A few months into our marriage, my husband and I were asked to go to dinner with a high-school friend of mine and her then-fiancé. She was a devout Catholic; he was an unbaptized agnostic at the time, if I recall correctly. I knew going into the dinner that the dinner invitation was meant to serve several purposes: a much-needed date night with friends, a chance to reconnect with a childhood friend and her new love, and an opportunity to witness to the beauty of the Catholic faith. Our mission? Demonstrate by our own testimony that it really was possible, and worthwhile, to wait until marriage to become intimate. We are now living in a world that wants to convince everyone that abstinence is not possible. It wants us to believe that it’s impossible to remain a virgin when participating in a romantic relationship. My husband and I were living proof that what the world wants us to believe is a lie.
As a former youth minister, I am well-aware of the locker room talk that goes on in high schools regarding sex. Students are generally led to believe that if they don’t “lose their virginity” before graduation, they’ll lose it in college or later in life. It goes without saying that it’ll be long-gone by the time anyone is ready to get married. I absolutely hate that phrase, “losing your virginity.” I did not lose myself when I got married, and my chastity has always been safeguarded, and continues to be in marriage. I also did not lose my virginity. I gave myself to my husband on our wedding night. There’s a huge difference in that choice of vocabulary. Even the innocent phrase, “saving yourself until marriage” might have some unintended consequences. If girls have been saving themselves until marriage, there seems to be the implication that something must be lost after exchanging vows. There is all this talk about saving ourselves until marriage, but then you have to wonder, what happens after you’re married? Does something need to be lost?
Our culture says yes. When a young woman has sex for the first time, the colloquial phrase suggests that she loses her virginity. When something is lost, it does not come to be so intentionally. One never loses something on purpose. If you lost something, it means you lost it by accident, or worse, that it was taken from you. Now, you can’t really lose your virginity by accident, so I think the phrase leaves a lot of young women thinking that they’ve had something taken away. Even if the first time is consensual, there is still the idea that your virginity has been taken from you. And that idea can have all sorts of negative consequences. It should come as no surprise that so many girls who view their first experience of sex as “losing their virginity” come to hate the man who took it from them.
Our virginity does not need to be “lost.” It can be given. It can be transformed. A young woman who gives herself to her husband on her wedding night does not lose her virginity. She gives herself to him entirely, and with that gift of self, she offers her virginity as well. Yes, the married woman ceases to be a virgin. But the married woman does not cease to be innocent and pure. A sexually active woman, if she approaches sex the right way, can remain pure her entire life. We all are called to be pure, but we are not all called to be virgins. We remain pure by practicing chastity in our married life. We remain pure by loving our husband, by respecting our marriage vows and the union that God has established between man and woman. By giving herself to her husband (and receiving her husband, body and soul, in return), a woman remains pure.
I would venture to say that most people do not view their virginity as something to be given. It is something to be lost. If your virginity is lost, it’s easy to come to resent the person who “took” it from you. But if your virginity is a gift to be given and transformed, you can only come to love the recipient of that gift more. And the gift is, of course, mutual. Just as the virgin bride gives herself to her husband, so too does the husband give himself to his bride.
A few years ago, I came across a really incredible idea. I don’t remember who the author was, but I remember the gist of what he wrote. According to him, the conjugal act is a renewal of your wedding vows. As the Church teaches, a man and woman are married through their consent, which is verbally given on the altar and then physically given during the sexual act. A bride and groom offer their consent by declaring their vows to one another, and then this consent is consummated in their bodies. And what’s another word for consummation? Completion. Through the consummation, through the first act of conjugal love, a couple’s wedding vows are completed. And then those vows are renewed every time a married couple comes together as man and wife.
If you view sex in this light, it’s hard to reach the same conclusion as those who view their first sexual encounter as “losing their virginity.” You cannot lose something if it is offered up voluntarily, if it is given as a gift. Sex is not about loss. It is about love. It is about giving life to the vows exchanged at the altar. Sex is meant to be a beautiful thing. It was designed by God so that man might give life to his love for another. It was not meant to cause pain. It was not meant to destroy. It was meant to bring joy and to unite two people as one so that they might one day give life to a third. We’ve just forgotten its true meaning. Hopefully, some day we can recover the vocabulary of love and life, but in the meantime, I am grateful for opportunities such as these to be a living testimony of God’s love and His plan for His sons and daughters by the witness of my life as a wife and mother.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!
Discussion Question: What are some things that have been worth waiting for in your own life? Your marriage?
Copyright 2020 Shannon Whitmore