter how “healthy” it might be) creates people who’s ultimate loyalty is to consumption rather than producing spiritual fruit. Therefore, guarding what is most valuable and sacred in one’s relationship with G-d is essential to a deeply biblical understanding of sex and its practice in Christian community. The world wants to pull people in a million different directions as to “divide and conquer” their lives. A Christian fights against that with their lives; this includes what they do with their bodies.

    Therefore, I struggle with the whole premarital sex argument as well. People oftentimes will have sex and ultimately find that whom it was with could not be responsible for that which is most sacred to not only them but before G-d. Which is why Christians take the practice of sex so seriously and are FIRSTLY committed to singleness and celibacy; because people are not objects of our expectations and, therefore, there is a certain heart one must cultivate in order to adjust, adapt, and make clearer that voice of G-d in a marriage as G-d challenges them as individuals throughout their life together. The traditional forbiddance of premarital sex is a revolt against objectification and is, by its ethical nature, characterized by the rhythms of grace that characterized Christ; something purity culture never seems to get. Therefore, people always ask, “is premarital sex right or wrong” to which I answer, “neither! The point is to form your lives in such a way that the voice of G-d speaks clearly so that you may be obedient to His call.” Some traditions have spoken out against premarital sex because of their suspicion toward a culture who’s body is no longer sacred but a commodity in the life of consumerist America. That criticism I stand by. However, its witness is lost whenever the ethical choice of discouraging premarital sex becomes the same spirit of objectification and religious rite it was established to combat. And so, the author says it best when she demonstrates that such a thing leaves no room for grace.

  20. Sevender February 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    Keep talking! This is all very interesting, as my soon to be fiance/future husband have been thinking through this. We both want to honor God, but this is hard to translate into real life, especially when there is great physical attraction and very little to motivate us beyond “don’t fornicate” in a few verses. It’s really difficult when we know we are going to be married, so that takes away the “you want your spouse to be the only one” reasons…Plus culture does press in and justify. We’ve both agreed that we’d regret having sex before we’re married, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with toeing the line. I find myself very frustrated when we try to “behave” (I don’t know how to phrase that), but when we fool around, it comes with guilt.
    Anyways, I’m really excited about your blog topic this month. I’ll definitely stay tuned in.

    • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      The way I see it, you’re in a win-win situation. As you say, you feel sure you’re going to marry anyway, thus I don’t think there’s any way you can lose.

      If you wait, you’ll get the satisfaction of having resisted temptation, and kept a promise, even when that was a difficult thing to do. That’s a *great* start for a marriage, to me it says: you and me, we help eachother keeping promises, even when it’s difficult.

      If you don’t wait, well, there’s worse things to tell your future wife/husband than that you love them with all your heart *and* all your body and where unable (or unwilling) to keep your hands off them. To me, this says: there’s a lot of strong attraction between the two of us.

      I think either is a excellent start ! Whatever you end up choosing, I wish you all the best.

  21. Gretchen Eula del Socorro February 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Any marriage can be a successful one as long as you have God at the center. Marrying a non-virgin was a big issue for me at first growing up. Then as I came to realize that it is human nature as sexual beings. It is the way God made us along with our free will. Especially if you love the person you’re marrying then anything you think is a flaw can be overcame.

    • Gunnar Tveiten February 6, 2013 at 1:52 am #

      Are you really saying that marriages who don’t have God at the center cannot be successful ?

      This must be some weird definition of success !

      There’s Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Christians, Humanists and Pastafarians who are happily married for life.

      • Tiffany Taylor February 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

        This probably isn’t what they are saying but if you go with the defining idea that GOD is LOVE. Then it’s kind of true isn’t it ;)

        I would venture to say though that Hindus, Muslims Atheists and the rest can all tap into that Reality of Love and need it for a successful marriage.

        but I’m redefing what what said I know :)

        • Gunnar Tveiten February 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

          Excellent dodge though. I approve !

  22. Jessi February 6, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    Thank you, Joy, for a well-written and thought provoking article. I will say that it has caused me to really wrestle through a few things after reading it…not so much because I disagree with the points of it…I don’t at all…but because I came away feeling saddened and hopeless in many ways…like it gave a ‘everybody IS going to do it, so we might as well make that our starting point’. However, in weighing it out, and reading your comments, I am okay with understanding that was not your intent.

