Friday, January 11, 2013
Virginity vs. Purity
Are virginity and purity synonymous? Are they even remotely related?
I say no, and here's why.....
Virginity is the state of having never had sex- or in females, it is sometimes used to refer to an intact hymen. Virginity is something that can be taken from you by force, through rape, molestation, etc. Virginity is something that cannot (without pretty heinous surgery) be replaced- once lost, it's lost forever. It is impossible to be a virgin and also a healthy married person. It is possible to lose one's virginity without ever lusting after a member of the opposite sex, and without, in my opinion, being sexually immoral.
Purity, on the other hand, is first a heart condition, though it is also manifested in actions and restraint of actions. Purity is not something that, once lost, is lost forever. Purity, in the biblical sense, is the state of abstaining from sexual immorality. Purity can be lost through lustful thoughts first, and also through sexual acts which, while they do not technically compromise virginity, are essentially unloving and detrimental if they are entered into without loving commitment. Purity can be restored by ceasing detrimental behavior, controlling our fantasies, and renewing loving, appropriate relationships with God and others. If a person is not engaging in sexual immorality, then they are pure, regardless of their past. God desires for us to be loving and unselfish in our interactions with others, and casual sex is incompatible with that, in my opinion. God does not hold us accountable for the actions of others or for circumstances beyond our control, and He is not a vindictive, punitive boogeyman who keeps a record of our failures to hold them against us long after we've repented of them!
It is possible to be a technical virgin and to be impure, and it is possible to be pure and not a virgin. Is a widow or widower less pure because they have previously enjoyed a marital relationship? I say no. Is a man or woman less pure because they engaged in sexual immorality in the past, but repented of it and left that behavior? I say no. Is a person who has been raped impure? Most certainly not!
Also- marriage has a pretty drastic effect on virginity; it affects purity not at all. You can be pure as a married person by being faithful to your spouse and by limiting your lusty fun, mental or otherwise, to them, or you can be impure as a married person by fantasizing about encounters with folks to whom you are not married (or by inappropriate sexual interactions with those folks of course ;) )
Why, I ask, is there such an emphasis on virginity in conservative christian circles? Not only does virginity have nothing to do with purity, but such an emphasis is harmful, I think. It can lead to young people feeling that if they lose their virginity, they are "damaged goods" or "less than" or "impure". It can also lead them to A. Devalue themselves and disrespect themselves because they see themselves as broken or B. Throw in the towel on purity altogether because they believe that their one chance at purity went the way of their virginity, so why bother? And don't even get me started on the gendered double standards for "purity"... =)
Why not just emphasize purity of thought and deed and loving, unselfish relationships for/between both genders? Why not focus on seeing others as valuable people instead of sex objects, and recognizing the importance of treating ourselves and others with respect and integrity rather than getting hung up on body parts and the use they've seen?
Another related idea that bugs me to no end- the idea of "saving your virginity for your future spouse." First, neither your virginity or your purity belong to anyone except for yourself and God. They are not the property of your parent or future spouse any more than you are. Also, not everyone will marry, and it would be foolish to save one of life's great experiences for a person who may or may not exist. By that logic, once you are fairly sure you won't marry, it would be fine to have sex willy-nilly since you wouldn't then be harming your future (non-existent) spouse.
Purity is NOT synonymous with what is known as "purity culture", and in fact, I think that "purity culture" is nothing but harmful and damaging. A quick definition of purity culture, for those unfamiliar with it, from Libby Anne at LoveJoyFeminism:
"What I call the “purity culture” encompasses the emphasis on virginity before marriage and on maintaining emotional purity that pervades fundamentalism and evangelicalism, made visible in purity balls, purity rings, purity pledges, and modesty teachings. These teachings are not limited to fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and can be seen in the culture at large with the slut/virgin dichotomy and the prevalence of abstinence only sex education in public schools. In its most extreme, the purity culture involves giving up dating for a return to parent-guided courtship, and even arranged marriages."