It was a darkened dorm room at my college in the deep south in the mid-2000s. The rest of my life had just been decided for me in the space of around 25 seconds.
I wasn’t a virgin anymore.
Historically, the big ugly hangup about virginity was specifically limited to women. After all, women were the only ones with any sort of physical sign indicating whether they’d ever had sex (although this was a tenuous distinction to begin with). A woman’s value was directly determined by her sexual history.
Then came the fundamentalist purity culture of the late 20th century. Clearly, the whole virginity thing was wrong; women shouldn’t be vilified for their sexual history. Instead, they decided, let’s vilify EVERYONE for their sexual history! Equal-opportunity discrimination….that’s feminist, right?
It was more fair, I guess. Of course, guys were still expected to “protect and care for” women, particularly when it came to avoiding all things sexual. But, as with girls, my value as a guy depended not only on how I treated the other gender, but on whether I had ever done the deed.
My virginity was to be “the greatest gift I could give my future wife.”
All this, particularly the obsession with physical virginity, was intended to ensure the continued purity of homeschooled teenagers for as long as possible. And setting up a standard of perfection—virginity—seemed to be the perfect way to do this. If we had sex before marriage, we were “giving up” the most valuable part of ourselves. No self-respecting Christian girl would want to marry someone like that. I literally believed that not-having-had-sex-yet was the only thing of value I had to offer to anyone. Obviously, NO ONE would ever have sex if they realized it was THAT serious.
Which brings us back to that dark dorm room, where I realized just how narrow my options had become. I had “given myself away” for no good reason at all, and that was all I had to give. I couldn’t take it back; couldn’t undo it. There were no second chances. In the space of half a minute, my life would never be the same.
From where I saw it, I had three options:
1. Stay with the girl for the rest of my life. Get married. Dispense with the fact that we had wildly divergent religious views and life goals. Forget ever having kids, ’cause she didn’t like them. Suck it up and deal with it.
2. Never get married. No good Christian could ever want to be with me, and I couldn’t marry a heathen. I could sleep with them, of course—after all, I had already lost any hope I had at being pure—but any permanent relationship was out of the question.
3. Go through my life with this deep, dark secret, never telling anyone. Live a lie to everyone for the rest of my life. Tell some good pure Christian girl that I was a virgin, plan to get married, and hope she never found out….all while dutifully hating myself every day.
(Of course, Option 1 was supposed to be my duty, since I was the guy and everything. If you sleep with a girl, you have to marry her; everyone knew that. It was a thing.)
I tried all three options in sequence. That went really well.
What never crossed my mind was the forth option:
4. Accept that people do stupid things. Reject the idea that you’re defined by one moment of your life, and move on.
As I later came to discover, virginity was a myth. Was it wrong for me to sleep with that girl in that darkened dorm room? Well, yes; it was stupid, we weren’t ready, it was based on false promises, and it left us both so emotionally unstable that we maintained that caustic relationship for WAY longer than we ever should have. But did virginity have anything to do with that? Absolutely not. It was a useless distinction, an anachronism left over from the days when women were treated like property. I was no more or less valuable the day after than I had been the day before. I didn’t give her anything I couldn’t get back. I hadn’t left anything of myself in that dorm room.
And that was a pretty exciting discovery.