14.6.09

My Three Virgins


I raised three girls who are hip, stylish, smart, engaging, sexy and virginal.

Okay. Well, that’s not exactly true. Ashley is married so she no longer fits the classification but up until she took that oath of allegiance to the man of her choosing, she had remained abstinent. Constance, the youngest of my three daughters is getting married later this summer. Like her sisters before her, she has also waited.

Her doctor went slack-jawed when she told him that.

“I’m getting married soon and I need birth control,” Constance said.

“What are you using now?” the doctor asked.

“Ummm..Abstinence,” she answered.

“Abstinence?” the confounded doctor repeated.

“Uh, yeah,” Constance answered. “It’s worked for the past 24 years.”

He laughed and shook his head in that disbelieving way of some people.

“Is there something wrong with that?” Constance asked.

“No,” he said. “But it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that.”

When my daughter told me that story I asked her if the doctor’s reaction made her feel bad about herself, her choices.

“No,” she said. “It makes me feel like a celebrity.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, chuckling. (If there is one thing my youngest daughter doesn’t lack it’s a healthy esteem. She was born with it.)

“The look of shock on the faces of people when they find out I’m still a virgin,” Constance said. “They all say that you don’t see that very much.”

Besides, she noted, she’s seen the emotional distress that her friends have endured because of careless casual sex.

There is no such thing as causal sex. It’s a misnomer. A lie. I know. It was because of me that my daughters all made the choice to wait.

“I didn’t want to end up like you,” Constance said.

Shelby is 27 and the family’s only remaining bachelorette. She says her decision to remain a virgin until marriage has been a faith choice.

“A choice based out of my faith in God and a personal choice because my mother had an abortion at age 17 and I’ve seen the effects of that upon her life.”

She referred to me as if I was someone else. As if I wasn’t the one asking her all these questions. As if I wasn’t the one who’d had the abortion.

“Certainly her abortion was a catalyst for making the choices I’ve made,” she said.

I worry sometimes that maybe I’ve scarred my kids with a red-letter A for the rest of their lives. Maybe I raised them in a bubble, for a world that no longer exists.
______

Brooke Shields recently said her biggest health regret is that she waited too long to have sex. She was 22 when she lost her virginity. “I wish I had just gotten it over with in the beginning when it was sort of OK,” Brooke said. “I think I would have been much more in touch with myself. I think I wouldn’t have had issues with weight.”

Shelby has never had issues with weight. She was a runner in high school and college. She’s fit and makes good eating choices. Thankfully, none of my girls have been troubled with the eating disorders that have plagued their mother.

Still, I worry. So I asked my daughters if they regretted being virgins.

“Absolutely not,” Shelby said. “I don’t know Brooke Shields personally, but it sounds like she’s equating her body image with sexual activity. My choice to abstain from sexual activity has nothing to do with my self-image. It does define part of who I am, but it’s a matter of who I am at the core, not who I am in outward appearance.”

Shelby works in the legal field of domestic relations. Co-workers who know she’s a virgin refer to her as “The V.” They don’t understand why anyone would choose virginity over unbridled sex.

“You hear it all the time,” Shelby said. “They can’t imagine having sex with one person for the rest of their lives. I know that I’m counter to that culture. I am probably perceived as being very strange or odd. Those who don’t know me would probably consider me a freak or religious fanatic. That’s okay. I think differently than they do. I think how great would it be to only share that kind of intimacy with one person?”
__________

Ashley hates that her sister is mocked for choosing to remain a virgin. Shelby and Ashley are identical twins. They have always been very protective of one another. But Ashley understands that such mockery is common in today’s culture. Her friends poked fun of her, too, before she married.

“My friends thought that our wedding night was going to be terrible because neither one of us knew what we were doing,” Ashley said. (Her husband was a virgin, too.)

But all those worries were for naught.

“My friends were basing their fears on their own experiences,” Ashley said. “Because they’d had sex in high school that was not that good.”

Ashley said she would have married her husband whether or not he was a virgin because she loved him. She’s bothered that the church sometimes pressures kids into marriage just so they can have sex, but Ashley is not the least bit unnerved by the notion that she’ll only have sex with one person her entire life.

“It’s a picture of intimacy that God has with the church,” Ashley said. “I can’t imagine wanting to have sex with anyone else.”

What about those friends who didn’t wait, the ones who worried about her frigidity?

“I have one friend whose sex life was much better before she was married,” Ashley said. “She’s been married awhile and does not have sex that often.”

Brooke Shields is applying flawed logic. Having sex at a younger age would not have ensured her a healthier body image. In fact, studies have shown that the younger a girl is when she becomes sexually active the more prone she is to a whole host of problems. The younger a girl is when she has sex the greater the age difference between her and her partner. The greater the age difference, the less likely she is to use contraceptives and the more prone she is to disease and unintended pregnancy. Well, you get the picture.

I’d wager that the former child star’s self-esteem issues didn’t grow out of a longing for sex, but a longing for acceptance.

Isn’t it about time we helped our sons and daughters understand the difference?

12 comments:

  1. I always feel slightly bitter when I read stories like this, mainly because I'm a 24 yr old Christian woman whose not a virgin. I screwed up (no pun intended) a couple, well maybe a few, times and know that I am forgiven so I get irked when I read these and my "adulterous" past is rubbed in my face.

    I know that's not the intent of this piece, to sound "holier than thou", but part of me thinks we spend way too much time as Christians focusing on virginity when we could spend time and energy elsewere.

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to wait, I wish I had, and I respect purity, I'm just tired of reading about it.

