I wrote yesterday about the way sexual purity has been idolized, particularly for women. I want to follow that up, because there is still something bothering me.
Many years ago, long before I was married, my friends and I discovered something interesting. One of the young women I knew back then had ended up broken-hearted after a relationship ended. He didn’t just cause her pain by leaving her. He ripped out her heart, stomped on it, and left it a bloody pulp. He utterly crushed her by making her feel dirty and damaged. He had found out that she wasn’t a virgin and told her he couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t pure. But even worse, he confessed later that he himself was sexually experienced.
Talk about a double standard.
I decided that this would make interesting “research.” I wondered if this was a common perspective among males. Did they all want the same thing? I questioned both my male and female friends on the subject and found some not-so-surprising results. Nearly every guy I asked said they would either not want to marry a woman if she weren’t a virgin or would have serious reservations. This included involuntary sexual activity. There were only two exceptions. One said he couldn’t justify being judgmental because he had already had sex. The other was gay.
On the flip side, the majority of women said they didn’t really care. They figured that what was in the past was behind them, and as long as he wasn’t pressuring them, it wasn’t a problem. Only those who had the most fundamentalist worldview preferred the idea of marrying a man with no prior sexual activity. Now, this is only anecdotal, and my sample was limited to my own friends and acquaintances. It was fascinating nonetheless, and I have a feeling it wouldn’t be much different among other Christian populations.
In yesterday’s post, I reviewed some common metaphors used in abstinence-based education. They were all about damage: The wedding cake, demolished flower, chewed candy, spit-filled cup. Obviously, the aim is to demonstrate how a girl or woman has been forever ruined by her sexual history.
Wait…but the guy wouldn’t be “ruined”?! So, he could be forgiven of his indiscretion, and he could move on, but she would have to live with the shame and guilt forever. There is definitely something wrong with that. Female virginity is still seen as a prize, and men who don’t get to claim it should be sorely disappointed. But male virginity isn’t important, at least in the long-term.
One thing I’ve turned up is that there is a difference in what we consider the Big Sex Evil when it comes to men and women. Men are often shamed for their “lust.” You can see the evidence for this with a simple Google search. There are literally thousands of web sites devoted to discussing, preventing, and treating lust (usually described in terms of porn and solo sex). If men give in to their desires, it’s almost considered inevitable, given the fact that “all” men have issues with lust. (Apparently, women don’t; we don’t have much a sex drive.)
Those aforementioned sermon illustrations, however, are obviously aimed at women (picking the petals off a flower and saying its beauty has been destroyed, anyone?). I don’t personally know any men who are ashamed that they had sex before marriage, even Christian men. I know far too many women who still, years later, beat themselves up over not waiting until walking down the aisle. Included in this are the women who feel the need to excuse or explain the fact that their children are older than their marriages, despite the fact that it’s really not anyone else’s business. I haven’t seen any men try to field that particular question.
One key difference between lust-shame and virginity-shame is that men aren’t considered damaged goods if they got off to Playboy. They’re not all used up. Again, men get to move on. There may be ongoing shame, but only if they continue to interact with porn. But once a woman’s virginity is gone, it’s gone.
I don’t think the answer is to make it more shameful for men to have premarital sex or for women to look at porn. The answer is to stop using it as a weapon. While I’m all for having morals and values when it comes to sex, I’m not much of a fan of using purity standards (of any kind) as a battle-ax. I believe somewhere out there is a better way for us to think about and deal with sexual morality.