Virginity and the Church


Note: this post includes excerpts from a graduate research paper by Sarah Brnjas.

The church has had virginity intertwined in its traditions since the very beginning, when Gabriel told Mary that she would have a son, though she had not yet been with a man. One’s purity and spirituality has been tied up with whether or not they have had sexual intercourse prior to marriage. Our culture has a juxtaposition at the heart of the conversation where in the secular world sexual freedom equals empowerment, and yet when women experience that too much, people shame them for it, while many men get celebrated for their acts. The history of virginity needs to be cleansed and reexamined in the church tradition, to make it less about the sexual act itself, and more about simply pursuing God wholeheartedly, removing the shame surrounding the topic, and recognizing that ultimately what everyone wants is deep connection; they are longing after their heavenly Father, and seeking for connection through different forms of human intimacy.

Within the early church, virginity became the ideal way to live out one’s sexuality. Paul stated that it is better to be single and unmarried, focusing primarily on the Lord, but, if they cannot control themselves, to marry.[1] Sexual relations had a purpose in the early church, and that was for procreating. [2] In the early 1900s, respectable girls remained pure until their wedding day, and it was a social expectation that all women would marry. Men were able to satisfy their sexual urges at the brothel, creating a juxtaposition between what was proper for women, and what was a shameful female role within society. In the 1920s, dating became a more popularized event, and it meant that women could go and court without the surveillance of their parents but ran the risk of men asking for sexual favours in exchange for food and entertainment.[3] In the 1960s and 70s, with the popularization of birth control, within the secular culture prohibitions against premarital sex were seen as outdated, and the pill allowed the separation of the sexual act from childbearing.[4] Now, there is a hookup culture prevalent in our society, but the double standards still remain strong, where parents encourage men to explore when they get to college, and women are given messages around protective issues, and the negative consequences of promiscuity.[5]

Within the church, the traditions of waiting for marriage is still the message. Abstinence education encourages high school students to remain pure because God says that we should wait, without establishing the why behind avoiding sexual behaviour.[6] Purity pledges are a popular thing, especially down in the States, where women receive purity rings from their parents as they promise to save themselves for their future husbands. This shame surrounding premarital sex does not match the love and mercy that Jesus shows the adulterous woman, even though He spoke against adultery very strongly. Just because the church views something as a sin, does not mean that if someone partakes in that choice that the church can shun or shame the person.

In our world, intimacy is equal to sexuality, which often is connected to the physical act of intercourse.[7] Sexuality is a gift and creation originally from God. Thankfully, because of Him, we have sexuality that makes us long for others. It is our way of trying to reconnect because we are so highly aware of how separated and cut off we are from each other, and from God.[8] We can be intimate with others without having everything point to sex, because we require all different types of relationships and connections to fulfill our desires. We often forget about the spiritual connection that we can have with others, and often focus on only the physical or emotional connection, and we lose the deeper potential of love.[9]

Our sexuality is all about the ways that we try and reconnect with the world and God.[10] When virgins focus only on preventing themselves from having genital contact, they often lose out opportunities for communication, love, affection and touch.[11] Denying yourself love in order to focus heavily on a celibate vow or purity pledge diminishes your capacity for ministry and limits your ability to communicate.[12] God did not create sex to show affection, but rather to seal commitment between two individuals.[13] It means mutual submission, where one does not focus on what they want to take from the relationship, but what they want to give, and give again. It does not come from a desire to manipulate each other, but rather, motivated to give themselves to the other person in all areas of the relationship.

Part of staying a virgin has to do with the physical body. For Paul, his argument surrounds the idea that the believer’s body belongs to the body of Christ, and so the believer should not be focusing on personal benefit but following after Christ and pursuing discipleship. Our bodies are not our own, but a creation of God’s. Part of that is treating it well, and doing actions of love and connection, rather than acts of insecurity and manipulation that create disconnection. At the same time, if someone hides from their sexuality, not recognizing their physical body as a gift from God, but as a curse that they must deal with, then they limit their ability to feel loved. This goes beyond whether or not someone is a virgin, but if they look in the mirror with disgust and shame for any reason, it creates an obstacle that they have to get over so that they can feel the warm embrace of God more thoroughly than ever before.

