On a scale of Virgin to Slut, who are you?

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I just read two very different books by two very different women back to back: The Thrill of the Chaste by Dawn Eden and The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. As you can probably guess from the titles, the former is a conservative Christian blogger turned author’s take on how premarital sex and promiscuity is hurting women. The latter is a self-described sex-positive liberal who sees the emphasis on physical purity as being harmful to women.

I think they’re both right. I also think they’re both wrong.

Eden’s book serves as somewhat of a cautionary tale of what can happen to a woman’s sense of security and worth when she allows men to treat her body as a sexual buffet. Her identity becomes compromised the more she is viewed as an object, a slice of meat to salivate over, and worse: many women in her life influenced her to see this as empowerment.

Conversely, Valenti’s experience of being told she was “damaged goods” for having sex led to a distorted self-image. She was sick of being judged as a good or bad person based on her sexual activity, not her character and accomplishments.

While both of these women make valid points and are convincing, talented writers, the message I took from their books is that there is hardly any middle ground on the scale of Virgin to Slut: you either idolize virginity, so any kind of sexual blemish tarnishes your chance for a meaningful relationship, or you embrace sex as positive in any context, so long as it’s what you want, and to hell with anyone who tells you otherwise.

Someone please tell me, is there anything wrong with believing one’s virginity is important and valuable, so long as it doesn’t become an idol? Is it really so crazy to believe that sex, while not a quantifier of an individual’s worth or value by any means, is best reserved for committed relationships or marriage? You can’t tell me that promiscuity doesn’t have its drawbacks (unintended pregnancies, STDs, emotional fallouts), but it’s equally wrong to teach a generation of women that the “greatest gift” they can offer their partners is an intact hymen (what about trust? Compatibility? Can only virgins can offer those?).

I know “slut shaming” (an expression I personally despise) is real and damaging, but I’ve experienced more “virgin shaming” than anything else. I was called “unrealistic” and even had my sanity questioned in college for placing any kind of value on my virginity and wanting to save it for marriage (in some cases, my holier-than-thou tendencies got the better of me and some of the criticism was warranted. But not always).

There are many instances when it’s difficult for society to separate a woman’s character from her sexual activity. But make no mistake, our culture doesn’t make it easy for young people who choose to be abstinent, either. No matter what choices you make, you will never have it easy. You will never escape any kind of judgment or condemnation.

Placing some value on virginity does not automatically equal patriarchy. Being a feminist does not mean an adoration of promiscuity. But using sex to estimate anyone’s worth is always intolerant and damaging.

If I ever have children, I want them to be free to make decisions that are right for them. I also want to teach them that their bodies are valuable and to be treated with dignity. Is this possible? Is it “realistic”?

If you aren’t a “slut” or a member of the “purity police,” then who are you? According to the books I read, if you are not on one team, you are by default a member of the other.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to On a scale of Virgin to Slut, who are you?

  1. Hello. I think I agree with your entire post, or close to it. I blog about these topics quite a bit at my blog (Christian Pundit on Word Press).

    I am over 40 years of age, wanted to be married, but am still single. I am also still a virgin.

    One thing I discuss on my blog is how Christians only pay “lip service” to respecting virginity. I have several examples at my blog of famous Christians who have actually attacked celibacy, sexual purity, and virginity.

    I see a lot of liberal Christians, ex Christians, and other types of folks, mocking and insulting virginity on other sites and blogs. I find this upsetting and hypocritical….

    A lot of these people who bash virginity are the same ones who insist that people respect any and all forms of sexuality and sexual orientation. They do not respect heterosexuals who are virgins past age 25, however – that is the one group of people they feel find ridiculing.

    You cannot say anything the least critical about homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism, or hetero pre marital sex, according to liberals, ex Christians and other critics of virginity, but these same people are find and dandy insulting virgins and virginity and celibacy.

    Celibacy and adult singleness are greatly misunderstood by even preachers, btw. A lot of them wrongly assume that if you are still a virgin past your 30s (like me), it’s because God “gifted” you with singleness and supernaturally removed your sexual drive – false. I still have a libido and still want to marry and have sex.

    I like your post here so much I may link to it from my blog in the future with a few excerpts.

