I’m writing letters this week: to people who will never read them, to my younger self, to you. Because we all have things we wish we could say to someone.
I keep trying to narrow down this audience: my daughters? myself at 18? young girls learning how to navigate romantic relationships? my old youth group kids?
There are so many people I want to talk to that I don’t know where to focus, so I’ll start with a story and maybe you can find your place in it:
I met Scott a couple months shy of my 18th birthday. He was a few years older, in college, had freedoms I wasn’t yet familiar with as a high school senior.
We fell in love hard and fast. I’m not sure if it was his personality of all-or-nothing or mine, but that young, eager, everything-is-a-rush, lust for life and each other? We were that multiplied by 100.
Even now I smile at how fun and exciting it was. I wrote at the beginning of this week about how much I love young love, how much I love love, and I’m still a big fan here at the end of the week.
Scott and I were–of course–going to be together forever.
So I lost my virginity to him after about six months of dating. We had been pushing some limits and boundaries and when you do that enough, the next leap isn’t too far.
I grew up in church. I’d attended more than a few church camps where I pledged to save myself for my wedding night. I was friends with all the girls who got purity rings from their dads. I never got one. Maybe that’s why, one cold January afternoon in my boyfriend’s bedroom, I made the choice to not wait any longer.
(It wasn’t really the ring, just in case you didn’t get the sarcasm. Also, those rings are weird, let’s stop doing that.)
Anyway, it happened.
And because it happened and I had grown up loving Jesus and reading a Bible that told me this wasn’t good, I did lots of rationalizing: We’re going to get married eventually so it’s fine. We really love each other. No one else could possibly feel or understand what we feel. This is what real love does. We’re committed to each other. He’s my future husband so it’s not that big of a deal.
The sad reality was I was doing something a lot of my Christian friends were doing. We just weren’t talking about it. We were being sneaky about the sex and then showing up at church on Sunday giving a really good show about how holy and God-honoring our relationships were.
I’m sure you’re familiar with that story in some way.
Here’s the part I want my daughters to know, the part I wish I could have told my friends at the time, the thing I wish I had understood about God’s love and grace and forgiveness and punishment:
You can stop.
You haven’t ruined God’s plan for your life, you haven’t ruined future relationships and your future marriage and your whole being because you are no longer a virgin.
You and your vagina are not that powerful.
Our culture worships virginity. Our culture likes us to think that we lose value and importance once it is gone. We have been led to believe that everything hinges on what’s in between our legs and if we mess that up, we mess everything up.
But God doesn’t believe that.
I understand why it’s important to wait for marriage. Not because it’s your ticket to a wonderful, happy marriage. Not because your chastity earns you a free pass to relational bliss once you say I do. Not because God flips the sex switch once you have a ring on your finger and everything becomes glorious and romantic and enjoyable and easy. But because He wants our obedience.
We wait because He tells us His ways are best.
We wait because He knows what He created our hearts to do.
We wait because He wants to keep us from unnecessary pain.
We wait because He knows things we don’t know, things we might never know.
We wait because He asked. That’s it.
Sometimes people with good intentions tell us bad things. You are not saving yourself because God will pay you back later with sexual fulfillment and a stress-free marriage. We’ve allowed the Prosperity Gospel (if I do this, I will earn this material or dream thing later) into our bedrooms, and we’ve been told saving our virginity will unleash blessings later.
Again: You and your vagina are not that powerful. I appreciate the sentiment, but seriously, calm down.
God is not keeping score and only giving us good things when we do good things. He gives us good things because He’s a good Father. Then we respond to those good things with obedience. But we don’t have to earn His goodness with virginity. We can’t earn any of this, that’s the point. (Burn Ephesians 2:8-9 into your memory for when your brain wants to argue about this.)
I’ve been reading the Bible for years. I have yet to come across the part where it says my sex is more powerful than my God.
I have also been married for years. I know marriage is hard. Marriage is hard because two sinful, selfish people are trying to do life together. Marriage is not hard because I had sex with someone before marriage. Marriage is hard because MARRIAGE IS HARD.
(Could I have added a layer of unnecessary hard based on my choice twenty years ago? Maybe. But I’m not completely convinced.)
Here’s where we can mess things up though: if we allow people to tell us that we can’t come back from a mistake, that we can’t be forgiven, that we have to marry the person we had sex with outside of marriage.
I’m writing this on the internet so you know it’s true: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY PENANCE FOR YOUR MISTAKE BY MARRYING THIS PERSON. Where did this lesson come from? A misguided youth minister? A 90’s purity culture book? Our grandmas?
I’m worried about all the girls who started having sex before marriage, got too wrapped up in the guilt and shame of it, and decided the only way to reconcile the situation is to marry the person. Like a marriage certificate pays for the sin.