    I think, personally, a lot of the ‘sting’ is taken out when we learn and grow in ALL life issues…sex included…in the context of community. I don’t think God ever intended any part of our lives to be one that we alone bear the weight and struggle of. I personally fall somewhere in the smaller percentage of the ‘technical virgin’, and so does my husband. We have only ever been with each other, and for that we are thankful. But I don’t think we ever felt prideful about it, and it certainly wasn’t like we didn’t struggle…like I said, there’s that whole ‘technical’ aspect… But I never felt the intensity of feeling that virginity was the end-all and be-all, it wasn’t our idenity. I certainly would say I never had overly elevated expectations that sex would be phenomenal ‘if only’ we saved it for our wedding night. In fact, quite the opposite…we both went in with eyes wide open to the fact that it, like every aspect of marriage, was something we would need to start at the beginning, cultivate and would grow in time. (In some ways, I think my expectations were almost too low, and I was pleasantly surprised!) I think that is because we had other people that in the open and honest context of community, we were able to share our struggles, and then continue to talk openly with couples that came after us. They told us openly of their experiences, and gave us advice. It was extremely valuable to us.

    I think in conveying it to my kids (who are now teens, so this definitely strikes home in a very real way), I do want to express the importance of valuing sex, and saving it, and the freedom they can have from excess ‘baggage’ or consequences (because let’s face it, to not talk about the fact that there are some very real consequences would just be unjust)…but also seasoned with grace that, just as with any standard God calls us to, OF COURSE there is grace that we must all walk in, for ourselves and others. Nothing…no mistake…is a ‘deal breaker’, and I surely want them to know this. But hopefully this message has been being conveyed to them from day one, and will be nothing new as it relates to sex…it’s just another natural aspect of life that we take as it comes. It’s a delicate balance to strike, for sure, trying not over-emphasizing OR de-emphasizing the importance of something. Especially something that is so life-impacting. Thanks for your words, and sharing from your heart.

  23. Amy February 6, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    While I think that overall, there is some great stuff in here, I’m uncomfortable with one particular thing. Joy, it sounds like you’re saying that it’s harder to have healthy intimacy in marriage if one or both of the partners were not virgins. I think that sounds like more purity culture rhetoric. My husband and I were each other’s firsts, and honestly, it has taken us nearly our entire marriage to make it work. Other people I know weren’t virgins and didn’t marry the first person they slept with, and have not had the same issues we did. I don’t find blanket statements like that to be helpful. That particular claim just layers on more guilt.

    • Joy February 6, 2013 at 11:14 am #

      Amy, if that’s how it sounds, then I failed to communicate clearly what I really believe. I agree with you that healthy intimacy does not hinge on the sexual history of a couple. This is just my opinion, but from what I know from my own relationships and those of the people I know, it’s very specific to the individuals – their specific histories, their maturity at a given moment, and the dynamic of their relationship in other areas (especially communication and trust). I just wanted to clear that up.

      • Amy February 6, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

        Ok. I think I misunderstood. Maybe I was just expecting a certain message and read into the words where there was no intent. I’ve heard so often that making intimacy (of all types) great is so much harder for people who didn’t wait, and lots of personal anecdotes from people who claim that the reason it was difficult was expressly because of past “misdeeds.” But I don’t know a single married couple who didn’t have to figure a lot of things out, regardless of the sexual history of the spouses. Rereading this post, I see where I took it wrong. Thanks for clarifying. :)

  24. Jenn February 6, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Thank you Joy,

    I am in that 96% and I do not have any expectation on my future husband and I think that is the bigger issue Joy is getting at here – do we have false expectations which are fuelled by and fuel the purity myths. The issue for me is not whether or not where we are a virgin, but whether we shame the person we decided to share life with (or shame anyone else for that matter) and that is what I have to deal with as a member of the 96%.

