Browsing Tag



teaching virginity is anti-Christian

I’ve been mulling this idea over for a while now, ever since I read Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank when I was preparing for my “What is Virginity?” video (and yes: I plan to get back to the YouTube channel soon. Editing video of yourself while depressed is …. heh). When I emerged from under the mountains of research with the realization that virginity is a myth, I startled wrestling with the theological position it’s inhabited in Christianity for centuries.

While Christianity certainly did not invent the concept, we in Western culture think of virginity in very Christian terms. It has religious, moral, and mystic significance for us. The Holy Mother is enshrined in our tradition as a virgin– and not just of the “young girl” variety. Her sexual purity was encoded as catholic doctrine  in the Nicene Creed of 381. We even have fables and legends about unicorns and how only the purest women could capture them.

Today there’s a whole culture in evangelicalism– purity culture— built around the concept. Not only is virginity considered physically real in conservative Christianity, it’s “the most precious gift a woman can give her husband.” We wear rings, we sign contracts and pledge cards, and we dive into the endless wave of books like Lady in Waiting and Why True Love Waits. All the sermons, the books, the podcasts, the blogs, the Sunday school lessons tell us all one very important thing: we must save our virginity for marriage, or unspeakable horrors will descend on us. Divorce. Betrayal. Adultery. Addiction. Disease. Death.

Aside from the fact that virginity doesn’t actually exist and all the different ways that insisting on it harms women, there’s also a theological problem with teaching our young men and women that they need to remain virgins.

As far as I’m aware, most (if not all) Christian traditions, from Protestant to Catholic to Orthodox, have some articulation of sanctification. I’m not sure if we all call it the same thing, so here’s a basic definition that hopefully works across traditions:

Sanctification is God’s work in us.

I’m a universalist, so I think of Martin Luther King Jr. saying “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I believe that God is working through each of us to bring about a more loving planet where “all oppressions shall cease.” If you’re a more traditional Protestant, sanctification begins at the moment you become a Christian and ends when we receive our glorified bodies in heaven.

Virginity doesn’t fit into that anywhere. Teaching about virginity amounts to teaching against sanctification. This is because virginity is a state of existence. One is, or is not, a virgin. End of story. There is no becoming a virgin. There’s no progression from sinfulness to righteousness in virginity. You start out “clean,” and either you make it to marriage or you’re sullied. Lose your virginity, and you’re a ripped-open present, a half-eaten chocolate bar. Virginity is consumable. Disposable. A one-off.

That idea shouldn’t have a place in Christianity. Living as a Christian is a journey toward becoming more Christ-like. We struggle, like Paul, to “die daily.” There will be no moment on earth when we’ve attained moral perfection. We will fail. We will succeed. We will strive. We go to bed and tell ourselves tomorrow by the grace of God I will do better. We do our best to love more, to love generously. We try to be kind, to forgive, to be gracious.

Telling teenagers to “hold on” to their virginity flies in the face of everything else we try to teach them about honoring ourselves and honoring Christ. Nothing else about being a Christian works this way. There is no room in the fruits of the spirit for this notion that one either is or isn’t. We do. We try. We act.

Because virginity– at least, our cultural notion of it– isn’t an action but a state of existence, it shouldn’t hold a moral value for Christians.

Photo by Francesca Dioni

what is virginity?

My new video is up!

I wanted to thank everyone who donated to the GoFundMe– because of you, I was able to improve the sound quality for this video. I looked at my Nikon D3100 and saw an AV jack, and assumed that it would work as a mic imput. Turns out … nope. So I looked at recording the audio separately, but there was no way to do that without at least quadrupling the time it took me to edit (or shelling out for semi-professional video editing software, which WOW is a lot of money). So, because of your generosity, I was able to buy a Canon camcorder that can shoot in HD AND HAS A MIC INPUT WHICH IS ACTUALLY DIFFICULT TO FIND.

I might have gotten a little frustrated during that process. Possibly.