Personally, I struggle with the culture surrounding virginity. The concept of avoiding temptation I can understand, because there are other things that I do not choose to partake in because I feel that they disrupt my connections with other people, with God, and with my own love and caring for myself. This means that I do not have sex before marriage because I feel that succumbing to that desire, for me, would actually be more likely to create disconnection. Whether because of community expectations within the church community, or because of how I was raised, I do not want to have sex before marriage because I fear disconnection because of it. Not because I believe that I will be loved less if I were to have sex before marriage, or the shame that might follow me if I were to do it, but I do not think I would be able to act the same way within a relationship if I knew that I was having sex without the commitment tied into it. It is the same way with other acts of physical intimacy. If I were to hug someone that I did not have other forms of connection with, I would feel odd and displaced. If I shake someone’s hand and avoid eye contact, I walk away feeling dissatisfied and feeling like a proper connection was not created. Similarly, if I became someone for whom sex was just a physical act, then I would be missing out on a lot of opportunities to grow in connection with others.

I do know that the culture surrounding virginity and sex needs to change, but that can only start changing when people acknowledge their need for connection and are able seek out connections in healthy, loving ways. Whether or not premarital sex is a hell worthy sin, I do not know, and really do not think it should be a point of major focus. For when there is grace in relationships, and you focus on God’s love and how to bring that into every connection that you have, then other things will start being affected, including the act of sex.

Bibliography

Bell, Rob,1970- author. Sex God : Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007.

Belleville, Linda L. Sex, Lies, and the Truth : Developing a Christian Ethic in a Post-Christian Society. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010.

Colman, Barry, 1954-. Sex & the Single Christian : Candid Conversations. Ventura, Calif., U.S.A.: Regal Books, 1986.

Endsjø, Dag Øistein, 1968- author. Sex and Religion : Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths, edited by Graves, Peter,translator. London: Reaktion Books, Ltd, 2011.

Grant, Jonathan,1973- author. Divine Sex : A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

Grenz, Stanley J. (Stanley James), 1950-2005. Sexual Ethics : A Biblical Perspective. Dallas: Word Pub, 1990.

Kelsey, Morton T. Sacrament of Sexuality, edited by Kelsey, Barbara. Warwick, N.Y.: Amity, 1986.

Kuehne, Dale S., 1958-. Sex and the iWorld : Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009.

Rothluebber, Francis B., 1922-. Nobody Owns Me : A Celibate Woman Discovers Her Sexual Power : A Narrative Journal. San Diego, Calif.: LuraMedia, 1994.

Sellers, Tina Schermer, author. Sex, God, and the Conservative Church : Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017.

Setran, David P., author. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood : A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry, edited by Kiesling, Chris A.,author. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2013.

Valenti, Jessica. The Purity Myth : How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. Berkeley, Calif.: Seal Press, 2010.

Whitehead, Evelyn Eaton. A Sense of Sexuality : Christian Love and Intimacy, edited by Whitehead, James D. New York: Crossroad, 1994.

[1] 1 Corinthians 7:8

[2] Kuehne, Dale S., 1958-. Sex and the iWorld : Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. 40

[3] Setran, 163-164

[4] Setran, 164

[5]Setran, 164

[6] Stran, 179

[7] Kuehne, 78

[8] Bell, 42

[9] Kuehne, 168

[10] Bell, 42

[11] Kelsey, Morton T. Sacrament of Sexuality, edited by Kelsey, Barbara. Warwick, N.Y.: Amity, 1986. 161

[12] Kelsey, 160

[13] Grant, 97

#religion #Christianity #love #virginity #sex

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