Jesus paid for that sin on the cross. You don’t have to sacrifice the rest of your life to a person you otherwise wouldn’t marry because of the pressure to absolve yourself.
I can hear the uproar about this right now. I’m well acquainted with the people who think you should absolutely marry the guy since you had sex with him. But as Christians, we either agree that Jesus paid for all our sins on the cross and forgiveness is an equal opportunity employer or His death was in vain because it doesn’t cover all of us.
We don’t get to split hairs if someone is asking for forgiveness of something you don’t think they should have done in the first place. Stay in your lane, Carol. And your lane would be your own sin, not someone else’s.
Maybe that’s why Christian divorce rates are just as high as non-Christians. We make mistakes before we’re married and somewhere along the line, we’ve picked up the idea that the only way to make it right is to marry the person and then we’re stuck in a marriage we probably wouldn’t have agreed to otherwise.
We disobeyed and instead of stopping the disobedience, asking for forgiveness, and changing our actions, we just double down with the bad choices to…what? Make ourselves feel better? Earn our way back into God’s good graces?
I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with woman who have said they just wish someone had told them they didn’t have to marry the guy they lost their virginity to. Yes, they wish they had made a different choice when it came to sex (that’s the first step in making this whole essay null and void), but they did. Then they took their guilt and shame and kept the relationship going as a way to pay for their sins.
Ladies, we don’t have to do that.
Jesus was the Sacrificial Lamb for this very reason. Not just for some of the sins–the ones that don’t have to do with sex–but all of them. You don’t have to punish yourself with continuing a relationship, entering into a marriage, or even having kids with someone because you made a bad choice and you don’t know how to recover from it.
I’m not sure how I avoided this trap with Scott. Maybe because I was the Christian in the relationship and he wasn’t, so the pressure to absolve our sins was only coming from me. (Side note: that unequally yoked thing is legit, but we’ll save that lesson for another time.) Maybe it is because I’m an Enneagram Eight who doesn’t feel shame or guilt even when I should (see: I used “vagina” with no reservation in a blog post about Jesus.).
I’ve run into Scott a few times in the past year. We live near each other and shop at the same stores. He’s married with a few kids. We chat for a few minutes in the aisle of Home Depot or Wal-Mart as our kids fidget around us. We talk about work or family stuff, there is no awkwardness or embarrassment when we run into each other. We wrap up our conversation after a few minutes, and we move on with our days.
When I was growing up, I was led to believe I’d carry the weight of that sin, the weight of my choice to have sex before I was married forever. That it would haunt all future relationships, that I would bring Scott to bed with me wherever I was for the rest of my life.
It seems crazy to tell you I was taught that, that I was taught that God couldn’t forgive my sin or redeem my choice.
Somewhere things got off-track when we started teaching girls about their bodies and choices. We want our kids to know grace and compassion and forgiveness, but when it comes to their bodies, those are powerful and sinful and you might not be able to recover from the choices you make with them. I was taught to feel such shame for being a girl and told how dangerous my body was for myself and others.
Yes, there are consequences for sex before marriage. You can learn about those in health class or from the pregnant girl sitting next to you at McDonald’s. There are many, many reasons it’s best to not have sex outside of marriage, both from a worldly point of view and a Biblical one. But the extra level of shame and guilt we’ve assigned this choice while also trying to make girls understand grace and forgiveness confuses more than helps.
A bad choice doesn’t mean a bad life.
A bad choice doesn’t mean endless punishment and shame.
God’s forgiveness of sin is the same no matter what.
God is more powerful than our mistakes and weaknesses, He can redeem us and our bad choices and our lives without exception.
I understand enough about writing on the internet that this will be misunderstood by some people. That probably means this letter and story wasn’t for you, but just in case it was and you just need a little more help, let me repeat:
Sex inside of marriage is best because it’s what God tells us.
Sex outside of marriage doesn’t sentence you to a life of punishment and shame.
The world (and in some ways, the church) worships virginity in an unhealthy, un-Godly way.
You can stop having sex outside of marriage. Just because you started doesn’t mean you have to continue.
You do not have to marry the person who took your virginity as a way to pay for your sin. That’s not your job.
Scott and I dated on and off for five years. Our relationship probably carried on longer than it should have because I was operating under the lie that I had to make it work because of my choice to have sex with him. We were not good for each other. He was made for someone else and so was I. Also, he had twins later and dodging that bullet just feels good.
I learned a lot from trying to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage. I took what I learned (ironically, things God had written in the Bible…who knew?) with me to future relationships. I took those lessons into a new relationship a few years later with Chris Graham whom I’d eventually marry.
We had sex for the first time on our wedding night.
And spoiler alert: I didn’t ruin anything. It was pretty awesome. Thanks God.