Also, thanks to you, I was able to buy a whole bunch of purity culture books, including Dannah Gresh’s And the Bride Wore White, which apparently is where the “vaginal tearing and bleeding is a sign of the marriage covenant!” idea was popularized. And, when I started researching “virginity” I realized it was a lot more complicated than I thought– and I already knew it was complicated. So I was able to just boop download Virgin: The Untouched History, which I highlighted the crap out of because so many interesting factoids! … that ended up not going into the video, but they were fun to learn.

In short, I am having a blast doing these videos.

Any feedback is much appreciated, and, like always, nothing I do could be successful without your help. If you use social media, any share would be very much appreciated.

Feminism, Theology

marriage as a blood covenant

blood covenant

Last week I heard something I didn’t expect to hear outside of a fundamentalist church, and it shook me up a little. Someone was talking about the importance of marriage, and they launched into an explanation of how marriage is a blood covenant. I’d heard passing references to this idea in the last year, but since I’d grown up in a church that never actually talked about sex, the whole “penis goes into vagina, vagina bleeds = blood covenant” idea was not one I was familiar with. I assumed that it was just something this one person had decided made sense and wasn’t that wide-spread.

But, last night when I was talking with my small group about the idea, it seemed like everyone in the room was way more familiar with it than I was– several had grown up hearing that “marriage is a blood covenant” and it didn’t stand out to some of them as unusual. How parents are supposed to keep the marriage-bed sheet as proof of their daughter’s virginity was cited as at least one example.

That disturbed me.

So, I’ve been doing some research today, and I’d like to talk about this somewhat common misconception that marriage is a blood covenant. When you google “blood covenant” all the results you’re going to get are many, many pages of Christians talking about it, which honestly wasn’t very helpful. It took me a little bit of digging until I finally grew a brain and consulted Judaic resources. That finally gave me a basic understanding of historical blood covenants:

The old, primitive way of concluding a covenant, (בְּרִית “to cut a covenant”) was for the covenanters to cut into each other’s arm and suck the blood; the mixing of the blood rendering them “brothers of the covenant” . . . A rite expressive of the same idea is the cutting of a sacrificial animal into two parts, between which the contracting parties pass, showing thereby that they are bound to each other.

There are only a few examples of blood covenants in the Bible that look like this– it seems that a lot of what modern-day Christians refer to as “blood covenants” are not really blood covenants at all. One of the few examples is interesting because of how it diverges from this: in Genesis 15, when God makes his first covenant, Abram sees it as a torch passing between the sacrificed animals, but Abram doesn’t follow. The significance of this covenant is that by passing through it alone, God declared that he will keep this covenant regardless of whether or not Abram did. The imagery of this is repeated, again, in the Crucifixion. Jesus did not require our blood to seal the covenant– just his.

There are, of course, other kinds of covenants, not just blood covenants, and I think one can argue that marriage is a type of covenant. It can be difficult to understand covenant as something different from a legal contract, especially since Christianity has been deeply influenced by a lawyer-like interpretation of the Bible for the last few centuries– but covenants are essentially about trust, while contracts are essentially about distrust.

The problem I have with talking about marriage as a blood covenant isn’t that I think it’s bad to think of marriage as a covenant– I think it’s horrible to think of marriage as a blood covenant for the very simple reason that it accepts violence against women.

I’ve written about this before, but the culturally accepted idea that female virgins bleed is just flat wrong. People with vaginas (who are not always women/female, to be clear) do not have to bleed the first time they have sex, and perpetuating this idea that bleeding is normal– in fact, it is necessary for a blood covenant— is wrong and harmful. It’s a teaching that has, at its core, the notion that female pain and suffering is completely normal, even unavoidable.  It keeps alive the incredibly damaging notion that men do not have to care about a woman’s pain, in fact, they must cause her pain, at least occasionally.

People with vaginas who have sex only bleed when their partner has done violence to them. If your partner is hurting, then you hurt them and you need to slow down, listen to them, and care about their body. Most likely this harm is done in complete innocence, in ignorance, but it is disgusting when our churches, our pastors, our Christian teachers, push pain as good, even holy, because it is a “blood covenant.”

