Losing your virginity is like drinking spit, apparently

Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault.

You know, sometimes I feel like I’m exaggerating the awfulness of what I was taught about sex, like it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I feel it was.   After all, in addition to all the warnings about premarital sex, I did also hear a lot about how sex is a beautiful gift from God to married couples, and how married people have the best sex (in retrospect, this is kind of a weird thing for married adults to be discussing with teenagers y/y?).

Maybe the fact that I had trouble with sex when I got married has more to do with personal and family hangups than it did with anything I learned at church.  Maybe I’m assigning blame unfairly.  Then again . . .

h/t Jesus Needs New PR (warning for some potentially fatphobic language).

Then I watch clips like this, and remember that this bullshit is EXACTLY what I was taught.  That I’d be dirty and used up and unwanted if I had sex.  I remember, and I start to think it’s a fucking miracle that I ever managed to have sex with my husband at all.

Small bloody wonder so many evangelical couples find the transition into marital sexuality awkward and even traumatic.  How are you supposed to literally change your perspective on sex overnight?  Sex one night before your wedding makes you like a germy piece of candy or a cup of spit, but one night after your wedding is a beautiful and glorious gift from God?  What about the couples who buy into Joshua Harris’s ridiculous standard of saving their first kiss for their wedding day (seriously!)?  How can a couple entering marriage with virtually no experience with being physically affectionate possibly be expected to navigate such a transition without major issues?

These kinds of teachings set couples up for lousy sex lives, which make for not so great marriages.  Cis women in particular bear the brunt of teachings that they are being used and besmirched if they have sex, and many can’t magically shut off the effects of years of indoctrination.  They aren’t going to feel any less used just because they’re married to the person they’re having sex with.  They aren’t suddenly going to feel like their sexual desire or their husband’s sexual desire is any more legitimate than it was before they got married.

Abstinence advocates will say that they aren’t talking about married sex, of course.  Just premarital sex  – oh, and all non-hetero sex, and masturbation, and any sex involving trans or genderqueer people.  Kids just need to remember that only hetero cis married sex is clean and safe, and everything else is dirty and perverted.  Well.  The problem there – apart from the big, hopefully obvious one of treating something almost all humans do as shameful and wrong in all of its forms but one – is that it’s very difficult to make such a statement not come across as a blanket condemnation of sexual activity (perhaps because, um, it basically is).  The message people hear is that any sexual contact or activity is polluting and degrading, and the intense emphasis on maintaining virginity reinforces this powerfully.  A few words here and there about how beautiful marital sex is doesn’t dilute the impact of that message.  If virginity is a state of purity and self-control, then sexual activity – whether in marriage or not – is implicitly coded as impure and indulgent.

And as many survivors have attested, these teachings are incredibly damaging to people who have been raped or sexually assaulted.  The abstinence movement’s concept of virginity is framed entirely around the notion of “purity” or “impurity” of the body and the mind.  A virgin body is one that is untouched and unsullied: an unwrapped piece of candy, a rose with all its petals.  A virgin mind is “innocent” – which often is a euphemism for “ignorant” – of sexuality.  Whether sexual contact or knowledge is freely chosen or imposed on someone is immaterial in such a framework.  Coerced sexual contact doesn’t make one any less of a chewed up piece of gum. Survivors of sexual abuse from evangelical or fundamentalist families often feel used, guilty, and worthless because they are no longer “virgins” or “pure” – and they are often treated that way by Christian loved ones and fellow church members.  For example:

I had a good friend in college who had to gather a lot of courage to tell her serious boyfriend that she was not a virgin because she had been raped as a teenager. Her boyfriend then went on a tirade about how he thought he was getting something new but it turns out she was “used merchandise” and thus she cheated him. She went on to marry this guy. I still hate him.

I hope it’s been clear that my point isn’t to belittle people who choose not to have sex before marriage.  That’s a legitimate choice to make.  The point is that the way the professional abstinence movement frames virginity, premarital sex, and sexuality in general is deceitful and dangerous.  It relies on shaming tactics and misinformation, and promotes an unhealthy, negative attitude about sexualities and bodies.  And it’s not just wrong in the abstract; it’s not just a movement with terrible ideas.  It has far-reaching, negative consequences for basically everyone who’s exposed to it unarmed with accurate information.

7 Comments

  1. Very well written and excellent points made.

  2. I was 27 when I decided that I needed to be very intentional about undoing the sexual repression of growing up an evangelical christian. I was a deeply closeted lesbian who had never had any remotely sexual contact with any person ever. As soon as I stepped away from that faith, I began to see how unhealthy and unhappy the sexual attitudes of my upbringing were making me.

    • A belated welcome to the blog! Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you did – your blog is really fascinating.

      Undoing the repression is a long process, isn’t it? At least it is for me. I’m at a point where intellectually/rationally I staunchly believe in body and sex positivity, but my instinctive responses and patterns are still so shaped by the sex negativity I was raised with.

  3. Don’t forget the negative attitudes towards the female body in general. Sexually active or no (my nickname was Ice Queen) I still felt dirty just because I was female. When you hear bible verses about how men “defiled themselves with women” you get to feel like defilement just for existing.
    How many Christian couples can’t enjoy sex because the woman feels like her body and her genitals are dirty?

    • Oh, absolutely. All the messages we got about how we could make our brothers in Christ stumble with immodest clothing and blah blah blah . . . meanwhile the guys were running around shirtless all the time. How would we not get the message that our bodies are dirty?

  4. Well said. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Also, just read the post about Joshua Harris and have a lot to say about him. I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and can only say that those purity books by Harris and Elisabeth Elliot do more damage than good. Not to mention, Elliot writes that there have never been matriarchal societies, as support for her reasons that women should submit to men. False.

    I was involved in a discipleship group where sex was shunned, but so was dating, courting, holding hands, kissing, and being alone with a guy in the same room. No talking on the phone, etc. Talk about having issues afterward. Some of my friends were engaged and still having lots of issues with sex, and feeling guilty from it.

    The thing is, the church has long been persecuting women for being temptresses, evil, etc. because of sex. I would hope that the church would wake up and realize that it’s the 21st century, but then again, how would they control our lives and our thoughts if they let that go?