Virgin Regret (Part 4): Getting to the wedding
Earlier this week, I wrote a couple more parts to my series which exames the story of a girl named Samantha, who remained a virgin until her wedding night, but who now regrets this decision.
So far in this series, I have spoken about the distinction between chastity and abstinence and I have also presented the Catholic vision for sex and marriage, contrasting this to the woefully inadequate formation which Samantha appears to have received.
Today I would like to begin by looking at the reasons Samantha was taught for remaining a virgin until marriage and then look at what she wrote about the road to her wedding day.
From reading the article, Samantha gives three primary reasons for refraining from sex until marriage:
1. “Extramarital sex was sinful and dirty and I would go to Hell if I did it”
There are certainly elements of truth in what she was told. Sex outside of marriage is, indeed, a serious sin. There is no getting around that apostolic teaching.
However, one should want to save sex for marriage for more than the simple reason that “God’s rule book” says so and I’ll get into trouble if I misbehave. Here, again, we find the difference between abstinence and chastity. Abstinence has us saying “no” to vice and running away from Hell. Chastity, on the other hand, has us saying “yes” to virtue and running towards God. Avoiding sin out of fear of Hell is not the same thing as avoiding it out of love for God and others.
2. “I was told over and over again…that if I remained pure, my marriage would be blessed by God and if I didn’t that it would fall apart and end in tragic divorce”
Was she really presented teaching with such little nuance? It is true that purity is blessed by God and that a life of purity (and, by that, I mean chastity) is an excellent preparation for marriage. Repeated studies have shown that those who live chastely prior to marriage have fewer divorces and happier marriages.
However, there is no vaccine against struggles in marriage. Nothing in life has a cast-iron guarantee. Premarital sex doesn’t automatically guarantee divorce any more than virginity guarantees life-long happiness. However, as noted above, a very strong case could be made that one of these two lifestyles offers a far better preparation for a life of fidelity, commitment and sacrifice in a future marriage.
3. “Everyone knew I’d taken the virginity vow, of course. Gossip is the lifeblood of the Baptist Church. My parents were so proud of me for making such a spiritual decision. The church congregation applauded my righteousness… For more than a decade, I wore my virginity like a badge of honor… It became my entire identity by the time I hit my teen years.”
A sizeable part of her reason for remaining abstinent seemed to simply be social pressure and fear of shaming, which hardly seems healthy!
Was this really all the reasons that Samantha received? Was that really the sum total of her formation as to why sex should happen only within marriage? If so, then her teachers really did her a terrible disservice.
The road to the wedding
Given these three sources of motivation, how did Samantha remain abstinent until her wedding night? Her answer is incredibly concerning:
An unhealthy mixture of pride, fear, and guilt helped me keep my pledge until we got married.
Now, nobody is saying that living a life of purity is always easy, but her description here sounds appalling and a terrible preparation for marriage. She was simply white-knuckling abstinence until the preacher declared them man and wife.
Again we come back to the contrast between chastity and abstinence. Chastity is not like this as it allows one the leisure to get to know someone well, to take time to see if that other person really is a good match. It avoids (a) the emotional clouding that comes from engaging in sex, but it also avoids (b) the emotional clouding that comes from wanting to have sex but feeling like you just can’t wait. Samantha’s story shows the problems with (b), but (a) is just as destructive. Chastity saves us from both.
The wedding night
As she was getting ready in the hotel bathroom on her wedding night, Samantha said to herself “I made it. I’m a good Christian”. Made it?! The challenge is just starting! Her description of that night was tragic:
There was no chorus of angels, no shining light from Heaven. It was just me and my husband in a dark room, fumbling with a condom and a bottle of lube for the first time.
Given her description of the formation she received concerning sex and marriage, “Fumbling around in the dark” is a very apt phrase.
And “a condom and bottle of lube”? Well, doesn’t that sound romantic?! For a long time I had issues with Catholic teaching on contraception, but now when I read stuff like this, my heart breaks. Her honeymoon should have been the great culmination of her wedding vows, whereby she was fully united to her husband: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Instead, a layer of latex still stood between them. She did not experience a complete gift of self-donation. Put bluntly, she got used.
They didn’t tell me that I’d be on my honeymoon, crying again, because sex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married and it was supposed to be okay now…
As she returned home from her honeymoon, Samantha felt the loss of her virginity:
I wasn’t special anymore. My virginity had become such an essential part of my personality that I didn’t know who I was without it…
Within marriage, virginity is a gift to be given, it’s not something you lose. For a more thorough treatment of this idea, I’d invite you to read Jackie Francois/Angel’s post “I didn’t lose my virginity when I got married”.
After such a troubling experience, things didn’t get better for Samantha:
I avoided undressing in front of my husband. I tried not to kiss him too often or too amorously so I wouldn’t lead him on. I dreaded bedtime. Maybe he’d want to have sex. When he did, I obliged… I’d been taught it was my duty to fulfill his needs. But I hated sex.
I let it go on this way for almost two years before I broke down.
To his credit, her husband refrained from sex from this point and encouraged her to see a therapist. He really should be commended for this…but this went on for two years?! How on earth does this go on for so long? They had dated for six years; why were they unable to communicate? How could her husband have not known?