Instead, when we talk about sex, what we should be encouraging is a mutual understanding of our bodies, of how to bring and give and share pleasure, and most of all, to never ever believe that it is acceptable for one of us to experience pain.


virginity is a myth

[art by ninebreaker]

Virginity doesn’t exist.

There are men, women, trans* people, who have not had sex, and there are all sorts of people who have had sex, but the difference between the two is entirely socially constructed and is based not on physical changes, but on culture, tradition, and religion. All of that is a little bit beside the point for today’s post, though– there’s books to be written on that subject, and I don’t really want to get into that discussion today.

What I do want to talk about today is the physical reality that virginity is entirely made up. And this is awesome for one spectacularly fantastic reason:

There’s no earthly reason why having sex the first time should hurt.

Growing up, in a home where my parents were not exactly prudish and my mother was comfortable talking about how fantastic sex was, I was still simultaneously receiving messages from the evangelical purity culture and American culture in general. The universal consensus that I heard repeated from every single mouth that ever talked about it was that losing your virginity hurts. I even knew why– it was because virgins have a hymen, and non-virgins don’t. Any one who has a vagina (woman and trans persons) and who has had some form of penetrative sex had their “cherry popped.” Their hymen was “broken,” and therefore gone.

Most of the teenagers I talked to, when we talked about our “wedding nights,” would focus on how much it was going to hurt, and how we would have to decide with our betrothed if we even had sex on the first night, or put it off for days, weeks– even months, in some cases. We were all terrified of having sex. We were scared of the pain, we were scared of being sore and having to “walk funny”– cluing people in to the fact that we’d lost our virginity in the night. We were scared of the blood. We were scared of how people’s perceptions would change once we were no longer a virgin. It was a monumental change– a drastic transformation that would render us unrecognizable.

I didn’t realize that all of that nonsense is categorically false.

The hymen doesn’t “break.” It is not “popped.” If you experience anything besides an slightly uncomfortable stretching sensation, you and your partner have not done enough to prepare you, or there is something wrong and you may need to see a doctor– you could have something like vaginisimus.

The hymen is a coronal membrane located a few inches inside the vagina. Depending on the person, the “hole” in the hymen will have different shapes. The best thing about the hymen is that it is designed to stretch.

Take your time. Build up slowly. Don’t rush. Use lube.

I believe that this is information that everyone should have access to. There are many reasons for why “losing your virginity” is described in violent, graphic, painful terms and it’s not to help women, that’s for sure. These concepts are even more exacerbated in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, where teachers and leaders will seize upon anything to convince people why having sex is the worst thing ever and you should never ever do it– until you’re married, then it’s awesome. But all of that prevents girls like me and like the ones I knew from having any understanding of how our bodies actually work.

It’s not only scare tactics, it’s a lie.


future husbands: your future wife does not belong to you

virgin with lamp

So, I keep swearing to myself that I won’t keep writing reactionary posts. I do. I really do. I make all these beautiful promises about keeping my head down, not getting involved when someone says something unintelligent . . .

And then this happens.

And, after ranting about it a little bit, and stomping around on twitter (only two tweets for this one! two! I did so good), I decide that hey, this is an issue that actually needs addressing. Because, yes, I’m reacting to something that got published on the internet– but I’m also reacting to the place where these ideas come from. And these ideas come from a very scary, very dark place. A place I lived most of my life in.

So, to get us started, here’s the significant portions of the young man’s letter I’m going to address:

. . . I’ve been checking off the various boxes over the years to become a better mate, yet I cannot seem to find any girls of marriage potential.

I have not been able to find any Christian girls who are virgins. If I successfully get a date, as it moves along I am constantly disappointed to find out they have had sex with numerous men before. Each makes the typical statement that they were mistakes and they’ve asked God for forgiveness and moved on. Unfortunately, as a potential husband, there is no option for me to “move on” beyond the infidelity . . .

My female friends keep telling me, “It’s not that big of a deal, and no girls over 20 are virgins. The fact they’ve had sex doesn’t change much.” But not only do I not believe them, there’s lots of scientific as well as biblical evidence for it being a big deal! And that’s on top of the human feelings of betrayal, shame and dishonor of knowing your girl didn’t love you enough to not sleep with other men, as well as the mental images you’ll have for a lifetime of her being sexually active with her lovers.

