A friend sent me a link to “My Virginity Mistake,” written by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez who explains her belief that making a purity pledge and remaining a virgin until she got married led to the ultimate demise of her marriage. The article evoked a whole range of emotions in me – sadness, pain, empathy, but also frustration, rage and indignation. It wasn’t that I was surprised by her revelations or perspective; it was that I have heard her story so many times before within the privacy of my coaching sessions.
A large number of my clients are church leaders who were given the purity talks as teenagers and skidded into marriage having pushed the line as far as they could go while still remaining “technical virgins” (no penis-in-vagina action, but various levels of everything else). Keep in mind, they are in the minority – 88% of people who take purity pledges end up having intercourse before marriage.
These people are therefore part of the dwindling 12% who “made it” to marriage, but instead of the bliss that they were promised, they battle with disappointment, resentment and drudgery in their sex lives. However, unlike Henriquez, they are committed to their marriages and desperately seeking places of refuge and help.
To me, this article was just another reminder that in the Church we have dropped the ball on how we handle sexuality. We screw it up from the cradle to the grave. We have covered genitals with special names because we cannot bear the medically correct terms. We have disciplined our toddlers when their hands stray into their pants and linger there too long. We have implicitly at best (explicitly at worst) told our teenagers they are trash if they get hot and heavy before they get married. We have dodged anything beyond the bare-bones basics of sexuality in our pre-marital courses. We don’t provide a safe place for newlyweds to even admit they are facing problems with intimacy, causing them to suffer through confusion, loneliness and isolation. We have acquiesced to the ethos of silent tolerance of women who are disinterested in sex and men who turn to porn for the thrill their marriage does not provide. We have actively participated in a culture that shuts down, shames and eviscerates people who fall sexually and need our help. We have turned a blind eye to the hurting in our churches, choosing instead to focus on programs that are less controversial and easier to justify to the board of elders. Instead admitting our own imperfections and inviting others into the safety of that communion, we have presented a portrait of a God who freely forgives (or at least overlooks) the sins we are comfortable with, but harshly judges the sins we find personally disturbing.
In doing so we have lost sight of what we are called to do. We have stopped being the salt of the earth and started rubbing it in people’s wounds. This is our sin.
And yet, this is also our opportunity. People desperately want health and wholeness. Parents want to have guidance on how to talk to their kids about masturbation, oral sex, condoms, porn and STIs. Young people need to know that if they stumble and fall before marriage, they are still valued in the eyes of God…that the blood of Jesus is more than a cheap laundry detergent that gets out the smell but not the stain of our sin. Newlyweds need to have a place to acknowledge that they couldn’t even have sex on their honeymoon because it just didn’t work. They must be provided with the freedom to talk to people who will not flinch at words like clitoris, penis, orgasm and semen. Couples deserve marriages where sex is more than just a duty – it is pleasurable, frequent and sought after. They need to have the freedom to struggle with something in their marriage – smack dab in the middle of imperfection – while still working toward the goal of holiness and restoration.
This is why I love the Church. The Church is uniquely positioned (and called) to be what these people so desperately need. We have the community buildings. We have the small groups. We have the mentorship programs. We have the childcare. We have the pastors who are on call night and day for people who need them. We have volunteers who can facilitate teaching sessions. We have the very words of Jesus. And we have the God who actually came up with this whole idea of sex, put the proper plumbing in place and hard-wired it into our DNA.
But do we have the courage?
Will we step up to the plate; take a long, hard look at our faux-sacred status quo; and be willing to admit (and change) what honestly is not working? Can we repent of our institutionalized sin and break free of our bondage to it? Can we lay aside our ignorance, our shame and our fear when people like Henriquez need us?
The Church must come to the table as a faith community, regardless of our specific denominational segregations, to share best practices – ideas that actually work and have higher success rates than 12%. And I believe we can do it.
But we have to remember that while Jesus loves us, He came to seek and save that which was lost. He didn’t come to “put a ring on it.”