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  2. Emily:
    Glad you realize the intent of the piece is not to rub anyone's face in their past -- given my own sorry choices.
    And while I agree that there is much we could and should spend our time and energy on as Believers, I still feel that in this area we're failing future generations by pretending that it's no big deal.
    Moreover, as the mother of three daughters who chose differently than I did, chose wiser and better than I did, it frustrates me that virgins are being shoved into the closet while sexually random lifestyles are considered the "norm."
    There's not much mainstream material pushing abstinence as an acceptable choice for anyone -- teen or adult -- which is likely why Constance's doctor was so surprised.

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  3. Actually, sexual activity is a big trigger for eating disorders. Psychologists say that women with eating issues suffered sexual abuse. But no one wants to admit that getting involved too early also creates a kind of passive abuse, because sex has been abused. It creates a bond between partners, but if the bond isn't permanent it creates a tension and insecurity to keep that man around. You know, "your desire will be for your husband." in other words, you're codependent. I'm not saying it's the only trigger, but it's a big one. Wish I had been as wise as your daughters.

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  4. As a daddy of a 2.5-year-old, the piece of this story that I want is to openess of your daughters. Please thank them for being willing not only to share, but by doing so are being models to others. And it isn't just modeling not having sex until marriage, but even more so the thought process and desires of their hearts and experiences.

    It scares me beyond my deepest fear for when my daughter becomes a teenager, yet I desparately want to have the kind of relationship that she feels comfortable talking about this with me and/or my wife about sex.

    Thank you for writing this, Karen.

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  5. Emily, Susan, Karen,

    Thank you all for your openness and transparency.

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  6. Emily: To some degree I understand your feelings, but at the same time we should be able to laud good choices and people who go against the tide without it being taken as an automatic condemnation of those who learned from the school of hard knocks.

    But I do agree with one thing: sexual purity is too narrowly focused on virginity and not directed enough toward (to use an older term) chastity. Virginity or abstinence is just a subset of an overall chaste outlook where one learns to embrace their sexuality in a fuller way than how it manifests itself physically and learns to view and love people as people rather than viewing and treating them to varying degrees as objects or means to fulfilling my own ends. We need a more holistic approach to the sexuality issue as Christians.

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  7. Also, for the record, just because we talk about and praise people for remaining virgins does not mean we downgrade those who perhaps did have sex but then made the decision to abstain until marriage later (perhaps after becoming a Christian).

    I waited until marriage. There were a couple of close calls so I'm not Mr. Purity, but I remained a virgin. My wife didn't. But after recommitting her life to Christ in college, she made the decision to refrain from sex until she got married. I've never thought less of her for that and it never entered my mind when considering marriage. If anything, I think it was probably harder for her than it was for me. I didn't really know what I was missing. She'd experienced it and enjoyed it. It seems like it would be tougher to abstain for several years until you got married once you've already gone there. So I applaud anyone who is pursuing faithfulness in their sexual life, regardless of "virginity status."

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  8. Go, Ragamuffin. I've been rereading Lauren Winner's Real Sex lately to get her take on chastity as a lifestyle and attitude that affects the world around you.

    She says that "sex is communal, rather than private, personal rather than public."

    This statement alone was enough for me to read the book all the way through.

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  9. Our culture seems to have flip-flopped: at one point everyone espoused virginity and homosexuals were made to feel they had to hide their sexuality; now it seems we’ve made for a culture of closet-virgins.

    I find it interesting that so many of you – whether you were a virgin til you got married or have had multiple partners -- are willing to be so public about your sexuality – not to mention your partner’s. I get that we’re trying to promote honesty and encourage one another, but, I don’t know, is it necessary to disclose such personal and private information? Couldn’t it be potentially harmful or desensitizing to be so frank?

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  10. This message is important, but we need to do a better job of talking about sexuality in general, not just abstinence. A Yale-Columbia study found that not only did 88% of teens who took the abstinence pledge break it, they took more overall sexual risks (read anal and oral sex) and had similar or higher rates of STD's and unplanned pregnancy. Abstinence is great, but our approach consists largely of saying, "What's on the other side of that door is a wonderful gift from God. Now DON'T OPEN IT until you're married." We need to be teaching and discussing sexuality beyond prohibitions for single folks and enrichment seminars for married folks.

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  11. I'm very glad that your children waited to have sex until they found the one they truly love, but I question the right you have to intrude on your children's sexual privacy. Especially posting about it in a public place.I think sex is a personal subject and each person has the right to choose when and how to have sex. In fear of disappointing you, your girls may be telling you what you want to hear about their sex lives.

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  12. Dear Anon:

    Agreed. As a journalist, asking intrusive questions is part of what I do. I approached it professionally, just as I would with anyone. I called up my daughters and requested an interview and gave them time to consider it.

    No favors or monies were exchanged at any time. Nor was there any promises of those to come.

    RE: your suggestion that the girls fabricated their stories because they were speaking to their mother.

    As one daughter so aptly noted, "Would anyone question our integrity if we were talking about how many people we'd slept around with?"

    Which is exactly why I wrote the piece, intrusive as it may be.

    The choices my children have made were not made on the basis of a technicality but as a result of their own devotion to Christ and a desire to please Him, not me.

    Isn't it sad that we have become the society where talking about being chaste results in the following:

    - you are considered a freak of nature
    - or a liar by nature
    - deemed ugly or unlovable
    - a self-righteous bitch
    - fat, frigid, or gay

    Which, of course, is exactly why I wrote the piece.

    I believe that while my daughters may be in the minority, there are many others who are making the same choice but are afraid to speak out for fear of remarks such as yours & others here.

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