    I am a survivor of abuse (10 years) and assault and after extensive therapy I chose a partner and it was a challenging experience to face down my fears of being broken (during the assault which occurred in a relationship with my ex-fiance, previous to the assault I had a panic attack during each attempt he made at intimacy) and the relief of knowing I could enjoy sex.

    Would I have sex now? No, I probably will wait until I’m married but I will say that this journey has oddly afforded me the blessing in being the safe person that those in my life can come to when they by choice or “going to far” join the 96% and need to talk to someone about their shame and conflicting feelings.

  25. Naomi February 6, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    I married a virgin. He had shut down his sex drive completely. Never masturbated or kissed another girl. I thought it would be OK once we got married. Turns out that after 30 years of saying “No”,his body couldn’t say “Yes” to me. It was humiliating and heartbreaking. We are now separated.

  26. Ragamuffin February 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    I wish that Christians could have a conversation about the fact that sex does not always “get better” the longer you’re married and the more you practice and communicate.

    When we married, I was a virgin and my husband was not. But we figured out how to make things work and we enjoyed the stereotypical “sex 5 times a week” that young couples have.

    And I’d definitely say we had better sex then than we do now 15 years later. We were not dealing with the physical problems we are both dealing with now that make sex physically impossible at times, painful at other times, and unfulfilling at other times. Add in the fatigue and stress of parenthood, and a nearly non-existent libido on my part, and our sex life is definitely the one area in our marriage where we experience the most frustration and hurt, over and over again.

    It did not use to be like this, and I am not sure what the answer is. As a Christian wife, I am repeatedly admonished about my duty to please my husband sexually. A pastor told us that men have a physiological need for sex, and that as a wife I need to prioritize meeting that need. Talk about heaping guilt upon the frustration and hurt that’s already there…

    I feel like I’ve gone from being told “wait until marriage” to “you must be sexually available to your husband at all times (we even have a Pill to make that possible!) and should also make it a point to initiate passionate love-making several times a month.” There is also the veiled suggestion that if my husband falls into pornography, adultery, or the like that it is my fault for not meeting his needs in the bedroom.

    I don’t think the Purity Culture has messed with my head nearly as much as the “Christian Sex” Culture has.

    I’d love to see a conversation taking place about “what to do when you can’t have sex nearly as often as one of you would like” or “how to preserve your marriage when sex becomes a physical impossibility” or “what to do when your sexual best isn’t good enough.”

    I love my husband immensely, and we have a great relationship. But I think the Purity Culture or the Married Sex Culture or whatever you want to blame sets couples up to be dissatisfied when it boils Christian marriage down to:

    * Husbands, help your wives in the kitchen and with the kids so they have energy for sex later. (Can’t my husband just help out because it’s intrinsically the right thing to do??? Not because there’s something in it for him?!)

    * Wives, it’s your responsibility to satisfy your husband so he’s not tempted to look to other means to meet his physiological need for an orgasm.

  27. Brittaney February 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    I just want to say thank you for writing this. It makes me happy to know that as Christians we are finally going to tackle this elephant in the room.

  28. emily February 7, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    Their idealism glosses over the reality that most people (statistics say that only 4% are still virgins at age 25) have sex before marriage.

    i am in my late 20′s and still a virgin – i am probably not in the purity culture you reference here, but i am obviously still affiliated with it. i have the ring, i don’t wear it- but i have it, i saw it as important, still do.. i don’t expect to marry a virgin, but i do expect someone to respect that i am – and not pile the shame on me, for whatever they haven’t worked through.. God redeems, restores and forgives- period.
    believe it or not – there are people our there who have abstained from sex, and DO NOT judge those who haven’t. speaking for myself, reading this article is like getting crap thrown on me. it highlights all of the areas i have insecurities in, to build up those who have had different areas of struggle, or choice or whatever.. i get your point – but don’t shame others because you have felt shame. don’t generalize a group, because you’ve been generalized.

  29. CPM February 12, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    I just hate that “pure/not pure” is bound up in sex/no sex, period.

  30. gwen February 12, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    This was a very thought-provoking article, and I’m glad to see Christian culture is slowly but surely addressing some of these difficult issues.

