Our culture largely assumes that it is impossible for a couple to wait until they are married before having sex. There is an understanding among most modern young adults that a serious relationship requires sexual intimacy, that a relationship that involves sexual intimacy is deeper than one that is lacking in this area. There is also an assumption that those men and women who do choose to remain abstinent until marriage are sexually frustrated and emotionally repressed, that they will come to regret their decision once they are married. After a ten month period of dating, a ten month engagement, and a year of marriage, I would beg to differ. I think that our culture has it all wrong; I think that my decision to wait was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. As I consider the significance of my choice, I want to refrain from using phrases like “saving myself until marriage” or “losing my 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 all honesty, I think some of the phrases that we often use when we discuss chastity are responsible for many young women’s negative experiences of sex. If they’ve been saving themselves until marriage, there seems to be the implication that something must be lost after exchanging vows. We 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, 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 from them. 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.
Virginity is associated with a lot of things- innocence, purity, perfection. The virgin dressed in white is the perfect bride. The untainted young woman is pure and untouched by man. Many girls feel like they can no longer be innocent after becoming sexually active, but there is no reason why this should be the case. Unless you lost your virginity. Unless this beautiful thing has been taken away from you. It seems perfectly reasonable that women who describe their first sexual encounter as “losing their virginity” end up feeling dirty afterwards, even if they gave it up willingly. Our choice of vocabulary can go a long way, and our choice of words can cause us a lot of damage.
But 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.
I was fortunate enough to have been taught that virginity is a gift. It was given to me by God to give to the man who became my husband. A little over a year ago, I gave that gift to my husband, and I have not regretted it in the least. In the months leading up to our wedding, I had come to love him very much, and I wanted nothing more than to give myself to him, body and soul. We both were looking forward to the day when “the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8), our wedding day. We professed our love for one another before God and man in my parish church during the afternoon of our wedding day, and then we did it again that night when we consummated the union that God had established hours earlier.
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. I hope that our culture can begin to rediscover it now, that we can let Christ heal our wounds as we come to grasp the beauty that is married love.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!