At middle school church camp, we were given a lesson in abstinence: chewed-up gum, stuck onto a piece of paper. Try as you might, you couldn’t get the gum off. The paper became useless; something you’d toss in the trash. It would never be the perfect, clean, white sheet it’d once been. The wad of gum had defiled it. The wad of gum was your virginity.
I think the analogy was a really inaccurate one, not to mention a damaging one. It emphasized two things: 1) my value is conditional on whether or not I am a virgin, and 2) I am broken or lesser if I am not one.
I am a Christian, and I believe wholeheartedly that premarital sex isn’t something God wants for us. God’s idea of intimacy is one that is foundational in Him and within the boundaries of a committed relationship. Still, as a Christian, I refuse to stigmatize premarital sex. Here’s why:
The Bible never actually forbids premarital sex. (I’m not “bending the rules,” and I’m not trying to find biblical loopholes. There actually isn’t a single verse in the Bible that forbids premarital sex.) It’s true that the New Testament talks a lot about “sexual immorality.” But what is sexual immorality? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give us a clear definition. We’re left to interpret for ourselves, leaving a lot of room for error in our less-than-informed interpretations.
Leviticus 18 is the closest thing we have to a definition of sexual immorality. What the chapter does forbid is incest, bestiality, and homosexuality. Premarital sex isn’t on the list. Even if we consider the 7th Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” it’s not so easy to jump to conclusions. By definition, the commandment is preventing lusting after someone if either person is in a relationship. It’s essentially telling us, “Stay faithful, don’t cheat, and be loyal.” We might make the leap that the command implies, “Stay faithful to your future partner by waiting until marriage,” but in a word-for-word translation, it is not saying to avoid premarital sex.
There’s also the idea that biblically, a woman’s value was contingent on her status as a virgin. A man had to pay a woman’s father so that he could take the woman as his wife, and the dowry was determined by her social class and virginity, among other things. If a man slept with a virgin, he was to pay her father money in exchange for having taken her virginity; if he did not pay, it was considered stealing from the woman’s father. So the “sin” of premarital sex had nothing to do with the act itself, but the devaluation of the woman as if the man had stolen from her father (look at Deuteronomy 22:28 for evidence).
Still, even if it’s not explicitly stated in the Bible, we can infer as Christians that God probably doesn’t want us engaging in premarital sex. He made humanity in His image, and He doesn’t want us to be lustful, prone to temptation, or caught up in messy, uncommitted relationships. He wants the foundation of any Christian relationship to be Himself, and He wants us to save the really beautiful moments for the right time and the right people.
But we seem to forget far too often that Jesus modeled love, acceptance, and compassion for people who’d committed every kind of wrongdoing. He hung out with prostitutes, thieves, and the sexually immoral, knowing full well that the things they had done were sinful, but loving them anyway. In fact, he repeatedly preached that the lost, the broken, and the hurt would be the first to inherit God’s kingdom. Our mindset as Christians (which literally means “little Christs”) should not be, “How can I love you when you’ve done this?” but rather, “I love you because and in spite of this.”
We need to stop teaching young girls that their virginities are like crumpled-up flowers, irreversibly damaged once they’ve been crushed. The great wonder of God’s love is that it discards what is damaged and replaces it with something new, perfect, and clean. Aren’t we all redeemed and whole in God’s eyes? Who are we to stigmatize someone else’s sin when we — like them — are sinners, and we — like them — have been forgiven by undeserved grace?
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