    I was raised in a very conservative home, told all my life that sex was “only for the husband’s pleasure,” and that it would someday be my duty as a wife to fulfill that obligation… but of course, not a moment before.

    As you can imagine, I had some sexual baggage after all that nonsense! When I met the man I was certain I was going to marry, I thought long and hard about what I wanted and what he wanted (he was not a virgin), and finally landed on the decision to responsibly and lovingly have pre-marital sex. Months later, we ended our relationship, and I was devastated. I told myself that I was being punished for my sins, and that no good man would ever love me.

    Many years and many relationships later, I have a much healthier perspective. He and I absolutely were not meant to be husband and wife, and our marriage, had it occurred, would have ended miserably. However, our relationship, in the beginning, was loving and wonderful, and our sex life, including our first time, was also loving and wonderful. Even now, I do not doubt that he loved me at the time, nor do I doubt that I truly loved him. My first time was gentle and full of respect and caring and mutual understanding, and for that, now that I’ve worked through the guilt and shame dumped on me by the culture, I am grateful.

    Of course, I am not without scars from my sexual past, but I truly believe that had I waited, or had I married a man just because I couldn’t wait, I would have just as many scars, even if they looked slightly different.

    I have made choices that I regret, and decisions I’ve asked forgiveness for, but my first time is not, nor will it ever be, one of them. We all have our own story, and those stories impact our views on sex and love and morality. It’s impossible to generalize everyone’s relationship with sex, even every Christian. It is a personal choice between two people, and yes, if they are believers, between them and God. What we can do as a society and as a culture is make sure those who haven’t yet had sex are as educated as possible, feel comfortable seeking advice when they want it, comfort when they need it, and freedom from judgment, no matter their decision.

    Thanks for this article, and for the thoughtful conversation it has sparked.

  31. Joel February 17, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    Joy,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I am soon to be engaged, and this is certainly something I want to discuss with my girlfriend as we move closer to marriage. We have both waited to have sex until we’re married, and I don’t think either one of us regrets being part of that 4%. But your thoughts and certainly the thoughts of most of those who have posted have sparked me to great thought. As I grow in my faith, I realize more and more that so much of what I was taught growing up was and is shaped by not only our American culture and understanding, but also the specific Christian sub-culture I was raised in.

    That being said, I don’t believe anyone has really attempted to lay out any biblical arguments to the question that has been raised several times: Does the Bible say we should wait until marriage to have sex?

    Before I even share my thoughts on that, since I think we’re operating from a position of trying to discern what scripture says, I think a few very important points need to be raised as a foundation to this discussion:

    (1) Our culture, as a whole, does not seek biblical wisdom, and so therefore I think it can be assumed that the messages we hear in mainstream media are not what God desires. The objectification of sex and the pervasiveness of porn and other broken forms of sexual desire have ruined what God intended. This is not something new under the sun, it’s just the way it is.

    (2) God intends that believers will be markedly different from the culture around them. Romans 12:1-2 and many other passages make this as clear as can be.

    (3) The stance of those who do follow Christ’s teachings (and as a result, other biblical teachings as well) will not be popular. Christ said narrow is the road that leads to His kingdom, and so SHOULD WE BE SURPRISED that such a small percentage follow biblical teaching? I am not saying that as a response to your post, that is just a generic statement concerning biblical wisdom. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised by a 4/96 spectrum regarding His truth. Christ seemed to indicate it would be that way.

    (4) As we get closer to the return of Christ, the desire for biblical truth will become less, not greater. 2 Tim says that many will turn away in the last days, and certainly that would include following biblical wisdom regarding sexuality, whatever that real truth is.

    SO, having said all that, here’s the scripture (a very small sample) I would raise that I think could be used as a defense of saving our bodies for the person we choose to marry until marriage actually occurs. I will certainly be wrestling over these things myself in the coming future. None of these verses that I’ll say do I consider to be the “smoking gun” proof, but I think they at least bring questions to consider, and I hope those who read will consider them in that vein.

    Exodus 22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.”