Feel free to go vomit into a bucket, or go scream into a pillow. I had to go furiously clean my kitchen after I read this. I’ll wait for you.

Ready? Ok.

Honestly, though, the first thing that clues me in to this young man’s attitude is in the words “checking off the boxes.” He talks about all the things he’s done to ready himself for marriage– getting a job, settling down, all that. Those are all fantastically good things. I encourage anyone who asks that waiting to seriously think about long-term relationships until you’re established can be a very good, healthy thing. Doesn’t make it the right circumstances for everyone, but it can help. So yay. He’s waited until he’s more established to start looking.

But, when I think back to all the men I knew growing up, men who declared they’d follow this same formula, men who ascribed to all those kissed-dating-goodbye ideas, I think I know where this man is coming from. And he’s coming from a place where men are The Supreme Commander over All Things– in the church, in the home, in the workplace. In a word, that’s called patriarchy, which will be important in just a sec.

So, his entire letter is dedicated to asking for some guy on to give him justification. He’s not really interested in advice– he’s interested in having Scott Croft affirm his belief that “finding a virgin” is some sort of biblical mandate, that he’s right in believing that he shouldn’t marry anything ‘less’ than a virgin. That, because he’s a virgin, and he’s “checked off all the right boxes,” that he deserves a virgin. That he deserves to feel “betrayed” and “sinned against” by any unmarried woman having sex with someone who isn’t him.

After he opens with not finding women who meet his standards as a “potential,” he then labels the act of a woman having pre-marital sex as infidelity.


Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

Because, ladies, having sex before you’ve even met your future husband is cheating. And, in this frame of reference, it’s cheating because, guess what– you belong to him already. You’ve belonged to him from the moment you were born (because, of course, any suitable husband will be older than you). Because God made you for each other. God knew who you were going to marry when he formed you in your mother’s womb. Behaving like you’re not already married? Not possible. Because you are, before you’ve even sworn that vow. Your body, your vagina, isn’t yours. It’s his, your future husband’s. Always.

And because your vagina belongs to him, if you let anyone else in there, he deserves to feel betrayed, and shamed, and dishonored by what you’ve done with your body.

I’d like to highlight the words he chose to use– betrayal, shame, and dishonor. That’s the language of patriarchy. He can be betrayed if you’ve broken a vow to him– a vow you’ve never even made. He can feel shamed by you, because he has the right to control what you do before you’ve met him. He can be dishonored by you, because you belong to him. Your honor, your choices, are his. You don’t get to make decisions based on what betrays and dishonors yourself.

And to top it all off, you just don’t love him enough. A man you’ve never met. And he’s going to continuously feel threatened by your previous sexual partners, because he has always owned your body. It’s his possession, and someone else dared to touch it. No, you dared to let someone else touch it.

That being said, I think that even with those who in general agree with the emotional and physical virginity idea thought this letter-writer was an unmitigated ass.

So, moving on to the response, where everyone shouted a great big cry of “here, here!” Because it has its own problems.

This is the second sentence of Scott Croft’s response:

To begin with — especially in light of what I am about to write below — I want to affirm you in your belief that premarital sex is everywhere and always a sin, and that it is a sin not only against God, but against one’s eventual spouse. I deeply wish that more single people — especially those who profess to be Christian — lived out that conviction.

And then he goes to the Bible to back up this point.

Matthew 15:19– doesn’t say that pre-marital sex is a sin against your spouse.
Mark 7:21– doesn’t say that pre-marital sex is a sin against your spouse.
I Corinithians 6:18– this explicitly states that sexual immorality is a “sin against your own body.”
1 Timothy 5:2– includes the word “purity” which means “clean,” but it’s a stretch to make that about sex.
Galations 5:19-21– doesn’t say that pre-marital sex is a sin against your spouse.
Song of Solomon 2:7– “don’t awaken love until it pleases.” Ok. Maybe that’s about sex. Maybe.
Hebrews 13:4– is specifically talking about already married people, so, no particular relevance here.

