Friday, April 5, 2013

The Purity Ring

Abi Rine’s fantastic post about Christian culture’s obsession with sexual status (
) got me thinking about my own experience as a male in the same culture.  Cherry popping probably has its own section at your local Christian bookstore.  But why?  Certainly not because virginity is obsessed about in the Bible, because it isn’t.  While I don’t recall any seminars about wise mortgage choices or how to best help the poor, it seemed like as soon as we hit puberty, purity was the only thing that mattered.

I distinctly remember one of these seminars, held in the annex of my childhood church.  The speakers spoke of how unsafe sex is, equating the doors of the sanctuary to the material of a condom, then throwing a beach ball through it from 5 feet away, exclaiming, “see how easy it is to get AIDS?!  That beach ball is a male sperm!”  Each year, we’d all pledge, sometimes in writing, that our virginity belonged to God, and we wouldn’t give it away until our wedding day, OR ELSE!!  I don’t think we gave much thought to the “or else,” we just knew it would be a terrible, awful thing to lose our way and slip into coitus.

At some point during these puberty years, my parents gave me a purity ring as a symbol of my pledge to remain pure until marriage.  My dad even had a chunk of his wedding ring cut out and melted into it.  This certainly increased the pressure to keep it in my pants.  It also made it that much worse when I lost the ring a few years later.  And I hadn’t even had sex yet!

In Abi’s post, she uses a figure of 80% of evangelicals who lose their virginity prior to marriage.  Sounds right to me.  I lost mine in a school building during freshman year of college.  At that point I was still mostly gung-ho about Christianity, and felt a certain amount of guilt at having succumbed to my carnal desires.  But after a few days, I hardly thought about it anymore.  The same was not true for my girlfriend.  She felt a huge amount of guilt about it, which came back each time we had sex.  While I don’t remember girls being specifically singled out in our abstinence seminars, it was clear that the message she received was that her virginity was a huge piece of who she was as a person, while I had not received that message.  Certainly it was a bummer for me, but it was almost expected that a 19 year old male had had sex.  19 year-old women was still expected to be pure and holy, unpopped and waiting for the godly man in waiting.

I think Abi’s post thoroughly explains how harmful this obsession with purity in Christian culture is.  What I would add is that it distracts from what is happening in real time.  When you’re 13 and a virgin, pledging not to have sex in the future isn’t all that hard.  But as a 13 year old, what am I supposed to do with all these hormones?  In my case, from approximately age 10-15, I was attracted to everyone!  What am I supposed to do with that?  By 15 (freshman year of high school) I was terribly depressed.  I thought I was doomed to some sort of bisexual hell of a life, since nobody I knew would admit that it’s absolutely normal to have different desires during puberty than one has before and after.  There was nobody to talk to about these things.  The year I spent 4 nights a week at church was the same year I felt most alone.  Sure, I promise not to have sex, but who’s gonna promise that God didn’t create me with desires he specifically condemns (just this week, my mom told me she still thinks gay people choose to be gay)?

With the end of puberty came the return to my usual straight-person lust, and my depression went away.  And by the end of college, I could recognize that what I thought was an awful and complicated spiritual battle was just puberty doing it’s ridiculous hormonal thing.  But for those who entrust their kids to the church, there must be a better way to approach sexuality than just to obsess over virginity, or secondary virginity, and learn to help kids when they need it.  Had there been one person during that year who offered to talk to anyone struggling with same-sex desire, the worst year of my life might have been dramatically different.  Instead, all we got was talk of purity, and promise rings.  With an 80% failure rate, my hope is the church will do better for those still there so we don’t have to write blogs about our church sex trauma in our thirties.