    It might seem curious that I’d post an OT reference, as obviously we no longer live under the law. But the Law does give us insights into the character of God, and here it seems clear that if a man slept with an unmarried woman, he was to immediately marry her. I simply ask the question, why? Why did God say that? Sure the argument could be raised that the woman was coerced into sex, but this doesn’t seem to be at the level of sexual crime (that is dealt with elsewhere), so it seems plausible it could fit under the umbrella of someone who simply engaged in sex with an unmarried woman. Clearly God’s intention for His people was for a sexually linked “couple” to become one immediately.

    1 Corinthians 7:9 – But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

    This is in the context of a passage about marriage, and here he is specifically addressing those who are not yet married. Why does Paul make this command? What does Paul mean by exercising self control? If an unmarried couple who greatly loves each other engages in sex before marriage, wouldn’t that be happening because they are choosing to satisfy that desire or “burning passion” Paul speaks of? That is not to say that passion immediately disappears when one engages in sex, but Paul clearly seems to indicate here that something is being abstained from until two people are married.

    1 Corinthians 6 – I don’t want to post the whole passage here, but Paul is talking about sexual immorality in the church, and he says in 6:16 that he who has sex with a prostitute becomes one flesh with her, and then he references Genesis 2:24 where God first institutes marriage and says that “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” It stands to reason when you look at these two passages in perspective to each other that God only intended a person to become one flesh with their married spouse. And according to Paul, if having sex with a prostitute constitutes being one flesh, well then certainly it would apply to that person you’re deeply linked to but not yet married to.

    For some reading this, it would probably be very easy to read this and go “there goes Bible thumper again”, but this is the place where I think it is so necessary to point out that the church has gone woefully off track on how to deal with this issue. To alienate, shame, humiliate or even hide the past of those who have had sex before they are married has done irreversible damage to millions of people. There is healing and forgiveness and THAT is what we need to re-learn as a Body of Christ.

    But I do have a last comment to those who would say it is foolishness to avoid sexual desire before you’re married. If you consider yourself a believer, you must acknowledge that there is a gigantic list of scripture that indicates that we are avoid sexual temptation, which let’s be honest, except for the argument of consensual sex between two nearly (or on the road to being) married people deeply in love, much of our sexual craving is rooted in lust. Yes, God gave us a sexual desire, but what we do with it is another story altogether. I think we sorely misjudge the power of the Holy Spirit if you are to say that a believer can do nothing about the urges we naturally have. Whether our culture likes it or not, a believer is called to a literally out of this world standard, which can only be attained through the daily reliance upon the grace and mercy of Christ.

    I hope my humble thoughts have edified the hearers. I welcome any thoughts. Thanks again Joy for this article.

  32. John Morgan February 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    I’m one of those “rare breeds” you will never know. And I’m a guy. Oh, and I guess I’m in the 0.0000001% because I’m 51 and a virgin. I hope you and your orgasm counting friends have fun riding the free willing roller coasters of committed relationships with apps of different positions. I mean, everybody’s doing it, right? If it feels good, just get some more protection, right? You have no effect on the “purity culture.” Take my word for it. I’ve lived it. All we get from blogs like this is . . . a good laugh. Virginity probably does make people like you uncomfortable. It’s always interesting to see the words that are thrown at us. And your little blog provided a good example of them: Unrealistic, flat, one dimensional, obsession, idealism, suffocates, heresy, moral superiority, etc. Since it is a sensitive topic, I’d stay with something you know something about — and that’s not virginity. This is just comedy for Christian singles who are waiting.

  33. Wintery Knight April 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    I noticed that in your post there were no peer-reviewed studies cited, no theologians cited, and no Bible verses cited. I am just curious what your authority is for the opinions you stated.

    The Bible is pretty clear that fornication is wrong, and here is an exegesis of the verses:
    http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/fornication.html

    And here is a recent study that confirms what the Bible says about premarital sex:
    http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2012/12/fools-rush-sex-early-relationship

    That’s peer-reviewed science.

    Why isn’t that a better message to send people who claim to accept Jesus as Lord? Take the Bible seriously. Convince yourself of what it teaches by appealing to evidence.

  34. Wintery Knight April 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    So, I guess my comment won’t be showing up, right? Fortunately, I have a blog for these occasions, and one with over 3 million page views, too. Lucky me.

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