    There is a lot of virgin shaming that goes on in Christian culture as well as in secular culture. I don’t expect Non Christians to understand abstinence, but it’s very disappointing to see all the self professing Christians who downplay sexual sin and criticize virgins and virginity / celibacy.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      Thank you for your honesty. While I don’t mean to slam anyone who has premarital sex, it’s certainly a lot easier to have sex than not. Saving your virginity is HARD WORK, whether you’re single and constantly bombarded by the media or even your friends to hook up, or you’re in a relationship with someone you are committed to, and the opportunity is there. The phrase “gifted with singleness” is also problematic. There should be more emphasis on just accepting your current place in life and making the most of it.

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      • You’re welcome, and thank you for publishing my comment.

        I agree that the “gift of singleness” (GOS) is problematic – IMO, it’s not even biblical, at least not how it is taught or understood by many Christians today.

        Yes, it is hard work to stay a virgin – I was engaged for several years in my early 30s and had plenty of opportunity to indulge in sexual activity but my fiance’ (we later broke up) knew my standards and values on that.

        The false view that God magically removes all sexual desire from older singles such as myself cheapens my virginity. I still possess a libido. It’s not easy staying a virgin, but it can be done.

        But these preachers who teach God supernaturally removes the sexual drive of all singles over 30 make it sound like me maintaining my virginity must be a walk in the park (it’s not).

        BTW, if you want to read something funny, kooky, totally ignorant and depressing by a preacher who totally has a flaky, wacked out view of adult singleness, you should see a blog page that Mark Driscoll (controversial preacher of Seattle church Mars Hill) wrote.

        In one blog post in particular, Driscoll brought up some of the standard myths and old chestnuts about adult singleness, and mentioned something about if you are still single past 30 or so, God probably intends for you to die a martyr’s death in a jungle somewhere, sharing the Gospel with the natives. Where is that taught in the Bible? LOL.

        I blogged about that at my blog, but let me see if I can find you the URL to the original page by Driscoll. It’s called “Single Pastors?” on the Resurgence site,
        http://theresurgence.com/2014/01/06/single-pastors

        Driscoll also has a very dreary, depressing blog page directed at single women who are over 25 or 30 years of age. It was just awful.

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  2. Beth Caplin says:

    I may still have that edition…which reference is it? Or is it a secret 😉

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  3. CGHill says:

    I once argued that virginity was overrated, and perhaps no more useful than that new-car smell. I’m not so sure that I still believe this; on the other hand, I’m still not interesting in shaming people for what, or whom, they’ve done.

    (Disclosure: Dawn Eden is a friend of long standing.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      Shut up! You know Dawn Eden? That’s freaking awesome! I may not agree with 100% of her book, but I think she’s a great writer.

      I’m torn on this issue, personally. But if I had to pick a side, I’m hesitant to say virginity has NO meaning whatsoever. Virginity isn’t even the point, so much as sex itself. I don’t take sex lightly, therefore virginity matters because I only wanted to share myself with one person: my husband.

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      • CGHill says:

        Yeah, we go back to the Nineties — mostly online, though we did get together in person a couple of times. (There was a brief reference to me in the first edition of The Thrill of the Chaste, though it was excised in the update.)

        Being old and undateable generally, I don’t give a whole lot of thought to the matter, though I do have to agree with not taking sex lightly: it’s a very profound act, even when performed with the most profane intentions.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Margie H says:

    I don’t like labels. We don’t give men sexual labels for their frequency of sexual activity. A good wife is neither a virgin or a whore. She’s in between. We are all human. I just want people to be happy and healthy and sexually fulfilled in a faithful relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the very idea of virginity is silly. For one, how can you know whether or not someone is a virgin unless they tell you? For another, different people have different ideas about what it means to be a virgin, or pure. Some would so you lost your purity the second you lusted over someone and that impure thoughts are adulterous. Others would say your a virgin until you’ve been penetrated or have penetrated. The problem with the first is it demonizes people for something that we can’t control. The problem with the second is it ignores all but penis-in-vagina sex. As far as I’m concerned, so long as the sex is consensual, I’m not going to bother judging the person. Whether they have sex a lot or have never had sex, they are still human and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for their choices.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      The idea of “What is virginity?” was another big focus of Valenti’s book. An important topic, and one that merits its own separate post. But for the most part I agree with you. I think any kind of bodily contact involving genitals counts as sex. The idea of a “sexually active [technical] virgin” is…puzzling.

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  6. Pingback: On a scale of Virgin to Slut, who are you? | Christians Anonymous

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