Interesting thing about all those passages– they are references to “sexual immorality,” which is a vague enough term, but we can assume (at least for the moment) that they’re not talking about prostitution or pedophilia, but pre-marital sex. Even if we accept that assumption, none of these passages say pre-marital sex is a sin against your future spouse. None. Not one. One of them even says, quite clearly, that “sexual immorality” (whatever it is) is a sin against your own body.

Scott does go on to say some things that I agree with– that all of these principles affect men and women equally, which doesn’t really get said very often in our patriarchal culture when men own a woman’s vagina. He also goes on to say that issues like pornography are more damaging than pre-marital sex, so kudos to Scott for that.

But then . . .

In other words . . .  you are right to be frustrated at the sexual immorality you see, and it’s quite understandable for you to feel hurt at the notion of marrying a woman who has sinned against you by having sex before her marriage to you.

Heavens. I don’t know how to make this more clear, but there is no evidence, from the Bible, that pre-marital sex is a sin against anyone. If it is a sin, which is not what I’m addressing in this post, it’s only a sin for you, personally. It only becomes something that can be “against” someone when that someone is a man, and he owns your vagina, and because he owns it, deserves to be upset about what happens to it.

Going to use a ridiculous example here, but it’s like my car– if someone came along and took my car for a test drive without my permission, I’d have a right to be pretty dang upset. Because it’s my car. I paid for it so that I would have exclusive rights to it, and no one could use it but me.

But guess what? My vagina isn’t a car. It’s not anybody’s property– not even after I get married. If I decide to commit adultery, it’s not a betrayal because I’ve done something with my husband’s property that I didn’t have the right to do. It’s a betrayal because, as a human being who made a promise to stay faithful to my husband, I would have broken that promise by having an affair. Vow breaking, in my opinion, is a serious issue.

Back to the article– Scott does affirm that just because a man or a woman has pre-marital sex it doesn’t mean they can’t get married. Yay. But then he just goes back to the same tired line– that this man is justified in being upset that a woman who’s had sex has “betrayed him” and “sinned against him.” Scott tells the man to ponder grace and forgivness, after just making that task extraordinarily difficult by saying “y’know what, women who’ve had sex did betray you, and they did sin against you.” He’s said exactly what this man wanted him to say. This man wrote that letter asking for justification in believing that a woman having sex is a betrayal against his ownership– and he got it.

To round this out, I’d just like to remind everyone that Rahab was a זָנָה, which is usually translated as “prostitute.” And she is in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Edit: I’d also like to note that Scott doesn’t say that it’s only a sin against a man when a woman has sex, and that it’s not equally as much as a sin against a woman when a man has sex. However, the idea in both the letter and the response is based on the patriarchal notion that a woman’s virginity belongs to a man. It’s an “update” to say that a man’s virginity also belongs to a woman, but it’s the same idea. This idea is wrong because it completely ignores concepts like individual autonomy and personal agency. No one’s decisions belongs to anyone else. Male or female.


prince charming, part two

As my relationship with John* progressed, the abuse escalated. Like most women in an abusive relationship, I continuously rationalized and justified it. I internalized his perspective, and was earnestly trying to be a better girlfriend–surely, if I didn’t constantly make mistakes, John wouldn’t have a reason to abuse me.

Now that I have a few years of distance, I can identify that thinking for what it was. It took me a long time to realize that I had been in an abusive relationship. It took me two years to realize that he had raped me. I started looking for help.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there isn’t a terrible lot of material for Christian women escaping from abusive relationships. Most of the advice centers on “loving your husband through it.” Women are encouraged to stay in abusive marriages, sometimes explicitly. Often, the encouragement to stay in an abusive relationship or marriage is implicit– God hates divorce. The abuse can’t be so bad that divorce is justified. I’ve heard preachers say that there is only one possible situation where leaving your husband is ok– if the abuse is so bad that he’s going to kill you or your children. They ignore the damage of spiritual, emotional, and verbal abuse. Forget conversations about rape in marriage — marital rape isn’t a possibility in IFB or complementarian rhetoric. Being married is equal to eternal sexual availability.

The resources are appearing, now, as more and more people are realizing the potential dangers in complementarianism and the inherent abuse present in patriarchal teachings. However, what about young women, who are “courting,” or “dating,” and are in an abusive relationship? They could, technically, leave at any time– but they don’t.

Part of the reason I wrote about in roses — that the purity culture traps young women, once they have crossed any kind of “purity” line (such as physical touch or caresses, or any thing remotely sexual, including “dressing immodestly” to phone sex or sexting). Once you’ve surrendered your purity, you’re done. You no longer possess the “greatest gift a girl can give her future husband.” I did, already, thinking that he could be my future husband, but now definitely must be, or I’m ruined.

But there’s also the emotional purity, the unrealistic demand that girls keep their heart “intact.” So what happens when they fall in love, and they’ve “given their heart away”? What happens when they’ve followed every precaution available, gone along with the courtship method, and they still end up with a broken heart?

Well, in my experience, the evangelical world is silent. Either they looked at me like I was nuts for worrying about this, or they just shrugged. There’s no use crying over spilt milk– your future husband will just have to make do with a piece of you missing. Just try not to let it happen again, ok?

But, here’s what I’ve learned since then.

Dating is fun. The “dating game,” as Joshua Harris phrased it so disparagingly, is chaotic, and frustrating, and wacky, and funny, and romantic, cute, and sweet. Yes, I could end up embarrassing myself– and I did, when I asked George* if I could have his number and turns out he had a girlfriend (jerk, we’d been talking for three hours and you didn’t think to mention that?) Yes, I might end up crossing lines I’ve been told my entire life were a hard limit (like slapping Jack* because I’d let him rub my back but that didn’t mean he could grab my boob, go home, you’re drunk). Yes, you’ll be putting yourself out there (like being honest with Dan* who turned out to be a little bit crazy and wanted to perform an exorcism), and you might, just maybe, get hurt in the process (like going out with Mike* who suddenly stopped talking to me and two months later ended up engaged– and they are blissfully happy). Or maybe hurting someone else (like Jim*, who liked me a whole lot more than I liked him, but we had a lot of fun watching the World Series together, and now we’re friends. Wait– yes, being friends after dating is possible, too).

But y’know what?

That’s not a bad thing.

We shouldn’t be so consumed with “guarding our heart” that we forget there’s a whole world full of people that have no clue what they’re doing– including us. That we’re all in this together, and just because I wanted to hang out with a boy –and oh gosh is he cute– doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I got to know him, if for no other reason than that he’s a boy, and he was different, and he taught me a lot about what it means to be a friend. I figured out what I liked, what I didn’t like, and realized that having that information was important. I learned not to think “could he be The One?” and to go with the flow for a bit.

Yes, I “test drove” some cars and “tried on” some shoes I didn’t ultimately buy, but I learned to be myself in a relationship. I learned about myself while engaging with different men in romantic and platonic ways. When I finally met my husband, I could see in him everything I’d learned to value. He was perfect for me– and I was perfect for him, but only because I’d discovered who I really was.


how purity culture taught me to be abused

[warning: I am going to be talking about sensitive, sex-related issues today, including rape and sexual assault. ]

First, let me share my rationale for talking about this. When I started this blog, my intention was to leave a lot of what I’m about to say unsaid. I wanted to discuss, mainly, more of the philosophies and ideologies entrenched in the IFB movement and conservative evangelicalism at large, instead of some of my personal hang-ups.

But, I’ve been doing an incredible amount of reading recently, and her.menutics at Christianity Today has announced they’re going to be talking about some of these things, and they have been under heavy discussion by many writers, including Dianna Anderson and Sarah Moon. However, there is one area of this discussion that I’ve noticed is missing, and that’s what I’m going to be contributing today.

Essentially, I will be arguing that the modesty/purity/virginity culture, especially in more conservative areas, is one of the main reasons why Christian young women stay in abusive relationships.

Many writers have already made the connection between the purity culture and the rape culture, and they have done a much better job establishing that than I ever could. I encourage you to read their arguments. You can find more links on my “other dragon fighters” page. What these men and woman are arguing for is incredibly valuable, and they’re establishing a healthy, productive rhetoric; what I’m offering here is merely a subset to that discussion.


When I was fourteen, I went to a month-long summer camp at the college I would later attend. Like most Christian summer camps, this one involved going to a chapel service twice a day. Most of the time they were fun, lighthearted– until one evening they split up the girls and the boys. Great, I remember thinking, because I knew exactly what was coming. Segregation can only mean one thing– they were going to talk about sex. I sighed when they made the announcement. Again? I thought wearily.

That evening, when the camp counselors had shooed all the men and boys out of the building, the speaker got up to the podium. She didn’t even beat around the bush, but launched right into her object lesson. Holding up a king-size Snickers bar, she asked if anyone in the audience wanted it. It’s a room full of girls– who doesn’t want chocolate? A hundred hands shot up. She picked a girl close to the front that wouldn’t have to climb over too many people and brought her up to the stage. Very slowly, she unwrapped the Snickers bar, splitting the package like a banana peel. She handed it to the young woman, and asked her, very clearly, to lick the chocolate bar all over. Just lick it.

Giggling, the young lady started licking the chocolate bar, making a little bit of a show of it. At fourteen, I had no idea what a blow job was, so I missed the connection that had a lot of girls in the room snorting and hooting. The young lady finished and handed it back to the speaker. As she was sitting down, the speaker very carefully wrapped the package around the candy bar, making it look like the unopened package as possible.

Then she asked if anyone else in the room wanted a go.

No one raised her hand.


My sophomore year in college, another speaker shared a similar object lesson– ironically, in the exact same room, also filled exclusively with women. She got up to the podium carrying a single rose bud. At this point I was more familiar with sexual imagery, and I knew that the rose had frequently been treated as a symbol for the vagina in literature and poetry– so, again, I knew what was coming.

This speaker asked us to pass the rose around the room, and encouraged us to enjoy touching it. “Caress the petals,” she told us. “Feel the velvet.” By the time the rose came to me, it was destroyed. Most of the petals were gone, the ones that were still feebly clinging to the stem were bruised and torn. The leaves were missing, and someone had ripped away the thorns, leaving gash marks down the side.


I could go on. I imagine many of you have heard similar object lessons. These “object lessons” aren’t isolated to evangelical culture, either– Ariel Levy writes about one she saw involving packing tape in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs.

However, all of these object lessons contribute to one message: your identity and value as a woman is tied to your sexual purity. If you surrender your virginity, you are worthless. Disgusting. Repulsive. Broken. Unwanted.

My generation has gotten that message loud and clear. Our virginity is the “greatest gift a woman can give her husband.” My own father, who was a virgin when he met my mother, on repeated occasions has told me that my mother having sex when she was in highschool bothers him — to this day, and they’ve been married twenty-six years. Mark Driscoll, in his new marriage-advice book, tells his readers that if he had known of a single sexual encounter his wife had at nineteen, he would not have married her. Finding out about it, over a dozen years into their marriage, sent him into a self-admitted emotional tailspin (however, we’re supposed to completely ignore the fact that he had sex, too).

There are so many other examples I could cite, both factual and fictional. The ultimate message is that if we give up our virginity, or even our “emotional purity,” which I’ll get to in a minute, makes us completely repulsive to “good Christian boys.”

I know a young man who told me, point-blank, that finding out his ex-girlfriend had sex made her unattractive to him, and that he would no longer consider “getting back” with her, even though until that point he had been relentlessly pursuing her.

He is not a virgin.


But what if your sexual purity, or your virginity, is stolen? What if you are sexually abused, or raped?

The answer, terrifyingly, is the same.


I met “John” at the tail-end of my sophomore year. He was handsome, charismatic, an excellent musician, talented, popular, and respected. He was running for student council president, was a part of the “in,” crowd, and… I was not. That had never particularly bothered me. Growing up IFB kinda means you get used to being a weird outsider. But, I could still appreciate those qualities. The night we met, he basically ignored me, which, I assume you can imagine, felt pretty typical.

My junior year, though, we were both percussionists in my college’s symphony orchestra, and the conductor asked us to be a part of the school’s major production that semester– The Pirates of Penzance. Rehearsals were four nights a week, from 6 pm to 1 or 2 am. As percussionists, we didn’t have a whole lot to do, except occasionally whack the cassa bass or the triangle. That left a lot of time for bonding… and, by the end, we were “talking,” the evangelical intermediary between “acquaintance” and “monogamous relationship.” We were official by February, and he proposed in August.

For my own emotional stability, I will be brief. The relationship was emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually abusive. Like countless other stories, the abuse slowly escalated– I had no idea what was happening until it was too late.

Women in, or who have recently escaped from, violent relationships typically get asked “why do/did you stay?” Very frequently, they don’t have a solid answer to that question. There are a host of common reasons– daddy issues, economic stability, shame.

I know exactly why I stayed. I was crippled, paralyzed, and overwhelmed by fear. Fear that he would abandon me. Fear that, if he left, I would no longer have any value. John had literally ruined me, in my mind, for anyone else.


Long story short: he did leave me, breaking our engagement two months before the wedding. His reasoning: I was not “submissive” enough. One month before he broke it off, I had cut off anything sexual. I would no longer participate in the degrading phone sex where he referred to me exclusively as “bitch” and “whore.” I shied away from his touch. And I had the audacity to tell him that he couldn’t call me a “God damn fucking bitch” anymore. Yup. Definitely not submissive-wife material. I was certainly not Created to be his Helpmeet.

It’s been three years since then, and I’m now married to the most amazing, loving, gentle, tender man I couldn’t have even dreamed to ask for. But, I’m still healing from a lot of the abuse, and there are a few things I still violently struggle with, mainly that:

my internalized “purity” narrative tells me that what John did was not rape.

The first “sexual” thing John ever did was to put his hand, facing palm-up, on my percussionist’s stool. I was standing to turn the page, and when I sat down, he grabbed my ass. I found this titillating, exciting. I didn’t protest, I didn’t correct him. I coyly asked him what he was doing, and he said “oops.”

I wore v-neck sweaters that just barely showed off my cleavage, because he liked it. I wore a skirt that showed off my ass– because he liked it.

By the time he had become fully abusive, these behaviors continued, largely because I was terrified of what he would do if I didn’t. At one point our relationship was long distance, and he bought me a webcam. The first time he told me to take my shirt off, I told him no. I even shut my laptop. He spent the next two hours screaming obscenities at me, and he was violent the next time he saw me in person. The first time he raped me, I fought him– for one brief second, until he dug the band of his watch into my knee– leaving a cut so deep I have a long, puffy scar. It was a warning.

I have to constantly fight against the oppressive lie that an outsider looking in would think that I had consented. Geez, just because you never had an orgasm doesn’t mean he violated you. C’mon. You’re just frigid. 

I have to constantly fight that lie that because I didn’t “fight enough,” because I didn’t choose to immediately leave the relationship, that it meant that I deserved what happened to me.

I have to constantly fight against the lie that says because I wasn’t pure enough, that because I had “dressed provocatively,” because I had allowed myself to be alone with him, that I invited it. That I had allowed it to happen.

I have to fight the lie that says that maybe I’m making all of this “rape” stuff up to make myself feel better about allowing it to happen.

He didn’t actually rape you, you’re just saying that because you’re blaming him. You didn’t keep yourself pure, that’s all. You just know that if you really allowed yourself to face the facts, you’d see the truth. You’re a disgusting piece of shit. You’re worthless.


That last one is why the modesty/purity culture can be so incredibly damaging. Many girls and women I’ve talked to have it so deeply ingrained into them that it’s virtually inescapable. When it comes between choosing what’s worse– staying in abusive relationship, or facing the “reality” that you’ve “surrendered your purity,” guess which one we choose?

Photo by Al Tassano